Equality, rightly understood as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences; wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.
Tolerating and accepting difference of opinion is really provoking for some people who seek concurrence and cooperation all of the time. Nevertheless, without dissent and differing opinions, the world would be an unexciting and unadventurous place indeed. Accepting disagreement is important to a way of learning new ideas, tempering our own ideas into workable outcomes, and reaching solutions for the benefit of everyone.
The recent phenomenon we have to deal with is that our opinions are becoming absolute and space for dialogue is shrinking at an accelerated pace.
This new malady that has hit the country is politically destructive as the risky Ebola virus, in my view due to the absence of space for a civilized dialogue. The symptoms of this politically virus are easy to spot: outright intolerance for another’s point of view, the belief by every faction that they alone have a monopoly on truth.
The absolute black or white categorization of every issue leads to the complete absence of appraisal of merit or nuance or relativisms in debate. This coupled with an atmosphere of constant suspicion and hostility, the routine use of foul language and alongside the massive poorliness of society due to ongoing corruption phenomenon of almost all processes of dialogue. As we gradually tread on the slippery path of conformism.
The best way to avoid the path of conformism is to follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the danger of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of ‘crackpot’ than the stigma of conformity.
The recent past “Peace Industry” prior to the 2012 elections ignited this “conformist attitude. People were branded nonconformist for stating facts. The Peace Council did everything possible to portray Nana Addo as a “nonconformist for stating facts to an incident in which his sympathizers had been assaulted.
John F. Kennedy said “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth”.
In this meandering life, to be ones’ self, and unafraid whether right or wrong, is more admirable than the easy cowardice of surrender to conformity.
We must understand that a world without dissent and differing opinions would be a very bland and conformist place to live. Why do people fret over nonconformist? What are the immediate causes behind this discomfort and uneasiness?
The first is a new form of ‘informed’ intellectual emptiness: The lack of intellect, emotion or knowledge. Everybody claims to know the answer to every question. There is no scope for self-doubt coupled with denunciatory vehemence with which views are articulated or discussed in reality is in inverse proportion to any in-depth knowledge of the subject.
Some of their outrageous commentaries are in direct violation to the intellectual and analytical competence based on the power of reasonable reflection that has been the distinctive benchmark of our societal journey. The need for quality intellectual and analytical maturity should be a measure and never gloss over in all political discussions or dialogue.
One has only to read Judith St. George’s stimulating memories account of the great “Journey of the One and only Declaration of Independence” which founded the United States of America more than two centuries ago, to which students travel from all over the world, to understand how the most exacting political achievements are maintained not by rote rather by encouraging students to inquire into and not merely the surface knowledge of the subject. The next observable fact to this disparaging conformism is a newly developed amnesia to the dialogic nature in much of our politics.
The Nationalist begin with a sense of wonder at the miracle of “what independence” brings on board. While the Realist investigates systematically, examine every possibility which is the highest essence of existence not by reiteration of ideological beliefs but by intellectual enquiry.
Since the dawn of history, sages, thousands of years ago, were willing to accept that truth can have many aspects and dimensions, however the “truth” is one, and the wise call it by different names.
In our evolution as nation more importantly, this dialogic discourses was a distinctive capstone of our independence movement as well. The letters between Kwame Nkrumah and JB Danquah are replete with candid statements of differences, both on tactics and ideology, but always within the restraint of civilized language and an acceptance that views can, and often should, differ.
Painfully, for some time now, Ghana’s democracy has become a bleak and lifeless landscape of brittle mediocrity. People expound, but rarely listen. The virtual reality in the country is full of unpunctuated, not adhering to the rules, with its attendant uncivilized expressions of hate. This lack of knowledge and self-realization secretes poisonous animosity that raises the decibel of debate but reduces its quality to abysmal levels.
Debates in our Parliament to a greater extent have become progressively worse to reckless slanging contest of rivalry, where lung power usually triumph over the cultured presentation of facts and substance of argument.
The irony confronting us here is that, absolute leaders nurture absolute followers who believe in absolute intimidation. The high command remains a well fortified citadel, as leaders welcome sycophancy. To question is to be suspect.
The worrying aspect of conformism is that democratic dissent is equated with disloyalty. Those in opposition are enemies. There is an appearance of a near unmitigated intellectual power of resistance from government communicators.
The blend of our culture, which was itself the consequence of a noteworthy socio-philosophical dialogue, is being sought to be replaced by a hate-filled ‘me’ versus the ‘other’ campaign.
A recent admonition especially to the President to practice what he preaches is a reminder to everyone.
Our country has a richly endowed, complex background. It is however been reduced to an unproductive simplification: don’t talk, vilify; don’t discuss, condemn; don’t differ, just follow.
Finally, if you stand up and be counted, from time to time you may get yourself knocked down. But remember this: A man flattened by an opponent can get up again. A man flattened by conformity stays down for good.
By Nana Akwah