Mission of a Free Thinker
Dr. Ali Shariati
Q: In your opinion who must make us, ourselves or someone else?
No one. Only ourselves. The same way African free-thinkers did it. Who made them? An African used to be denounced in France, thrown out of restaurants in the U.S., and was not heeded as a human being in England. However, he has gained self-consciousness now even though some of them still do not know how to write.
Once I came across a vendor in France. He was Muslim, and the verses of the Qur'an he had memorized were the ones that were beneficial to his social struggle. The same thing was true about the personalities he knew and the history he had read. All these were giving him consciousness. He was so familiar with each country and was analyzing the world's problem's to such a degree that I was stunned. Who had trained this man? Had he been trained by a UNESCO expert, a prophet, Sorbonne leftist professors, or himself ?
Q: In case of the African thinker, he was despised so much that it helped him to gain consciousness. But being despised is not so true in our case. Is it?
It is not true that we are not being despised. The fact is that we are not aware that we are being despised. Today's blackman is the same man who was being despised in the 17th and 18th centuries in Paris. In the 15th and 16th centuries they were stowed away in ships (like cucumbers) destined for America. They were bought at insignificant prices and sold at much higher prices in the U.S. and Australia. At the time these slaves did not realize that they were being despised, but they do now.
However, the nature of the contempt and the existence of contradiction by themselves are not responsible factors for gaining consciousness. As long as man's volition has not discovered the contradiction, it will remain in societal context for a thousand years. A blackman must feel the contempt in order to become a factor in awakening others. I must recognize and feel my enemy. But as long as I have not felt him, I go to him blindfolded, and even take pride in going close to him so he would not be my enemy anymore. The Iranian man who is proud of working under a European (who has destroyed his country and history), no longer has an enemy but a boss. And the boss does not create consciousness in the servant. An enemy is anti-thesis who can create consciousness but only if it is "realized" that such a contradiction exists.
The free-thinker's and artist's functions are to remove the contradictions and discrepancies that exist in the heart of a society and enter them into the feeling and consciousness of the society. As long as such contradictions exist in objectivity they will not cause any movement. In the twentieth century we still witness societies that live in feudalism; something that belongs to the second and third epochs of man's history. Or, there are still societies which have not entered the historical period; that is, they possess no clothing and no handwriting. Therefore, contradiction must enter subjectivity in order to cause movement. This is why poverty does not cause movement, it is the feeling of poverty that does. Isn't that so? Often times poverty is even accepted and once this happens, there is no more contradiction. The poor must develop consciousness of poverty.
One of the ways to enter the contradiction and positive realities into the consciousness of the present generation is to seek help from those who have covered this route already. That is, instead of studying Marx, Sartre, Heiddeger, and so forth (which have nothing to do with our condition anyway) we need to find out what Fanon, Mawloud, Yassin, Radhakrishnan, the thinkers of Chad, the Congo, and so forth have said. These people who are like ourselves and have an identical mission as ours which they have accomplished. We must learn from these people and countries, rather than imitate them. This is mere translation and duplication. And duplicating Aime Cesaire is no different than imitating Sartre. We must utilize them in our teaching, research, and methodology.
Q: Assuming we are living in the cultural atmosphere of the 13th and 14th centuries, must we also accept that the 20th century European ideas are for our use six hundred years from now ?
You asked a very good question. Yes. However, you must note that sometimes we can cover five centuries in twenty years. We now have societies in Asia and Africa which have through correct planning covered a few centuries in thirty years. Basically, the problem of intellectual revolution and social movement is not subject to calendrical measurement criteria. Sometimes a society covers an epoch in a thousand years, at other times in a much shorter period of time. I believe that if a free-thinker lives in a primitive society he must not wait for that society to change to feudalism, bourgeoisie, capitalism, imperialism, socialism, and so forth. One can bypass these stages if one is familiar with his society. This is why a free-thinker can employ historical determinism, cut it short, omit it, or change it.
If we recognize that we are in the 14th century and subsequently work with our society with 14th century methods, we will reach the 20th century in less than half a century. I don't mean copying the 20th century. As Fanon states, "We never want to make another Europe or America out of Africa." What was meant to be accomplished in the U.S.? A different Europe, but they ended up with the U.S. of A! If we try to turn Africa into Europe we will have two Americas. Is it worth it?
We neither want to make a Europe, nor another America, but a human society. Europe and America tried to create a human society. They talked and bluffed, but they did just the opposite and ironically they have always killed all the humans they could find. We absolutely do not want to catch up with England, the U.S., and France. Never!
Q: What is a free-thinker's mission in building up a society?
If a free-thinker has a mission, it is leaping forward, otherwise he must wait for historical determinism. In that case man will be subject to determinism rather than having a responsibility and a mission. What is the difference between providential determinism and historical determinism? One claims that God has made us the way we are, while the other relates man's fate to historical determinism. In my opinion it is better that man be made by God than by the latter.
Q: In order to be able to gain independence of thinking so that we can make a leap, must we first possess technology?
How can a society which lacks identity possess technology and become independent of Western technology? Which society has ever done so? Japan has technology since she has identity. A society which lacks spiritual character will always remain a consumer. Even if she can produce she will still remain a tool in the hands of the Capitalist.
Q: Can we create technology and go our own way rather than dance to their tune?
In order to reach economic production, we must first accomplish cultural production. We cannot "culturally" remain a colony of the West and industrially become independent; this is impossible. How can an individual who cannot choose a simple thing gain his technological independence in front of the West?
A servant must first gain his human independence in order to find his economic independence. Mentally and morally he must first find his human independence; leave the boss's house, and go after a different job.
And so, we must first start cultural production so we can have economic production, otherwise we will remain a consumer forever. Have you ever seen a man behind a 1970 Buick in Tehran? He acts so puffed up, it's as though he has invented it! Even a rat can save its money and buy one! The Westerners announce that they have reached the moon and we become excited here! What does this have to do with us?
Q: Should not cultural production and economic production go hand in hand?
As long as man has not gained self-consciousness, he cannot have economic consciousness. He must become a human being first; think, choose, create, quit regurgitating European talks, and instead talk about himself. In order to become independent of the West, I must get to know her and reach a stage of 'mental independence.'
Q: But the West does not wait for us to reach her. Will their technological rate of advance be proportionate to our pace?
Yes. This theory was designed in the 'conference of the year 2000.' However, it was put forward by the tricky Western sociologists. They told us that thirty years from now the Asian GNP will advance 5 times, but that of the West will advance 30 times. That is, the gap between us will widen much more in the future than it is now. However, they are not taking into account the "leap" factor. How are they measuring? With their present rate of progress. Of course, if we keep the existing factors constant for thirty years they are right. But these factors do not remain constant. We now have societies in Asia which have had a constant production rate for the past thousand years. However, suddenly in the past ten years they have made a multiple leap. Due to a mental and social leap their GNP has made phenomenal advances. The Western sociologists do not take this "leap factor" into account (which the East brims with).
Q: If you do not accept the predictions of the year 2000 conference, how do you see the future?
I do not predict. Prediction belongs to Western sociologists. I study the present. However, I know that in the year 2000 consumerism will vanish. And I know that "ideology" has always been the victor in history. We now have ideology in Asia and Africa. I have been witnessing the Western decline ever since the Spengler period. The Asian graph is going up, and the Western graph is coming down. The victory belongs to the East.
Q: Can we ever reach an internationalism?
Internationalism is a big lie. It is used to universally exploit and deceive us. Assuming it can become a reality some day, then "sir" will be replaced by "Mr. proletariat."
I accept internationalism only when Asia and Africa can have a "free-choice" personality on par with the 500 million Westerners. In that case I will accept it as humanism, meaning equality of humanity. However, as long as I am not a human being, and I am accused of being a primitive, I cannot do anything. The Westerner's partnership with me will be like a slave-foreman relationship, or an empty-handed man with a Capitalist. The former should toil, so the latter could get all the profit. Internationalism is a big reason for creating a fake partnership between the East and the West. Is not the partnership of an empty-handed man with a rich man a lie? Can a rich man, based upon his own volition and money, accomplish this task? This is like a Hajji Bazzari, while he is exploiting everyone, he claims that he is everyone's religious brother and he goes to mosque to mourn Hossein! What does religious brotherhood mean here anyway!?
When a Proletariat is bourgeoisified, he is a bourgeoisie; I don't care about his background! Yea, Edward Heath was the son of a carpenter too; do we see him as a carpenter boy now? Thus, when a proletariat becomes a bourgeoisie, the society is a bourgeoisie. In this case we no longer have a bourgeois class, we have a bourgeois society which exploits everyone in order to step up his consumption.
I must think and be myself. Whenever I have turned into a human being, achieved an equal status with the international community, as well as the power of decision-making, then I would claim that all men are equal. But so long as internationalism does not recognize me as a human being, I have nothing to say to it. What is internationalism? Even the proletariat of the Western nations are ripping me off!
Q: Is it due to their technical progress that the Western countries have attained such an economic prosperity?
Do you think it is due to only eight hours of work that Europeans have a prosperous economy? A taxi driver in France works 6 hours and lays around for the remaining 18 hours, and in the meantime he is secure from financial anxiety. Is this due to his work or his country's looting of Africa? France buys a bottle of Vin Rose from Algiers for 10 cents, tomatoes from Africa for almost nothing, and rents Chad's coffee farms for free! She pays $9.00 a day to a few naked and poor Africans to harvest the coffee and in the meantime she boasts that Capitalism is nice because she pays a lot to workers. In the meantime she turns around and sells the same coffee for millions of dollars. France does not pay a penny out of her pocket, she steals them all!
Q: So, you are proposing a theory?
No. I am not a theory maker. Whoever makes up theory is only good for universities. What is a theory for anyway?
Q: Europeans have reached a progressive thinking stage, why are they behaving this way?
I think they are biased. They believe in their own superiority, and have created a type of thinking atmosphere, called, "egocentrism," which is self-centeredness. An egocentric individual does not count others as human beings. This philosophy has existed in the West ever since ancient Greece. Even humanists, anthropologists, and socialists are caught in the snare of egocentrism. Human relations to them is limited to the relations among their own classes. They do not discuss universal relations.
I can never forget that in the 19th century the great socialists, humanists, and upholders of democracy and equality talked about everything (they even meticulously analyzed the minute relationships between the worker and the employer), but never mentioned exploitation!
I must point out to something here, and that is, in human and social problems we must not apply strict scientific methodology. For instance, when dealing with a scientific issue, we concentrate upon its validity or invalidity. However, in social problems we must not pay attention to the logic of the statement, rather, we must focus on the geography of the issue.
In the East, we are the victims of the same talks which bestowed life upon the West. For instance, sometimes an "ism" which saved the West from slavery and united her, found its way to the East in a particular historical epoch and caused disparity and dissension. Or, the same nationalism which was the cause of progress in the 16th and 17th centuries and built Australia, France, England, and Germany, it caused disparity and the consequent break-up of the Islamic power in the 19th century.
Thus, it is obvious that apart from the truth and falsity and logicality and illogicality of a social issue, one must take into consideration the geography of an issue. Suppose there is an orphan who has inherited some property. In the meantime I have my eyes on his riches and am thinking of a way to rip him off. What should I do so he can't read into my thought? I must create lots of sensitivities in him. For instance, I must tell him, "The best way to become a man is to resort to knowledge." I must keep poking into his head the usefulness of knowledge and send him away to London. I must force him to read scientific and philosophical books. Or, if the child has religious sentiments, I must order him to go after praying and so forth. The child if he were going to do the right thing he would grab my collar and say, "Hey, pass the money!"
Thus everything must be understood and placed in its proper context its geography. We must not concentrate on mere "talks and words," rather, we must evaluate the "talker" first.
Q: What sources do you suggest for awareness?
We must not think of a particular source which gives us awareness. For instance, when I was a university student I used to read many old books. These remained in my head as a collection of superstition and myths until I went to Europe and became a student of Berg. With the methodology I learned there, I transformed all those superstitions and myths to awareness producing elements. For instance, an untrue story about the seventh century would provide me with awareness since I would look for the context, the persons, and the purpose for which the story was written.
The point is when one has a methodology at hand, a lie will help him to recognize specific period in the past. In order to accomplish this, one must have a specific outlook, and look for particular things in history as well as look at history from a specific angle. We can, then, use a piece of information to find the necessary ingredients for building our present cultural foundations and awareness, as well as familiarize ourselves with the conditions of our today as well as our tomorrow.
For instance look at existentialism. The philosophical basis of existentialism is this: man has existence first, and he makes his own essence (characteristics and specifics) afterwards. We notice that our own Mulla-Sadra has talked about the same thing in the past. So, if we maintain a historical and philosophical connection with our past, we will have well-developed fresh mentalities and ideologies, rather than a Persian dubbing of what Westerners say. Existentialism our country is an immature Western imitation which is in need being enriched with our 3000 year old theosophical experience in order eligible to be called philosophy.
When I was in Europe, Radhakrishnan had come to Belgium. Since I like him I went to see him. In Belgium he delivered a lecture on the history of religions. I witnessed the great scientists from all over Europe who felt like children in his presence. That is, whenever Mr. Radhakrishnan expressed a viewpoint, he was so well-versed with his subject matter that European scientists felt like apostles around their prophet. And when they wanted to ask a question, they were cautious and timid. When a man like Krishnan (so familiar with the Eastern theosophical schools) talked, one became enchanted with all that beauty and depth. In those moments Europeans realized there was a new personality in Europe! Unfortunately we turn around and hash over European regurgitations, while a man like Kirshnan has offered humanity's dinner table a new and fresh dish.
In 1961, when Nehru came to France, the Indian embassy (unlike all others which try to imitate French dance and wine) served Indian dishes. When European dignitaries came to visit, they noticed things were different. This made the French feel inferior, since after two centuries of suffering under exploitation, the Indians were standing firm in their own tradition. This roused the European's respect.
This is what I mean by originality and free-thinking, rather than our Iranian
free-thinker's hundred years of regurgitation of Marx's ideas which are of no
use to anyone. Those individuals who have been successful in Africa and Asia
have been the ones that have been able to teach European philosophies and forget
them. They were able to get to know their societies, find and propose new
solutions, based upon their existing cultural, historical, and social resources,
and create a new foundation. We see that they have become successful too!