Political rally

Jubilant Kenyans during a political rally at Kamukunji Grounds in Nairobi on June 27, 2023.

| Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

Stop this violent pleasure hunt

What you need to know:

  • It has now become a political fashion to make promises, some quite fantastic and outrageous.
  • The Kenyan political mob is only moved by the strongest, most violent and least measured utterances.

Some good people got in touch with me recently and asked me to do some work with them. I was happy to sit down and write a proposal and a budget and sent it over. After a long period, I thought a little bit more and improved the proposal and sent it as well. They stopped reading my proposals and they have not returned my call.

Our leaders insult us when we complain about the cost of living. When the public complains, they expect comfort, reassurance and a plan to fix things. Not ridicule and abuse. It has now become a political fashion to make promises, some quite fantastic and outrageous.

One would think that the dignity of leadership is best preserved by under-promising, over-achieving and over-delivering. But leaders make promises even when they know there is little chance of keeping their word.

The Kenyan political mob is only moved by the strongest, most violent and least measured utterances. It laps up the demonising of opponents, abuse and the most mannerless of outrage—like a leader bragging about his private parts, which has absolutely nothing to do with his capacity to do anything for the people. So I have been asking myself: What is wrong with Kenyans? I think I have found the answer. Have you seen these pastoralists who use a walking stick with a Y fork at one end? Kenyans are caught in the Y fork of the revolutionary stick. Let me explain that in what, really, should be the abstract of my PhD proposal.

Your brain is a powerful and deceptive tool. You can master it through discipline and deliberate, consistent training. Your brain does stuff behind your back, you have no clue what happens in your subconscious, there might even be an alien resident there (I exaggerate). Evolution has programmed your brain to survive, to get you to do things for survival. Your brain has a reward system which seduces you to do survival-enhancing things.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a hormone that the brain uses to send messages from one part to others or other parts of the body. It’s a feel-good hormone; it makes you feel pleasure, which is part of that reward system that encourages certain beneficial behaviour—like reproduction, eating or drinking. When we do any of those things, the brain rewards us by releasing dopamine, which gives us pleasure and encourages us to do those things.

Extreme forms of behaviour

It gives us a high, we are happy, pumped up, high sex drive. When it washes off, we go on a low. We feel tired, disinterested and unhappy and go in search of a fix. If you have spent time in the alcohol scene you already know that the harder you drink, the more difficult it becomes to impress your body. Some Russians put away a quantity of vodka that would kill an ordinary person and not even be tipsy.

The thing is, those survival-enhancing behaviours are not the only sources of dopamine in the modern age. Watching pornography washes the system with 600 times more dopamine than those saintly survival activities.

Discussing high-minded plans (aka pipedreams) injects hormones into the system, lifting the dreamer into a glorious high. In other words, we are like Russian drunks. We need more extreme forms of behaviour to achieve a modest hormone high. We will not cheer a rational politician; we need a thug who boasts about his stuff for us to be impressed. The effect of lows, such as depression and aggression, are not necessarily supportive of survival.

The next two points are from Prof Stephen Hawking in my favourite book of the moment, Brief Answers to the Big Questions, and they apply not just to us but all of humanity in varying degrees. We have evolved, but our instincts are from a primitive age. For example, humanity has spent the bulk of its time on earth as hunter-gatherers. It is a system which is not given to plenty and primitive man instinctively binged, especially on sugar. We are no longer hunter-gatherers and food is relatively plenty but our dietary habits are those of hunter-gatherers.

I have written about this visit in New Jersey a decade ago to something called a buffet but was, in actual fact, a food orgy kind of thing. You pay a couple of dollars and you can eat as much as you like. For the first time in my life, I saw people serve themselves food eight times. They were trying to eat themselves to death.

The other primitive instinct is aggression, which we have carried forward from our caveman. Biting a rival’s throat off and taking his woman was a thing then. Today, you don’t have to kill anyone to date but violence is the prime mover in world relations. I think as a corpus humanity spends more resources on astounding ways of hurting each other than on anything else. Yet cooperation and jointly doing survival-enhancing things would be massively more beneficial.

In a word, the trouble with us Kenyans is that we are violent hunter-gatherers with brains so drenched in pleasure hormones that we’d burst into flames if you struck a match near us.