The Golden Means: possible solutions to the unrest in Nigeria

15 Jan

Values are vague; they are always too broad for the specific. The only thing left for us is to trust our instincts – Jean Paul Sartre

It’s always good to hear both sides of the story. That’s what I’ve been doing while observing the current unrest in Nigeria and I wasn’t surprised to notice how many people acclaimed absolutist theories about the issue. Whenever I hear or read such theories I somehow can’t help it to try to explain the contradictory basis of it, especially in this specific situation and the harmful consequences of it – just like in the case of subsidy removal in Nigeria.

I do not deny the existence of the moral absolute in this argument – that subsidy should be removed or that the Nigerian society is right to protest.  After all each and every society is based on virtues, norms and values and there is nothing wrong with that. However, I see here a clash between different ethics . I would compare the government to the lion described by Nietzsche in Thus said Zaratustra – concerned with power and the result, irrespective of the situation or what it takes to get there. The protesters, on the other hand, have adopted a more utilitarian approach because subsidy would be beneficial for the majority of people after all. Well, both sides seem to be right… The subsidy removal is a logical step but what’d be the outcome of it? Strikes, more poverty and unplanned inflation. People’s protests  seem justified too. So where’s the solution? I believe that in this situation it is wrong to think about the ends – the benefits that the removal of subsidy could bring, forgetting about the means – impoverishing a nation that earns $2 a day… It’s common sense that each side is now looking for the best solution and if I need to carry on illustrating my thoughts with philosophical aphorisms  the Aristotelian’s Golden Mean would best show the right path for solving the problem:  virtue lies at the mean (middle) between two extremes of behaviour. How can we find the means here? I think both sides should first realise that  “There are many different eyes. The sphinx too has eyes and consequently there are many different ‘truths’, and consequently there is no truth.” , Nietzsche. In other words, can each side accept the other’s point of view and think of a solution? I doubt it. Why? The story about the Three Metamorphoses tells it all. It takes time until one transforms into something else, especially something better. Sometimes the camel stays  camel and the lion stays lion forever.  Can the government turn into Nietzsche’s Übermensch (overman) who has power and uses it to create good and happiness? As I said I don’t deny the benefits the removal of subsidy would bring; I do deny the way it was imposed though.  I think the timing is wrong – maybe the subsidy should be removed gradually or it could be replaced with a money-transfer program for poor people, as somebody suggested in a blog in the Economist. I think corruption should be rooted out and if the government really wants to change something why don’t they fix the refineries so there won’t be any need to oil-subsidy?  And no protest and millions of dollars lost.

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Posted by on January 15, 2012 in Africa, Ethics and Philosophy


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