Blaming The Messenger
By Siahyonkron Nyanseor
In the classic work of William Ryan entitled "Blaming the Victim," Ryan explains how and why we prefer to put the blame of poverty on its victims rather than on the inequalities of the American society. According to Ryan, the generic formula of Blaming the Victim is to justify inequality by finding defects in the victims. Blaming the Victim is an ideological process by which a set of ideas and concepts are systematically manipulated with unintended distortions of reality. He stated further that Blaming the Victim is not a process of intentional distortion although it does serve the class interests of those who practice it. Karl Mannheim on the other hand, described it as 'collective unconscious,' a state of mind rooted in a class-based interest intended to maintain the status quo.
Blaming the victim is similar to blaming the messenger for delivering the message, a general practice in Liberia. Liberia is a country where individuals who are bold enough to call for fundamental changes in the system are considered "Troublemakers (agent provocateurs)." Many old as well as young Liberians believe today that "If it wasn't for the 'Troublemakers' in the Liberian society, Liberia would have remained peaceful"; but at whose expense? This line of thinking can be referred to as "backward mentality".
A typical example of this mentality is found in Chapter 7 of Stephen Ellis' book "The Mask of Anarchy. According to Ellis, an old man in a refugee camp was asked his opinion about politics, in response, he said:
"Shut your mouth! I don't want to hear anything about your politicians and their revolutions It's your politicians and their politics that bring us into exile today. What good have we poor illiterate people got from your big book and politics? Is it not only death and hardship?"
These expressions characterize our political existence, and are typical of the prevailing thinking among many Liberians of varying walks of life. They misinterpret an individual's rights to exercise his or her natural (human) and constitutional rights, which are guaranteed by the Liberian Constitution, to mean "picking fuss" or "causing trouble". Why? Because from the very inception of the nation, the rights of the majority have been considered a privilege. Since then, Liberians are conditioned to view rights as privilege that is to be dispensed by either the president or his officials.
If we are to make any remarkable progress, this backward mentality is one that needs serious transformation in the Liberian society. With this kind of mentality, Jesus Christ would not be exempt from ridicule if he had to return, today. Why? Because his teaching and preaching will be considered by many Liberians as wrong and divisive. Some will even called Him mentally deranged and a troublemaker.
For example, there is a serious disagreement on the merits and demerits of the Tubman Administration between the older and the younger generation. Most individuals from the older generation feel that during the Tubman Administration, the Liberian people were better off as compared to the present. They argued that all the problems that occurred after his death could not have happened if he was president. Here's how one paramount chief saw it:
President Tubman really turned this country around. We tribesmen can now mix up with the civilized people freely and nobody is looking down on us. We can now eat at the same table, shake hands and dance with the civilized men and women. God will bless him to live long. We want you to be President until you die (Area Handbook for Liberia, p. 196).
But the younger generation on the other hand, blamed Tubman for most of the problems the country is faced with today. Some suggest that more development should have taken place during his administration because the economic growth during this period was high but instead, the country experienced what the study by Robert W. Clover et al referred to as "Growth Without Development." During this period, Tubman was preoccupied with his own narrow objectives - such as devising means to remain in power. The same is happening today. President Taylor is the judge, the jury and the executioner. He has usurped the functions of the Legislative and Judicial branches of the Liberian government. This monopoly of power by the President is what some have referred as the "Cult of the Presidency". Like Tolbert and Doe, Taylor is using this power to silence critics who constructively criticize his dictatorial rule.
It has therefore become the order of the day in Liberia for the messenger to become victimized because of the message he delivers - which the powers that be often find offensive, or which is in conflict with the prevailing thinking of the ruling elite. Those who suffer from historical amnesia are engaged in similar practice today, in Liberia. They continue to blame people who have the guts to take on the Government for its undemocratic practices. As for them, as long as things are going relatively well for them and their families, they are not concerned about others. They become indifferent to the plight of others for fear that a constructive engagement of the Government might destroy their so-called privileged positions.
This reminds me of the Priest and the Levite in Jesus' illustration about the man who was assaulted, robbed, and left half dead by the roadside; and if it weren't for the Good Samaritan, he would have died. Rightly so, we find ourselves emulating similar concerns for our people that the Good Samaritan displayed for the man left dead by the roadside. We are not willing to allow the misuse of power to continue in our country. In this respect, the Liberian experience serves as proof that much has not change since the days of the 13th Century Mongol Warrior, Genghis Khan who reportedly said "Happiness lies in conquering one's enemies, in driving them in front of oneself, in taking their property, in savoring their despair, in outraging their wives and daughters." The exhibition of naked displayed of savagery during the civil war and the current disregard for human and constitutional rights are living examples that humanity has returned to its original "state of nature", where survival was based on brute strength (power).
Today while there is a need for obedience to authority, for without it there would be anarchy and chaos, however, the question is, how far should the discharge of civil duty and obedience to the law go? In this regard, Langston Hughes' poem, "A Dream Deferred" suggest the answer.
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun
Or fester like a sore -
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over -
Like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Liberia did experience this explosion in late 1989 when the civil war erupted. This was for the sole purpose of greed and greed which has become the contemporary African tale known as politics:
It is one of a kind
in the whole wide world
It is like a deadly disease
Once infested, it has the tendency
to turn close friends
into bitter enemies.
Campaore and Sankara
Doe and Quiwonkpa
Taylor and Duopu
Garwolo and Supuwood
Clay and Seekie
are about a few examples.
African politics is also terminal
It feeds on ETHNICITY
for the sole purpose
of holding on to RAW POWER
To continue its exploit,
it maintains POWER
By Any Means Necessary!
However, the future of a people is not written down in advance but rather it is shaped by the present. God gave us free will and encouraged us to "choose life in order that you may keep alive." Since freedom and expression are God given rights, we do not have to put up with the growing impasse between the leadership and us. The two of us are at cross-purposes because the Liberian government fears conflicting ideas and competing beliefs. These ideas and beliefs pose imminent threat to their interests and their ability to sustain repressive rule. Fortunately for us, we have history on our side; because those who rule by the sword shall some day perish by it. This is a living reality!
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