Thursday, February 14, 2008

Kant and Marley on Freedom

This term I am teaching "Classics in Political Thought 2" to around 90 undergraduate students here at UW. The course goes from Thomas Hobbes to Karl Marx. I really enjoy teaching this class, and I try to show the students that the ideas and theorists we study (e.g. property, the legitimacy of the state, democracy, equality, etc.) are still alive and relevant today.

This past week we were doing Kant's "What is Enlightenment?". Given the title of my blog it will be no surprise that I love covering this topic. Kant's motto of the Enlightenment is: "Have Courage to Use Your Own Reason!" And it is a motto that I think is just as important today as it was in the 18th Century. Moral and political progress is hampered by our own intellectual immaturity. Kant nicely summarizes this insight when he claims:

"If I have a book to serve as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all. I need not think, if only I can pay: others will readily undertake the irksome work for me."

The Kantian aspiration to free ourselves from our own self-imposed immaturity really informs my attitude towards higher education (and my life in general). And when the opportunity arises when an educator can engage their students with a medium that transcends the typical constraints of stuffy academic writings, I believe one should do so. And this is where Bob Marley's music comes in!

In my class today we finished the section on Kant and the Enlightenment with this excellent video from Bob Marley. It is his song "Redemption Song", which is a really beautiful song. This verse from Marley really captures the Kantian ideal of enlightenment:

"Emancipate yourself from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds".

Marley's message of course reflects many of his own circumstances, having grown up in Jamaica. For example, many of the lyrics address the religious beliefs of the Rastafari movement.

At the beginning of the video Marley notes that music is a vehicle that can liberate the people. And to find this message of enlightenment and freedom freely available on something like You Tube, one can't help but be struck by the fact that Marley's message satisfies the Kantian requirements for political progress- that communication be both publicizable and made public.

Redemption song is an inspirational song, one that offers the message of hope to those who face the legacies of slavery and colonialism. And to have such a liberating message song by such a beautiful voice, it is hard not to feel the attraction of Kant's (and Marley's) call for enlightenment.

Here are the verses for the song, but be sure to download the video as well and crank up the volume, and help join in in singing for freedom!

Redemption Song by Bob Marley

Old pirates, yes, they rob I;
Sold I to the merchant ships,
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit.

But my hand was made strong
By the 'and of the Almighty.
We forward in this generation

Won't you help to sing
These songs of freedom? -
'Cause all I ever have:
Redemption songs
Redemption songs.

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our minds.
Have no fear for atomic energy,
'Cause none of them can stop the time.

How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look? Ooh!
Some say it's just a part of it:
We've got to fulfil de book.

Won't you help to sing
These songs of freedom? -
'Cause all I ever have:
Redemption songs
Redemption songs
Redemption songs