The lights on Robben Island start blinking as the sun drops behind Lion’s Head. Sitting at Maestro’s across the bay, two old friends talk about life, the universe and beyond. They have seen 42 but still do not have all the answers. It is the week in which freedom of expression in South Africa goes down for the eight-count. Boxing shares this with politics – a TKO counts as a win.
“I wonder if Mandela saw these spectacular sunsets from his cell?”
“Jissis. Must have been frustrating, seeing life going on just across the bay. If freedom is about being able to do what one wants to do, he must have so badly wanted to get across this cold and short stretch of water. Fuck liberation and the masses. The freedom to walk on water.”
There are categories of laws. Physical laws determine what sinks and what floats, and Mandela could not defy them. The laws of societies. Defy-able, because they come in all flavours, good and bad. The passage of the Protection of Information Bill is more than bad. It is rotten to the core, because it also breaks other laws. The laws of logic…
“Logic can be twisted.”
“Fucking hell, and how! Think about it. Malema wants the same freedom for his people that Mandela wanted: the ability to do what one wants to do. But no sense telling me I can do anything if I do not have the means, the education or any idea about how to behave in the workplace if someone actually does offer me a job. Surely, here Juju gets it right. Logically, I too would be angry and upset at the white people who seem to have it all, as well as with the black dudes in power who are helping themselves instead of me. That is good logic, except perhaps for the generalising shit – that whites have it all and therefore must be bad, or that all BEE masters of the universe and ministers are corrupt and must be the enemy. Life is much more complex, as is logic.”
“Why then does he grate people if the logic sounds good?”
“It is because of these generalisations, I would imagine, as well as his fucked-up conclusions; among them that nationalisation is the answer.”
“Hang on. That part makes kinda sense. Land and capital is where the wealth lies, so what’s the issue?”
“The issue is that great South African blind spot. Closing our eyes to facts that don’t suit our opinions. The flaw in logic here is to presuppose a convenient outcome when empirical facts point the other way. Nationalisation has, by and large, been a major crap-shoot everywhere in the world and there is research at macro-level as well as at micro-levels, including behavioural, organisational, psychological and so many other fields, which actually explain why nationalisation doesn’t work. But, these theories are conveniently ignored, or those who shout loudest just do not know of these things. Worse still when they do know, they do not care or believe it’s dismissible. As if one could walk on water if you wanted it desperately enough.”
“Hmm. Did you see the outcry over Zille’s HIV testing lottery around the period of International HIV/AIDS Day in December? Some idiot reckoned online, and he was not alone, that because it was devised along with Harvard academics it was wrong. I mean, do these biased fuckers not get it that African academics also conduct and read the same research, are part of the peer review of Harvard professors’ research and are members of an international academic community? Plus, they’d likely jump the continent tomorrow if Harvard offered them a job. Most of all, most of the world’s HIV research by these types happens in our backyard because people here cannot keep their dicks in their pants? Jesus, how easy to dismiss the rules by which the rest of the world measures knowledge. What stupid arrogance.”
“I rest my case. People do not know what they do not know. If you do not understand how knowledge is created and grows, why care about knowledge if it does not fit your bullshit opinion? As I was saying… The laws of logic and the laws of common decency also apply, but less harshly because we do not sink immediately. Some of this logic dictates that people who once had their opinions repressed under a different regime would understand the danger and not pass secrecy laws. A sense of common decency dictates that you do onto others as you would like them to do to you. Laws are broken, laws are fixed. Bad laws stay on the books if the powers behind them ignore certain other laws. And no one knows how to measure the damage.
“Some do not even know that there is damage. You do not know what you do not know.”
Now the two friends are on a roll and the ashtray is overflowing from their chain-smoking.
“I once had a student in a class suggest that maybe we have too many freedoms. I went absolutely ballistic at this stupid, cell-phoned, pimple-faced post-1994 cretin. I explained to him how people had died for these freedoms. How he had no bloody idea what it is to be told what to do or else shut up. I got his and his buddies’ attention when I explained that freedom is like pregnancy. It’s binary: you have it or you don’t. No third way. The only constraint on freedom should be other peoples’ freedoms. The do-no-harm principle. Forget about it, though, in this country to even suggest the next step, namely “do some good.” Yet, one wonders which is worse. Did the arseholes who supported this piece of invasive crap legislation vote against their conscience because of party loyalty, or did they actually vote their conscience? Where were the other Ben Turoks, the other people who knew what damage was being wrought and had the guts to stand up for what they know?”
The cute waitress comes over. She finally brings the pen and napkin asked for earlier. A 10 on the looks means you can be a 6 on the service. The one friend leans in and draws a diagram. “I got this from an old Peace Corps volunteer in the Amazon. Made sense to me for years. It shows where we are in relation to knowledge.” He carefully scribbles the words:
A childlike phase of not realising what there yet is to learn.
A stage where you become aware of how much you still need to learn. Getting to know what you do not know.
A period of active knowledge seeking.
A final phase of wisdom, were you have mastered the knowledge required to operate in your domain, and it comes as part of a flow.
“Our fucked-up nation sits at the first step because we do not value learning. We have no respect for the importance of knowledge. All we have are our half-arsed opinions, and we try to out-shout one another without listening.”
They get quiet. The moon is full and the cappuccinos half. Half-empty. They wander off into conversations about the challenges of child-rearing, cash flow management, psychological profiling of the perfect sales person, and the fact that the Palm Grove in Margate, where they first got totally slammed together almost 30 years ago on Coco-Rico still operates. Good to know that in a fast moving world some things never change. They check their phones, call for the tab and head out to their cars.
After they leave, the southeaster scoops the napkin off their table and rushes it down the beach with the sand To become, in this broken country, who knows what? Something for a cute puppy to chase with a pigtailed girl in tow; something with which someone who craps in an open sewer can clean his butt; something with which a rapist in the Melkbos can wipe his semen and her blood from his dick. There are things we will never know. Why do we not use what can be known better?
by Charl du Plessis
Published in PLAYBOY South Africa January / February 2012