Guest post by Professor Patience Kabamba
My daughter, who graduated from high school, had just enrolled in the sociology department at Columbia University. I asked her why did she choose sociology when she might be doing medicine or law which would earn her enough money. She told me, against all odds, that she wanted to be happy and not run after money.
I was very surprised especially since in America the system trains at the top of the education people who can solve economic problems, not necessarily those who can formulate them in a way that integrates the whole social dimension as the economy. implied. Indeed, from Adam Smith, to Ricardo, or Malthus as well as Charles Marx, the economy had always had a social dimension, but from the 19th century, the economy was financialized and claims to become a hard science at the same way of physics. Economic success is measured by the billions in profit a company has made even if it has laid off millions of workers for it.
During my fellowship at the university of Notre Dame, in Indiana, I witnessed a latent war between pure economists and economists who believed that the economy should be used for the development of peoples. The brightest Harvard students end up on Wall Street and don't do philosophy or literature. The consequence is that students are trained to enter this system to become employable. All horizons are reduced to economic accumulation. We develop the ability to build algorithms that make it easier to distribute and collect money. Success is thus measured by the amount of money accumulated. In one of my classes at Utah Vally University, I asked my students what they wanted to do with their lives. All without exception would like to make 6 figures of annual income, that is, to earn millions of dollars. So history lessons are deserted, except perhaps for the history of finance. Philosophy classes are barely audible, and anthropology, for which I spent ten years at Columbia University, is structured on very weak philosophical foundations. Indeed, between 2002 and 2008, as none of the professors in the anthropology department had a solid philosophical base, the department became excessively politicized.
The Goal of Education in America
The goal of education in America is to train young people who will integrate the system, not challenge it. Indeed, to be able to question a politico-economic system that leaves behind thousands of poor people, we must be able to read and learn to argue. In America today, Goethe, Spinoza or Aristotle would live on food stamps because they would be unemployed. The system produces people who may be able to count, but who are fundamentally illiterate. It would be prudent for the world not to imitate America which only works for a handful of the haves and the rest work for them.
The world is not built by finance. Poetry, philosophy, literature have all helped to produce the world we live in. The economy as Oikia, the management of the household was part of the literature. In fact, in African villages out of 7 days of the week, there was one or two market days. The accumulation activities, which was also accompanied by people’s interactions in the market, took only two days.
In this hyper financial culture of America, how can we introduce an ethics such as Paul Ricoeur? I had the good fortune to meet Ricoeur in the 1990s in Paris. According to Ricoeur, ethics is the search for the good life with and for others in just institutions
Ethical Education Systems
Let us briefly consider this Ricoeurian definition step by step:
1. The search for the good life. What is the good life? The basic minimum for a good life can be summed up in three things: a) eat well and dress well, b) seek treatment when you are sick and finally c) be able to send your offspring to good schools.
In the American context that I described above, eating well has become a path of ordeal for many families. I often have fun telling my African students that in America poor people are very fat because they eat bad food that costs less like Macdonalds and other “ne-fast food”.
b) To be properly treated, you must have medical insurance. Almost 40 million Americans do not have health insurance. They wait until they are very sick to go to the emergency room where they may be treated without paying. Obama had decided to become President of the United States , among other things, to give the medical insurance to the millions of Americans, mostly black, who did not have it. In this world we have built where exchange value has become autonomous to the point of eliminating all traces of human relationships in the commodity, health has become the place of enrichment for insurance companies.
Finally, c) send your children to good schools. The parents of my students at Mary Mount Manhattan College in New York were spending a fortune to educate their children at the university level. In short, higher education in America has become a business. The best universities belong to a former football league called today Ivy League which includes all the best American universities including Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, Yale, Stanford or UPenn, etc. In these private universities the academic fees go up to $ 70,000 per year and have to be multiplied by 4 years. Students finish their university studies with large debts towards banks. Banks have indeed found natural customers who repay once they have finished their studies. So young American couples start their lives miserably because they have to reimburse the costs of their studies.
In fact, everything that is vital has become a source of profit for American capitalism. Food, health or education, which form the backbone of the good life, have become places of profit in the United States of America. In the great America, profit has thus become the unsurpassable horizon of human action.
2)The second element of ethics of Ricoeur is that this good life must be lived with others. The ego, without the others, is a Robinson Crusoe, it does not exist. Merleau-Ponty expressed it very well in his Praise of Philosophy, I quote: "Either it is with others that we are going to the truth, or we are not going to the truth. "
If we proclaim that a firm like General Motors has made several billions in profits and that its CEO has earned a bonus of several million dollars, and at the same time we announce that the firm has gotten rid of 3000 employees, that's success. This is an example of a successful American business.
Ricoeur does not stop with the fact that ethical living is the search for the good life with others, but also for others. Attention to others is elevated to the rank of ethical primacy. The weak and the less able wait for the strong and the smartest to come to their aid. Emmanuel Levis talks to us about the face of the other which imposes itself on me like as a law. A life for others therefore has an undeniable ethical value and is constitutive of our primordial self (our selfhood, as Ricœur would say).
3) Finally and very briefly, as I would take a whole MDW to dissect the rest of the elements of the ethical definition of Paul Ricoeur, the last phase of the Ricoeurian ethics is that the good life with and for others must be lived in just institutions. It is our duty to work to build just institutions, a governable country for the good of all.
About the Author
Dr. Patience Kabamba is originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). After directing the anthropology program at Utah Valley University, Orem, Utah, Dr. Kabamba was appointed professor of anthropology at the National Pedagogical University (UPN) in Kinshasa, DRC. He is also an international consultant on community forestry and the protection and preservation of biodiversity in the Congo Basin forests. He has written articles in international journals and two books on his experiences as an anthropologist in the Nande community of Butembo, in Grand Nord Kivu. He holds university degrees in mathematics (Kikwit RDC), development studies (Durban), philosophy (Paris and Louvain) and cultural anthropology (Columbia University New York.)