May 15, 2014

The Politics of Convergence: Towards Duties and Freedom

Maturation: The Human Being Becoming

At the level of intent all human beings are the same because the problem of intent is wired into the essence of being human. Being human is not a static thing, it is a moving thing. In a sense to be human is to be part of an ongoing process of maturation. This process of maturation is pinned between two points, namely birth and death. Both birth and death have an unconditional character.

At birth the totality of an infant’s potential lies before it. It is therefore here to get in the fullest, most unconditional sense of the word. It is equally true that at the moment of death one loses it all unconditionally. We arrive getting it all and we leave giving it all. The process of maturation that transmutes our lives implies a movement from one extreme of unconditional getting to the other of unconditional giving.

The difference between giving it all and having it all taken away lies in the intent of the one who is doing the giving. For example, assume that I have R100 stolen from me and my wife gives a neighbour in distress R100. There is clearly a huge difference in terms of how we experience what happened. I will be of the view that I was taken from and she will be of the view that she gave. That difference does not sit in the R100, it sits in the intent of the person going through the experience. I was taken from because I did not intend to give.

The process of the maturation in the direction of unconditional giving is, therefore, a process of the maturation of the will or of intention. All human beings are born and they die, irrespective of their cultural heritage. We are all here to face the same exam of irrevocable loss. To succeed at being human and to rediscover ubuntu means to cultivate the capacity to give unconditionally.

Benevolent and Malevolent Intent

The above suggests that intent can pattern in one of two ways. Benevolent intent is concerned with the self being there to serve the other. Malevolent intent is concerned with getting the other to serve the self. Both maturity and ubuntu are concerned with action with benevolent intent.

When the self acts with malevolent intent the other resists the self and the relationship over time becomes conflict-ridden. This suggests that people who behave on the basis of malevolent intent will diverge. Their society by definition becomes increasing unstable and fractured over time. When the self acts on the basis of benevolent intent the self earns trust from others and harmony is cultivated over time. A society populated by people of benevolent intent will therefore be convergent and harmonious. They are people who are acting for reasons that are bigger than their own self-interest.

Benevolent Intent and Empowerment

Intention defines interest and therefore attention. A person demonstrates their maturity by what they pay attention to in the world. If you pay attention to what you want to get from the other, the other’s ability to withhold what you want makes you manipulable. They are strong and you are weak. The other has power over the self. The self can only react to the agenda set by the other. The self becomes the slave and the other is the master.

When the self pays attention to what it should be giving to the other, the other no longer has power over the self. The self slips out from underneath the control of the other in the situation. The self transcends the situation, grows and becomes powerful. The degree to which a person’s motive is conditioned by their expectation is the degree to which they are defined by the outcome of events. The more unconditional a person is with regard to what they are contributing the more they will define the outcome of events.

The empowerment of the self coincides with the shift of attention of the self from taking to giving, from expectation to contribution. Empowering people means to focus their attention on the contribution they can make. Disabling and enslaving people means to keep them occupied with their expectations.

Consistent with the distinction between expectation and contribution is the distinction between needs and values. An immature person will pay attention to their own needs in any given situation whereas a mature person would be more concerned with doing the right thing in the situation. A mature person acts consistently with the value that is operative in that situation.

Rights and Slavery, Duties and Freedom

Paying attention to one’s rights in a situation is means emphasising what the other owes the self. The focus on rights is therefore similar to the focus on expectation and needs, it cultivates the psychology of a victim in the self and breeds a world view of entitlement. By contrast the focus on duties places a persons attention on what they should be giving and it therefore cultivates the psychology of freedom. To construct one’s intention on expectations, needs and rights is to become the slave and the victim of the other. To pay attention to one’s contribution, values and duties is to cultivate freedom. Freedom is concerned with basing one’s intention and attention on one’s duties.

A bill of rights is by definition an attempt to redress the iniquities of the past. The attention that it cultivates is reactive and disabling. When it is the cornerstone of a political ideology it will cultivate a sense of expectation and entitlement in the citizen and will eventually establish a society that is falling apart.

If we wish to rise above the iniquities of the past we should be articulating a proactive political ideology that focuses people’s attention not on what has been done to them but on what they should do. The political discourse of the future has to be proactive and focused on what sits in peoples hands rather than what sits in the hands of others. It has to be concerned with a bill of duties.

Establishing a bill of duties implies shifting the attention of the citizens from their entitlement to their accountability. It cannot, therefore, be done effectively without a thorough revision of our view of crime and punishment. Our current attitude to crime is informed by the politics of rights. It creates a society that is demonstrably soft on crime. Pursuing a bill of duties would require re-opening the debate regarding a number of issues, most notably the death penalty.

The Politics of Convergence

A visual representation of the principle of ubuntu.

If we wish to reconstruct this society we have to remind each other of the super ordinate vision that each South African has been the inheritor of. We are the rainbow nation. Our motto, in the language of an extinct San people, means “Unity in Diversity”. This is very significant. It is as if we have been given a message from our earliest human ancestors to rise above that which divides us and to aspire towards that which unites us. More than any other people in the world we are being called upon to be the people of convergence. We have the task of lighting the way for all of humanity.

It is not insignificant that our people have coined the phrase Ubuntu to describe this basic humanness. We are an experiment in rediscovering the basic human pattern that the whole world has an interest in. We have been given the most extraordinary historical send off on this journey.

We have Madiba’s example who created the miracle of reconciliation out of the most extreme and deliberate divergence, namely apartheid. Other societies struggle with reconciliation while being infinitely less heterogeneous than South Africa. The Northern Irish are still sitting on a powder keg despite the fact that both groups are Christian, have a common language, a common culture and common genetic material.

If we are rise to the historical occasion that faces us we have to understand that the first skirmish in the struggle for liberation has been successfully fought, and that skirmish was about the establishment of a bill of rights. To rest on this achievement would mean to lose the war. The war for human rights does not address slavery and oppression it recognises and entrenches it. We need to take the next step.

The real struggle for liberation is still to come. It is the struggle to establish a society that is free from tyranny because the citizen is the steward of his world. By definition these are not ones who the society takes care of, they are the ones who take care of society. They are citizens with duties, rather than citizens with rights.

The recovery of humanity cannot be separated from the recovery of humanity’s home- Africa. We will never rise above the quagmire of corruption, impoverishment and dependency by echoing the politics of 19th century Europe. The liberalism of Europe is passé because the politics of Africa is on the march. These are the politics of Convergence and the Bill of Duties.

Viva Ubuntu!

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