The wealth versus knowledge debate

edf tunji ajibade
edf tunji ajibade

Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese footballer, as a person is not in focus here. The arguments that I imagine have followed a mistake he made are. It serves as a backdrop to an interrogation of the well-known debate – wealth versus knowledge. Or, more precisely, what some see as a contest between acquiring wealth and pursuing education. It’s even become a fad to argue that pursuing a career is better than acquiring academic certificate. Interrogating this is important, particularly in Nigeria where young people have the disposition of arguing about the superiority of one over the other.

On university campuses and in beer parlours, Ronaldo’s mistake must have generated heated arguments and insults. I imagine someone saying, “So Ronaldo goofs, but he has more money than you.” I’ve heard similar comments when people impatiently dismiss other persons’ views. When anyone goes this way, I cringe. Why?  This line of argument limits the depth of our reasoning. The debate about wealth versus education is expansive. There’re things to unravel when an informed conversation is engaged in, new pieces of information are provided that can enrich our minds. Dismissive comments cut all of that off.

When I see, particularly among the younger generation, the tendency to abandon meaningful discussion for impatient issuing of insults, I get concerned about the future of the nation.  Issues that should get all of us thinking are trivialised, dismissed. Yet it’s from sound debate that new ideas are generated. When we say, political leader, religious leader, traditional leader, the manner you approach this will have negative consequences for people and nation, their officials and followers send insults. They don’t see any point in what is stated but throw the baby away with the bath water, insinuating also that their boss has more money than you, anyway.  But should some of us be fazed by such shenanigans? No.

The reason is that each person has a role to play in society, particularly as journalists. It’s what we’re configured for, what we’re trained to do because society needs our line of contribution. And no one who abandons his role because of what others say can discharge fully what they’re configured for. Each person is configured for something. When you find yours and you’re actually doing it you won’t doubt that they’ve got it all upside down, wrong side up, whoever dismissively says your point is useless because the person you criticise has more money than you.

This point leads back to Ronaldo. During a press conference at his new club in Saudi Arabia, Ronaldo said, “The football is different, so for me, it’s not the end of my career to come to South Africa.”  Maybe it’s a mistake. Maybe it’s actually due to lack of knowledge of the location of the nation where he is. Whichever, being a superstar or being wealthy doesn’t exempt one from having an essential piece of information. Still, I restate that Ronaldo isn’t the focus of this piece, rather the debate over money and acquisition of knowledge that any criticism of what he said must have stirred. As I’ve stated, it’s become the mentality of some that when a question is raised about a person who’s believed to be wealthy, the next thing is that they start comparing wealth that people have.

People who do this see all things from the perspective of material possession and this shouldn’t always be the case in any society. What I’ve heard where such view is expressed has always got me thinking. Now, possible arguments of similar nature spurred by Ronaldo’s comment got me thinking the more. For me, having talent in a particular field is one thing. Being materially wealthy is another. Being knowledgeable, educated, that is, knowing relevant things as they affect society where we live, is yet another. None should impede the other, and having one is no excuse for not having the other.

If any human thinks that talent in one field, wealth, and an awareness of one’s environment aren’t related, it’s a wrong view. For all work together to make each function to the benefit of mankind. I suppose the pursuit of knowledge led to science that made the making of modern football possible. Money is needed to make football. Knowledge of the best material to use and where it can be sourced makes football available for a Ronaldo to play it. This example is just to show that neither money nor knowledge, those who pursue knowledge, can be dismissed as less relevant.

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People who pursue knowledge that makes the science of making modern football possible may not have as much material possession as Ronaldo. But their knowledge contributed to how Ronaldo found his talent, fulfilled the talent, and became wealthy from so doing. Knowledge. All I assert here is that if anyone argues that there is basic knowledge anyone should have, there’s no reason to dismiss them that what they say is irrelevant. Even living and surviving in a specific environment requires knowledge. If I mistake what obtains in mostly wet and forested South Africa for Saudi Arabia and its desert, I run the risks that are connected to weather conditions.  My money may not save me if too much harm is already done. Basic knowledge is critical.

I should proceed from here by stating that I feel uncomfortable when anyone speaks in the absolute, claiming money matters more than every other thing. Money matters in a modern society where it’s the means of exchange. But a view that money makes those who don’t command it in excess less important oversimplifies a complex phenomenon. Such an argument is brusquely dismissive, and treating knowledge or education as though it’s inferior to money can only be acceptable in societies where people erroneously think only material wealth defines a person. It isn’t.

Actually, this wrong mentality is one reason Africa suffers from poverty. For knowledge is a foundation for generating wealth. When knowledge is taken to be information, then it’s clear when it’s said that information is power. The man who will make money needs to have information about where the most money can be made. It’s one reason there’re all manner of experts. Their knowledge benefits the man who wants to make money. In any case, abilities differ but all contribute to society. It’s one reason ancient philosophers give credence to the place of different individuals (e.g. the philosopher-king) It means people are configured to do different things, and doing exactly that is where they make the most contribution.  In societies where this is clear in the mind of people, they’ve created spaces to accommodate and reward individual contributions. The scientist, the literary person, the peacemaker, the advocate of what is good and right for mankind are all acknowledged and recognised, for instance, through the Nobel Prize award.

We need to note that such awards aren’t given for having the most money. Rather, it’s those who have contributed significantly by way of their knowledge, or used their money to improve the lot of mankind, including helping to move knowledge forward. They tend to be the ones remembered for generations into the future. Money is ephemeral. But knowledge is permanent, continuously built upon. And the names of the knowledgeable are forever mentioned in classrooms where knowledge is passed from one generation to the next.

Moreover, names of billionaires of the past aren’t mentioned in classrooms, or their memorable words quoted as often as people who contributed to knowledge while they were here. Many would be elated to have their contributions to knowledge compared to that of a certain Albert Einstein. Meanwhile, there were billionaires in Einstein’s time that when their names are mentioned now, many will ask, who?

A person who pursues knowledge is not less important than he who has all the money. Money and knowledge don’t need to contest. Rather they should be complementary. After Pele made money from football, he pursued education up to PhD level. In any case, materially wealthy people tend to have their greatness in the now. Those who make contributions to knowledge tend to have their greatness outlive them for several generations as it’s the case with many literary figures and scientists. The nature of greatness each person prefers is what they would trumpet and celebrate though.

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