Blocl activism

Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage

By Paulo Freire

I cannot avoid a permanently critical attitude to what I consider to be the scourge of neoliberalism, with its cynical fatalism and its inflexible negation of the right to dream differently, to dream of utopia. My abhorrence of neoliberalism helps to explain my legitimate anger when I speak of the injustices to which the ragpickers among humanity are condemned.

What can be said of the teacher who, until recently, as a member of a leftist party, defended the necessity of education for the working classes and who now, resigned fatalistically to neoliberal pragmatism, is satisfied with the simple professional training of the unemployed, while considering that he is still ‘progressive’ pedagogically and politically?

There is no right thinking that can be separated from a kind of coherent, lived practice that is capable of reformulating contents and paradigms instead of simply negating what is no longer regarded as relevant. It is absurd for teachers to imagine that they are engaged in right thinking and at the same time relate to the students in a patronising way.

It is equally part of right thinking to reject decidedly any and every form of discrimination. Preconceptions of race, class, or sex offend the essence of human dignity and constitute a radical negation of democracy. How far from these values we are when we tolerate the impunity of those who kill a street chid; those who murder peasants who struggle for a minimum of justice; those who discriminate on the basis of colour, burning churches where blacks pray because prayer is only white; those who treat women as inferior beings; and so on. I feel more pity than rage at the absurd arrogance of this kind of white supremacy, passing itself off to the world as democracy. In fact, this from of thinking and doing is far removed from the humility demanded by ‘right’ thinking. Nor has it anything to do with the good sense that keeps our exaggerations in check and helps us avoid falling into the ridiculous and the senseless.

The socio-political solidarity that we need today to build a less ugly and less intolerant human community where we can be really what we are cannot neglect the importance of democratic practice.

I cannot, therefore, fold my arms fatalistically in the face of misery, thus evading my responsibility, hiding behind lukewarm, cynical shibboleths that justify my inaction because "there is nothing that can be done."

I can still see her blue eyes full of tears, tears of suffering and self-blame for having been a personal failure. People like her are part of a legion of wounded and marginalised who have not yet understood that the cause of their suffering is the perversity of the socio-political and economic system under which they live.

Mass hunger and unemployment, side by side with opulence, are not the result of destiny, as certain reactionary circles would have us believe, claiming that people suffer because they can do nothing about the situation. The question here is not ‘destiny.’ It is immorality. Here I want to repeat-forcefully-that nothing can justify the degradation of human beings. Nothing. The advance of science or technology cannot legitimise ‘class’ and call it ‘order’ so that a minority who holds power may use and squander the fruits of the earth while the vast majority are hard pressed even to survive and often justify their own misery as the will of God. I refuse to add my voice to the ‘peacemakers’ who call upon the wretched of the earth to be resigned to their fate. My voice is in tune with a different language, another kind of music. It speaks too, of the right to rebel against the ethical transgressions of which they are the long-suffering victims.

To the degree that the historical past is not ‘problematised’ so as to be critically understood, tomorrow becomes simply the perpetuation of today. Something that will always be because it will be, inevitably. To that degree, there is no room for choice. There is only room for well-behaved submission to fate. Today. Tomorrow. Always.

For example, globalisation is inevitable. Nothing can be done about it. It must happen because, mysteriously, that is how destiny has arranged things. So, we must accept what in essence only strengthens the control by powerful elites and fragments and pulverises the power of the marginalised, making them even more impotent. Prisoners of fate. There is nothing left to do except bow our heads humbly and thank God that we are still alive. Thank God. And perhaps globalisation too.

Globalisation theory, which speaks of ethics, hides the fact that its ethics are those of the marketplace and not the universal ethics of the human person. It is for these matters that we ought to struggle courageously if we have, in truth, made a choice for a humanised world. A world of real people. Globalisation theory cleverly hides, or seeks to cloud over, an intensified new edition of that fearful evil that is historical capitalism, even if the new edition is somewhat modified in relation to past versions. Its fundamental ideology seeks to mask that what is really up for discussion is the increasing wealth of the few and the rapid increase of poverty and misery for the vast majority of humanity.

I do not believe that the women and men of the world, independent of their political positions yet conscious of their dignity as men and women, will not want to reflect on the sense of foreboding that is now universal in this perverse era of neoliberal philosophy. A foreboding that will one day lead to a new rebellion where the critical word, the humanist philosophy, the commitment to solidarity, the prophetic denunciation of the negation of men and women, and the proclamation of a world worthy of human habitation will be the instruments of change and transformation.