THE EXISTENTIAL ROOTS OF NIGERIANS TITLE MADNESS
bu Ozodi Thoma
(Rejoinder to Sabella Abidde)
When I first became aware of Nigerians title craziness it used to bother me. I could not understand why folks want to be called chief professor Dr Alhaji this or that, or why people want to be called by their professions, such as accountant this, engineer that etc. The whole thing seemed ridiculous.
Being who I am, introspective and analytic, I subjected this title madness thing to analysis.
As I pointed out in some of my writings, the reasons folks crave titles are myriad, but for our present purposes it has to do with existentialism.
Existentially (see the writings of Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Heidegger, Jasper, Kierkegaard etc) we are born, grow and must die. Our bodies are food for worms. Essentially, our bodies are food been prepared for worms (for bacteria, virus and fungi). We shall decay and smell to high heaven. You do not want to be near a dead and decoying body, it smells worse than shit.
(This is one advantage those of us who grew up in a war environment have: we were exposed to death. When the Biafrans cleared Owerri, boys from my area were commandeered to go clear up the dead bodies that littered everywhere. God, the smell was unbearable. Since then, I have never had any illusions about human beings; I see a well packaged person I see nothing but a painted white sepulcher.)
Aware of the reality that our bodies are nothing, we feel that diminished self worth. In fact, contemplation of the human body makes us feel worthless and valueless. (In monetary terms, the entire human body is worth about a dollar if you melted it down and sold the minerals in it). The point is that existentially we are nothing. This makes us feel like we are nothing.
At the psychological level we feel inferior and insignificant. We feel like our lives are purposeless and meaningless. Put starkly, we are one giant nothing.
Now, to live on earth we must convince ourselves that we have worth, value and that our lives have meaning and purpose. No human being can live without struggling to convince himself or herself that he has worth.
Life on earth requires us to labor for our food, medications, clothes, shelter etc. To do all the work it takes to provide for our bodies we must have a sense of worth. Thus, everywhere, human beings pursue a sense of worth. They want to seem significant, important and special. No human being can exist without trying to seem important in his eyes and in other people's eyes. Folks seek each others approval; as very important persons.
(In psychological language, we feel inferior and compensate with a desire for superiority; we feel powerless and restitute with desire for power. We all do this but this process is masked in the normal person's mind for he is, more or less, like an animal and not fully self conscious; it is, however, conscious in the mind of the neurotic for he is fully self conscious, fully human. Eco homo, Nietzsche said and went insane. In his insanity he tuned out a humanity he knew is totally nothing. In madness folks live in the fantasy of worth. The psychotic believes that he has worth, we call it grandiosity.)
Each of us seeks existential mask of worth in some fashion. Some seek it via religion.
By believing that there is a God that cares for them human beings manage to convince themselves that they have worth.
Does God exist? Your guess is as good as mine. The relevant point is that belief in God obviates our sense of worthlessness. Belief in God is, psychologically speaking, functional for human beings; it makes their seeming worthless existence seem worthwhile.
(By the way, belief in God is considered delusional; delusion is belief in what is not true as true. There is no evidence that God exists, so to believe in God is to be deluded. Religious persons are considered mildly insane, deluded. Complete insanity, psychosis, has two components, hallucinations and delusions. Religious persons do not hallucinate hence have only an aspect of psychosis, delusion, and are said to be partially insane, not completely insane.)
Some persons are advanced enough that they cannot accept the God hypothesis; these are agnostics and atheists. They still desire worth so how do they obtain it? Some work hard and seem successful in their jobs and that makes them seem important. Some dedicate themselves to the pursuit of knowledge, say science, and to the extent that they appear to be discovering new scientific ideas they feel worthwhile (they feel that their colleagues respect them hence they feel respectable).
Nigerians are human beings and necessarily feel worthless. They attempt to seem important and worthwhile by grasping unto empty titles and or make much ado about their paltry achievements. These people want to be called managing director (of shit), professor of no contribution to knowledge, Dr inability to cure any sick person so that the rich ion Nigeria have to go overseas for medical treatment; engineer who has never designed and constructed any thing.
These people are like children: merely appearing important makes them seem important in their eyes.
If you play their game and collude with them and call them by their empty titles they feel validated, and like you, but if you see through their childish narcissistic game and refuse to buy into it and call them Mr. or Ms they feel angry at you, for you have reminded them of their existential nothingness.
What should you do? Given that man needs to feel important to obviate his existential nothingness, he must have make belief worth; therefore, I recommend that you collude with Nigerians and play their neurotic games and call them as they want to be called: your excellence, your royal highness, prince of Onitsha market, professor, Dr, engineer, chief or whatever they want you to call them. Please affirm their narcissistic desires.
The alternative is to force these empty vessels to become aware of what they are fleeing from: existential nothingness. Not too many of them are capable of accepting that they are food for worms and are rotten shit.
My dear Isabella I say when in Rome do like Romans. Please call Nigerians by their titles.
But if truth be told: the individual is worthwhile, as he is, without external symbols of worth. If the individual goes beyond his separated self, the ego housed in body, he recognizes that he is part of an eternal unified spirit, a spirit that has total worth. In spirit we have worth in body we are nothing. I will not go into metaphysics here.
You ought to dance the Nigerian title dance; bogey with narcissistic Nigerians, "Dr Isabella", the honorary "food research scientist from California ".
Ozodi Thomas Osuji
April 15, 2007