Thursday, March 23, 2006

Freedom of Speech and Making a Difference; the Buck Stops Here

Let me start by apologizing for not posting any serious content for the past few weeks. Tomorrow I have this huge test, called the GMATs, which is a multiple-hour exam with Math, English, and essays. I’m scared out of my wits for the thing, so it’s been occupying all of my time. However, when one of my favorite readers, Sonia-Belle, asked if the Body-Snatchers had come and taken me away, I realized something had to be done. So I decided to combine a post with some math, and give people something more serious to read.

This issue really began to take focus for me when Matt Urden challenged one of my recent posts, commenting: “The problem is that discussion and debate are useless exercises if outcomes and decisions from that discussion and debate are not somehow put into action for change.” This is directly contradictory to my beliefs. I believe that words are powerful, that a person who uses words well has tremendous potential for influence in the world and can make a difference. And I believe that the Internet makes that even more possible, as it provides a forum where those views can be expressed and heard. That is why I push for traffic to my site; because I want to have my views heard, and to challenge others to define their views.

By Matt’s comments, this really isn’t making a difference. He may be right; we are not really affecting any change in our society, right? Well, maybe yes and maybe no. Perhaps the problem, as Matt indicates, is that no one is being heard by the people with the power, but maybe the problem really is that no one is speaking at all. And if this is the case, then all of us are truly beginning to make a difference.

I feel that the deterioration of free speech in this country is a problem growing so rapidly, it is ridiculous. It seems almost daily that our government squashes the voice of dissent in some way or another. Think of free speech as a point, a destination, where a person feels free and comfortable saying what he or she believes at any time and at any place. This is what our founding fathers had in mind; a land where even the most radical voice could be heard.

Our government, like our supreme court, functions at its best when a wide variety of opinions are represented. Our country was built on the principle of debate, on the view that every voice has merit, and while the representation in government of every view should be based upon the number of people who share that view, the strength of all voices should be equal. In the United States, we all are supposed to have a voice, all are supposed to be able to say our piece and be heard. But that society is a long-distant memory.

Again, the society where speech truly is free, where we all have a voice, is a point on a grid. Another point on the grid represents our society, and the freedom of speech found within it. The distance between these two points grows with every action against free speech we see.

When a woman, the mother of a soldier, is arrested for peacefully demonstrating against the war, a woman who has paid the ultimate sacrifice for the safety of this country, the distance between the points grows. When proof comes out showing what really happened in a natural disaster on our own soil, and the proof is ignored, the distance grows again. When a member of our media speaks out against the efforts by our government to squash freedom of the press, and gets shouted down by other reporters for being liberal and dangerous, the line grows even longer. And when our own politicians, the people we elected to stand up for our rights, are afraid to speak, then the line between free speech and our society rally grows. It grows way too long.

In 1989, 15 of my classmates and I, all of whom were either Poli-Sci or Econ majors (I double majored in both disciplines), composed only the second group of Americans to be allowed into the Soviet Union. There we met with government leaders in official Q&A discussions, as well as meeting with dissident leaders in unofficial visits (which eventually got us kicked out of the country). This was the Cold War era, and the world criticized the Soviets for their policy of silence. There was an oppression in the air, a feeling that, should you speak, not only was someone listening, but they were waiting there to shut you up.

Opposition leaders harped on this as the reason that the Soviet regime had to fall. Freedom of Speech is the most basic right, they argued. It leads to advanced thinking and person discovery. We asked the Soviet leaders why they couldn’t allow free speech in their society, that it certainly was within the vision of both Marx and Lenin, but they stated that the threats to the Soviet Union were too great, that in that day and age allowing free speech would be tantamount to allowing the liberals and the radicals to run rampant over the country.

Upon returning home, the common feeling was that there was no excuse for the abandonment of freedom of speech, that no matter what the dangers, that one, simple freedom is a self-evident truth, and must be adhered to. And our government’s rhetoric supported this theory, stated in clear, unwavering terms that, regardless of the situation in the Soviet Union, they are committing crimes against nature by forcing their people into a cone of silence. And that was our justification for continually pushing for Democracy in that region.

And now the shoe is on the other foot. We claim that it is too dangerous to allow freedom of speech, not realizing that when freedom of speech is dangerous, when it is most tested, is when it can shine the brightest as a beacon to the rest of the world, drawing people to our form of government. We are guilty of the same things that we accused the Soviets of not twenty years ago. Our way of life slowly crumbles as we lose touch with the very principles our country is built upon. And I suspect that, while seeing this happening around you, the feeling of helplessness I feel daily grows in you as well.

But actually, we can make a difference, and even in little ways we can have a big impact. We are speaking here, on our blogs. Sure, as individuals, we have a minimal voice. But the more we work together, the more we try to find ways to be heard in unity, the more power we hold.

We have an edge, a very slight edge. Whereas the politicians have to fear the Republican sound machine if they say what needs to be said, we can only benefit from attention by the government. Until we get to the point where, like the Soviet Union, people are being pulled off the street for speaking poorly of the government, any attention from the government helps bring more attention to our thoughts and writings.

I guarantee that, if George Bush got up today and said “The blog Perspectives of a Nomad is abhorrent, and should be shunned by all righteous God-fearing Americans”, 2 minutes later I would have a million hits on my blog, and blogger would crash (yet again!). Sure, they can make things unpleasant for me, or for anyone, but the government is still limited to some extent by the code of ethics laid down in the Constitution. How much they adhere to it would be questionable, but they would be limited in the punishment they could dish out for my speaking my mind. Or your speaking your mind.

The problem is how to get everyone pointed in a similar direction. I mean, 62% of the people disapprove of the Bush Administration right now, but getting two of them on the same page is nearly impossible. It’s why I attempted the Walken campaign; because a figure head, any figure head, could be something we could all fall in behind, and start to move in a similar direction. And an actor shares the trait that government attention generally helps earn them publicity, as opposed to hurting their public profile.

So maybe the Walken idea was stupid; I’m ok with that, no big deal. But let’s not stop there; come up with another idea. How are we going to use the tool that we have here, a whole blogging community, to move public perception, to make the public aware of how bad our president has let things get, and to mobilize people to let their voice be heard. I’m not a powerful person, so this is the only voice I have that will be heard. Let’s find a way to speak together, and send a message that someone will notice. Because it’s time for individuals to make a difference, and the buck stops here!

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Posted by Scottage at 2:10 PM / | |