Ubuntu and the Freedom Society

Sunday, 15th November 2009 at 9:00 UTC 3 comments

I had an unfortunate encounter with a member of the Freedom Society very recently, and was genuinely shocked by some of the arguments being made. Despite the noblest of intentions in the title, I find everything about them absolutely infuriating, and here are just some of the reasons…

There was once a society at University of York that went by the name of FreeSoc. It wasn’t actually a ratified society, which was part of its downfall, helping along the entirely cliquish and oft-pretentious nature of the whole affair. But in general the principle was the familiar anarchist line of rejecting those in authority, creating autonomous community based on solidarity and mutual aid.

Freedom Society are an entirely different affair. Society, Community, Solidarity are all anathema in this recent development. Instead, people must be cut loose to fend for themselves. Quite aside from the argument that this is all well and good if you have lots of resources with which to thrive, but useless if you inhabit the bottom of the pile, the entire social basis of Christianity, and Judaism and Islam alongside it, stands firmly against this viewpoint. If you understand Umah (we Christians really should), this definition of freedom is totally opposed. Its not freedom from oppression, but freedom from any responsibility to the oppressed.

To me, being human means caring for those around oneself. I get that some Conservatives feel the need to practice a kind of tough love, providing a route to “a better quality of life” without simply handing out money. But this is not what we’re talking about. This “each to his own” mentality . I say “his own” for it is a system only a man could have dreamt up, one based on a masculine image of thriving through competition, through exploiting the weakness of others.

I want to characterise it with a mental image that came to mind during the discussion I had. A small boat cast adrift on the sea, with no means of propulsion, the sole person on board essentially free of any interaction, any responsibility towards other, a situation which is fine until a storm comes along. The person might be able to move around the boat, but they cannot move off of it, and they cannot move the boat. The freedom is an illusion, and they might as well have their hands tied behind their back. Freedom, but in a totally negative sense of the word. They are not free to excel, merely to exist.

I would therefore characterise this in opposition to a concept we Westerners should be learning from the Africans who developed it: Ubuntu. Admittedly, its been rather commercialised by certain people, including (IIRC) the Orange mobile phone network. Translated as best as one can it says “I am who I am because of everyone else who I have ever encountered, and every who they have encountered and so forth”. Without the rest of humanity, I wouldn’t be myself. History has brought me to be here, and those around me have shaped my thoughts. You can forget any concept of a loving creator God, and we still aren’t the product of random chance, but of complex social interactions.

I worry that a message being proclaimed in Universities of self-reliance is a deliberate attempt to destroy society and everything that we as human beings can collectively achieve. Admittedly this in turn makes me wonder if I’m turning into that sort of Christian who fears anything new might be undermining the world.

In a sense, it is a society for loners to advocate further isolation, not for collective freedom to be developed and to flourish. I’m not going to claim that there’s an automatic correlation between collective-working and output; many things have been achieved by one person sticking their neck out, but always by others following. Collective naval gazing isn’t the solution, though it is all too common. What makes great action is outwards facing community. But the kind of self-isolation proposed by the Freedom Society is a recipe for disaster. And for that, we can be pretty sure their proposals will never succeed.


Entry filed under: Freedom, University.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Simon  |  Sunday, 15th November 2009 at 13:05 UTC

    Interesting take on the FS. I just find their vision of humanity rather sad. I kind of feel sorry for them.

  • 2. Corey James Soper  |  Sunday, 15th November 2009 at 20:12 UTC

    ‘Free-Market Classical Liberals are selfish bastards’.

    Yeah, pretty much. They also (and I hate throwing this kind of thing around) seem to be nigh-exclusively the sons of other Free-Market Classical Liberals who happen to be extremely rich.

  • 3. John N  |  Monday, 16th November 2009 at 16:15 UTC

    Nice little article Graham. I agree with your depiction from what I know of the society, and like the use of Ubuntu as a contrast. I think it’s also worth suggesting what the implications of policies advocated by such groups and so-called ‘libertarians’ and how they would impact on any tangible notion of freedom. I am reminded instantly in response to the above comment of this excerpt from responses to questions on libertarian socialism by Noam Chomsky: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugq86q9KyPE
    I think it is quite easy to demonstrate, as Chomsky mentions, how modern day ‘libertarians’ in fact advocate the crystallization and extension of the most prominent forms of authority and domination that exist in today’s world, and thus have practically nothing in common with ‘classical liberals’. For some of my further thoughts on these issues, see the article I wrote in the NGS Journal last year: http://newgenerationsociety.com/2009/04/14/the-future-of-the-left-2/


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