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People: free will versus complex animals that must be controlled

The language that is understood in our modern democracy [is] through putting thousands of people on the street. […] We need to go out and do mobilization. […] It is the only thing that will push into a meaningful engagement; not a discussion. […] Our power remains in our numbers. Unity is our strength.

Above is an excerpt from a short talk given by S’bu Zikode. Below is the speech in full.

There are two broad schools of thought on people, that they are capable of effective self-determination and free action, or that they are almost exclusively shaped by the social, environmental, and material conditions of their daily life and so they cannot be trusted to decide their own fate.

These two streams of thought take on many different forms, have various names, and are championed by various causes. They both seem to regularly offer the same examples of human atrocities, such as global wars, as events that prove the basis for their argument. A war that mobilizes a great mass of people to kill and die is represented as either:

  1. The horror of people lacking good judgment and committing murder or mass suicide; or
  2. The oppressive power of privileged factions organizing a system of government that coerces the mass of people to commit murder.

These ideas of a people, as reactionary networks of individuals or people as the most suitable for determining their own lives touches on all aspects of life, from deciding on types of healthcare to how best to determine good forms of employment.

These schools demand broadly different approaches to governance. Simply put they demand rule by a supposedly enlightened elite that knows best or direct decision-making by empowered collectives of people. These governing bodies range in size from national or international governments to local boards or movements.

B.F. Skinner is famous for supporting the notion that people cannot govern themselves. He helped develop behaviouralism. This presents people as shaped by their social and environmental context, their behaviours shaped in response to stimuli (rewards and punishments). Of course, an ‘engineer’ could then command people’s behaviours. Here is an example.

Here is a a video of Skinner giving a short talk on the subject.

There is also the notion of people having the capacity for self-determination by applying their free will. This is not a complex form of reflex or manipulated bahaviour.

The will of the people is, to quote the philosopher Peter Hallward, “a deliberate, emancipatory and inclusive process of collective self-determination.” This requires that people not be slave to purely behavioural control. The application of free will requires the people to “resist the power of the historical, cultural or socio-economic terrain to determine” their/our own way. (quotes from Hallward’s essay, The will of the people, available online)

Here is an eloquent articulation of why and how people must organize together:

Our politics starts by recognizing the humanity of every human being. We decided that we will no longer be good boys and girls that quietly wait for our humanity to be finally recognized one day. Voting has not worked for us. We have already taken our place on the land in the cities and we have held that ground. We have also decided to take our place in all the discussions and to take it right now. We take our place humbly because we know that we don’t have all the answers, that no one has all the answers. Our politics is about carefully working things out together, moving forward together. But although we take our place humbly we take it firmly.

[…]Our politics starts from the places we have taken. We call it a living politic because it comes from the people and stays with the people. It is ours and it is part of our lives. We organize it in our own languages and in our own communities. It is the politics of our lives. It is made at home with what we have and it is made for us and by us. We are finished with being ladders for politicians to climb up over the people.

[…]To think about all this we must start with the history of where we come from. Who are we and what type of society we want to build.

It has become clear to us that whenever we talk about history we are seen to be launching an offensive. It has become clear to us that this is because the rich want to believe that we are poor because we are less than them – less intelligent, less responsible, less clean, less honest, less educated. If we are poor because we are just less than the rich then we must be happy for every little thing that we are given, we must be happy with a hamper or some old clothes when our children are dying in the rats and the fire and the mud.

But we are not poor because we are less than the rich. We are poor because we were made poor. The rich are rich because they were made rich. If your ancestors had the land you will go to university and get a nice job and look after your family well. If your ancestors lost the land you will be lucky to find a dangerous job that you hate so that your family can just survive.

The above are excerpts from a speech given by S’bu Zikode. Zikode is the president of Abhalali baseMjondo, a South African shack dwellers movement that began in early 2005.

Jacques Ranciere writes the following in his book, The Ignorant School Master:

There is stultification whenever one intelligence is subordinated to another. […] That subjection is purely one of will over will.

[…]There aren’t two sorts of minds. There is inequality in the manifestations of intelligence, according to the greater or lesser energy communicated to the intelligence by the will for discovering and combining new relations: but there is no hierarchy of intellectual capacity.

[…] Whoever looks always finds. He doesn’t necessarily find what he was looking for, and even less what he was supposed to find. But he finds something new to relate to the thing that he already knows.”

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