Tuesday, April 25, 2006

My Tribe

I have had this post swirling in my mind since about 2 minutes after 9pm on Monday night, 17 April and I fear that I will not be able to articulate this properly. But here goes.

Most of the Jozi bloggers out there have had a thing or two to say about the Pretoria leg of Robbie Williams’ tour, and I’ve yet to see a negative comment (beyond the usual culprits of traffic, catering and toilets). So this comment is not really about the show. Robbie is an arrogant prat, but I can’t but love the guy and it was a fantastic enthralling show, better than any other act I’ve seen. I had a great time and would gladly do it again & again.

As an aside: This discussion of the word prat if quite interesting.

Q. “In some British magazines I have noticed the word prat, which seems in context to mean a fool or stupid person. Is this related to pratfall?”
A. It is, yes. Prat in this sense means “backside; buttocks”, first recorded in the sixteenth century but of unknown origin. A pratfall is a comedy fall on to the buttocks. The British slang sense dates from the 1960s and means an incompetent, foolish or stupid person. It became popular in the 1980s. It isn’t obscene, but it’s a sharp expression of criticism or abuse.

But back to business. By 9.02 pm we had grappled with parking attendants and queued for toilets and cokes, chilled out to the Wired Daisies & Freshly Ground. (Yes we were there pretty early). And in between this there was plenty of time for people-watching.
Wasted lasses trying to sober up by being paraded up and down the aisle by concerned mates. Very drunk & loud short men who had clearly been warming up for this since breakfast.
Annoyed corporate types wielding their weight in trying to ensure that the seats that their marketing department paid for actually had a view. They never did succeed in getting people not to stand on the barrier railings in front of their seats despite a war of words (very nearly fists, this was Pretoria remember), and attempting to enlist the help of out-of-depth security Guards and most of the Pretoria police force.

Interesting to note that Robbie referred to “Pretoria” without a hint of “Tshwane”. Wonder if it was under deliberate advice or a fortunate unawareness.

But back to reality & 9.02 pm again. All 61,000 of us waving our video cellphones* over our heads, had just spent (………wait for it & do the sums) at least R30 million on this gig. That’s about R500 each (tickets, parking, fuel, pre-gig drinks etc). A thought flashed through my mind and it was : "Oh my God - This is my tribe."
*For a moment I thought that I had lost out on some free promo of light sabre type torches until I realized what these lights were.

So when I see a lamppost headline shrieking “Tutu angry with whites” from this weekend’s Sunday Times and without reading the article I suspect that it has a similar vein to the sense that I am feeling. What are we, as a tribe, really doing to help this country? Are we sacrificing anything for the good of the nation? Or is the benefit we provide just a byproduct of our existence? Can we excuse our apathy?

Nkosinathi Biko, whose father, Steve Biko, was murdered by apartheid security forces recently stated that: "As individuals they (whites) have made no contribution to the process of reconciliation." Can I really dispute this?

I have a sense of helplessness about helping everyone. I cannot donate something to every street beggar, and to protect myself against having to make an agonizing decision at each instance have mentally installed a blanket policy not to give to anyone. I arrived at this policy, not lightly, but by accepting a philosophical argument supplied by Michael Palin, who had faced a similar quandary while traveling through India. It’s a kind of Utilitarian argument, despite a clearly selfish impact, but based on a view that my cost, which because I cannot give to everyone includes an agonizing weighing up of worthiness and then some further sacrifice (usually some cash), may be greater than the benefit I provide (on aggregate) to those that I do decide to give to.

It may make life easier not having to evaluate the relative need, the quality of begging sign “Halp me, no job, no food”, the age of the baby strapped to the mother’s back. But it does not absolve my guilt or indicate that I don’t feel guilt at this situation. I wouldn’t sit at every robot as feeling like I’m at an auction and that one wrong scratch of nose, one bit of eye contact, or one wrong signal could leave me seriously out of pocket.

I know crowds like the Starfish Foundation do great work on the premise that every little bit helps, but why then do I feel so helpless in the wake of huge differences in wealth and abject poverty that exists all?

Can I absolve my guilt? Is it not OK that I pay my taxes and do a regular and honest day’s work (All right..most days).

Is it really OK to blow R30 million in this country, at this stage of history, to wave our cellphones in the air at the antics of one seriously entertaining Stoke-on-Trent-born arrogant prat?

Plenty of questions and I don’t have the answer but somehow I don’t think we do enough to deserve this sort of luxury. I fear that there is much more to be said…I love this country but I'm not sure that I'm proud enough of my contribution or that of my tribe.


Third World Ant said...

I truly believe that every little bit helps - otherwise, no-one should contribute in any way, and thus no-one helps. But I don't believe simply handing money over to a beggar is the answer... perhaps you should explore looking at your talents/hobbies and using these to benefit the undeprivileged? eg. teaching rugby/cricket at some school over the weekend. I teach science to Grade 11 and 12 pupils on Saturdays in Alex, they're there of their own free will (on a Saturday morning!) and are far more grateful for the lesson than any kids I tutored privately in the past. I also mentor a really smart kid from an underprivileged background who got a scholarship to study at St Stithians, again an immensely grateful person who does not take his luck for granted...

one criticism regarding your generalisation of 'your tribe'. By this, I assume you mean white people with jobs. I would extend your definition to 'white and black people with jobs' - I haven't seen any substantial evidence that wealthy black people are any more generous towards the plight of the unfortunate impoverished masses (in fact, my observations lead me think that they're even less generous - but again, a vast generalisation)

ATW said...

Thanks Ant! I knew you were going to make me feel guiltier. Though I'm not a complete reprobate and know some of my actions do make a difference in the lives of some less fortunate than I, clearly not enough. As I said at the start of the post I wasn't sure that I would get my thoughts out properly, and I don't think I entirely did, but I needed to say something and the post had been a draft for a week already.

The kernel of this is
1)how much am I (as an individual) morally obligated to contribute?
2)why do so many folk carry on as if they don't owe anyone anything, seemingly oblivious to their environment and implying that they have a very limited sense of community?

I deliberately didn't have a racial affiliation attached to my tribe although I agree this could have been inferred by my Bishop Tutu reference later on. The reality is that it's about haves & have-nots. I do however feel that there should be some racial sensitivity about this, and regardless of when you were born (ie pre/post 1994) whiteness still (vast generalisation!) carries enormous privilege.

At what point is it morally acceptable to spend R30m on entertainment?

Is it right to be inconsistent (and in a sense quite arbitrary) in my giving?

Is my “policy” just a mask for my meanness? (ouch!)

Too many questions. Maybe we just need more ants (like you) in this third world country.Are you sure you're not a member of starfish?

Anonymous said...

At last something worth commenting on! I see by your response to the comments that there is more (clearly) than just the face value of your posting, I will respond to the face value stuff and maybe leave a view wrt the other issues.

As trite as it may sound, doing nothing is not an option it doesn't help anyone or contribute to anything of value. But I think it may be valuable to analyse what doing something is. Firstly look after yourself and your family and your extended family (in this instance parents will do) a bit like Maslow's first. Secondly (and I suspect this where you come in) do something for the greater good (I'm assuming we don't need to debate the merits of this). The value and/or the extent of this is a moot point. For me personally I've picked a strategy that says 'If everyone did what I did, what would be the outcome?'. What that does is identify two things 1) The Cause (you're 'fighting for') 2)Your Load (that you could/would/should carry). The long and the short of it is carry your load and be a peace with it. Your only other view is to take on every charity and cause - which is clearly not tenable and you are more than likely to violate the first rule (look after yourself and family etc.)

That said, I think your real issue (if I may be so bold) is one of community. When do you start caring about those around you? or put differently, When do you identify the people around you as fellow countrymen (your tribe), 'your people' etc. - worthy of your support and it's support of you. That is a very difficult question (and outcome) indeed. I suppose the strategy described above fits in (sort of) with this problem 'carry your 'community load' and be at peace. Ultimately the outcome is not up to you but those around you (conversely those around you may be depending on you!).

Maybe after all this waffle I'll leave you with a quote (I think it was GK Chesterton) "Rome was not loved because it was great, it was great because it was loved"

ATW said...

Hi Anon. OK, glad this meets the bar of being worthy of comment. My posts, like life are a mixture of the trivial & the serious, mostly trivial. I agree with you that (my) issue is one of wanting and seeing value in a sense of community. My question is not about doing nothing. I would agree that doing nothing is not an option. But the question is just how much I should do. How much more should I do than work hard, give my time to those around me, smile and greet people etc, etc? The breakdown of community seems to have contributed to the uncertainty we have about how much we should do.

How heavy should my load be to have peace with it? A character named Sun Pie* in Bob Dylan's biography that I'm enjoying at the moment says something like we shouldn't worry about the burdens on our conscience because every one has such burdens. ie It's OK not to be at peace with your conscience? Not sure about that but makes you think.

I'm not at odds with the way I currently behave but still feel that something is not quite right. Maybe ,as Sun Pie would conclude, this is entirely normal.

* Google "Sun Pie" Dylan for more on this strange Louisana shopkeeper.