By Abel Merawi
August 28, 2019 (Ezega.com) -- Once upon a time, there was a king who did the most ridiculous things you can imagine. These things were known to the people he ruled, yet no one dared to speak about it out loud. Waking up one day, the king took all his clothes off and ran around the streets naked. As usual, no one said a word about it, let alone remark that it was wrong. Though words were not spoken, the thought in everyone’s mind was the same. Suddenly, someone amidst the crowd said, “The king is naked!” Then, the veil that covered the people’s eyes disappeared, and all joined the chorus: “The king is naked!” In fact, the king was naked both before and after someone spoke the truth. However, the unwritten agreement among the people hid the fact from their eyes. It was only when an honest person decided to speak and live the truth that they all began to see the facts.
Anything false, no matter how sophisticated and seemingly smart it may be, cannot withstand in the moment of the truth. The lie could only exist as long as the people agree to accept it. It is a different story with the truth, which finds its value in nature. As Socrates remarked in the ‘The Apology’, eloquence comes not from how well you speak, but from the force of the truth. To take an example, during the days of colonization, most people from the colonizing nations believed that blacks were inferior to whites. They try to justify this falsehood by fabricating scientific results that show the mental capacity of blacks as ‘second-rate’ and it was the task of the whites to civilize them. Even philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes stated in ‘Leviathan’ that Africans do not belong to world history since they are barbaric. The irony in this supposedly great philosopher was that he never set foot in Africa but depended entirely upon the narratives he heard from the colonizer’s ship captains. The truth was hidden but could never be destroyed. The fact that all human beings are equal stood the test of time and triumphed in the end. The same story went on amongst ethnic groups of the same nation, leading to bloody civil wars in different places across the ages. The final resolution always comes when people admit the truth. The simple natural truth is that we are all human beings who deserve the same privileges.
There are numerous issues that can be raised in relation to living the lie, but, for now, let us consider the one that poses one of the greatest threats to us as people – labels. Human beings have formed groups since the beginning of civilization. These are labels or names that help us identify ourselves as a group. We are encircled by religious labels, ethnic labels, professional labels, cultural labels, political labels, ideological labels, ancestral labels, etc. The list goes on infinitely. Among others, ethnic labels are one of the oldest types of labels. These groups were at first formed to foster unity, but now they are routinely being used to divide people. Societies were formed to defend each group against such things as wild animals and other predators and to withstand the natural catastrophes they faced every day. These days, politicians are using groups as ideology of divide and rule. Sadly, it works in many cases, and it is being used effectively. Vaclav Havel, a dissident who became the president of Czechoslovakia, in his book, ‘The Power of the Powerless’ discusses the value of living the truth. He states, “Ideology, in creating a bridge of excuses between the system and the individual, spans the abyss between the aims of the system and the aims of life.” The aim of a political party may be to rule, but the aim of life is unity. A system may ignore the individual and use labels to identify it a member of a group, but life requires the individual to live, first and foremost as a human being.
In the following sections, we will consider what it means to be a human being. It is written in the first-person pronoun so that everyone feels the words as one’s own.
I was born a human being; I intend to die a human being. My existence can only find its ultimate meaning as nothing but a human being. In the beginning, I didn’t have the mental ability or willingness to comprehend other labels. My freedom requires an existence liberated from labels. I do not wish to be confounded in small circles created by factions that are dissatisfied with remaining a human being. Verily, I do not wish to be defined with any label other than my existence as a human.
All around me, I see a world divided with labels. Some walk with an air of importance while others accept the lot they are assigned and bow their heads in agreement. Labels lead to groups that look upon others as rivalries. We create mythology to justify our group identity. In this process, we deprive ourselves of the natural identity of being a human.
The basic and disastrous element in assimilating oneself with such labels is that we tend to forget the rights of others – the right to exist. Every faction endows itself with more privileges and excludes others. Eventually, they develop a mentality that claims life would be better if the others were enslaved, or if the others cease to exist. Even murder becomes justifiable as long as it’s outside one’s circle. We animalize the rest and justify our atrocious acts. Isn’t colonialism the result of such a mind setup? Didn’t Hitler feel righteousness in the Holocaust? Didn’t the Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda follow such tribal mentality? Isn’t the case of Israel and Palestine a textbook example of religious and political separatism? In our country, Ethiopia, is it not the numerous ethnic violence the outcome of group identity? When are we going to realize that we are of the same species, just separated by a few kilometers, that labels and borders can never strip away our identity?
I long for the day when all this madness stops. It is not a utopian vision but an achievable goal, a goal that will certainly come to pass. Just as others before us finally came to their senses and started living and prospering as human beings, we shall too. The only question is whether we need to go to hell and come back only to discover what they did before us. We must put away our labels and start living as humans. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, I have a dream that a day will come when people are judged not by the color of the skin but the content of their character. What Dr. King did not have in mind was that people will also be judged by their group identity, within the same color, all black.
Finally, we must realize that the system (of divide and conquer) requires labels but not human beings. The system can only continue to exist if we, as people, accept the lie or at least tolerate the lie, which means living within a lie. Vaclav Havel states, the people “need not accept the lie. It is enough for them to have accepted their life with it and in it. For by this very fact, individuals confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system, [and] are the system.” So, as a final word, we should know that we must start living the truth by recognizing that we are human beings who can and must live or die as one in unity. When the system attempts to trick us, let us say, “The king is naked!”
Abel Merawi is Addis Ababa-based contributor for Ezega.com. He can be reached through this form.
Other articles by Abel Merawi:
Hubris - The Tragedy of Not Learning from Others
The Era of Group Mentality: Us vs Them
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