Wole Soyinka threw the Nagasaki bomb: “Those who expunged History from our schools should be taken away from history”
Foolishness, defined as lack of good sense or judgment, or stupidity can be beautiful sometimes.
Everyone, including a fool, knows that that which is beautiful pleases the senses, eyes or mind aesthetically thereby giving joy and happiness.
Foolishness is especially beautiful when it is displayed by an arrogant and stubborn person of power, a person in power – economic, political, religious or cultural.
Of what use or benefit is the foolishness of a fool or of a man who reputed for foolishness? Our elders warn that the kings of the land should not dance naked in public; in other words, our elders, kings and leaders should not behave foolishly. We do not ask our kids not to grow long teeth as long as they grow lips long enough to cover the teeth, our elders say. The reality however is that kings, leaders and great men are not always wise; indeed, some of them are outright foolish. Which is tragic!
Some women can be wickedly beautiful. Is this derogatory? A professor once described his wife in a public gathering as ‘shamelessly beautiful’. A man in the audience then commented that the professor was ‘wickedly kind’ about the comments on his wife! In the course of sounding out ideas for this essay, somebody said to me that cows are ‘benevolently destructive’ to grass and crops. I am still grappling with the meaning of ‘benevolently destructive! While in this state of suspended animation Chief Olusegun Obasanjo came out with a lecture in which he said Nigeria was on the verge of being ‘Fulanised’.
The contradiction tore me apart. How may an Urhobo who eats fish and swims in water man be ‘Fulanised? I gave up on the subject when Baba Iwe himself, Professor Wole Soyinka threw the Nagasaki bomb: “Those who expunged History from our schools should be taken away from history”! Here I go again! I started off with the beauty of foolishness, but here I am espousing the beauty of intelligence and education. The religious scoundrels of Boko Haram must not hear this! Hear? Yes; because they do not read words written in English!
To be sure the foolishness of a powerful man could, indeed would look beautiful to outsiders who believe that the buffoon should be taught a lesson in life.
Our elders say that mad men are good for the community but not for families! Insiders or close family members would not enjoy the spectacle of their principal dancing foolishly in the communal square, causing everyone to laugh at him in derision.
So, without attempting to dabble into the artistic beauty of an extended pun, let me say that the beauty of foolishness can only be appreciated by the beholder from outside! Beautiful foolishness! Can you beat that? The very idea of beautiful foolishness! Sounds captivating and confusing! It goes without saying therefore that there is ugly foolishness as well. That, however, is subject for another day.
I am sure readers by now have seen through the contradiction in terms, either in the title of this essay or in the thematic thrust of the first and subsequent paragraphs.
How can that which is foolish be beautiful? I am not going to reduce the profundity of this discourse by contending that a beautiful woman or a handsome man could be perpetually and inherently foolish. This is because a counterpoint could arise: it is not the beauty or handsome man or the woman in question that is foolish. The carrier of a virtue or a vice can, could be foolish but not the virtue itself.
The truth however is that it is the foolishness displayed in public that is usually visible. A beautiful woman may just pass by without being noticed or associated with anything extraordinary; but once she shows foolishness in public that will be the account that will enter the books.
An elder can, could be foolish without knowing that foolishness resides in their actions. Blissful ignorance is a good cover for the foolish who do not comprehend the gravity or otherwise of their actions. The good book says that great men are not always wise.
In other words, men who ordinarily could be considered great could become foolish in their actions. I know a sixty-year old Nigerian man who married a teenager and started doing foolish or ridiculous things.
Well, foolish to people of his generation because he started listening to music with I-Pods and ear piece and started wearing tight fitting clothes, going to clubs and behaving the age of new wife, walking clumsily like the proverbial he-goat who returned from a visit with his in-laws!
I encountered a foolish king in literature through the immortal works of William Shakespeare. King Lear behaved foolishly when on account of mere declaration of love he portioned out his kingdom to two of his daughters, excluding the only daughter who genuinely loved him.
Was it not foolishness that made Saddam Hussein attack Kuwait, daring the entire world including the American war machine? What else could you say made fly accompany a corpse into the grave? Why did the biblical pharaoh ride with his men into the divided Red Sea in pursuit of the departing Jews if not foolishness? Was it not foolishness that made one-time Liberian President Sergeant Doe refuse to leave the presidential mansion while the invading forces were close by? And when the rebels arrived what did they do? They cut off his ears for not using them! Did you watch the movie, with Doe sitting on the floor before this ex-president was sent to the other world? Did you not relish the consequences of foolishness?
The beauty of foolishness! It is foolishness that makes a judge say that personal interest is not enough for another judge to withdraw from hearing a matter and yet the judge proceeds to withdraw from the case.
Beautiful foolishness! It is foolishness that makes a man tell his master that he is indeed happy that he (the master) did not compel him to follow his religion.
What an infinitely ‘sycophantish’ and foolish thing to say! The sad thing is that if elders surround themselves with foolish people we would be tricked into behaving foolishly too. We are therefore happy that in our land, we do not celebrate foolishness, the king can see through foolishness and the foolish are fewer in number than the wise. Is this a foolishly comforting thing to say?
Prof Eghagha is the Head of Department, English and Literary Studies, University of Lagos.