“Freedom” Talk

I’m so sick and tired of people – especially the extremists – insisting that they deserve the freedom to say whatever they please, regardless of the consequences. And I’m particularly angry at people, particularly the far right, who insist that they have the “right” to lie, to reject verified facts, or to present facts in a misleading context. The fact is, as illustrated by the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, that lies and distortions undermine social order and can lead to injury and death.

This isn’t anything new. The idea of a peaceful ante-bellum south was also always a lie. The pre-war southern political power structure continually feared a slave revolt, and the oppression and physical abuse of slaves has been well-documented. Even the “gallant” Robert E. Lee is documented to have beaten a slave.

The 1896 Supreme Court ruling in Plessy vs. Ferguson that “separate but equal” was acceptable was a lie, because the white power structure had no intent whatsoever in providing “equal” access or facilities, and when black communities managed to create prosperity, all too often white vigilantes tore them down and terrorized and/or killed blacks who had the temerity rise toward equality.

When the last election showed that minorities were getting close to equal rights to vote, what happened? Republicans in state after state immediately pushed, and often passed, legislation that makes it harder for those in less affluent communities to vote. And they’re justifying it with the lie of almost non-existent “voter fraud.” Even the far-right Heritage Foundation’s vaunted study on voter fraud could only find a handful of individual cases in over twenty years of federal elections.

Trump and his supporters are pushing for the legal right to lie under the guise of free speech and the idea that they have the right to lie and distort and to use public media to do so

The problem is, of course, is that the unscrupulous and corrupt will use any tool to obtain power and to maintain that power. Those who are honest and law-abiding don’t want to restrict free speech, but without a government check on unregulated freedom of speech in a high-tech mass communications society, it’s beginning to appear that the lies will eventually prevail. Yet if government has the power to stop the lies, whoever controls the government will eventually control the people.

The only way to stop the loss of real freedom is for people, both as individuals and in groups, to reject the lies and insist on “all the facts, all the time.” The facts, all the facts. Not what you believe, not what you want, but the facts.

Unfortunately, too many Americans are more vested in believing comforting lies espoused by the leaders of their “tribes,” rather than in looking for a truth based on facts. To maintain freedom requires the strength to face the facts, both when they’re comforting and when they’re not. Insisting on comforting lies has always led to authoritarian rulers and loss of freedom.

7 thoughts on ““Freedom” Talk”

  1. Lourain says:

    And people need to realize that the struggle for “facts” verses falsehoods will never end. This battle is fought anew by each new generation.
    (I want to use the word “truth”, but we can never see the whole truth.)

  2. Shannon says:

    Mis- and dis-information or even favorable editing and dissemination of facts is an intractable problem. I personally believe that government censorship is never the answer. Well crafted government regulation of platforms may be an answer but, aside from the difficulty of accomplishing that, there are issues with regulating private corporations to that extent. Speech should be free; resulting violence should be punished. Some people will be uncomfortable, offended, or otherwise dislike what others say but that’s part of freedom. Such speech may end our political system but government overreach in the hands of the wrong people will surely do so.

    1. Tim says:

      Here in the UK, it was announced today that one of the planned bills to go before Parliament will require universities to allow free speech on their platforms.

      This became necessary after some of them, including Oxford, prevented some Conservative politicians speaking.

      1. James Sedgwick says:

        I don’t think this is “free speech”. This is “require someone else to publish speech from our conservative buddies that the university think doesn’t make sense”.

      2. Shannon says:

        Universities especially should be a haven for free speech!

        1. Hanneke says:

          Though I agree universities should be havens for free speech and there are regulations in place to promote that, they also have a duty not to promote hate speech nor encourage radicalisation towards extremism, of any kind.

          It is wise to be careful of agreeing with innocuous statements when you do not know the background.

          For instance, here are two articles about the new English law regarding freedom of speech for universities which Tim mentions above.
          A recent article:

          And a slightly older one offering more background information and links, including to the ‘inciting incidents’:

          Some extremist speakers like to troll students and institutions in order to provoke a reaction, which they can then exaggerate into ‘an attack on free speech’ – which under the new law could gain them a lot of money in compensation, or cost the university a lot of money in lawsuits. As a lot of the more extreme speakers appear to have rich backers who might pay for those lawsuits, and a lot of universities are not that rich, this new law may not work out the way it is *said* to be intended.

          On the other hand, Boris Johnson and his Tory Cabinet are introducing a bunch of new laws that will definitely limit people’s rights to protest and organise demonstrations, or to take an adverse government decision to court, and for instance aim to introduce a picture ID law for voting (without a way to get the ID if you cannot pay for it, limiting voter participation) and turn some mayoral elections back into a less representative FPTP (First Past The Post) instead of PR (proportional representation) votes, to give a Tory minority a better chance to (re)gain power after Labour won those votes.
          The Tories are copying several of the Republican strategies, partially advised by the same people and thinktanks paid for by the same billionaires as have had such an influence in US politics.

          Manufactured outrage is one of their tools, as it is for the ‘woke warriors’ Mr.Modesitt has talked about, so it is really important to check things out before going along.
          “All the facts, all the time”! Yeah!

  3. M Kilian says:

    The difficulty as codified in the US constitution and the discussions that went into the creation of it actually detail the difficulty of freedom and liberty.

    Liberty was divided into the ideas of positive and negative liberties for this exact reason. Negative liberties being rights that cannot be transgressed upon the individual by other individuals or the state, particularly the latter. However, these negative rights come with responsibilities, which is something politicians and figureheads ignore whenever convenient.

    If someone causes a panic by falsely causing alarm such as by shouting fire in a theatre, they can cause harm and by such surrender their right to free speech regarding this cause of harm as pertains to the endangerment of the lives of others, and such has been set as precedent and upheld to this day.

    Obviously this has issues where “harm” becomes a matter of fierce debate and mental and physical enter the fray. But particularly since lies have come up, part of the issue here is that the legitimacy of the government should always be part of the discussion of public discourse, and one that has gotten incensed over the last couple of decades again.

    Facts should prevail, but both left and right wing politicians do what politicians always do, and that is try to derive facts that support their conclusions, rather than draw conclusions from facts.

    This would seem a small distinction, but because universities and scientific institutions, whether medical, ecological or otherwise have become embedded with government funding, the validity of their rigour has come attack in a way that resembles the criticisms of science as was borne in critique of the Holy See and Papacy who defined what science was once upon a time ago.

    Science progresses as we study things, but not every discovery is ultimately legitimate, and many things we took to be true have been proven false. Other times science is misrepresented and facts or their context omitted to create a narrative- the fat vs sugar mythos from the 20th century comes to mind, as does the food pyramid by Kelloggs, and even cigarettes being proscribed by medical “professionals”.

    Dangerous is the right-wing tycoon mouthpiece that argues global warming doesn’t exist, but also perhaps equally dangerous is the presidential candidate Al-Gore who completely took information about global warming out of context to mislead the public as to the severity of one form of ecological impact over arguably more concerning issues such as impending biodiversity disaster and extinctions, land clearing, pollution that isn’t just about the greenhouse effect etc.

    Global warming is not the entire sum of climate change, but the debate is always reduced to that in mainstream media because it’s arguably the one worth the most money to politicians involved.

    Mass communication provides issues but at the same time skepticism of authority can be maligned into the propogation of lies is because the establishment pursues lies itself. Both the DNC and GOP are in bed with big pharma and the military industrial complex, and we face modern society in a conundrum where the predicted future dystopia of Brave New World or 1984 were presented, and instead of either we got both.

    We are bombarded with so much information from so many sources saying different things that we don’t know what to believe, yet big brother ever encroaches, and the free dissemination of ideas between individuals is under constant attack as the idea of thought crime rears its ugly head.

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