Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Born Free? Are You Kidding Me?

By Biko Agozino

The movie, Born Free, was made in 1965 about safari hunters who killed a lion and ‘his’ lioness and adopted one of their four cubs while the other three were sent to zoos. They raised the adopted cub to adulthood and later released her back in the wild and tried to teach her how to survive on her own. Years later, they visited her and her cubs and were surprised to get a royal welcome. Some idea of freedom!

That theme of natural rights continues to be replayed in popular culture rather uncritically. For instance, Kid Rock has a song on the theme proclaiming that you can’t put chains around his feet because he was born free and he could reach the top of that mountain because, you guessed it, he was born free. Really?

Jean Jacques Rousseau theorized in political philosophy that man is born free but is everywhere in chains. That was his counter thesis to the original sin formulation of Thomas Hobbes according to which human beings are born as selfish bastards who require the Leviathan or benevolent dictatorship to keep them in check or life would remain nasty, brutish and short in the state of nature where might is right.

Rousseau and John Locke were of the view that human beings are good by nature and that is why they rationally came to the conclusion to give up some of their rights in return for the equal protection of all by the sovereign. A race of devils will be incapable of reaching the rational conclusion that the state of nature was not ideal and that the social contract was better, they concluded.

The American founding fathers were impressed by the ideas of natural rights, equality and liberty but as Condoleeza Rice asserted during her testimony to the Congressional inquiry into the 9/11 attacks, when they said that all men were created equal, they were not thinking of people like her (in terms of both gender and race).

For African Americans and the American Indian Natives and women generally, the constitution was content to compromise that they were less than full human beings for the purpose of allocating federal resources for a long time.

Paul Ryan is right in asserting that our rights come from the state of nature but he is mistaken to suggest that government should get out of the way for the protection of those rights because every right has been struggled over as a human right especially against stiff opposition by those who assume that they are more human than others – the poor, the women, the racial minorities, the gays – who are still constrained by visible and invisible chains but who remain human deserving human rights.

Thus, being born in chains does not mean that you are any less human than your compatriots who were born with silver spoons in their mouths. All are born chained to our mother’s umbilical cords: kings and queens, paupers and elites, men and women, gays and straights alike. We enjoy different regimes of human rights depending on the balance of forces in human history and the accident of our geographical locations but all of us were born stark naked and, without exception, chained to the baby mama.

Kid Rock was obviously just kidding when he sang that he was born free because no one is ever born free as a human being (although he may have been referring to drug addiction and all the enslaving chains associated with drugs). But for a major political party to adopt that song as the presidential campaign anthem calls for a sober reflection. If they claim to be born free, who do they suggest was born un-free?

No, Kid Rock and Republicans, seriously, you were not born free, you were born firmly attached to the umbilical cord of your mothers as Michael Moore joked in his autobiography, Here Comes Trouble; he said that he wailed like everyone of us when those superhero nurses severed his first guaranteed link to life after his birth, an honor sometimes reserved for the macho warrior father showing off in the maternity.

No human being is ever born free compared to the chicken or ‘lower animal’ that cracks open its own personhood shell or pops out from the womb and walks out already chirping in tribal tongues and running and feeding on its own.

Human beings are a different piece of work. We cannot even hold our own necks up for months, we have to depend on the mama glands too, then we need to learn to sit up before being taught to crawl, then walk before running, and before we go beyond blabbing about mama and dada to learn our ABC and 123, we learn the inconvenience of not wetting our diapers! Duh?

What are diapers for if not to be wet soggy? Before long we discover sex and symbolize maturity with matrimony (except if you want to marry the same sex which remains illegal in many states).

So you were ‘Born Free’ compared to whom? Compared to human beings who were born in chains or those who remain with the chains of the prison industrial complex clanging with every step?

Yeah, that is not just fairy tale, some of us had ancestors who were enslaved and who were enslaved just because their mama was in chains, nothing wrong with their human nature, just like the 99% shackled with twice the tax rate of 1%.

Of course chains are not racial in color and so Joe Biden was right in wondering if you promise to unchain or unshackle Wall Street, are you not suggesting that the shackles should be on the ankles of the middle class, white or black?

The Romney-Ryan Hood platform promises to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act that was ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court. Joe Biden suggested that they plan to unshackle the health insurance industry from regulation so that they can continue to refuse coverage to 40 million Americans, including those with pre-existing conditions; refuse women the preventive care coverage that they have a right to, yank young adults from their parental coverage, charge the elderly more for less coverage and hand over the hundreds of billions saved in agreement with healthcare providers back to millionaires as tax cuts; all in the name of free enterprise and because ‘corporations are people’.

Not even the big bad (or good, as you like it) Feds are ever without restraints given constitutional checks and balances and so why this fantasy about unchained market forces and the ‘idea’ of rights from nature? Freedom is not just an idea; regulation is not the same as a shackle; and civil society trumps the state of nature when it comes to the protection of rights! Check out life in the jungle today and compare with civil society if you are in doubt.

For the next four years, President Obama should put in place a job plan that will target the unacceptable unemployment rate among African Americans in particular and the poor working class Americans in general. Let him allocate $200 billion to be disbursed over four years at $50 billion per annum. On average, $1 billion will be given to each state annually to fund start ups for 1000 unemployed youth or 50,000 start ups at the cost of $1 million each. Multiply that with the number of employees that they are capable of hiring each year for the next four years!

Obama’s second term should also commit to ending the war on drugs that has seen millions of lives of poor youth, white and black, ruined over substances that are much less harmful than legal tobacco and alcohol. Let the unemployed youth grow and sell their marihuana legally and pay tax on their sales while we use education to get people to say no to drugs as we do with tobacco. Patients who need marijuana for chronic illnesses and recreational users in a democratic society deserve the freedom of choice that some people will give to rich corporations but not to people.

President Obama’s second term will be uneventful without a plan for African reparations in place from day one. All groups that have suffered great historical wrongs have received some form of reparation except people of African descent who suffered the greatest wrongs in history. This is one big ticket item that President Obama should promise, not because he is of African descent but, because it is the right thing to do.

Finally, the constitutional lawyer in President Obama should commit to abolition of the death penalty in America during his second term. Not everyone was born free but everyone deserves to have the right to life guaranteed as inalienable.

Dr. Agozino is a Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies, Virginia Tech.


Chi-Chi said...

Clever article! And particularly interesting as I'm at a 3-day meeting right now on 'sexual health, human rights, and the law.' I wasn't quite up to speed on American politics, but this article has certainly filled me in. I'm about to go off on a tangent now, but I was intrigued by the phrase 'natural rights.' Reminds me of some ideas I toyed with (and wrote about) around 'ascribed rights' in indigenous African cultures, and how the approach to rights in such cultures is often at odds with the approach to 'international' rights which aren't usually ascribed, but often have to be fought for. Back to your article: LOL @ a LOT of things, including 'Kid Rock was obviously just kidding ...' and 'chained to the baby Mama,' and the general tongue-in-cheek tone used to highlight several extremely important issues. Well done.

Odozi Obodo said...

God's-God. That's your name. Thanks for your deep comments here. It is an old game that they are playing by claiming to be born free. Initially, the claimed that white skin made them superior until they found that black women have blond and blue-eyed children or albinos and that all human beings descended from an African woman. Then they said that they have writing while we have oral traditions but Derrida reminded them that we invented writing. Now they claim to have given birth to themselves and that they gave themselves the mandatory first wash after birth all by themselves. Yeah right. Obama should have covered stupidity in the affordable health care act that his opponents have vowed to repeal. Enjoy your conference. Sounds challenging.