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Should I stay or should I go now?

Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double…

An afro-pessimist and an afro-optimist walked into a bar. After hours of intensive and at times aggressive arguments over drinks in glasses of varying fullness, the only thing they could agree on was that this joke has no punchline.

Unintuitively, an afro-pessimist is not somebody with a negative outlook on life and a voluminous, curly hairstyle. Rather, “Afro-pessimism refers to the perception of sub-Saharan Africa as a region too riddled with problems for good governance and economic development.” (Thanks, encyclopedia.com. As for why the little bit above the Sahara gets a free pass, I don’t know.) Afro-optimism is also a thing, and from the first entry on Google, is a “state of absolute conviction that a bright future lies ahead for the African continent, and that we (the sons and daughters of the continent) will be the crafters of such a future,” admittedly and perhaps ironically from a blog that doesn’t appear to have been updated in a while.

Apparently, neither word is used commonly enough to be recognised by any of the cool dictionary sites, but the attitudes they describe are common in South Africa. The aforementioned bar-room brawl occurs frequently in the comments section of many digital articles. I will high-mindedly identify myself as an afro-realist, who is disappointed that he can’t take credit for coining any of these afro-words.

Complex systems

There’s one problem that afro-pessimism and afro-optimism share with one another, and that’s the fallacy that we can realistically predict what might happen in a system as complex as a country, let alone a continent. Afro-realists, on the other hand, thumb their noses at the other two and manage to be just as oblivious to the shortcomings of their knowledge, with a healthy dose of of arrogance to boot.

I don’t doubt that for every major event in history there have been people who correctly predicted the outcome, but if they attribute their success to superior intellect or insight they’re being a bit full of it. I once predicted my lotto ticket wouldn’t win the grand prize and I was right.

Stated differently, even a broken clock is right twice a day, and with millions of people predicting the future, it stands to reason some of them will be right – the future has to go somewhere, and it can’t do so without running over someone’s opinion and occasionally making a crackpot look clever.

The wise types – scenario planners – don’t pretend they can predict the outcome. They operate more along the lines of “if nothing seriously unexpected happens from this point on, then we attribute a 40% chance to scenario 1, a 40% chance to scenario 2, and a 20% chance to scenario 3.” Even then a steady stream of unexpected something’s ensure a never-ending work in progress. Also consider sports betting – the odds change all the time, and even the rank outsider sometimes wins (cough *Bangladesh* cough).

But while we might not be able to realistically predict the future, we do need to make decisions – even if you could mathematically pin the odds of South Africa going to hell in a hand-basket at 50:50, you can’t half-emigrate. You can hedge your bets, but not your family. Okay, you probably could hedge your family – don’t. Rather, consider your options.

A criticism of afro-pessimism

There are a number of very serious problems that we face in this country, and I take no issue when they are highlighted. Solving them requires identifying them. Afro-criticism (I’m claiming that one!) does not automatically imply afro-pessimism. What I do take exception to is the generalisation of issues. “Nkandla spending was a misappropriation of public finances” – specific and useful criticism. “The SA government is hopelessly corrupt and will never succeed” – unspecific and unhelpful.

What I also take exception to is the implication that problems are definitive proof that we are days, weeks or years away from spectacular economic collapse. As it turns out, as far as bad stuff goes, we’re only average. Consider a few of the following points, and then take your “only in South Africa” and shove it up your…never mind.

South Africa is corrupt – According to the 2014 corruption index, Greece and Italy are perceived by their populations to be more corrupt than we are. So are the economic powerhouses of Russia, India and China. We rank 67th out of 175. Nothing to brag about, certainly, but leagues from imminent doom.

Racism is rife – Well, yes – yes it is. But we’re one of few places in the world where we’re trying to make something very difficult (harmony across a broad spectrum of races and cultures) work. ‘First world countries’ such as Australia and ‘murica just murdered their indigenous populations first, and even now hardly set much of an example for racial harmony. Europe never really had much diversity to deal with, but their attitudes towards immigration now doesn’t suggest they’d have set much of an example if they did.

Our economy is imbalanced, and the disparity between rich and poor is the largest worldwide – Okay, here we’re pretty awful. Suggestions are that we are one of the top ten most unequal countries in the world. Then again, if you simply move all the poor people somewhere else, you look much better. Or kill them. Or raid surrounding nations for hundreds of years. It also doesn’t hurt to have a thousand year head start on your economy.

Our human rights record is shocking – Compared to? On paper our constitution is one of the best in the world. That doesn’t mean to say that what’s on paper is what matters, but again we’re actually just average. Presumably the study doesn’t track human rights violations outside of the relevant country’s borders.

South Africa is the Rape Capital of the World – This has been debunked. Or perhaps more accurately, never bunked in the first place. Even if not, one would need to add the disclaimer, “out of countries where they didn’t shoot the researchers.”

Only in South Africa would they order the wrong trains.” Oh, and also in France.

Only in South Africa do protestors riot and burn stuff.” See also Paris. I’d provide links but there are so many. Other places too, of course.

I want to be absolutely clear that these are all very serious problems, and “everyone else is doing it too” is not an excuse. But quit using these examples to ‘prove’ that South Africa is a terrible place. And please. PLEASE. If someone posts or says something about how beautiful the country is, or lists something positive, or waxes lyrical about how much they love it here, and you’re tempted to list some counter examples – just keep it to yourself. (If it’s relevant, I’ll allow it).

And please. PLEASE. If you feel the need to criticise a problem in South Africa  – there are many and you are welcome – please leave out ‘this is why I left South Africa’ or ‘South Africa is going to the dogs’ or ‘I need to get out of here’ or ‘only in South Africa’. I’ll explain why in a little bit.

A (short) criticism of afro-optimism

I definitely prefer optimists of all kind to pessimists. Even if they are wrong, they are more pleasant to be around. In my experience, afro-optimists are also not quite as sweeping in their views as the pessimists except when they’re coming to the defence of their country.

My specific  request to the afro-optimists is this – don’t resent the ex-patriots. Here’s why. Even if South Africa is not a mere step up from hell itself, there are undeniably better places – depending on your definition of better. There are absolutely safer places. There are absolutely more stable places. There are less corrupt places, and more organises places. There are warmer places and there are colder places. If ‘more something’ is more important to someone else, don’t begrudge them that choice.

(And this is why the pessimists should also refrain from generalisations) Criticising other peoples CHOICES is douchy. Resenting other people’s choices aloud is also douchy.

Different strokes

I hate camping. To me, it’s uncomfortable. Give me five stars (I’ll settle for four, six is better) any day. But a luxury holiday is not BETTER, intrinsically, than a camping holiday . It’s just different. It has pro’s and con’s.  And for every camper who doesn’t mind cold water and holes in the ground, there’s an extreme adventurer who is willing to risk death for the experience.

Likewise, South Africa is a bit like a ‘luxury’ camping holiday. Halfway in between a base camp on Everest and a Dubai hotel. It’s got warm water and soft beds, but if the weather is REALLY bad you might get quite wet. Someone will very likely swipe your spare gas bottle. Me, I like my holidays luxurious and my countries interesting. I’ve found first world society overseas to be shallow and uninteresting and ignorant on average (that’s a gross generalisation – there are many exceptions).

As for my intro lyrics – it’s not that hard to make song lyrics fit a situation they weren’t originally intended for, but these from the Clash do fit rather well:

Darling, you gotta let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
If you say that you are mine
I’ll be there till the end of time
So you gotta let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

It’s always tease, tease, tease
You’re happy when I’m on my knees
One day is fine and the next is black
So if you want me off your back
Well, come on and let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know

In short – stay or go – it’s your decisions and you shouldn’t feel bad. But don’t be a douche about it.



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