Walking through the city of London (while attending a conference recently) and observing the locals and tourists alike, I found myself contemplating a lot of truths we take for granted back home. I use the word ‘truth’ lightly in this case because much of how we perceive the world is based on conditioning and indoctrination rather than inherent truths. If we are to assume that the perception of our reality remains to be true for us at least, then let us accept that that is the truth that we all hold ourselves to serve.
This would beg the question as to how those truths are informed. Hence conditioning and indoctrination. The reason these two points are so important is because very few of us are products of our traditional upbringing these days. Even those traditional upbringings are questionable because of influences that they inherited in centuries or eons passed. And so the waters that provide bouyancy to the truth become muddied even further. But back to London.
I stood in awe, quite literally, at how many tourists were smitten by the old buildings that hold absolutely no significance in their lives. More than this, I was also flummoxed by the crudity that I saw around me that was being celebrated as dignity. Before you accuse me of elitism, or being judgemental, please refer to the previous paragraph. Growing up as an Indian in South Africa and therefore having been conditioned by the simultaneous brainwashing of an educational system with roots in English colonialism, and the cultural force of apartheid, I was also raised to believe in the superiority of the white race and the radiant historical significance of monuments like the Voortrekker Monument and Big Ben, or the nobility of purpose in the founding occupational forces that landed in the Cape of Good Hope so many centuries ago, or the present occupational force of reverse racism that lands it butt in the butter each day that it takes its seat in parliament. And that’s when it struck me, not for the first time though, that the significance attached to these icons are simply notions that we subscribe to.
A flag is only a piece of cloth that has a pretty design on it until the ones in power imbue it with a symbolism beyond its innate nature. Those that are subservient will therefore defend this symbolism to the death and lose sight of the truth behind it. And so my mind wandered as I wandered while I noticed the conflicts welling up inside of me. As I walked through St James’ Park I kept thinking ‘Zoo Lake’ in my mind. (The Zoo Lake is the equivalent destination in Johannesburg). Then I walked down the streets of perfectly manicured trees that lined both sides with a beautiful shade of green and I was reminded of the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. And as I continued my travels through the city I kept finding myself drawing parallels between what I experienced in this foreign land and what I have available to me in my own homeland. With one key difference. Access to resources.
That realisation was accompanied by its own conflicts. On the one hand, we couldn’t compete with the global investors that pump wealth into this region in order to gain more wealth out of it, but on the other, we probably have proportionally equal amounts of wealth being squandered through corruption and incompetence. The difference? While walking through London I got a distinct sense of a collective pride that everyone had in what their country offered. It was in fact nauseating to flip through channel after channel in the hotel room only to see some or other aspect of the English lifestyle being celebrated as superior to anything else. That’s what we lack. Collective pride.
And so, in the absence of such pride, we turn on each other. We become opportunists looking to get what we can from what is available, with very little focus on giving back. We tolerate corruption by contributing to it, and we condone poor service delivery by squeezing the blood out of our labourers. There is no nation, let alone nation building. We bicker, we complain, we criticise, and we loathe, and the contradiction in this statement does not escape me, which brings me to the title of this post.
We’re a nation of mental masturbators. Extremely eloquent in defining responses or solutions, but lethargically poor at building unity and serving each other. And I noticed this same tendency building up inside of me as I walked through the streets of London, forming essay after essay in my mind about how we could be even greater if we had access to the same kind of resources, etc. all the while knowing that that is not true. If we had access to more resources than we already have, we’d just take corruption to a greater level, and dish out incompetence in greater portion sizes.
Watching the madness around Nkhandla and seeing the president laugh mockingly at the same nation he is supposed to be serving, and juxtaposing that against the American president that was dragged through the coals simply for getting a blow job, and it becomes plainly clear that we view illicit sex that others envy as infinitely more detrimental to society than showing the middle finger to the poor and downtrodden, and then speaking of it as if you are above it. That, in my mind, is the worst form of mental masturbation. The ability to speak authoritatively of morals and values when you’re the same scum that sets the standard and consistently raises the bar for such despicable norms, and then still insisting on dignity while robbing the very same people that put you in power of the dignity that they actually pay for.
Sitting back and decrying our state because of the legacy of apartheid is again, mental masturbation. 21 years. That’s enough time to raise a child, put them through school, followed by university and pretty much obtain a degree, yet we have adults (read ‘idiots’) in power who are supposed to be educated while surrounded by the best advisers of their choice that still think that their downright incompetence and moral corruption is a result of apartheid. No, it’s simply self-loathing greed. Self-loathing because no one with an ounce of self-respect will conduct themselves as despicably as our leaders do. Unfortunately they are the icons that the masses subscribe to. But I recall my initial reaction to Big Ben when I first saw it. I also flipped out my cell phone to take that first pic, with the realisation of its impotence only dawning on me later.
So I find it difficult, as frustrating as it is, to judge harshly those that continue to vote for the cancer that is eroding the fabric of our nation. It leaves me with one defining realisation. While the non-white in South Africa may not have enjoyed much dignity in the eyes of the ruling elite at the time, we had dignity among ourselves. Now that apartheid is gone, it seems we gave up that dignity in our pursuit of the trinkets that propped up our apartheid masters but sinking one level lower. That lower level that we’ve succumbed to is because at least during apartheid we all took care of our own kind, both the whites and non-whites alike. Now, we’re too selfish and morally depraved to do even that.
So any criticism of the moral decay that we see around us is nothing more than mental masturbation from a nation that has sold its soul in favour of the aspirations of its apartheid masters. Ubuntu? Did I hear someone mention Ubuntu? Don’t make me laugh. We’ve lost even that simple truth and traded it in for individual enrichment.