The tragedy of humanity is our duplicitous nature. We struggle with both parts of ourselves (good and evil) and history has shown us the worst of our nature; from the constant killing, pillaging, raping and enslavement of an entire people in America to the attempted annihilation of another in Europe. We have constructed oppressive concepts that have taken root in human consciousness like apartheid, racism and patriarchy, and we have killed children, like Saudi Arabia is doing in Yemen, and Nigeria, Russia and many other countries have done in the past (and currently still do). But we have also seen the best of ourselves, in Nelson Mandela, fighting tooth, nail and sacrificing life with family for his people; Martin Luther King Jr., sacrificing his life to defend the dignity of the black people in America; Sir Nicholas Winton, who saved the life of not one or two but 669 children during the Holocaust; Malala speaking out for the education of girls (and getting shot for it); Harriet Tubman, an extraordinarily courageous woman that helped in the fight against slavery; Funmilayo Kuti, one of Nigeria’s bravest women who faced oppression head on and fought for the freedom of women. We have seen the oppressed rise to destroy systems that have held them chained. Sometimes, we forget that every human is constantly fighting a battle within themselves, perfectly capable of immense good and incredible evil, enlightenment plays a crucial role in this battle between these two natures.
In the aftermath of the Aziz Ansari and Grace story, there were various opinions flying around. It was immediately clear that this was not going to be one of those clear cut cases. Humans love to have an evil that they can focus their hatred on. It allows us to feel good because we want to believe that we are incapable of evil. This is why it is easy to hate Hitler, Stalin, King Leopold, Harvey Weinstein, because we can drape them in the robe of Hades. I have a problem with this monolithic view of the worst of us because when someone we have designated as ‘good’ does an evil deed; we seem to be unable to marry the deed with the person. Barack Obama is one of the most loved presidents within and outside America, and many people, even when they know about the range of destruction of his drone program, seem unable to call him a war criminal to the same extent that they call President George W Bush (43) a war criminal. When we either like/dislike someone, or think them to be good/bad people, we tend to not dig deeper and are more likely to not allow for any nuance in their actions because we do not seem to realize that human beings are complex and complicated.
That is why the Aziz Ansari story is fascinating. Because it does not read as outright sexual assault or rape, many people are split between his actions being wrong and the autonomy of the woman i.e. she should have said no and/or walked out. This is really the beginning of our enlightenment journey because our conversations, on this issue, are important going forward and it is imperative that we do not miss an opportunity to move the conversation forward. Many of the responses I have seen attempt to put an emphasis on the girl, in the story. This strikes me as an unenlightened response and it borders on tone deaf in the wake of our current society. Because the situation did not become violent or did not seem to have a tendency for violence, many of the voices focused on the language of the encounter (is this sexual assault or not) and thus lost an important opportunity to begin a nuanced conversation about how we relate in this society; how men tend to act like sex is a do or die affair and how women are socialized to normalize men’s behaviour so much so that you have celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg, on the View, saying that “If you go to a man’s house and something DOES happen, it’s going to be a lot harder for you to say, ‘listen this is what happened’ because he could say, ‘no it did not’”. Many of the voices harped on the autonomy of the woman, “why didn’t she say no”, “why did she not leave” and while these are valid questions, they should not be the focus of the conversation, the focus should be on Aziz and his actions because while all men are potentially Harvey Weinstein’s, too many men are already Aziz Ansari’s and we need to have better and enlightened conversations about the society we live in and how we act.
Gender relations isn’t the only area that we need enlightenment, our entire social dynamics requires frank and honest conversations from feminism and homosexuality to religion and economics, we have a lot to talk about and we do not seem to know how to have these conversations. Our generation has access to the indispensable Internet which has brought the entirety of recorded human thought, history and achievements to the smart phone. You can learn about a myriad of topics; the trans-atlantic slave trade, slavery in Africa, colonialism, string theory, astrophysics, Beethoven, Ronaldo de Lima, capitalism and globalization, without ever leaving your home. We are having conversations about history, the effects of oppression in modern America and Nigeria, music history and its developments into hip hop, afrobeats and its influence on culture and so on. In short, we are chasing enlightenment. And this is important, because we are on the cusp of something great. At no other point in human history, have we ever been able to have these frank conversations about our history and the state of our society and even though so much of our history is misrepresented we have enough to start the conversation. However, this journey has not been as smooth as it could have been because we forget that enlightenment is not just about learning, it is about unlearning as well. It is not merely about knowledge gathering, it is about seeing facts as variations of each other and working your mind endlessly to uncover deliberate and mistaken untruths.
This is what it means to be enlightened, to be woke. The journey of enlightenment is a conscious one i.e. you cannot undertake the journey unintentionally. Many of us think that because we have learned some mind blowing truth, we are automatically enlightened. Because you have learned about the oppressiveness of the patriarchy and the subjugation of the queer human in modern society, you carry yourself as one above all. This is not enlightenment, you have learned but you are not on the path of enlightenment because you have not seen your arrogance and unlearned it. If we are to enter the journey of enlightenment we must realize that while we are on our journey, there are others in darkness and it is our duty to bring as many out of the darkness as we can. Some of us are so understandably frustrated by the conversations we are having; the patriarchy has been so entrenched in our societies and our religions that we seem unable to have constructive conversations about dismantling them without these conversations devolving into insults. Capitalism is ruining countries and racism is at the heart of many of the interactions of the western world with the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. Religious dogmatism is at the root of much of the conservatism in the world and the unwillingness of adherents to accept helpful criticism has aided this dogmatism and scriptural literalism.
It is important for us that are trying to have these conversations; on religion, feminism, equality, economic theory, social justice and so on, to realize that many humans are/have been in Plato’s dark cave, watching shadows, for a very long time and if you have been in darkness, it takes a while (and persistence) to get accustomed to the light. We ask ourselves probing questions, “How can this very obvious truth be so easily discarded?” and it is painful, no doubt, to have the truth rejected so forcefully. To be met with overwhelming mockery and derision as if to underscore that your journey has been a futile one and what you think as truth is foolishness. You get called names like snowflake, toxic feminist, terrorist, designed to raise your temperature and make you forget the purpose of your enlightenment. You are not insane and the rejection of truth is not evidence against said truth it is evidence of how deeply the lies are entrenched. This is why these conversations are important and our approach to them, critical.
For you to enter a conversation with one that believes an untruth, you must possess two things: an understanding of what truth is and the ability to communicate this truth. If you do not fully understand a concept, you will be unable to properly communicate this concept on many levels. You will do more harm than good to the conversation and those in the darkness will only retreat further in. Insults are proof of an untrained and unenlightened mind and if you are unable to bring the force of your intellect to the fore of a conversation without showing condescension and insults, you are a liability to the enlightenment cause. You see gaslighting for what it is, a vicious tendency to derail the conversation and you skillfully deflect without losing your focus, when you are in conversation with someone that attempts to use ‘logic’ to defeat your point, you must have a relationship with ‘logic’ to dismantle their argument. I always used to think that when you are having a public argument about a situation that your opponent is not necessarily as important as the people that are silently reading/listening and I have since changed that stance. Everyone is important to the cause, every mind is important because if we are to make lasting change, we must bring everyone over into the light so that the next generation does not have to go through this painful process. When we throw are hands up in the air, “I cannot be expected to teach you, you have Google”, we betray the point of our own enlightenment. Yes, it is mentally and emotionally exhausting but every responsibility is and we must see it as such. We expect those in the darkness to reach out into the light of their own freewill but the reality is that this will very likely not be the case. Billions of people will live, procreate, raise children and die in the darkness if we do not see their freedom as our responsibility.
We are at war, ladies and gentlemen, for the soul of humanity and it is a war that we simply must win. We lack the freedom to choose our goal and only the freedom of method is in our possession. We cannot shut down conversation because that is that battleground for social change. If an opinion is unenlightened, we must show why. We must employ methods that dismantle untruths and replace them with truths, we must change the lives and minds of billions of people either over years or over generations but it must be done otherwise we are doomed.
Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth — V for Vendetta
The world needs enlightenment and we cannot shut down conversation if we are to have it. Enter the darkness, bring people into the light, the world depends on it.