The Pricelessness of Freedom
It sometimes appear to me, from some of our comments, that we(Africans in particular) are blind to the beauty and necessity of liberty. This least surprises me as we have always been instructed to do what we do in every aspect and all phases of our lives, from the God we serve to the Sports we like, right from infancy to adulthood. And so instruction seems more normal and natural to us than freedom to be how and what we want. We thus look to others, normally people we consider to have authority (preachers, politicians, whites) for guidance on how to live our lives: what to eat, drink, wear, hear; who to date, befriend, unfriend, marry, believe; what jobs we should have, how much money we ought to have, how to spend our money, etc. etc. A mature and tenured professional would still visit his pastor to seek his ‘spiritual’ approval before accepting a new job, as if without it he is doomed to fail. Also we find so much comfort in delegating the tedium and toils of hard thinking and decision-making to others that, we with no hesitation make it our default behavior.
While this — taking guidance from another — is not necessarily harmful, it becomes dangerous when we fail to pass whatever we are told through the filter of our own thinking. Our individual conscience and ability to think for ourselves is what separates us — humans — from animals. Without that ability to think for ourselves, our relationship with our leaders and instructors become akin to that of the goat and its herder. Our liberal willingness to blindly follow authority, even when their instructions defy conscience or are even deadly, has been substantiated many times by variants of Milgram’s experiments on humans’ vulnerable subjection to authority.
Another danger of not protecting our individual liberties of thinking and acting for ourselves is that they(our thoughts and actions) can be manipulated by the ones to whom we cede such freedoms. A classic case in point is the common practice of preacher men to deceive their congregation with placebos of holy oil and stickers purported to carry their(the congregation’s) salvation. Another is when our politicians continue to abuse our vote of trust and rather feed us with baits of propaganda, falsehoods and divisiveness just so they can continue to loot money meant for the whole country for only themselves and their cronies: A theft Martin Amidu, Ghana’s former attorney General and current special prosecutor (as of this writing), calls Structural Violence( I prefer Structural Inequity). And as if these acts are not evil enough, these politicians continue to creep into our lives to dictate to us how we should live — God(s) to serve, jobs to pursue, how much money to have, you name it. It’s too common for our political leaders to distract us from their waywardly selfish policies by fanning the flames of our flimsy biases along religious, tribal, political or even biological/gender lines. Shouldn’t politicians, who have shown time and time again their willingness to destroy the common good just for their parochial benefits, be the last on the planet to offer us advice of any sorts?
One of the most viscous frictions to progress is tradition especially one perpetuated for its mere sake without much thought and review. Stale societies stink because they stifle fresh thinking and behaviors with the trite excuse that such is the way it has always been done. The effects of a bad tradition will hung on the neck of its victim society like a suffocating iron collar and will squeeze every ounce of freshness from it until it eventually wilts from triteness. Allowing individuals to freethink is therefore our only guard against the fatality of repeating the errors in judgement, thoughts and behaviors of the past, and our only hope of introducing fresh behaviors and practices proven to serve humanity with newer opportunities and possibilities. Progress by default is achieved by courageously challenging the tyrannical trap of tradition and constantly creating and
carving newer ways.
Freedom unlocks possibilities, and fuels progress and prosperity by decorrelating the potential errors in our thinking, and presenting us with the finest of ideas. When we all think uniformly and we happen to be wrong, we will all follow the wrong path to our destruction. However, when we independently think on our own, our individual thoughts check against each other and prevents us from repeating each other’s mistakes. Even more powerful, we are presented with a refreshing diversity of ideas, and each idea fights for its place in society: Good ideas survive; bad ideas die. This is why free thinking societies are the most progressive, bask in abundant prosperity, and are the most attractive to mankind.
Freedom is a man’s inalienable right which serves as the foundation for his/her happiness. We came to this world naked, with nothing but an insatiable urge to be free: Free to do whatever we please especially when what we do don’t infringe on another’s freedom or happiness. Even the casual observer can attest to our untaught inclination to do what we like, and our utter abhorrence for instruction, right from birth to death. The reason we, almost unanimously detest work (and hence Mondays) is primarily because, at work, we are subjected to the orders of others. In the same vein, a primary source of an entrepreneur’s joy is from the fact that he is, to a large extent, free from such orders, and is in some sense his own boss. It should thus be no man’s duty, regardless of his position or power, to stifle that sweet liberty, but every man’s duty to respect, protect and preserve that sweet liberty for all mankind!
Because of the criticality, sanctity, fragility, and beautiful fruits of freedom, we should all find it a duty to resist the temptation, even when we can or deem it wise in our eyes, to regulate the freedoms of others. So Why are we so inclined to tell others what to do and shape them into our own images? The urge to impose our personal preferences on others is borne out of three main phenomena: The first is a bias — a hubris really — I call the Apparent Universality of Personal Preferences; and the other is a phobia I call the Dread of Loneliness; and the last is an aloofness I call a Disempathy for the Other.
Apparent Universality of Personal Preferences: What we like, especially when also liked by a majority, seem so right to us that we feel they should equally be right for everybody. We tend to forget that we, even when as physically inseparable as Siamese twins, are individually unique; that our individual preferences of anything lay on an infinite continuum from extreme aversion through neutrality to extreme affection, almost a violent addiction; and that, in so far as an individual’s preference has no negative effect on another or the common good, he or she should be allowed to freely express it to his or her maximum satisfaction, regardless of how wildly strange it may seem to others.
Dread of Loneliness: Since humanity has, to a large extent, been trained to conform, we are ashamed and scared of our uniqueness, even when utterly benign. Because of this wired comfort in conformity, we, especially when in a position of power, tend to cowardly demand that others follow our unique ways so we are not left alone in them. We forget to reckon that while we may be like most people in most things, we may be unlike anyone in some things; however, we should be free to exhibit those uniqueness so far as they don’t harm others or the common good. A sophisticated understanding of the human DNA shows that each individual is unique in subtle and peculiar ways. Our infinite uniqueness therefore calls for a tolerance for infinite diversity where each person is allowed to freely choose and behave in ways which make him the happiest.
Disempathy for the Other: And lastly, we as humans have an unlimited stock of sympathy for ourselves and people with whom we can relate by blood, biology, behavior, appearance, purpose, history, national origin, profession or any other identifying characteristic. In other words, we are inherently infinitely selfish. On the contrary, we have a deficient, if any, empathy let alone sympathy for others we see as different. Because of this, we over-account for matters that concern us but discount those that bother others. We tend to classify the bad things that happen to us as unfair but justify similar troubles of others as due to their own faults and fates. A white woman may consider the gender disparities in work wages as unfairly discriminatory but may fail to see an even deeper pay disparity across race (white and blacks) as such, and may even attribute such pay inequity to the much publicized but unproven relative inferiority of the intelligence of the black race; a black Christian may see the evil in racial discrimination but rationalize hatred against LGBTs as due to their (LGBTs’) unholy sexual cravings. Nature, I believe, puts us through extreme experiences (of betrayal, disloyalty, discrimination, hatred, inequity, slavery, to mention a few) to perhaps break this internal iceberg of apathy, and instill in us a modicum of empathy.
We all have an obligation to ensuring a free world and I will supply two simple ways we can do so. We must be cautious of the powers we afford to other men to dictate our personal freedoms. For we know when we give someone an inch to regulate our lives, he will take two; when we allow him to take two, he will take three. First they tell us what gods to worship(Sharia law nations), and then who to love(anti gay nations), and then how to make love (recent Ugandan ban on oral sex) and their powers continue to creep into every aspect of our lives like a lethal cancer.
Also, we must develop empathy for fellow individuals whose freedoms are unfairly trampled and trammeled on: Women, children, gays, lesbians, blacks, Moslems, etc. This is because, one moment, our neighbors are the victims, the next moment it’s us. And freedom will be protected if we all learn to fight to save it even if others (but not us) are the slaves. Our best integument for freedom is to fight captors of any kind and slavery of any form wherever and whenever we see it. This sends a clear signal to all mankind, especially those with a sinful craving to enslave others, about our zero tolerance for any unnecessary limits on our freedoms, and our infinite premium and priority on freedom.
If any man or woman were to choose or die for only one thing in this life, it should neither be gold, nor fiat, nor diamonds, nor salt nor sugar nor happiness nor glory but freedom. Because it is out of Freedom all beauties and goodness germinate. Freedom is the foundation for happiness, the ultimate measure of life, and no society can thrive without it.