A PAINFUL HAPPINESS?
Celebrating Independence Day.
By Chanda Chisala
It’s exactly 40 years since our mothers and grandmothers fought hard to win us our well-cherished independence from the British empire! Well, what should we say on this great occasion? Hmm. It’s not easy to pick from the competing trends of thought and emotion offering themselves at this momentous stage. What should one write about? Should we celebrate? Should we be sad? Either route will attract strong supporters and sharp critics. One thought says, “why the hell did they even get us independence – they should have waited until we had become as developed as South Africa!” (as my very old grandmother shamelessly asserts!). But that’s obviously a bad thought, isn’t it? It will attract scorn from those who believe that that would be a Freudian display of “inferiority complex,” if not a free concession to stupid white supremacism. Hmm.
The other thought is, “thank you for winning us independence, because it is better to be free and poor than to be prosperous while bound – a poor king is better than a rich slave.” Indeed. Either thought can flow into a long and passionate discourse. So, which one to choose? This is an opportunity that should not be passed, after all – 40 is such a nice and perfect round number for a writer to miss making a strong statement; but which one to choose?
I will choose neither, but borrow some sentiments from both. That is, if I can.
To celebrate means to be happy. Since happiness is an intangible inner feeling not visible to the outside, we celebrate in order to express in physical form what is inside us. But happiness, I think, is an objective thing. A person who is happy will be in a more or less constant state of a joyful consciousness (even when he can’t remember what he is happy about!). A sad person, on the other hand, is someone who has a generally sad disposition (is that the shallowest definition you’ve ever heard?). He might not consciously recall why he doesn’t feel joyful or passionate with life, but he will just maintain that negative or dissatisfied state of mind at all times, even without making any effort.
Now, the happy person might even have a sad situation or two at that moment in his life, but his general psychological state of joy results from a specific hierarchy of values (needs and goals) that he holds in his life, and how well-satisfied these are. A philosopher called Maslow became famous for articulating a general “hierarchy of needs” in people’s lives. I think that one can use this idea in general to consciously judge whether he will have a subconscious happy state of mind or a generally sad state – if the highest needs are not fulfilled, one will generally be sad. Even if you do not consciously know this, your subconscious emotions are able to quickly reflect how those things stand in your life, how fulfilled they are. This is why in Zambia we greet each other with the curious question, “how are things?” and the person can just report his total state from those subconscious emotions that are generally accompanying him all the time – they are a true reflection of how things are. The answer you get most times is, “anyway, we are trying – you never know how things will be tomorrow” or “um, well … the economy is biting, but anyway…” or even just the blunt but uncommon, “things are bad, my brother!”
God knows I truly want to celebrate our fortieth independence day by highlighting all the positive things that can be deciphered from this significant fact of our history, but unfortunately, honesty demands a more truthful analysis. Very objectively speaking, Zambia is a very, very sad nation. Even when once in a while we are showered with some extremely happy moments, like the recent 93rd minute mystical goal by that insanely divine soccer ghost, Kalusha Bwalya; the soothing victory by singing diva Lindiwe in the first ever intercontinental musical reality show competition, succeeding another equally significant victory by Cherise in the first ever all-Africa TV reality show; seeing Maureen Nkandu represent Zambian intelligence so confidently on BBC; and so on - we are still a generally sad nation. We laugh many times, but when the laughter subsides, when the joke is forgotten and the face returns to its natural state, the default subconscious state of the people of Zambia is sadness. A shadow returns to the eye, the music stops, a stony silence echoes the constant threat of tomorrow.
I know the many speeches that will be given at the official independence day celebrations will not affirm this fact of reality, because everyone has to behave themselves on that occasion - but this will not change reality. No matter how much you try to psyche yourself that things are fine and you should be happy, reality will not change because consciousness does not change reality – it is always the other way round. Your feelings are just like a calculator that computes the total state (fulfilment) of your values according to their importance to your long-term survival and goals. You cannot crank this calculator into giving a false answer, as some motivational speakers, preachers or shrinks sincerely try to do to sad people. If you’re sad, you’re sad – telling yourself a lie won’t change the reason why or the fact that you are sad, it will simply suppress your appropriate emotions until they find another outlet. It’s like telling yourself that you have no pain in your head when you know you do – it’s better to find out why you have the pain and deal with it from that point. It’s also like people who always get drunk in order to synthesize a state of happiness where there is no referent for it in reality; it is pointless because it can never match the joy that comes from true achievement of values and goals or even the ambitious and passionate process of trying to do this.
Happiness or sadness, therefore, is an objective state that is connected to very real facts about reality. And these facts of reality have to do with the degree to which one’s hierarchy of needs (or values) have been met. If the smaller, lower needs on that hierarchy list are not currently met, a person will still be in a general state of happiness as long as the higher needs are well met and established. In short, Bill Gates feels happy even when he is hungry!
Bill Gates – now, there’s a hint. The thing that makes a human being happiest is to live a life that is as close to their highest productive potential as possible. Productive potential means a person is able to produce the values that other people need so that he can exchange these for the values he needs from them (the principle of trade). But we are not just talking about individuals in this article; we are talking about the general state of the nation, so let’s take this to the next paragraph.
The thing that makes a nation happiest is if that nation lives an economic life that is as close as possible to fulfilling its productive potential. When the general population feel that they are putting in their best and naturally getting out the best rewards (exchanges, trades) – that’s the highest achievement for a society. The productive individual of that society is happy because his mind is achieving for him what it is meant to achieve for him; it is experiencing the universal law of cause and effect, or as the Bible says, the law of sowing and reaping.
To continue a bit on the philosophical lines, I think that any entity achieves its highest potential when it is fulfilling its most essential nature. A knife achieves its highest potential when it is cutting things, not when it is being used as a spoon. Thus, the human being is happiest when he is doing or achieving the thing that essentially defines him, the thing that most distinguishes him from the other creatures. And the thing that makes a human most distinct from other animals is simply his ability to produce necessary values using his mind so that he can receive values produced by others using their minds (trade). Animals do not produce things that other animals need so that they could trade. Man is the only creature that can do this, and therefore his highest happiness comes from this specific process because it is what makes him essentially what he is. In other words, it is his purpose. Happiness is therefore just a psychological thermometer that determines how far a man is in exercising this purpose.
The reason that Zambia is not happy as a nation is because its people are generally not happy as humans. The reason is that this natural process that is supposed to produce values when they put the effort in with their minds, somehow does not work too well; it is very inefficient, meaning one gets out only a little or nothing from that input. It is mostly those that are abusing their human nature to achieve these same values who are apparently gaining them, i.e., by corruption or theft or by bootlicking, and other forms of betraying their own dignity. They get rewards but not according to the way they are structured to function as thinking humans, and so they too are not really happy but subconsciously wallow in the same mire of sadness that affects the rest of the struggling nation.
Real happiness does not come when a man gains his values through any means besides the productive use of his active mind because this process is part of the mechanism that sends the signal to the emotions to produce that automatic sense of joy. In short, the joy a man feels in life is connected to the pride and dignity he feels during the process of attaining his values – and that pride comes from an honest use of his mind. A boy who gets 100 per cent in maths after cheating cannot feel as proud and as happy as one who gets 80 per cent from an honest use of his mind; the superficial celebration of the former will only last a moment whereas the latter will continue feeling a tremendous sense of permanent joy coming from self confidence and pride after experiencing the awesome power of his own mind. Thus, even a ‘businessman’ who makes ten million Kwachas through falsifying invoices or flouting tender procedures cannot be as happy as a man who gains only four million Kwachas for producing a nice song that everyone likes. The pride felt by the process used to attain one’s values or needs is part of the system that automatically translates into happiness as a continual and effortless state of mind.
The final question then is, what is it that stands between the people of Zambia and their ability to produce at or near their highest potential so that they could feel the joy that comes from trading their values (products) for the values they need from others (via the medium of money)? Why does this process which is supposed to be a part of the universal law of cause and effect fail to work in Zambia? Why are people failing to exchange something for something that they need from others?
Economic factors like employment are just a measure of the ability of a nation to perform this very function. The level of employment (or unemployment as economists prefer) in a nation simply expresses how able its individual citizens are to exchange the values they are able to produce with their minds with those values produced by other people’s minds. Thus, when there is low employment in a nation, it means that even though the people have this ability to create values, the system does not allow them to exchange these with anyone, so all they remain with is, for example, their ability to write songs, but they are not able to get those songs across to the ears of the people who could then pay for enjoying that value. In short, the economic state of the nation determines whether humans can fulfil their productive potential or not, whether they can be happy or not.
But this still does not answer the question: why are things like that? Who created that chasm, that separation, in the economy, between people’s productive ability and their ability to exchange these for other people’s productive abilities?
In other words, who (or what) stands between the people? Who is it that somehow blocks person 1 from exchanging his value with person 2 so that both of them could be happy for performing this activity that is naturally designed to produce happiness in the life of a human being?
My answer is: the government.
If our Republican president could understand this answer, we could be saved from four decades of suffering and sadness, and from the separation that stands between us and our productive potentials. It’s a simple point, but it takes a lot of courage for one to embrace it simply because it attracts the toughest and most militant opposition in all the poorest nations of the world from those who somehow feel insulted by the fact that they have failed to grasp its simplicity.
It’s simply the government. When governments were formed, their purpose was to protect the people from enemies within and enemies without (police, courts and defence). When they changed and started standing in between people’s lives by getting involved in everything, people suddenly started failing to fulfil their potentials; they started failing to trade with one another freely, both in material value and in thought – the suppression of free trade and free speech was born since this individuals in government could use this great authority to steal power by intruding in the activities and interactions of people’s minds (socially or economically). Thus, the people invented the constitution to protect themselves from any further abuse. The purpose of the constitution was to remind government of its limits so that it could not come between the people, either in their attempt to trade thoughts with each other or to trade products with each other. Constitutions are therefore an attempt to limit government intrusion in people’s lives in all its forms and to remind it of its only legitimate job: the job of protecting people from intrusion by other criminal forces.
When Kaunda got independence, he was given a constitution by the British that was not perfect, but that had at least some essentials for creating happiness in people’s lives through allowing them to trade their minds’ values freely, in deed and in speech. Kaunda changed the constitution and made sure they could no longer freely exchange their ideas. He destroyed that link between people’s minds by controlling their freedom of expression and even their freedom of association as he declared a one party state. And next, he now even took over their ability to freely trade economic values with each other – he nationalised their companies, controlled their imports, controlled their money, and just about everything else.
In 1991, Chiluba promised to give back to the people what was originally theirs. He gave them back a lot of their freedom to associate, although he maintained some laws to control their meetings somehow. He even started giving them back most of their free speech, but even he was not willing to give it back to them too much because he had experienced just how it feels to control such powerful spiritual abilities of humans. He had briefly tasted what Kaunda had felt all along and he knew he shouldn’t let go of it completely, as he honestly declared, “I didn’t know that power was so sweet!” on his first day in power!
He promised to give the people back their free trade, their economy, and started removing government from the economy, until he also started feeling this power waning - he put on some breaks. He refused to let go of the bigger companies, the ones which had the real money and held the real power. They were useful for political power: one could literally light up a poor constituency when there was a by-election if ZESCO was in government hands, for example (ZESCO is thus an electric power company to us, but a political power company to government). ZAMTEL is still useful for supporting the ruling party, as scandalous reports even now continue to reveal. And the mines, the source of some wonderful cobalt deals, had to be literally forced from the president’s fingers by some irritated donors as he continued to postpone their sale, costing the nation millions of dollars in the process as a few people made millions of dollars that still can’t be found.
He had promised to restructure government so that it would no longer be involved in everything people were doing, but by the end of his tenure government had become bigger, doing even more things than were being done in Kaunda. Every conceivable human activity (including “street vending”) was assigned some special ministry, with a government minister and a whole lot of other unproductive people to help government to intrude into all areas of human interaction, and getting paid for it through high taxes on the productive sector. And yet he was surprised when his programs failed to work – or was he?
When our dear president Mwanawasa took over, he thought corruption was the only thing wrong in the nation. He failed to see that corruption was a result, not a cause, of the economic breakdown of Zambia. He failed to see that what Chiluba had declared to reverse in 1991 was actually the correct key to restoring this economic power even though he did not possess the moral will to finish it, thus discrediting the entire system (capitalism) that he was claiming to represent faithfully. He (Mwanawasa) failed to realise that the only way to reverse corruption would be to give back to the people their ability to freely exchange values for values – their ability to create wealth with their honest minds, without standing in between them any more.
The key, in short, is for government to step out of people’s lives. This can be done even without changing the constitution as long as a president simply understands what the principle is and why it should logically work. The currently proposed constitutional change will not really help Zambia economically because all the people want is to limit the political powers of the president, but they do not know that the entire idea of government is supposed to be limited by the constitution, and not just from intrusion in their political lives but in their economic lives as well. Unfortunately, it could take another forty years before we realise that the principle is the same – government must leave the economy just as it must leave the press and just as it must leave religion; anything else will prevent human progress. Before we realise this, we are not ready for constitutional change because the results of the change will only disappoint us, especially if we expect it to somehow affect our economy.
The day that the president of Zambia, whoever he will be, will realise that government should step out of people’s lives completely, is the day we shall truly be independent. What the freedom fighters of Zambia won on 24th October 1964 was not independence from government of white people; it was independence from government, period, whether white, black, yellow or dark green. Unfortunately, they were recolonised by their own government – in black skins - and since then they have been confused, not knowing what is keeping them in bondage this time. They have imagined that it is still the white colonialist who is intruding in their lives through a sinister remote control method of economic magic called “neo-colonialism” (or “Western imperialism” if you want to sound more sophisticated).
We shall only win independence when we realise that the neo-colonialists are our own government. They should quickly leave every aspect of our economy, not just by privatising every single company they own, but by even reducing the size of their government to a very, very small size that is limited to their legitimate job, and by also radically reducing taxing us since they will no longer need to take away so much of our rewards for trading the values of our minds with each other. This revolutionary idea will be the beginning of legitimate prosperity for us, as it has been in every nation that had the moral leadership to ensure its correct and incorrupt implementation.
When that day comes, happy Independence Day, Zambia – for only then will you know what it really means to be happy, and how it feels to truly celebrate!
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