The absurdity of primitive accumulation (2) By Douglas Anele
To be fully human entails the ability and freedom to manifest optimally the creative powers inherent in homo sapiens. This is achievable not through amassing wealth one does not really need but by engaging productively in meaningful work and love. According to the German-born American psychoanalyst, Erich Fromm, freedom can be looked at from two main perspectives, namely, “freedom from” and “freedom to.”
To an extent unprecedented in history, contemporary human beings have achieved a large measure of freedom from the domination of natural forces, from chronic diseases, hunger and want, which wiped out entire communities in the past.
Nowadays, millions of people do not consider themselves tied to the apron strings of ecclesiastical and secular authorities because of increasing acceptance of democratic principles and more tolerant accommodating worldviews. And with bourgeoning technological application of scientific knowledge, some of the impediments that hindered full deployment of human potentials in work, love and recreation have been eliminated. Unfortunately, having largely attained “freedom from,” we are confronted with the extremely demanding challenge of actualising “freedom to.”
Relentless pursuit of material possessions diminishes the capacity of primitive accumulators to be true to themselves and to others, to be genuinely productive, and to be fully alive. Put differently, while piling up riches, a corrupt President, governor, legislator or judge becomes so addicted, so absorbed in the futile task of primitive accumulation that it becomes the paramount goal of his life.
His energies as a public servant, which ought to be devoted to service, are directed towards clever siphoning of public funds and ever-increasing obscene material comfort. Imperceptibly, he ceases to look at material possessions as a means for a better life, which is what they truly are, but instead hypostatises it as an end in itself, an end to which life is subordinated. In the process of stealing an ever-increasing amount of money to satiate an ever-expanding appetite for primitive accumulation, the high-ranking official becomes part of the money-stealing machine, rather than someone that serves society by deploying available resources in the most efficient manner for public good.
Soon, because of the incredible wealth he has amassed, he begins to see himself, and is seen by his naive beneficiaries, as a good man who empowers the less privileged. But the generosity is fake, an attempt to hide avarice of the worst kind with a veneer of public spiritedness.
If top government officials had deployed the enormous resources in Nigeria to serve our people, the level of poverty and unemployment would have been low, thereby reducing the necessity for handouts to vulnerable segments of the population. It is actually insulting to “empower” the youths who ought to be engaged in productive work by giving them peanuts. Unfortunately, some Nigerians are so lazy both mentally and physically that they do not mind being treated as mendicants.
In my humble opinion, anybody that uses his or her privileged position in government to amass wealth has a mental problem. Such a person has a seriously flawed conception of what happiness is all about and how best to improve one’s chances of experiencing it. Since the primitive accumulator does not understand the meaning of true happiness, he believes that it can be achieved through conspicuous consumption, that is, by acquiring mansions, huge bank accounts, expensive automobiles, and private jets, in addition to overindulgence in alcohol, cigarettes, sex, golf and polo, depending on individual preferences.
Not having a solid sense of self except the warped identity defined through his assets or bank statement, he craves for public adulation and approval. Consequently, inwardly the wealthy corrupt official is alienated from himself; his centre of gravity is outside of his being. Paradoxically, the irrational attitude leads him to worship his material possessions as if they are above him; instead of those possessions serving his needs he actually becomes their slave. Fromm captures this point accurately in The Sane Society when he wrote that in a sense such a person is back to where primitive humanity was before the great human evolution began in the second millennium B.C.
Of course, my usage of the masculine pronoun does not imply that only men are primitive accumulators. Women also fall into the same grave error, with the added disadvantage of excessive preoccupation with superficial physical attractiveness.
The destructive dimension of primitive accumulation is not restricted to the individuals directly involved; it affects members of their families also. There are numerous cases of children from wealthy backgrounds so bored because they do not really need to earn a living that they became drug addicts, chronic alcoholics, cultists and terrorists. On the other hand, against the expectations of ignorant parents under the illusion that their sons and daughters “have everything they wish,” some children rebel against the deadening effects of bulimic materialism. Such children do not have everything they wish and yearn for what they do not have, which is meaningful engagement with the world in the process of work, love and belongingness.
The argument that top government officials steal millions and billions to secure the future of their children and generations yet unborn is silly. To begin with, the idea of accumulating wealth for one’s children and grandchildren presumes that the children on whose behalf the parents are stockpiling wealth cannot, through hard work and discipline, become successful on their own. In addition, it assumes, wrongly, that what is valued today will remain valuable tomorrow irrespective of changes in the economy, value orientation within the society and in technology and industrial production. Finally, it fails to reckon with the fact that socio-economic inequalities arising from primitive accumulation can lead to violent backlash or social upheavals that could prevent those very children from enjoying the wealth greedily and foolishly accumulated by their parents.
In this connection, children whose parents are stealing from the public should challenge them and reject the life of lazy self-indulgent opulence at home. They must realise the life-destroying effects of wealth without work, and recognise that what really matters ultimately is what is in one’s head, not what is in one’s pocket. It is ridiculous that our political leaders live in mansions with many empty, lavishly furnished, rooms knowing they can only occupy one small portion of a room at any point in time, whereas millions of Nigerians are either destitute or live in ramshackle dwellings.
The so-called VIPs buy many expensive exotic cars they use occasionally, whereas people they are supposed to serve trek long distances in the hot sun and heavy rain and oftentimes move around in commercial motorcycles or rickety smoking buses.
If you are invited to lunch or dinner at the residence of our leaders, you will be amazed by the quantity and quality of food in the dining table, while hundreds of thousands of Nigerian children go to school with an empty stomach simply because their parents are too poor to give them breakfast. The point is, Christian and Muslim primitive accumulators in power are emotionally frozen and incapable of feeling genuine compassion for those Frantz Fanon described as the wretched of the earth.
Our money-intoxicated political leaders should note seriously that death does not differentiate between the rich and the poor, between billionaire and pauper. Reasoned consciousness regarding the certainty of our mortality reveals the absurdity and futility of primitive accumulation. Therefore, it does not make sense to steal from the people, because all the wealth in the world makes no difference whatsoever with respect to the inevitability of death. Concluded.