Rafał Stybliński, Krzysztof Abramiuk
We chose to invoke Liu Xiaobo in the preamble of the foundation’s statute for a reason. To begin with, we would like to reiterate the words that inspired us: “The goal of a peaceful rights movement should not be to seize power, but to devote all its efforts to building a society in which one can live with dignity. By changing human existence, which is dark and fearful, and willingly accepts enslavement, an independent civil society must be developed with all our strength tłum. Piotr Dubicki, “Nie mam wrogów”, Wydawnictwo Akademickie Dialog, Warszawa 2017.
These words indicate the pursuit of enslavement, which is, according to Liu Xiaobo, present in our nature. These words may shock at first glance, because it would seem that each of us desires freedom. But are we really? In the following text, we will reflect on this issue and why the answer to this question is sometimes negative.
Let’s start with the fact that one can be free from something. One can be free from poverty by having the financial means to live a decent life and the opportunity for self-development as an individual. One can be free from injustice by living in a country where basic human rights are respected. This indicates a negative element, which is the absence of certain handicaps, and a positive element, which is the opportunity to pursue one’s plan for life.
The matter becomes more difficult when basic rights are already respected and there are no major forms of oppression. Then the question arises not so much of freedom from something, i.e., of allowing self-expression in a just society, but rather of freedom of something, i.e., of making appropriate use of convenient conditions.
Thus, freedom is the conditions under which we can realize ourselves as individuals. As a Chinese, Liu Xiaobo grew up in a culture where the common good is often placed as more important than the good of the individual. Confucianism, rooted in China, which Xiaobo opposed, is a philosophical and religious system that proclaims that “the construction of an ideal society and the achievement of world peace is possible on the condition that the obligations of the social hierarchy are respected and that traditions, purity, and order are preserved.https://encyklopedia.pwn.pl/haslo/;3924941 za https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konfucjanizm
Thus we see that the ideal society can be understood in different ways. Freedom, in Western terms, often points to individual freedom, while in countries where collectivism is the dominant approach, it is the society that is supposed to function properly. But is this a contradiction? We think not, because the individual can fully express itself in a properly functioning society, where it has the conditions to do so. On the other hand, the individual can work in different ways for the benefit of the community. A society in which there is no freedom of speech often prevents the expression of individuality if it does not agree with the officially accepted worldview of a given group.
We posed the question earlier as to whether each of us actually strives for freedom. This depends to a very large extent on how we have been shaped by our near and far environment, our value system and our willpower and desire to implement this value system in our daily lives. If our value system is not in line with what society expects of us, then the conflict arises.
An example would be a state in which the fundamental rights of a certain group of people are not respected. One cannot then fully use one’s freedom, because there are external pressures that take away that freedom. One can belong to this disadvantaged group and strive to eliminate unjust laws. It is also possible not to be part of it, but to stand in solidarity with the persecuted. Such aspirations are the desire for freedom.
This is where the value system plays a significant role. Freedom can be used in a variety of ways. You can succumb to modern trends such as consumerism and seek to increase your possessions and material goods in order to live a comfortable life. You can devote your time, effort and money to pursue your passions. One may become involved in social activities. The opposite is also possible, i.e., imposing one’s worldview on others and gradually dismantling the just system.
Freedom is not given to us once and for all; it must be constantly fought for, cultivated, and cherished. On the one hand, there is a need to further strengthen the just system, because even if it is roughly good, there will always be shortcomings that need to be addressed. After all, the world we live in is characterized by volatility and new challenges. On the other hand, it is necessary to pay attention to the freedom to do something, looking for values to cultivate, taking advantage of this freedom.
But is a given system already fair enough? One of the key elements, from our point of view, is the question of minority rights. They are a kind of determinant of the justice of the system. If the rights of minorities are taken away in the name of an ill-conceived protection of general interests, such a system ceases to be just. However, this is not the only aspect of a just system, because if minorities can realize themselves, but the person who ends up on homeless cannot receive effective help, or ambitious people born into a disadvantaged environment do not get support and help to change that environment, then society is not necessarily more just.
Finally, the issue of the apparatus of power is important. As John Acton stated, “all power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”https://pl.wikiquote.org/wiki/John_Acton. Examples of this can be found in many countries of the modern world. A state ruled by an individual or a party, which has almost unlimited power, shows a number of tendencies, such as the desire to strengthen its influence even more and actions directed against those individuals or groups that are incompatible with their value system. Such a value system is often distorted because it is heavily influenced by the fear of losing influence.
A person raised in the spirit of obedience to one individual or party often stops thinking critically and is mediocre but faithful. Especially in times of uncertainty and rapid change, people strive for a misunderstood sense of security by surrendering their freedom to others. This is exemplified by giving a collective, “bright goal” that is relegated to an indefinite future. In general, the point is that one relinquishes responsibility for one’s life and one’s choices, placing oneself in the service of an idea. Then what that system does ceases to matter and all its distortions are ignored, even those as extreme as crimes against humanity.
This is what we mean by an existence that is “dark and fearful, willingly consenting to enslavement.” We can counter this by building a civil society in which critical thinking and the nurturing of values is the main motivation for further change.