"None but ourselves can free our minds" declared the late Bob Marley. I agree. I disagree that such a lyric belongs in a song titled Redemption Song. "Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery" he implored. No rational person would argue against such a plea. One of the greatest advocates of that same plea was the late Christopher Hitchens. Although they were both writers, died young from cancer and brought an important message to humanity, they have little else in common.
As I spent time last month researching an assignment that will begin next month, we listened to Martian wind and began listening for Marsquakes. In just a few hours we will visit the most distant object ever visited, Ultima Thule. We have emancipated ourselves from our gravitational slavery, yet we still show few signs of doing the same for our mental slavery. Fifty years ago, the famous "Earthrise" photo may well have played a role in establishing the environmental movement, but Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders is now critical of human missions to Mars.
"We forward in this generation" continued Marley. While his generation certainly made progress, were he alive today he would surely concede that there is a long way to go. Hitchens famously made a point without leaving the letter 'B.' He could have done the same last month when Belfast and Brussels were baffled and bewildered over the banter around a border backstop backfiring for Brexit. I must proceed to the letter 'D.' John Denver was a contemporary of Marley. He warned us long ago that the battle to protect wildlife is not over. Yet, last month Japan withdrew from the International Whaling Commission and will soon recommence whale hunting. It was during the Cold War that Denver went to the former Soviet Union and, with Alexander Gradsky, recorded What Are We Making Weapons For? (Let Us Begin). Yet, last month Russia escalated the arms race when it tested a new nuclear weapon.
My assignment next month will take me to India. There, any hope for emancipation from mental slavery presupposes emancipation from slavery; India has more slaves in the normal meaning of that word than any other country. The young boy in this month's photo is not one of them. He is an indigenous Jola boy whom I photographed in The Gambia a year ago. The photograph highlights the chance nature by which his ancestors were not enslaved and taken to the New World whereas some of their peers were.
Mental slavery is, in contrast, not determined by chance. It is imposed at the behest of institutions — be they governments, religions, media companies or other large corporations. Yet the solution lies with none of these institutions. Marley and Hitchens were right in saying that it lies with us. It is unfortunate that Marley did so while appealing to redemption — whether he intended the Judeo-Christian or the Rastafarian concept. He was a Rastafarian for most of his adult life, and his own mental slavery to that religion contributed to his death. There are, today, mental slaves who would like to believe that Hitchens' lack of religious conviction was the cause (via the Biblical concept of punishment) of his death. "Some say ... 'We've got to fulfill the Book'." Marley wrote, referring to killing prophets and the Book of Revelation. Only two days ago, an armed man was arrested in Texas, in the United States, while on his way to a church, according to him, to fulfill a prophecy. Authorities are considering an evaluation of his mental health. They should also consider an evaluation of his mental slavery.
My research has shown that, in India, indigenous people are mentally enslaved in part by lack of access to education. What is being and what might be done about that I look forward to finding out first-hand next month.