Saturday 12 January 2008

Kids and countries

One of the main advantages of the Otoom model consists in recognising that the behavioural dynamics we observe can be scaled up and down.

An act played out before our eyes is a collection of dynamics that uses objects to become manifest, a phenomenon which depends on the scale. The dynamics themselves however, or to be more exact, the functionalities possessed by the dynamics, remain comparable.

So take a schoolyard. Two kids have started a fight. Quite possibly before long the whole thing has turned into a melee. What's going on?

For a start, that fight doesn't happen out of nowhere. In a group - society on a small scale - there are animosities and there are friendships. In other words, there is a history to the altercation. A teacher commanding the children to stop won't solve much because it doesn't address the history. What's more, at the moment of the first clash the associations between the members of the group come to the fore, all mixed together with the dispositions of the individuals who have finally been provided with the trigger to act out their own sentiments.

Now imagine there are outsiders. Friends of the children, possibly some parents, and so more associations with their own potential to be acted upon. How long before such a biff has turned into a substantial affair?

In Otoom's terms we have the dynamics of identity, of competition/survival, of affinities, and all of them moulded by specific emotions.

Move up in scale. Now we deal with tribes, demographics, and societies. The higher scale avails itself of greater volume, that is identity has become weightier, the survival instinct is more profound, and associations are more prolific and meaningful. Kids won't fight until they are dead, but tribes or societies can, indeed often expect their members to do just that. And when everyone is gone history tells of yet another heroic tragedy.

The recent events in Kenya are the latest example of such scaled-up dynamics. Substitute the kids in the school yard with the relevant players there and what's the difference?

Unctuous commentary by fly-in fly-out journalists doesn't help. While their readiness to enter those zones must be respected, their very nature precludes them from gaining a profound knowledge about the local circumstances. A camera with the sticker 'CNN' does things to people, and of course the person in front of it won't hold back with their version of who did what to whom. Then there is the sheer shortsightedness. Kenya a traditionally quiet place?? Doesn't anybody remember the Mau Mau with piles of hacked-off hands here and there? Then again, perhaps not.

During the 60s the film Africa Addio was doing its rounds through the cinemas of Europe, but was banned in British Commonwealth countries because of its portrayal of colonialist policies intermingled with tribal brutalities. Made by Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi it was one of the first visual documentaries about Africa at its rawest (and Riz Ortolani gave it a good soundtrack too).

In the 70s those for whom conventional armed forces were not exciting enough could connect to organisations which brought them into contact with Kenyan warlords who paid well for Western mercenaries. Leaving morality aside, this takes a certain kind of infrastructure at both ends to make it possible. A quiet place?

And then there are the slums. Nairobi has one of the world's largest, a land in its own right that not many suburbanites would relate to. Something like that doesn't grow overnight, and its very existence does not say much about its host society.

Here then was our good journalist who intoned, after a suitable pan across dilapidated shacks, "And as usual it is the poor who suffer". No doubt they suffer, but think back to the school yard, a hotchpotch of simplistic sentiments and raw emotions boiling over. It is in the slums where the first fires start.

Meanwhile, in the comfort zone of a rich West we have politicians who must be seen to do something, and on a lower level we have the peace kiddies who, cranking up everything from cell phones to wikis, don't hesitate jumping into the fray from their safe distance. They can do so because some of them know someone over there and of course those must be helped. Who can stand on a nearby roof top overlooking a school yard and honestly declare to have completely understood the situation, decide who is right and who is wrong? On that much bigger scale - forget it. And so, on that hot and dusty ground far away, there are now some who have 'friends' coming to their 'aid', and others who will be spurned on even more. Who is to say that a visually effective victim, once the boot is on the other foot, won't do exactly the same to his enemies?

In the end it comes down to resources, to money. There is a point at which a bushfire has reached a size where it must burn itself out, and nobody in their right mind would add more brush to one side of the valley just because they found themselves on the other. Yet this is exactly what happens in so many places because the funds are available.

It is time for better priorities to take over.

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