Negating negative freedom

Oliur Sun | Published: 00:00, Dec 31,2019


Ethnic Minority Cultural Institute of Bandarban takes part in Independence Day parade at Bangabandhu National Stadium; December 16, 2019. — BSS photo

We must know to conserve ourselves: the greatest test of independence.’

Nietzsche the spontaneous realization of the self, man unites himself anew with the world...’

Erich Fromm


INDEPENDENCE — the grand dictum of our liberation from the oppression and discrimination of Pakistan has become a hollow word not only because of its overuse in countless political campaigns which run counter to what we know as independence — the 2018 election is not a distant memory yet, neither are the elections before but also because the struggle towards freedom has politically ceased to be rendering truth to the proverbial sentence we used to explain for ten marks in high school — it is more difficult to protect freedom than to achieve it. Despite of the subtle semiological difference between liberation and independence both performs as a prerogative word to freedom. With freedom being differentiated in terms of its generative and functional contexts into a binary — negative and positive freedom as to freedom from something and freedom to something by Erich Fromm, the subtle difference between independence and liberation becomes relevant to our understanding of emancipation — freedom.

Though modern state with its colonial and capitalistic structure itself has an oppressive history and globally its failure is continuing to affect those who are being imposed with the burden of a state and the stateless who fell through the cracks of statehood — refugees, displaced by not only the ‘empire’s’ perpetual war on terror but also by the state disowning them as disposable lives — from Kashmir to CHT to Rakhine — is the state not expending the lives of people sometimes because the land is economically more important than people’s lives and sometimes in the very name of saving them, developing them, liberating them through development? And any daily Dhaka commuter would know what it is like to taste emancipation through development — like dust and dengue.

But was it this dust of development that hangs over the city like a dystopia for about a few kilometres up to the sky for which the blood dimmed tide was loosed?

‘Mora ekti phoolke bachabo bole juddho kori’— were they not singing about saving a flower and fighting for it whose petals are now covered with a thick layer of dust and the air it blossoms onto is filled with lead and mercury and the sunlight cannot even reach it because it is shady under the skyscrapers and the sky too smoggy?

The weary petals of the flower they promised to save is a testament to why saving was not enough because saving if it intends to save at all needs to create conditions in which the saved can save themselves and the conditions require constant cultivation. And to constantly cultivate means to constantly negate uncultivability.

The cultivation of our freedom through the liberation war apart from being a means to freedom has become an end itself — something to romanticise about the past, something to discursively use for political vis-a-vis electoral power, something to point at in history as if liberation was done for good though we cannot even afford onions and only the rich Bengali cis gender straight lives matter.

Through political discursivity we have been so swayed by the idea of us being liberated that it has imprisoned us in only negative freedom — the absence of being directly oppressed and repressed by the West Pakistan. Negative freedom still largely remains a very popular political practice through its preaching in the name of development or majoritarian democracy. But to cultivate freedom in the consciousness of people is yet to be a political task and therefore remains a practice for the academic or intellectual elite. As negative freedom is theorised to result into conformity, destructiveness or authoritarianism, it is necessary to constantly negate the negative freedom achieved through sacrifice as was our liberation war. And to negate negative freedom would mean to constantly struggle towards new kinds of freedom — freedom for the marginalised, for different identities and extend freedom from its purview of only the obstacles and not towards a synthesis — a constant dialectics. Since there is no ultimate freedom as in there is no limit to freedom or freedom as a permanent condition because freedom is a constant practice and if freedom ceases to be, it is not freedom anymore.

And after almost half a century of independence, can we not afford to dream to liberate ourselves from freedom of the few, freedom of the majority, freedom of the popular and freedom of powerful?


Oliur Sun is a non-philosopher

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