“SOME NATIONAL STUPIDITIES” – A Letter to President HH
Dear Mr. President,
I watched your recent Press Briefing with devoted admiration as you, taking no intellectual prisoner, excoriated noise from news, fiction from fact, and myth from memo.
Your message, sir, was clear: The path to recovery will be long and winding. It calls for patience. It will pass through painful valleys, often with gates controlled by others who don’t share our pain or urgency. To get where we are going, we must work, work, work. For we can only fuel this journey through relentless production, and not through hedonistic consumption. This is what I heard from you, in summary.
Mr. President, I might be wrong, but the abrupt way you ended the presser suggested a bit of frustration on your part. Mainly, I thought the most flustering part for you was Frank Mutubila’s question – how do you reconcile glowing diaspora admiration with growing domestic discontent?
I thought you answered that question, like those before it, very well. However, that moment resembled a Jesus-on-the-cross moment: Doing the right thing, crucified for doing the right thing. This, Mr President, as you already know, is not the first time people will vilify, to use your words, “the cat that catches the mice.” Nor will it be the last.
I recently read an essay by Mark Twain, written in 1891 called “Some National Stupidities.” It’s an old piece, sir, but the message isn’t. In this essay, Twain praises the German stove and bemoans the fact that Americans continued to prefer their monstrous woodstoves that practically required a dedicated full-time staff to keep them running. He wrote: The slowness of humans in embracing ideas that are valuable and come with a promise of sustainable advantage is a curious and unconscionable thing. “Sadly,” he continued, “this form of stupidity is confined to no community, to no nation; it is universal.”
The fact is that humanity is not only slow in adopting valuable ideas and pathways—it sometimes persists in rejecting them completely. Take the German stove in Twain’s essay, for instance—the huge white porcelain device that offered a cleaner environment and required far less effort, rejected in favour of its American cousin, a solemn, unsympathetic pollutant suggestive of slow death and eventual grave. This, Mr. President, is what Mark Twain called a “national stupidity”.
Mr. President, let me explain why “national stupidities” occur, if I may. The late nineteenth century was a rough time for frogs, worms, and a number of other creatures. As the study of physiology blossomed in Europe and America (thanks in part to Charles Darwin whose memorial centre you recently visited), scientists went wild dividing, dismembering, and relocating these unfortunate creatures. According to scientific legend, they also slowly heated some of the animals in order to test the extent to which they could adapt to changes in their environments.
Sir, the most famous example of this kind of research is the apocryphal story of the frog in boiling water. Supposedly, if you place a frog in a pot of very hot water, it will scramble around and quickly jump out. However, if you put one in a pot of room-temperature water, the little guy will stay there contentedly. Now, if you slowly increase the temperature, the frog will stay put as it acclimates to the rising change in temperature. And if you continue to turn up the heat, the frog will eventually boil to death, having gradually lost its instinct to leap out of trouble. Mr. President, the boiling-frog story is the quintessence of the principle of adaptation.
The general premise, sir, is that all creatures, including Zambians, can get used to almost anything over time. This ability to adapt to anything is supposed to be a great asset to humanity, but, unfortunately, it is also the hemlock that feeds our “national stupidities” as the frog story pejoratively demonstrates. The frog sits there, adapting to the rise in temperature until it dies.
Similarly we all carry the frog instinct. We adapt to both good and bad things. When we elected you, we were exercising our frog instinct to jump out of what was clearly a decadent trajectory. The problem is that we had lost track of how far we had adapted to the ruinous path. So, now we miss the warm deception of the rising temperature in the former order.
Sir, the same instinct explains why spouses hang on to abusive relationships. To save face, they will say “I’m staying in this relationship because of the children” or “the devil you know is better than the angel you don’t”. That is because they cannot say “I am staying in this relationship because I am experiencing ‘some national stupidities.’” Mr President, do you listen to Zambian music, by the way? In the words of musician Indi K (featuring Dandy Crazy) – we all have our moments where we cling to toxic situations and say “chipuba chandi, ndekeni nemwine.”
So, when there is a change, and a new pathway is introduced, our natural reaction is to resist, complain, and want to revert to a semblance of the status quo because that is the path we feel we own.
When people are complaining, Mr. President, it could be one of two things. Either the path is painful and wrong, or the path is painful but right. The role of leaders is to discern. If it’s because of the former, then we need to change course. My view is that the path you are leading us on is painful but right. Some of the pain we are going through is that of having adapted to tantameni, national holidays at every whim, disguised prices, and tariffs. We came to own these things. They became our tantameni, our holidays, and our prices. So, in our eyes, you are the villain that has taken something away from us. Left unchecked, we would prefer these things even though they will lead us into a ditch. Indeed, even though they have led us into a ditch. They are, collectively, our “national stupidity.”
There is a passage in the Bible that you will, no doubt, be familiar with, Mr President. The nation of Israel was on its way to the promised land. Somewhere in the heat of the desert, as the going got tough, they murmured these words to Moses: “We wish we had died in the land of Egypt. There we sat by the flesh pots, and we did eat bread to the full. But you, you have brought us here into this wilderness, to kill us all with hunger.” Ex 16.3. They preferred slavery with food to freedom with food. To hell with dignity, they preferred lining up (tantameni) and receiving meat and bread. It was their “national stupidity.”
All this to say Mr. President, do not be distracted by the transient murmurs of a nation that adapted to previous encumbrances. Be encouraged by the enduring goal of “dignity and peace ‘neath Zambia’s sky.” The same nation which is complaining in the wilderness will be clapping in the land of milk and honey.
Ba Sikana, you should have used simple English unlike the bombastic words which the propagators of national stupidity will not understand
Totally agree with you ba Dorica. “The Propagators of National Stupidities will not understand”, their IQ is at Imbecility level. Their Lot in life is always looking for a “Free lunch”, never heard of a word in their Vocabulary called “hardwork” and they have professionally perfected their Art of Complaining, negative Blogs and frog jumping from one Radio Station to another spreading and spewing toxic News.
Educative piece of cake. Especially the part about the Isrealites in the wilderness complaining and wanting to go back into slavery in Egypt. Yes, that is our NATIONAL STUPIDITY. Iam sure the propagators of this stupidity know this, and they just want the Zambian people to be the frog that should have remained sitting in the pot as they ( the propagators of national stupidity) increased the heat by their reckless borrowing and plunder.
What a wonderful piece of writing. But those still supporting previous regime mentality will not understand anything from this write, just like the other guy in the clothes who demeaned HH graph’s presentation on the pulpits of his shrine.
Patrick in a long while have i read sense like
what you have written above. Please do write more my dear. The fools like mwamba, tayali and mmembe are flooding the media with national stupidity. Well spoken chief.
Very well written article! Some sound thoughts. The President needs to read this. More from the author please!!