The Paradox of Freedom

Freedom can often be viewed in the context of captivity and liberty.  When one is incapacitated, then the simple freedom to move is what freedom is.  But when one moves, one can move to a good place or one can move to a bad place.  In the long run, one who has the freedom to move but moves to a bad place was not free, although he had the freedom to move.  His choices determined that freedom itself did not make the man free.

This is the paradox of freedom.  Having freedom does not automatically make one free. This is to say, and more to the point, freedom is associated with the fundamental obligation to use it wisely otherwise it degrades.  Put in the clichéd version, freedom comes with responsibility.  It is therefore not some lifeless concept, but more a living entity proof, if you will, that there are those concepts that live as cosmic forces: and freedom is one of them.

The first freedom is the freedom to think.  Once this freedom is assaulted, then all other freedoms are restricted.  For, this is the fundamental freedom of man, spawning from his ability to think. Just as with the freedom to move allowing us to move to a good place or a bad place, the freedom to think must allow us to think either good thoughts or bad thoughts, to the extent that we can classify all thoughts within the purview of such a primitive dichotomy.  What are good thoughts? What are bad thoughts?  Well, there is a thing that is known as the extension, and in the same way that the brain extends the mind, mirroring through signals and chemicals a logical bind with the volitional force of one, one’s environment is a reflection of one’s thoughts.  Good thoughts lead to a good environment and bad thoughts lead to a bad environment.  This gets complicated, for we have personal boundaries, and freedom is an individual thing.  But even corporate freedom, formed from corporate thoughts, reflects the choice to stay within an environment that can be classified as good or bad once one has the freedom to move. And so it is not so bad an idea to imagine that one’s personal space is a reflection of his thoughts and one’s corporate space is a reflection of the collective thought of a people.

Africa is known to be a conservative land.  In her north we have the Islamic societies of the Sahara and in the south we have the traditional societies of the so-called Negro. The concept of freedom in these African locales can also be viewed within the context of captivity and liberty. North African society only recently managed to make unprofitable the culture of slavery which often saw blacks as inferior and lesser.  Sub-Saharan Africa, as is popularly known, was the source of supply for slaves to the new world.  So freedom is a sensitive topic for the African.

My personal experience, coming into Nigerian adulthood, is that there is a long road to travel before our people, at least in Nigeria–and perhaps in all of Africa–experience the joys and benefits of true freedom.  One might at this point wonder if I believe American-style freedom to be “true freedom.”  Again, freedom is a paradoxical concept, and to the extent that a land of freedom must also be a land of judgment in time, then yes
America allows its citizens to demonstrate more freedom than anywhere else in the world.  It must also live up to the obligation to allow a judgment for the purpose of self-correcting.  The idea of modernity, juxtaposed against the pride of our fathers and their ancient but mostly dated traditions, is a conflict that most of my generation is struggling with.  And while the world leaves us behind, roaring ahead with growth economies, save for the likes of Botswana, Africa has largely been stagnant; and for this we might recognize that the element of freedom has been stunted in our parts.  The children have not been free to imagine a different world, a world created from the successes of our past and the dreams of our future.

And the adults have been bound to a past, often explored in Nigerian drama, that has no philosophical trajectory in the context of our times. The New Yam festival is just, today, a celebration of the olden days.  Days were when it was a true festival.  Today, yam means nothing to my people.  More like the new XBox 360.

My argument goes like this: at birth each individual is gifted with a culture and this is his sovereign wealth.  This culture can be exploited positively within any context to derive its benefits, allowing the individual the freedom to thrive spiritually and, within the context of a society unbound by its past, materially.  I accept my history as an African, but I am a modern African.  If my fathers, who continue to worship juju and spirits, are not hip to the solace of a monotheistic God, then it is not my burden.  I embrace modernity without condemning my past, thus I self-correct as a scion of my culture.  I am therefore, Cousin Nzinga, free to be myself as any African my Creator wants me to be. Even if it is an American-style African.  I am what freedom is.  The African paradox.

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