Continuing from our previous blog post, the Politics of Convergence – Part 2, we now discuss how paying attention to one’s rights in a situation means emphasising what the other owes the self.
Rights and Slavery, Duties and Freedom
The focus on rights is therefore like 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 person’s 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 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. In the future, the political discourse must be proactive and focus on what sits in people’s hands rather than what sits in the hands of others. It must 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. Without a thorough revision of our view of crime and punishment, it cannot be done effectively. The politics of rights informs our current attitude to crime. It creates a society that is demonstrably soft on crime. Pursuing a Bill of Duties would require re-opening the debate regarding a few issues, most notably the death penalty.
The Politics of Convergence
If we wish to reconstruct this society, we must 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. On this journey, we have been given the most extraordinary historical send-off.
We have had 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 even though both groups are Christian, have a common language, a common culture and common genetic material.
The Politics of Convergence and the Bill of Duties
If we are to rise to the historical occasion that faces us, we must 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. 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.