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Libyan Writer Ghoma
الكاتب الليبي غومة

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Saturday, 1 January, 2011


By: Ghoma

        An intruiging question was raised lately: What do Libyans want? This question is neither trivial nor ungly as someone wrote. But it'd be a miraclous feat if in positing such an abstract and loaded question one doesn't get the ire of the perplexed raised or the heap of scorn from the dimwits, c'est la vie! It's a complex and complicated quest for both theoretical and practical reasons. To start with, notwithstanding the absence of social trackings or intellectuals broodings, the 'culture of poverty' has kept the place hanging on the edge of the cliff, beyond subsistence skills no other cultural debris had survived. This vacuum has made getting into Libyans' collective minds an extremely difficult task if not impossible. A benighted society by definition is one which never knew how to express or how to come to terms with what it wants. It's still on automatic pilot and what operates it are the preconscious assumptions.

        Furthermore, the notion of want itself was never a given nor fixed for long but rather a floating mirage, percievable only through some blurred contours of its outer delineations as they hover above the horizon. Thus it all resides in the ability of perception to capture some of the flleeting manifestations of human wishes and desires. The stage of self-awareness must be the key to both society and its members ability to exteriorize first their wants and then articulate them as needs. Only a self-conscious society would be able to ponder and dig deep enough into the recesses of its members to find out what they really want. But this is no sure thing since backwater societies are still shackled in their own inherited or created chains, and submerged under the many layers of myths and taboos.

        Be that as it may, philosophers and social thinkers had attempted since time immemorial to figure an answer to such a question. They tried constantly to untangle some aspect or another of this intricate puzzle: the collective will. From Plato's, through Augustine, Ibn Tufail, More, Campanella, up to Rosseau, Godwin, Own, and Hegel, Marx, etc. all had in some form or another attempted to synthesize their society's yearnings and projected them into the near or far futures, when the wolf and the lamb will feed together, so to speak!

        The question could be construed as referring to the 3 dimensions of time, past, present, and future. Its answer must include some if not all of past struggles, present conditions, and future aspirations. Some may confuse the issue between Tomorrowland and its magic dreams, and Yesterdayland's long met needs and folded desires. But it ain't about either/or nor is it as simple as it appears. Libya's birth, for instance, was a result of a unique combination of some world powers' jockeying, few Libyans' work, and pure dumb luck. However, in sixty years of its still turbulent and difficult life, Libya has done very little to the making of Libyans, it has not even tried yet! This failure, to take hold of both the making of the country and above all of its citizens is the most lamentable part of the whole ordeal of despotism. Many reasons could have led to this situation, but dearth of models to follow, poverty and illitercay, and little self-awareness contributed the most.

        One way to deal with the question is to limit it into utilitarian aspects of life. To bettering the living conditions. Slow or fast improvements to what makes life easier to go through. There's a good point for that view. Life needs some level of support before it takes off on its own legs. Questions of life were never either/or, since life wouldn't realize itself unless was provided with what makes it going, not to say enjoyable! to live. But utilities as good and useful in themselves wouldn't exhaust the range of human needs and possiblities. For the mere posing of this question implies there're more fundamental yearnings than the quantifiable material needs. The question thus must entail something that goes beyond the notion of more of this or better of that. Perhaps these have to do with what are the constituents so basic and fundamental to human life the absence of which nulluifies all other goodies. To crack this unfathomable paradox of what makes people satisfied humans entails the harnessing of their individual as well sa collective wills and desires. This endeavor has no other way to go except relying on historical deductions and comparisons and thus must start from the question: What differentiates one group of humans from another: Is it by how they actually live, or by how they've defined their existence together, or by what they deemed life's all about? Or again, What makes life worth living, what gives its meaning? However, one of the most distinguishing barometer to the spirit and soul of a people remains: What limits they've set to themselves beyond which individuals would deem life not worth pursuing?

        If there's any lesson learned from history is the malleability of the human spirit. Notwithstanding the human condition, individuals and human groups had endured horrible experiences and still survived for the next day. Almost, one tempted to say, there's no limit to what humans could endure or adapt to. The development of human cultures through the ages have recorded the fluctuations of values between bounties of plentitudes and blases of the vicissitudes of time's ebbings and flowings. Some cultures carried the imprints of sufferings, while others celebrate their bounties and successes. In the process different peoples have developed different thresholds for tolerances to hardships and some unique skills to cope with life's turns and twists. Some societies are so sensitive to matters of their individuals' freedoms while others count on them to endure what only animals can take.

        Historians tell us life had started in total freedom. Communities were formed out of associations of free individuals. Slowly but consistently ideas of restricting the use of both freedom and property had gained currency. Religions were pioneers in the practices of loyalty and restrictions. More than the state, Religions had demanded from their adherents total submission and loyalty. Thus coerciveness was born!

        However, what defined humans as such was their awareness of being human. That self-awarenss, the consciousness of being, was stemmed from both Nature's ironclad laws and from social groupings. Thus had started the individual's constant fight against always more restrictive social and culture practices. Given the fact that self-cosciousness was never an inborn trait but rather required through long and painstaking struggles with the powers that be. Slowly but consistently through the ages, the self descended from its initial ineffablity to become tangible the more humans pondered about who they were. If in the outset the fight took the shape of freedom from want in all its forms, it soon morphed into civilizational demand and becane the motto of human march to total emancipation. Individual freedom became the central tenet to nirvana, if not a sunstitute to it. Thus in the taming of nature humans had stumbled on the taming of their species to live together in communities: the social contracts. The ideas of how to reach mutual agreements on how to live together was sought for. These ideas eventually demanded to put some limits on individual liberties, thus, the notion of freedom of choice was born. Implied in the freedom of choice was the notion of personal responsibilty. Personal choice and responsability gave rise to mutual respect. Mutual respect became the glue which held together communities and regulated their internal relationships. Thus the threesome, freedom, dignity, and respect were, are, and will always be the secret to successful social groupings. A society unwilling to grant these rights will always suffer from discontent. Their lack signals the community's unwillingness to trust its members as masters of their fates and captains of their ships. An oppressive society is a sick society that shackles its individuals.

        Coerciveness is a relative concept and no society can escape from it one way or the other. However, this 'relativeness' must have a limit otherwise it'll infringe on what individuals' deem their minimum absolute threshold of acceptable existence. For instance when one's coerced to pay taxes or to respect the right of the road, s/he is only fulfilling the demands of mutual co-existence, that's respect. However, forcing individuals to worship in a certain way -because the group has decided their god was better than others- goes beyond mutual respect andf impinges on the core issues of presonal freedom and choice. Reason enough for social contracts to disengage worldy affairs from Otherwordly concerns. The successful Consitutions have dealt with mundane rights and duties, and have left spiritual matters to individual's choice.

        If Aristotle's statement: unexmained life is not worth living, was generlized to the social sphere, there springs the statement: the group that doesn't often check on its cementing glues and fix whatever is crumbling, will have little impact and meaningful existence. For history has shackled society with many burdens, but the past and its taboos are the heaviest. Among the most corrosive relics of the past were the powers given to the group to decide the details of life. The most damaging of all social practices was the group's assumption of being the main agent of history instead of the individual. Some societies still in the grip of districting life into two spheres: the here and now and there and yore. In some societies absolute spheres have long taken over leaving very little room for compartmentalization, one of the attributes of modernity. Modernity treats life as discrete segments, each has its own sphere of action and influence, each obeys its own set of rules. This begs the question: Can there be a balance between the need of here and now, that's of personal choice and minimum restrictions, and the totalitarian state, sponsor of the Hereafter and yore, demands of total submission and unbounded loyalty!


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