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        Sunday, July 16, 2006
        Socrates against poverty

        I am reading Riches for the Poor by Earl Shorris, and I'm feeling very philosophical about democracy, political space, political engagement and all that painfully abstract stuff. The book (A MUST READ) is an analysis of poverty in America and an excitingly unique solution: "reviving political activism among the poor" through the humanities. The project that Shorris spear headed is called the Clemente Course in the Humanities. It may sound like "why don't they eat cake" type of solution for the poor – teaching them Greek philosophy, literature and art. But, by the time you flip page 7, you will start not just seeing the dots, but most importantly, connecting them.

        Of itself, the Clemente Course does not answer the question. It is only a manifestation of the answer. The course is the Greek answer, and even though it opoerates in Maya and Cup'ik as well as Western/European culture, its Athenian roots are old and very deep. If any one person can be singled out as its founder, it must be Socrates, for he not only gave the course a method, he was the first exemplify the connection between the political world and the humanities.

        Democracy and freedom seem to be requisites for the humanities to flourish. But Shorris questions if "thoughtless freedom (is) possible" without the humanities... I ask if the humanities are requisites for democracy and freedom.

        I have been wondering about the thing that's missing from the poor in America (being an Ethiopian of course I naturally seek for any parallels between the poor in Ethiopian and American…) I couldn’t explain what was missing in the American poor until I started reading this book by Shorris. The best explanation that I could come up with was that the inner city kids and the families I work with are as if they are disconnected from life, as if they have given up… That was not far off from the truth – I just didn't have a philosophical lingo to describe it and instead I used my mother's lingo and talked about glazing eyes and tired spirits… Now, I am attacking this like Socrates.

        My experience with working with 'the poor' in Ethiopia was the other way round. People are super-political and so philosophical about their life what poverty/development mean it is staggering. The only thing is that the resources (the material stuff) they need to improve their lives is out of reach. My wish for them is that somebody will start from their rich outlook and assist them in creating a political space for them. Shorris is spot on with his observation that the rich feels that training (not education) is what the poor need to come out of poverty – training to speak properly, pull pants up and not show underwear, anger management as opposed to removing what makes them angry in the first place (in America), make a veggie garden in a barrel, build a stove from cow dung…(in Africa). I suggest NGOs in Africa organize training courses for themselves to be taught the humanities by 'the poor' in Africa. Then and only then can they get to the bottom of the problem in Africa.

        I’m not done with this subject, but I have to pack now to go on vacation. Meanwhile, I invite you to read about the course. Do share your opinions about it because I'm going to go full force with it for my inner city kids after my vacation.
        posted by Fikirte @ 11:09 AM   Digg!
        1 Comments:
        • name<="c115393516542210117" id="c115393516542210117">

          At 1:32 PM, Anonymous Chereka said…

          An interesting topic, and I look forward to your follow up. My question though is that I am not sure if Shorris is proposing that the solutions you listed, pulling pants up (lol), speaking properly, etc are possible solutions to poverty in the US or if it is a mere observation by him of the rich and their solution? And where do you stand on this point?

          Thanks

           
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