By Abel Merawi
August 13, 2020 (Ezega.com) -- “Man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains.” These were the words of Rousseau in his classical work of 1762, ‘The Social Contract’. This famous idea still echoes in the twenty-first century. Surely, most of the world is now free from the tyranny of traditional societal order; free from empires and dictators. But the fetters that held our ancestors were not removed; they were rather merely replaced with contemporary shackles. Ironically, even the famous idea of Rousseau contained its own chains when viewed from the contemporary world of feminism. But to save the worth of the idea, we can alter the wording and say: human beings are born free, but they are everywhere in chains. Now that we got that out of the way, let us observe how the contemporary individual is restrained from fully realizing one’s freedom.
The manifestations of chains are multivalent, appearing as social, ideological, economic, and/or personal forms of bondage. Among the many, political chains are dominant. Political chains stand us a barrier to our personal freedom when we let them become the dominant feature of our lives. It is common to hear Americans saying, ‘I’m a Democrat’ or ‘I’m a conservative.’ In Ethiopia too, we hear people voicing their unshakable support to this or that political party. After debates and physical or intellectual debates with opposition party supporters, they cease to question any action of their party and pledge allegiance. Then they become trapped by their own choice. Now they have to make their lives a reflection of their party identity. For instance, they stop helping the needy since their political identity is opposed to the welfare system. Little by little, the individual abandons freedom and ends up chained in a political prison.
The case of the party leader is not much different from the party member. As Nietzsche claims, the party member becomes a slave to the party by losing one’s individual identity. This has been the unfortunate fate of many revolutionary and freedom fighters. The hero or the defender of justice loses the goal along the long journey and ends of consumed at the party. The organization we call a political party, eventually gains a life of its own. Its founders and members become their slaves. In an attempt to defend this imaginary organization – intersubjective reality – great individuals lose their freedom together with the values that represent freedom.
Closely linked to political chains, we find ideological chains that threaten individuality and freedom. This ideological shackles are mental constructs and can only be removed by the person who chose them. Let us take two liberal democracy and communism as prime examples and see how they strap the individual off of freedom. A sophisticated and learned person might say, “I am a liberal democrat and live by the libertarian ideologies that guarantee personal freedom.” With these words, the magical spell is cast. Libertarianism envelops every decision of this person. Perhaps, this ‘liberal democrat’ is a mother a spoiled child. But correcting the child’s behavior is not expected of a libertarian, thus, the mother respects the freedom of her innocent child, who nonetheless seeks guidance. This liberal woman may work for a manipulative capitalist for minimum wage. She experiences the brunt of the free market in the rising cost of living. But trapped in liberal ideology, she fails to see the injustice of a system that keeps her shackled in poverty. Forgetting how she is a cog in a greed-driven system, she believes things would get better if she works hard. In simple terms, she views the world only from the singular lens of libertarianism and ends us mistaking illusion of individuality to freedom.
Now let us turn to the adherent and blind believer of traditional communism. Such a person may claim, “I am a true communist and believe in the perfect world depicted in the communist ideology.” This statement creates mental bondage on a person. The world we no longer represent options, which is the foundation of freedom. This ‘communist’ may be a man who values pleasure more than work. In his mind, life means ‘sameness’ as he seeks a dry world where everyone lives and thinks in the same way. Accordingly, every rich person appears to him as a criminal who exploited the people. The industrious and creative are like ‘sacrificial animals’ that should support the rest of society. The famous words of communism, “from each according to his ability, to each according to this need,” melt his heart. When his overworked parents tell him to look for a job, he argues that the wealth of the world is enough to feed the world is only the government takes the money from the ‘haves’ and give it to the ‘have-nots’. Such a person has abandoned freedom that entails responsibility.
In the case of both the liberal democrat and the communists, their ideological chains have snatched away from their own freedom. They chose to be singular and in doing so they viewed the world as singular. As indicated above, freedom exists when there are choices. If we think the world is comprehensible from a single vantage point, we are taking away abandoning freedom and individuality. Just to be clear, ‘individuality’ should not be confused with ‘individualism’. As Dr. Cornel West expressed eloquently, individuality is an expression of personal values and freedom while properly functioning in society. Individualism, on the other hand, is just another institutionalized term that requires a person to follow a specific principles, which makes freedom predefined. Coming back to the essence, freedom requires choices and a broad array of perspectives.
Be it in the politically or ideologically, individual freedom is lost when a person falls into the bondage of a singular world view. Personally, I think one can be liberal politically and, at the same time, become a social democrat economically. Numerous are the wars fueled by political and ideological differences. Due to this, millions have died and underwent unimaginable suffering for centuries across the world. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau claim, human being a born free. We are born free from political and ideological identity. Yet, we are everywhere in chains because our freedom is shallowly defined. We are in chains, but we can remove them if you choose to, despite the consequences. The power of such institutions is overwhelming and seem impossible to overcome. But we should not lose heart for we can at least change ourselves by viewing the world from a boarder perspective. We can light up a candle is this dark times of political and ideological extremism by candidly interacting with fellow human beings.
Abel Merawi is Addis Ababa-based contributor for Ezega.com. He can be reached through this form.
Other articles by Abel Merawi:
Unemployment and Economic Growth in Ethiopia
The Underestimated Human Ignorance
Is America the Land of Freedom? (Part II)
Is America the Land of Freedom? (Part I)
Capitalism Becoming an Impediment to Morality
Ketman: Living in Disguise to Gain Acceptance
The System and the 'Criminal'
Trust as an Economic Force
Do You Trust the Government?
Our Online World
Fame Mistaken for Expertise
The Heavy Burden of Healthcare Workers
A Time to Reflect
The Plague by Albert Camus: Fiction Becomes Reality!
History of Pandemics in Ethiopia
Human Struggle Against Pandemics: Historical Perspective
You Can Make a Difference
Rule of Law for a Free Society
The Origins of Law
Determinants of Market Value: Part II
Determinants of Market Value: Part I
Your life Matters Too
Manifestations of Artistic Expression
Achievements vs Natural Accidents
The Grip of Sacrifice
Injustice is Never Justifiable
Education Demands of the Future
Job Security, Life and the Unpredictable Future
The Shift From Racism to Culturism
Sacrificing Meaning for Power?
Culture and Market Forces
Seeking Cosmic Justice
National Myths: Makers and Destroyers of Nations
Are We Truly Free?
Maturity: The Prerequisite to Freedom and Democracy
Loyalty to Truth, Not to Group
The Value of Work
The Flaws with Ethiopian Political System
Intellectuals and the People
Where Are Our Pathfinders?
The Allegory of the Cave and Its Lessons to Leaders
The Truth Behind Humanity
The Seven Virtues
The Seven Deadly Sins
What is the right thing to do?
Building National Identity
Adey Abeba and the Spirit of Change
Living the Truth as a Human Being
Hubris - The Tragedy of Not Learning from Others
The Era of Group Mentality: Us vs Them
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