From the Roof Down

Michael Onsando
2 August ,2016

Only once we place human dignity at the centre as opposed to capital can we fight this disease.

Why the World is on Fire

Previously, on Brainstorm, Brenda Wambui closed her article with a note on human dignity. To place the idea that hall human beings are “worthy of honour and respect” (dignity). It seems completely impossible to think about dignity without thinking of bodies and how we are around bodies. Which is to say it’s very difficult to be dignified, or act in a dignified manner, if your body is being infringed upon.

We ask, for example, that the person who was harassed in the workplace to be dignified in the same place, and often before the same people, that harassed them. Or we ask of the worker who was mistreated to be dignified in the same household where they were mistreated. To demand for dignity without taking what this demand entails is to unevenly distribute the burden of understanding. And I call it a burden because to be in privilege is to be able to go through life completely unaware. To be able to not understand – and be understood.

This is why this particular framing sits with me. What does it look like to place human dignity at the centre?

It surely does not look like laughing down the fact that students are burning dorms across the country. Neither does it look like holding onto an institution that was designed to maim and kill those who it is meant to protect. I’m not even sure if it looks like running away from justice in the name of self determination.

But, of course, to say that we have gone through a period where dignity and a dignified existence (whatever that may mean) is at the core of the things we would like to do is a lie. One only needs to look at the news to know that it is not people that are at the core of the agenda. Rather, we seem focused on cutting all the shortcuts to “catch up” with the west (without even thinking about what’s happening, and how the west is eating itself). Our imagination shaped by tall buildings, large highways and big screens in the centre of town.

All these things are not without advantage. To have a better road system is to have easier access. To have more office space – well that’s debatable. But largely ideas of development and progress are not without advantages. Even as I write this I am relying on fairly modern things, like a laptop, electricity and the internet.

But one does get the feeling that there is some opportunity being missed.

We seem to be in a space where we are either focused on moving forward into whatever we are chasing or continuously romanticizing the past. This leaves us particularly blind to the present. Instead of now actually sitting down and trying to imagine new ways (yes, that definitely emulate and are mainly formed by the old) we’re chasing an illusion.

Whether this illusion is something we would like to go back to, or something that we would like to become, none of these things seems based on what we have at our disposal right now. We don’t have the past at our disposal. At least not as readily as we’d like to. We are gathering and analyzing pieces to put it together but that isn’t there for us. We don’t have the funds to develop to the imagined future either (as our national debt shows clearly).

This is not to ignore the large capital disparity between nations globally. Or to say that these are not problems that we should work on.  The question of capital will always be one that must be addressed.

Perhaps it is to ask, if this is a journey – where are we going? And, is there space for us in this world we are creating. Or are we busying ourselves making the very things that will destroy us? Are we participating in creating institutions that will be as toxic to us as the institutions we found? These are things that must be considered right at the beginning. We don’t create and then try and fit humans into it. Rather, we place ourselves, and our needs as humans, at the centre.

Then we build around that.

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