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Kalkidan Yibeltal

It is easy to detect a certain underlying absurdity, and perhaps futility, in Addis Abeba City Administration’s attempt to ban non-Ethiopian celebrations in schools. But the administration is drafting a law to that effect, so we are told. The celebrations in question include Halloween and Crazy Day.

Teenage students attending many of the city’s schools, especially the private ones, have recently gotten into cultivating the (counter) culture of observing hitherto unfamiliar celebrations largely to the slight disapproval, and maybe confusion, of parents. Thus, the proposed prohibition, if anything, is going to have the effect of appeasing the latter. Nonetheless the questions remain: what is non-Ethiopian and, for that matter, what is Ethiopian? What traits are required of a celebration for it to be shunned or embraced based on its concept of Ethiopian-ness?

Apparently the city administration has some ideas in mind.

On some level, it, in fact, seems that the city is keen on putting a superfluous burden on its shoulders by deciding to meddle into the merriment of students. However it is also worthwhile to remember that states generally enforce morality on their subjects and the city administration’s effort can be evaluated in the light of this fact.

As a community (in this case, of students) needs a set of principles to govern its sense of right and wrong, the government puts forth laws by which each individual member of the community must abide. It lays restrictions on some activities while it encourages certain other behavior patterns.

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The German philosopher Immanuel Kant sought the universal when it comes to morality. His concept of Categorical Imperative expounded in Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785) maintains that duties and obligations stem from an ultimate commandment which he dubbed Imperative. An imperative, according to him, is any proposition pronouncing whether a certain action (or its absence) is indispensable. “Act only according to that maxim by which you can, at the same time will, that it should become a universal law,” he writes.

But for his compatriot of decades later,Fredrick Nietzsche begs to differ as “[m]orality is neither rational nor absolute nor natural.” Writing in Beyond Good and Evil (1886) Nietzsche continues: the “world has known many moral systems each of which advances claims universality; all moral systems are therefore particular, serving a specific purpose for their propagators or creators.”

A key problem with moral enforcers like governments is that, more often than not, they manifest the tendency to (ab)use their position by laying duties and obligation in line with a special interest they want to sustain.  This is painfully true in our country. Laws that regulate behavior are seen to be drafted with the ultimate aim of advancing the legislator’s benefit veiled as ‘public interest’. And in the name of this ‘public interest’ utter disregard of individual freedom is commonplace.

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We generally have a propensity to be at odds with the American philosopher of education John Dewey who argued that education is not preparation for life; it, in itself is life. We tend to believe that the ultimate end of a child’s education is exterior; it is in serving his/her community, his/her country. Thus schools are seen as incubators of good citizens. One way of understanding the city administration’s possible effort is just that.

The administration might also fancy itself as a guardian of local puritanism in which its role include defending the schools from the incursion of typically Western tenets. In an ever more increasingly intertwined and intertwining world, the Local appears to be destined to lose its battle with the Global. But this doesn’t seem to stop it from striking back with vengeance. Thus, the surge we are witnessing in local pride and an assertion of identity in a wide range of places.


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