The consequences of believing in responsibility for your own life


Taking responsibility for your own life is, the more I think about it, an extremely dangerous opinion to hold in the Politically Correct/Crazy Culture War Era.

If you draw taking responsibility to its logical conclusions, the slave was partly responsible for his own slavery, and so-called non-white groups in South Africa were partly responsible for their own suffering and sometimes miserable lives during the pre-1994 era.

Of course, the slave owner had the authority of the colonial establishment on his side. But if we only look at the history of slavery in North America and the Caribbean, we see that thousands of slaves did claim their freedom, and in many cases lived out the rest of their earthly existence as non-slaves – though they always had to be on the lookout for enemies who wanted to lead them back to slavery (see the Haitian Revolution, and the Maroons in Jamaica).

The South African apartheid state was also powerful, and many so-called non-whites who resisted the white state were killed – sometimes brutally. But there were at least eight non-white people for every single white person in the decades before 1994! If non-whites in more significant numbers refused to allow white political leaders to dictate to them how and where and with whom they should live, what could the white state and the white minority who supported them have done about it? Some people say there would have been a blood bath, ten or a hundred times worse than Sharpeville in 1960 or Soweto in 1976. But was violence the only solution? India during the British colonial era is also an interesting case: How did fewer than 200,000 British soldiers and officials succeed in subjugating to their authority a population of more than 200 million Indians?

Is there a middle ground between, “I am not in control of my own life and am therefore a victim of anyone who is stronger than me, or who convinces me that he is stronger than me” on the one hand, and on the other hand, “Over my dead body will I allow you to master it over me”?

It still feels like I’m caught up in a political and socio-cultural dilemma. I believe that, as a relatively intelligent adult, I am largely responsible for how I experience my existence. I further believe that all relatively intelligent adults are to a large extent responsible for how they experience their existence. But if this is true, how on earth can I continue to believe that 80% of the population of South Africa were victims before 1994?! Were my parents and other white people before them so breathtakingly powerful? What type of magic did they practice?!

I believe many children and grandchildren of people who suffered before 1994 because they were black or brown or Indian have already become wise to the truth: that the white man and woman were not really that powerful. That their parents and grandparents and other ancestors did not push back hard enough when the whites dictated terms. A critical percentage of black, brown and Indian South Africans mostly accepted the dictated terms, hoping a miracle would occur in the future that would save them. I believe that many children and grandchildren of black and brown and Indian South Africans who suffered before 1994 are deeply upset with their parents and their parents’ parents, but because they love them, they have created a caricature that can be more easily criticised, and on whose shoulders all the blame can be placed.


Tuesday, 28 July 2020

One: There were indeed numerous examples of individuals and organisations in South African history, just in the period 1910 to 1990, who realised what a big problem psychology was – that a significant percentage of white people believed it was their right to rule over other groups, and that a significant percentage of non-white South Africans also believed that this should be the case. These people and organisations understood that education was a key to a better future, that what Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) had written should be applied: “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, for though others may free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind.” One of the biggest proponents of better mentality was Steven Biko (1946-1977). No wonder the apartheid state was eager to get rid of him. There were also numerous attempts to get thousands of people involved in campaigns against the apartheid state, including in non-violent marches and protests. Eventually, apartheid did come to an end, and was replaced by a more democratic order. Why? Because a critical percentage of the white population accepted that they did not have a right to rule over other groups, and a critical percentage of black, brown and Indian South Africans came to see not being able to choose who rules over them as an undermining of their rights. A massive psychological shift among all the population groups of South Africa therefore had to take place before reality could change for everyone. By 1994, this shift had taken place, and the reality changed.

Two: White people who took actions that actively hindered other South Africans’ hopes and efforts to lead good lives (including National Party politicians, officials who carried out government policies, and members of the security police) were fallible people who gained positions of power, and who learned day by day that they were getting away with the abuse of their power. A significant number believed their cause was just – a fight against Communism, and therefore for the Christian faith and Western civilisation. Many of these white agents of the apartheid state, these perpetrators of a morally corrupt ideology, were otherwise good people – people who loved their spouses and children, and who were good sons and daughters to their elderly parents. It is this complexity I cannot ignore when people present a simplified history where on the one hand you had powerful evil monsters, and on the other hand poor powerless victims who could only hope for a better day.

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

1. There’s this impression – that people suffer and complain, but don’t do enough to change their circumstances, or to improve their lot. Later, when other people changed their circumstances for them, they tend to favour a narrative that hides the fact that they didn’t take more initiative to improve their own lot.

2. I believe in the enormous capacity of the individual – and when enough members work together, the collective capacity of the community – to improve their own circumstances and their own experience of reality. Often, people fail to do this. But acknowledge it then. To opt for a narrative that portrays yourself, or the ethnic, or cultural, or socio-political group of which you’re a member as poor victims, does incredible damage to your own perceived capacity to improve your circumstances and your experience of reality. What message do you send to younger, impressionable people who are forming ideas of what they’re capable of? Too many people opt for anger at some perceived almighty other group that have somehow monopolised political, economic, and cultural power, and have managed to sustain it for decades or even centuries. Are these people powerful wizards? Do they practice some other-worldly magic? Chances are that you are exaggerating their power and ability in order to conceal your own poor record of doing better.

Sunday, 16 August 2020

I’m returning to this piece yet again because it’s easy to misunderstand – or maybe I haven’t made myself clear enough.

So, hopefully just one last time, three points:

1. Afrikaners, and other white people in pre-1994 South Africa, did have political, economic, and military power, but their power was not unlimited. An acceptance – for all practical purposes, even if people didn’t like it – of the political and social order during apartheid, and before that, among all the population groups of South Africa was the most powerful instrument in the hands of the white government.

2. Embracing a victim identity is less valuable than accepting that whatever happened to you or your family might not have happened if you had tried harder to avoid it – if you had taken more responsibility for your own situation. Now – no one needs to point out to me that it sounds like victim blaming. There is never an issue of placing less blame on the offender, and more blame on the victim. The offender is guilty and deserves to be punished for what they have done to another person. Offenders must take responsibility and suffer the consequences for their actions. But if the victim could have done nothing to avoid or reduce their pain and suffering, they are one hundred percent victim – one hundred percent powerless. This is the highest level of victimhood. Someone messed with your life, and there was nothing – nothing! – you could do about it. It is tragic that every day there are such cases in every country, and every city and town and sometimes farm and hamlet in the world. This is what happens to children who depend on adults for protection, and for making good decisions. This is also what happens to old people who are no longer in control of their lives. This type of victimhood is terrible because not only does it involve pain and suffering and loss, it also reminds you every day that you think about it that you were absolutely powerless to change any aspect of it. People can criticise me all they want, but I simply do not accept that millions of adult black and brown and Indian South Africans before 1994 were one hundred percent powerless victims. Children, yes. But once you are old enough to be in control of your own movements and decisions, you have choices. Thousands of slaves decided to escape during the period of slavery in the Western colonies. Millions decided to stay on the plantation instead because the risk was too great. There are people who claim that to say they decided to stay implies that they chose to be slaves. I say: at least I see them as rational people who made choices, even if the options were limited. I do not see them as brainless bodies. I see them as people who faced a terrible choice and who chose the less life-threatening option. However, were there slaves who accepted the social order where they were slaves and white people their masters as God-given? I believe there were many people with this mindset who eventually had to be freed from their mental slavery. Taking some responsibility for your past situation is empowering. It tells the one who played god over you that he or she was not really as powerful as they thought they were. It says: “My own failure to push back harder, or to push back more effectively, made it easier for you. Don’t see me as a victim anymore, because the other side of the coin is that I have to admit you were smarter, stronger, and more powerful than I was.”

3. I have friends and family who see themselves as allies of the suffering black man and woman. A black man or woman’s success is celebrated when a similar success would not be celebrated if the person was white. This idea of looking at a person, and deducing from his or her skin colour, or gender, or sexual orientation that they are victims of someone else’s personal power, is intolerable to me – intolerable! And if you listen to what many black people say, they also find it intolerable, and insulting. I can’t for the moment quote a specific black person who said it in so many words, but I am sure the following sentiment is widespread among black people who follow these trends: “Don’t see me as a victim. You and your ancestors were not really that powerful. I – and my ancestors, made mistakes, and did not push back hard enough, or smart enough.”