We want our "Opium" back! : Dualism in an Ethiopian Perspective
By Ahmed Yosuf
Ah! Finally we are about to unite for a cause! For Team Ethiopia, we stand united! But, in all honesty, why would the sight of a group of men chasing around a spherical ball for ninety minutes lift our spirit so high that we decide to fight for it, spend our money to watch and support them run around or sometimes let it be a source of our misery. None of us would rationally explain as to why we love football the way we do. Why are we still keeping the faith on Team Ethiopia? Why do we keep watching our team play even though we know it won’t get any far? If Marx was alive, he would agree to the thought that football is the opium of the frustrated Ethiopian. Football, as I see it, however, has striking resemblance with the traits of religion. People follow football as they follow religion, read and attend events about it at least once a week. They have their Heroes a Saint or Player. They are passionate about both football and religion, yet few could possess words to explain their love and devotion to them. If you happen to support a similar team, it is like following the same religion- you are brothers in one faith. Even “blasphemy” against your team or religion makes you angry. If your team does not win, you feel as if God has forsaken you. But you will keep the faith in sickness and in health.
Some people get tired, frustrated, get sick or kill someone just because they want to defend what is theirs. There are fanatics in both camps. It would be as if trying to reach for the stars if one attempts to quantify their feelings. Once you are part of the saga, however, you will experience the unity, the brotherhood, the connection you shared with the person next to you even though you have never met that person in your entire life.
Thomas Nagel, an American philosopher, in his famous article, “What is it like to be a Bat?” shows that every subjective phenomenon is essentially connected with a single point of view, and it seems inevitable that an objective, physical theory will abandon that point of view. Nagel further explains;
“I want to know what it is like for a bat to be a bat. Yet if I try to imagine this, I am restricted to the resources of my own mind, and those resources are inadequate to the task. I cannot perform it either by imagining additions to my present experience, or by imagining segments gradually subtracted from it, or by imagining some combination of additions, subtractions, and modifications.” (Thomas Nagel, 1974)
Religion and football provide this common point of view, common experience for Ethiopians who share it. The existence of another world in addition to the natural one is the basic premise of every religion and art. Religion and football, as forms of art, are places where man seeks refuge from the growing uncertainty in the material or physical world. Just as the poet and painter take us to a far and utopian world, they provide sanctuary for the frustrated life of an ordinary Ethiopian. The work of art is an impression of the natural world or as Aristotle would say an imitation. But it is something more, a place where we obtain unity, peace and tranquility. It is unlike a world created out of the Freudian childhood drives such as he refers it 'the infant's helplessness and the longing for the father'.
One way or another, we all live dualistic life or Descartes’ dual worlds the res extensa (physical things) and res cogitans (thinking things), where the set of thinking things do not exist in space and time as we know it. The Darwinian world takes you through nature while Michelangelo and World Laureate Afewerk Tekle carry us to a world beyond our imagination. The city life in Addis versus the rural land our grandparents lived in, school based education versus our folklores and tales of Ababa Tesfaye, culture versus civilization, mind versus brain, art versus science, Teddy Afro versus Meles Zenawi. “There is an order to an engine as there is order to a melody” writes Izetbegovich, the late Bosnian philosopher. The first is a spatial or quantitative combination of relations and parts in accordance with nature, logic and mathematics. The second maintains a combination of tones or words in melody or in poem. No wonder people get frustrated in the evaporating values in cities with particular emphasis Addis. Why do songs no longer inspire us for revolution or change? How many people stand up for elders in the Anbessa Bus compared to the past? What happened to the poets of the old who wrote to touch our hearts nothing more? What happened to the tales of Ababa Tesfaye that inspired and held most of us together? Whatever happened to the Unity that we so proudly boast at? The simple explanation would be that art is in decay. Our ways are now being used as a means not as end by itself. A musician sings to get rich or die trying, the poet writes to please someone not to inspire, the “religious” “prays” but only to stab someone at the end. No one seems to be passionate about anything working for minimum wage attempting to expand our needs when we have little means. Civilization without the Ethiopian essence of Culture is a one way line, a Darwinian pursuit of the intelligent animal to survive within the physical realm.
Sadly, we are on the one-dimensional life, where material exchange between man and nature proliferates. This exchange was intensified as we Ethiopians are attempting to identify our ways with that of the foreign man. The country is growing in double digits but is development all about roads and buildings? To whom are the fruits trickling down? We are further submitting to the will of nature, more or less in a pursuit of satisfying our desires, the selfish gene; the Freudian “Id” takes the wheel. We are no longer altruistic but only more dangerously egoistic. The individualistic way of life has suddenly conquered us, although we claim to have defeated the Italian fascist. But then again, during those days, our ancestors fought to preserve our ways, our Culture. They sacrificed Civilization for cultures’, for arts’, for religion’s sake. The opportunity cost was blissful.
It was not long that we gave it up so easily, though. The one thing that could unify us was the arts, the unseen world where Ethiopians meet in utopia. It seemed a tailor-made world for us. How great were the times of the 50s and 60s? The poetic, the revolutionaries, the passionate activists all had won the hearts of the public. The songs lift you, the poets inspire you and the painter takes you on an epic adventure. “Fano, Fano” sings Kassa, World Laureate Afewerk paints about “African Movement” and the 1960’s were among the most productive years for Poet Laureate Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin who emphasized the importance of Unity while Team Ethiopia for the first time won the African Cup of Nations in 1962. These were the times where our civilization was so cultured that we chose to practice “Gudfecha” rather than “exporting” our children. Even if we cannot say all Ethiopians were one, we can say there was a goal that gathers most if not all to oneness. Revolution was possible because religion, culture, poems and the music brought people to oneness, to the world that no one saw but everyone keeps faith on. It was obvious that all men who gathered knew not each other but got connected through the magical works of art.
Today, we have “hospitalized” Culture, no longer students of the “Art of being Man” or being Ethiopia for that matter. It is in a state of oblivion but we know not. We say it exists but it is only an empty shell. Our education is not taking us anywhere but only making us more prone to manipulation. It is the educated thief that brings more harm than the illiterate one. Our one- dimensional life will only make us more individualistic, materialistic, solitary, nothing to unify us. We are in a position where music is sang for profit but seldom makes sense, poems are written but does not lift us anymore, innocent people are thrown to prison and no one cares, catering for neighborly needs are no more. Without the unseen world, without the arts, religion or the unifying spirit such as football, you can only be described in terms of “what you are”, not “who you are”. You are an Amhara, a Tigre, an Oromo, the higher class, the “1%”, the Manager who just got a promotion, earns more and drives the Hummer. In a linear, materialistic life, there are more things that separate us than what unifies us.
What is it then that could bring unity among us? It would firstly be my utmost advice for us to admit our dualistic life. We should not be so extreme in any of the ends being fanatically immersed in the arts such as religion, poetry or football to the extent that we are led to forget our worldly or material needs which are the reality, the here and now; or be fanatic in our worldly affairs to the point that we overlook the needs of others, use the arts and religion for means than for an end. Our purpose should be moderate. There will be no unity if we have a one-sided life. If we are to be immersed in the worldly affairs, if we are to pursue only on the path of Civilization without Culture, it would represent the development of the potential forces that existed in our less developed ancestors as Darwinian evolution would put it. We would be busy in adopting the goods of nature based on our needs, our endless needs. In this linear path, we will forget our other role. We will embrace differences in race, ethnicity, language, and in wealth. How are we to unify these all if we have forsaken the “art of being Man”, our Culture? The Arts such as religion, culture and the spirit of football are things that undoubtedly have profound effect on our harmony and on how we bring change or revolution. They lay the framework for brotherhood, football in a small scale while religion in a greater scale. If you wish to inspire and lead the mass, you have to be passionately involved with their culture like the poems of Tsegaye Gebre Medhin; you have to speak their tongue like Teddy Afro; live their lives not in Palaces; feel their pain and die for their aim. That is living duo life. Just like we keep the faith on Team Ethiopia, we have to keep it when leading Ethiopians out of the darkest level of the ocean of poverty and ignorance. There is a way just Keep the Faith!