We must not simply consider the critic as displaying the characteristics of heroism only when he indulges in his act with the finest sense of altruism.
Although Jamal Khashoggi, the slain Saudi Arabian journalist and critic never bargained for the tragic fate that eventually became his lot, he knew there was no love lost between him and the Saudi authorities. He had worked inside the Palace and had experienced firsthand, the trappings of power. He must have been pissed off by the squandering of the commonwealth of the Saudi people by the Crown Prince and members of the Royal Family. He was not comfortable with the system, even though he was working at the corridors of power and must have been enjoying certain privileges not within the reach of ordinary citizens. And yet, he needed to do something.
Aware of the tragic implications of a sustained criticism of the Royal Family while inside Saudi Arabia, he opted for exile in the United States, from where he was strategically positioned to call for reforms in his home country. Of course, his fiery criticisms did not go well with the Saudi authorities culminating to the barbaric, senseless and premeditated murder of the journalist.
Social criticism aimed at telling the truth to those who wield tremendous power is a dangerous game. And yet, without it, man’s selfish inclination and desire to dominate and determine the destiny of his fellow man may not be checkmated, leaving the base instincts in him to have a free rein. There is an innate propensity in man to indulge his fancies and give vent to his idiosyncrasies. Naturally, only a few among men accept criticisms of their deeds in good faith and with remarkable open-mindedness.
We find it very difficult to accept our faults, especially when such faults are laid bare in the court of public opinion. Those who are eternally averse to criticisms are mostly men and women in the position of power, influence and authority, who are usually comfortable with maintaining the status quo of privileges and comforts at the expense of the society. They are often inclined to use the instrument of power at their disposal to unleash undue acts of vindictiveness and vengeance on critics of their actions.
The society would have been worse for it, untamed, uncivilized and trapped in the Hobbesian state of being, if critics, at various times in the historical evolution of mankind did not take up the gauntlet to challenge the evil deeds of men. Criticism stirs our consciences and challenges our irrational impulses to be unfair and unjust to our fellow men and women. It exposes to odium and ridicules the foibles of men, helping to cut short the evil strides of those with wicked inclinations, especially men consumed by the malevolent allurements of power and authority. The circumstances that impel social criticism differ significantly in terms of the social issues confronting a particular society. But its universal import hinge on the effort to better the lot of a greater number of individuals that make up the particular society.
It is often said that the society, in its universal concept, is governed by the élan vital principles, that is, the struggle for the survival of the fittest. Man is constantly embroiled in unending struggles with his fellow man, especially in the quest for equitable distribution and appropriation of the inexhaustible wealth and treasures bequeathed to him by nature. Man’s innate capacity for fairness and natural justice leaves much to be desired because his instincts are governed by impulsive promptings of selfishness. It takes only his fellow being’s eternal vigilance and proactive reaction to his misdeeds to checkmate his excesses, otherwise man would naturally have been playing God to man. A society that is populated mainly by men and women with docile tendencies and fatalistic approach to the social issues of the day would continue to reap unwholesome harvests of injustice and brutality.
We must not simply consider the critic as displaying the characteristics of heroism only when he indulges in his act with the finest sense of altruism. It is the courage to remain undaunted in the face of dangers that sets the critic apart from the rest of the compliant society. The social critic is a man constantly in search of a better deal for the society. He is a rebel who strongly believes in the cause he is fighting for. The critic begins to attain heroic characteristics when he is fully aware of the tragic consequences of his actions and utterances, yet determined to carry on, so long as his intentions remain noble and altruistic.
The critic is primarily concerned with advancing interests that tend to promote universal experiences of happiness and well-being among the highest number of persons in the society. He is always pursuing his visions of an egalitarian society in which man is striving to achieve the utopian state of El Dorado.
Of course, the critic is aware of the futility of realizing such a state of being, but his conviction finds definition in the moral imperatives of his actions which help to guide society on the part of fairness and natural justice. For the critic, not to do something in the midst of tyranny and man’s inhumanity to man amounts to utter madness. The ordinary citizen treads the cautious path, afraid to incur the wrath of the powerful even when his fundamental rights are trampled upon with impunity. This is exactly what makes the difference between the critic and the rest of the members of the society.
The critic is uncomfortable whenever he finds himself in his ‘comfort zones’. He abhors the pleasure of experiencing comfort and enjoying privileges in the midst of injustice being perpetrated on his compatriots. The critic is always restless, yet focused and determined to actualize his dreams of a just society. His heroism finds proper definition in his resilience and doggedness in the midst of danger, trials and tribulations.
He is never cowed by the prospects of tragedy, but often prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice, if need be. The critic carries the collective burdens of the people on his head and yet, no one cares about it. It is a self-imposed burden and a thankless job, which only elicits sympathy when the grievous ordeals of the critic assume catastrophic consequences. It is only at this point that the society starts to recognize the critic, even though he has always been a hero.
Nonyelum writes via [email protected]