Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Saturday, September 2, 2017

THIS IS WHAT REAL COMMITMENT LOOKS LIKE

I have talked on the blog in the past about my old friend, Judith Baker, who, after a career in the Boston school system, has devoted many years to promoting literacy among African children.  Some of you may recall my description of her brainchild, the African Storybook Project, for which I was privileged to raise some money through my USSAS network.  I just received this circular e-mail letter from her about her current trip to Southern Africa.  It offers a fascinating insight into the on-the-ground problems she and others face in bringing literacy to African children.

"Hello Family and Friends,

I didn’t have decent enough email in Nigeria to communicate but now I’m in South Africa with a very good connection so I want to write and see how you all are and tell you a bit about my last week.

Travel to Nigeria was very exhausting for me and travel from there to Johannesburg almost as bad. We left the hotel yesterday at 10am and I only got into the B&B here at 6am. Ethiopian Airlines is one of the few that seems to fly to Nigeria these days and it’s certainly not what one calls comfortable, and the food isn’t really edible, so even though I got in at 6, I stayed awake to have breakfast.

But the time in Nigeria was very good. I worked very hard for most of the conference, because even though the host, Reading Assoc of Nigeria, is very capable, conference logistics are sort of a nightmare. People arrive late or not at all, visa problems abound, things begin hours late and the schedule has to be rewritten every half day to accommodate everyone. I think there were over 150 papers scheduled in basically 5 sessions, so I really couldn’t attend many of them because I was too busy assisting. I did manage to get to a few though, and they were quite fascinating. People study all sorts of uniquely African problems in the schools - no books, teacher shortages, no buildings, no electricity, on and on, plus each clan or area has very definite cultural expectations.

Here is one story, shortened, that my friend from the Karamoja area is grappling with: When the British ruled Uganda, in the 1880’s there was an outbreak of cattle disease among a large tribe of herds people so the British decided to vaccinate the cows and wrote down every cow that was vaccinated on paper. However, the cows died anyway. Then in WWI, the British recruited members of this tribe, a very strong and sometimes warlike people, into the army to fight in Europe, and again signed people up on paper using pens. Most of those young men were simply cannon fodder and never returned. So the Karmajong people decided that ink was deadly to them and held a ceremony in which they broke and buried the pens. They vowed never to allow their children to go to school.  Now, the educators are trying to convince them to change their minds, and it has been very difficult to do that.

Another story: Many deep rural cultures have agreed to send their children to school and become educated. But the problem that very often arises is that those children go off to higher education and of course they never return to their home villages. This means that the tribes or clans have been losing their most talented children, the ones who should become the leaders and eventually elders.

So African educators try hard to find better ways to educate without destroying cultures and communities.

Anyway, things are always more complicated than outsiders, even well wishing ones, imagine, and many foreign interventions can be unexpectedly quite negative.

My own experience with the Pan African is that I have made many good friends in many countries by working on this conference. My volunteer job for over 10 years has been to run the google group that sends out announcements. We have almost 1000 people on this list. But when we set it up, it didn’t occur to me that my own name would be what appears on the ‘from’ line - so there are many people who think of me as a friend who haven’t even met me. I did not intend that and I tried to change it so that the conference itself appeared, but I couldn’t figure it out, and now it’s too late.

The conference committee gave me a lovely special thank you for all these years of work, really took time to honor me, and I was very embarrassed but will send a photo - well I guess I’ll have to put photos on FB since I can’t get this to send them by mail.

This week I’m working in Joburg, and Brook arrives Thursday. Next week we go to Zimbabwe to each do our own work, then we’re on to Durban which is too far in the future for me to think about at the moment.

Feel free to share this since I don’t have unlimited bandwidth.

Judith"

7 comments:

Jerry Fresia said...

Heartening to know that there are such good, dedicated people such as Judith doing good work.
She puts to shame so called "generous" billionaires such as Gates.

The ink story reminded me of the story of the "cargo cults"

Her story sure puts into perspective my "problems."

LFC said...

in WWI, the British recruited members of this tribe, a very strong and sometimes warlike people, into the army to fight in Europe, and again signed people up on paper using pens. Most of those young men were simply cannon fodder and never returned. So the Karmajong people decided that ink was deadly to them and held a ceremony in which they broke and buried the pens. They vowed never to allow their children to go to school. Now, the educators are trying to convince them to change their minds, and it has been very difficult to do that.

Very interesting.

As an aside, of course it wasn't only the members of this tribe who died in large numbers (cf. the casualty figures for all parties incl. of course the British themselves), but from a cultural angle this is fascinating.

Somewhat though not completely off-topic: someone drew my attention to a piece roughly a week ago from the NYT, a reporter's account of a murder (of a wife by her husband) in rural India (Uttar Pradesh, to be more precise). The reporter spent some time talking w/ the chief of the village in question, who is not formally educated but is a shrewd, if somewhat unscrupulous, politician.

At one point he asked the NYT reporter a whole series of questions, two of which were: "Why did the British leave India? If they left, why are you [the NYT reporter] still here?"

I thought to myself: this uneducated local politician has just invented the theory of neocolonialism. ;)

LFC said...

@Jerry Fresia

She puts to shame so called "generous" billionaires such as Gates

The Gates Foundation actually has done some good work, esp. on public health issues in Africa and elsewhere, for ex. On-the-ground people are essential and often heroic, but they need money. One kind of effort doesn't have to exclude others.

Jerry Fresia said...

Gates' philanthropy is riddled with conflicts of interest. (https://newint.org/features/2012/04/01/bill-gates-charitable-giving-ethics)

Anyone who has a billion dollars, let alone 90 billion dollars, didn't earn it and is the beneficiary of what could easily be called organized crime. That charity, as opposed to democratic institutions, assumes such an important role in the lives of the people Judith works to help is indicative of a word economy marked by massive inequality, ruthless empire building, and injustice. I don't think the immiseration of the Africans described above and the accumulation of obscene wealth by philanthropic billionaires (not unlike the philanthropy of people like Andrew Carnegie vis-a-vis the workers he exploited) are at all separate.





s. wallerstein said...

There seems to be conflict between two ethical outlooks.

From the standpoint of virtue ethics, Judith Baker is a model of a virtuous human being: generous, committed, compassionate, courageous, etc.

However, from the standpoint of consequential ethics, we have to see who obtains better results in terms of improving the welfare of Africans. Gates was a ruthless capitalist who became rich by running competitors out of business and undoubtedly he doesn't donate a cent towards African welfare without first consulting his staff of tax lawyers, but his philanthropy (which given his huge fortune, I'd hardly call "generous") may obtain excellent results. Judith Baker takes Ethiopian Airlines, and Gates uses his own private jet, but since he avoids the delays of Ethiopian Airlines, Gates may thus save time and get a head start on his philanthropic projects, thus increasing his effectivity. Life is cruel and ironic.

LFC said...

@J Fresia

I agree that the world economy is marked by significant inequality and injustice. Gates himself made his fortune in the context of a national and global capitalist economy. How direct a line to draw from companies like Microsoft to the immiseration of Africans is debatable. I think multinational oil and other extractive-resource companies are more directly linked. Of course Microsoft has global supply chains for its computers and other products that probably involve extraction of minerals under dangerous and exploitive conditions. The extent to which Microsoft has tried to monitor that w a view to ameliorating some conditions, I don't know. The question of whether its money is morally tainted is somewhat separate from the question of whether the Gates Foundation has had any good effects. I mean they're analytically separate. You may want to say that everything the Gates Foundation does is bad because its money is morally tainted. Offhand I think that wd not be my position. But this cd be a longer conv. that I'm prob. not up for rt now.

Jerry Fresia said...

LFC:

The question for me, in the context of the blog, isn't whether the Gates Foundation money does good in Africa. Andrew Carnegie's libraries were good. The question is, What does real commitment look like? All things considered, I would still maintain that Judith's commitment puts to shame the commitment of Bill Gates - and yes, they are not mutually exclusive.