Not all X
In 2018, the fight for social justice has increasingly become a global one. Since the Global economic crisis of 2008, there has been something of an awakening amongst many of the members of society, particularly the young millennial class, that something is fundamentally wrong with our world. Many of those that hitherto remained in the shadows have begun to come out into the light, emboldened by the enormous task we seem to have undertaken to reshape our world.
One of the concepts that has gripped the cause of social justice is the idea of collective responsibility. It is not exactly a social justice idea because collective responsibility is etched into the essence of democracy, without it democracy is useless. The idea is (and this is a summary) that the peace and prosperity of any society is not the responsibility of one but that of all and if one is guilty of being in breach of the peace and goes unpunished (or is not submitted to be punished) then that sets a bad precedent for that person, the generation and society at large. Left unchecked, this society will eventually descend into chaos. It is essentially the idea behind the law.
In Nigeria, we have seen how a disregard for this rule translates to absolute chaos. The police and military are charged with the protection of life and property of Nigerians but the history we have with both institutions is chequered. This year, the pain became too much to bear and the #EndSARS movement erupted out of the social media arena. Pictures, videos and stories of the oppression of the notorious SARS group were littered on the internet (specifically Twitter) and we finally got a sense of the extent of the damage that has been done.
Politicians and government officials are not left out. Tasked with the running of our Republic, they have so utterly failed at this task and instead resorted in making themselves wealthy and beyond the reach of the average Nigerian such that Nigeria contains some of the richest people in the world while at the same time being the poverty capital of the world. Nigeria has one of the highest rates of inequality in the world, the highest number of out of school children, one of the lowest rates of respect for the rule of law and our economic capital is the 3rd worst city to live in the world (the two other cities ahead of Lagos are war torn cities). Politicians and government officials have failed our Republic so intensely that many Nigerians are simply saying, “we don’t care if you steal, just do the work please”. How low can you go indeed.
In these two examples, it is very clear that not all police officers, soldiers, politicians and government officials are corrupt. There are undoubtedly some good men and women amongst their ranks and Nigerians sometimes recognize the individual ones that perform their tasks selflessly as they ought to do. However, when we rail against the actions of soldiers and police officers, against the inefficiency and thoughtlessness of politicians and government officials, we would be rightfully vexed if those few good ones stood up not just in defence of the institution but rage at ‘not being a part of them’. We would certainly be furious, would we not? Collective responsibility is important because it forces us to act outside ourselves. Because even though I am a good person, what good is my ‘goodness’ if I do not speak out or act when an injustice is being perpetrated? What good am I? If I am a ‘good’ police officer and I do not take active efforts to ensure that ‘bad police officers’ are either caught, recorded or brought to book, what good is my ‘goodness’? When your enemy is before you, no matter the cost you have an obligation to respond to evil.
When it comes to some aspects of social justice, we seem to lose sight of this very important concept. Suddenly, the “rage against ‘men’ is misguided and we should be concerned at rooting out the bad eggs and not demonizing all men”. It is the same rebuttal that is offered when black people rail against the injustice perpetuated against them by a society built on racial superiority. Suddenly, the “rage against ‘white people’ is misguided and we should be concerned at rooting out the bad eggs and not demonizing all white people”. The use of this language is obvious, it gives members of both groups two things: a target and an escape route. Suddenly the fight then becomes a fight against “men” and no longer a fight against “patriarchy” and a fight against an unjust racial system devolves into a fight against “white people”.
The rebuttal conflates collective responsibility with collective blame even though both things are not necessarily the same. It means that even though the white woman in Connecticut has no connection to the racist slaveowners in American history, collective responsibility means that she has a responsibility to ensure that not only does she figure out what her biases towards people of other races are (because they are there), she also has a responsibility to stand in unison whenever she sees the rights of someone of another race being threatened.
Even though the Nigerian man in Ikoyi has no connection to the men from the MarketMarchYaba that were harassing the women that were marching to protest against harassment in Yaba Market, collective responsibility means that he has a responsibility to ensure that not only does he figure out (and remove) his biases towards women, he also has a responsibility to stand in unison whenever he sees a woman being abused on account of her status as a woman.
Sociologists like Emile Durkheim saw systems as more than the collective. That is, behavior that could not be explained individually could be better explained collectively. In the same vein, I like to view Patriarchy as an individual system of oppression, not as a collective one. It is a worldview that erects the systems of the world with men at the center of it, it perceives men as the echelon of human evolution and progress. By ensuring that men are at the center of the system, it does not become difficult to begin to see why the idea that everything (including women) was created for men has been attractive. Virtually everything is derived from this idea that men are the center of human society.
And as one of the oldest systems in human history, the reach of patriarchy is everywhere. In religion, finance, leadership, philosophy you see the reach of its tentacles. How religion, especially the Abrahamic religions, relegates women to ‘good but not good enough’. We see how women in positions of leadership in recorded human history are so few that we venerate the few ones that we do know. How in Nigeria, the idea of a woman as president is laughable to many Nigerians. How many successful Nigerian women have to balance their success by telling us stories of how they are also a ‘good wife’.
“In the end, patriarchy gives only a few men access to power in society, and most men some small access to power in relation to women, robbing all men of core aspects of their humanity. This is a raw deal of monumental proportions.” — Miki Kashtan Ph.D. in Why Patriarchy Is Not About Men
It is true though, isn’t it. The race for power and domination means that power is *really* only held by a few men and the only power that most men can then possess (and access) is the power they are given over women. Many argue that women are less oppressed than ever before but that is not really because men suddenly became benevolent, it is more because the opportunities for power have increased. And even then, the tendency for abuse still remains. When you believe that women are created for you or belong to you, it is easy to believe that you can do with them as you please. That is why the rates of domestic abuse in England increases every time the English national football team loses a game of football.
That’s why the idea of #NotAllMen has always been a fascinating one to me. I understand that we have all been raised in the same system and have been assigned different roles and indoctrinated in different ways. Our collective responsibility isn’t to deny our participation in the system because our participation is undeniable, our responsibility is first to unlearn and second to break whatever chains the system has held over those within that system. #NotAllMen attempts to absolve individual men of the failings of the system and that is where it truly errs.