IF YOU CAN, WILL YOU LET A HEAVENLY DONE-OUT NIGERIA SMACK?
A REFLECTION ON HEDONISM; A PRECONDITION FOR TAKE-OFF
“Hedonism (Greek hēdonē, “pleasure”) in its original sense is the doctrine that pleasure is the chief good in life and that the pursuit of it is the ideal aim of conduct”. Non liberal (orthodox) societies perceive hedonism as debase and ungraceful. This could be due to two related reasons:
i. Orthodox religions believe mostly that state of the society and the future (progress or misrule) is fatefully designed by God;
The pragmatist viewpoint is that human condition is pure consequence of collective action and the future is always unshaped. It is rather human actions that shape it. Hence while pragmatist embraced hedonism, orthodox views see hedonism as an attack on their doctrine, their identity. There is however an ambivalence (dilemma or contradiction) to this factor which should interest researchers. Many proverbs in traditional African society suggest belief in pragmatism. Some wits are often laced with phrases suggestive of pragmatism. “Nku onye kpara na okochi k’oga anya n’udu mmiri (the firewood gathered in the dry season shall warm the hearth (fireplace) in the rainy season”. “Onye kwe chi ya ekwe” (the way you believe; so will your destiny be).
This dilemma leads us to the second possible reason.
ii. “Conservatives believe in “faith over reason, tradition over free inquiry, hierarchy over equality, collective values over individualism, and divine or natural law over secular laws”.
Most conservatives believe that “goodness” is embodied in allegiance to religious belief and propagation of it rather than in actions defined by the state that will serve the general good of the society. Most religious doctrines teach that best sanctity is achieved through asceticism (life of little or no physical pleasure) and purgation of pleasure. Hence the concept of hedonism is welcome with reluctance even among scholars in developing nations largely conservative. Given these characteristics, wouldn’t one question whether the Nigerian population is intrinsically a conservative one? Interestingly little Nigerian persons live in “chosen” asceticism.
In contrast to conservatism, Liberalism “has as its basic concern in the development of personal freedom and social progress. Many economists and classical theologians have in their research given credence it.
American economist and Nobel laureate Milton Friedman is one of the 20th century’s most prominent advocates of this liberal tradition. In a 1955 article, Friedman showed the history of liberal thought and changes in the meaning of liberalism over the years. Friedman observed that liberalism was not an end in itself but purely instrumental. He also acknowledged that in economic terms it is expressed as free market enterprise (laissez-faire).
“The government is best that governs least the forces of free competitive market, guide production exchange and industry”. The acclaimed "father of Economics" has his liberalist propositions in his work “the wealth of nations” paraphrased in the above self-made statement.
In the 18th and 19th centuries such British philosophers/theologians as Jeremy Bentham, James Mill, and John Stuart Mill propounded the doctrine of universalistic hedonism, better known as utilitarianism. According to this theory, the ultimate criterion of human behaviour is the good of society, and the guiding principle of individual moral conduct is allegiance to that which procures and promotes the welfare of the greatest number of people. Utilitarianism is the doctrine that what is useful is good, and consequently, that the ethical value of conduct is determined by the utility of its results. The term utilitarianism is more specifically applied to the proposition that the supreme objective of moral action is the achievement of the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Neoclassical as W S Jevons propounded the principle of greatest happiness; No Custom, No tradition or suchlike so sacred must stand if it stands in the way of "greatest happiness". this implies that traditions must exist but secondary to progress.
The objective of this utilitarianism is also considered the aim of all legislation and is the ultimate criterion of all social institutions. British philosopher and economist Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was the originator of the doctrine of utilitarianism.
Hedonism is not just a child of wanton economic rationality. It has moral justifications. Utilitarianism was supported by the British moralist and theologian William Paley in his “Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy”. Paley combined individualistic hedonism and theological authoritarianism (belief in God and allegiance to moral laws). For the sake of everlasting happiness, we obey God and do “good” to mankind. He maintained the necessity of sacrificing smaller interests to greater interest and so posited as the ethical goal of human society the greatest happiness of the greatest number.
John Stuart Mill rejected the straitjacketed identification of the concept “happiness” with “pleasure and the absence of pain”. There is always a balance of both. In an instance with labour (i.e. removing institutional factors that determine working hours or days); “people adjust their individual work schedule to the point of their own individual equilibrium between utility and disutility (discomfort) of their labour”. This is a major ground of neoclassical (Marginalist or mainstream) Economics.
Claiming any sole-diagnostics of the hackneyed problem of underdevelopment in the African economy will be hypocrisy. But my research has shown this little: Denouncing empiricism and hedonism while delving into science with the unbending notion of orthodoxy is contradictory and more like an abhorrence to growth and futile for a traditional society (seeking to break from the vicious circle of underdevelopment) and for the individual too. It deteriorates. And when it doesn’t the society merely swings to and fro the statuesque ante. The Nigerian society and indeed the less developed world are a good case study. As you already know, liberalism is depicted in the western society, while conservatism, in the least developed countries. Perhaps this could be one of or the main reasons “Capitalism succeeds in the West and fails anywhere else”. From liberalism came utilitarianism or hedonism. From hedonism, welcome Economics! The conservative-liberal dilemma is a common factor in the Nigerian society. It could be an inhibition or at best a precondition for take-off. If you have a vote would you vote for the later or let a HEavenly DOne-out NIgeria SMack?