Sunday, October 07, 2012

Free Speech? Not! (How the West is helping others to bring itself crashing down.)

OK, so I should really be writing my next chunk of The League of Knights-Errant, but there's something on my mind that's killing me, and though it will make its way into my work, I want to take this time out to use my tiny, tinny, wheezy blog-soapbox-voice that nobody really pays any fucking attention to—and why should they, with all those blog voices clamoring for attention and another just drowning in the hellish din?—to add my 2¢ to the kitty.

So, I watched the video that occasioned lots of people to succumb to yet another bout of mass-hysteria—getting their adrenaline flowing and just finding that heady I'm-off-my-rocker buzz in the hubhub of others in similar states of self-intoxication—and after having forced myself to watch it to the end, despite it's complete lack of any quality, I said to myself: "Is that what the fuss is all about? WTF?"

At least Theo van Gogh's flick, the one that got him murdered by a religioid adrenaline-junkie in the street some years back, had some class, and it addressed a specific issue with a certain creed (see how politically correct I'm being here?), namely their medieval serious-dick-issues misogyny. But this one here? It's a joke. I know it isn't meant to be, except in bits and pieces; but it's funny, if for no other reason but that it's made by someone who couldn't put a dialogue together if you paid him a million bucks, had the technological film-making savvy of a flounder and whose editing capabilities would have made a baboon blush with shame.

Was it intended to be offensive? Probably. I'm guessing it was made by some fairly-low-intelligence and even-lower-competence adherent of a certain competing religion. No self-respecting atheist would have condescended to produce such an incompetent piece of shit. (On the other hand, there are some seriously stupid atheists around as well. Just sayin'. Nobody's immune.)

The French, not to be outdone by some American Idiot, decided to put the boot in and respond to the 'global outrage', or whatever you want to call it, by making a point. A satirical magazine regaled the world with a few cartoons that made those coming out of Denmark a while back appear positively benign and intellectual. Yes, I dared to have a look at the Charlie-Hebdo cartoons. So can you, thanks to Google images, though I advise against it, because I for one never ever in my whole, hopefully very long, life want to see an image of that scrotum again, even if it's is mock-censored!

However, the French, though French they may be, did make an excellent point, which I completely agree with (though they would say it if French, and probably not in direct translation):

What I say (write, draw, sing, etc) offends your tender religious or ideological sensibilities? Well, tough titty said the kitty. Cowboy the fuck up and live with it.

This is—or should be!—a fundamental tenet of that part of worldly civilization we call "Western". If there's anything concrete that we should be able to hold up and say to the rest of the world "we are worthy of being called 'civilized' because of..." it should be this.

It isn't.

We do pay lip service to it, of course—up to a point and, in the case of the recent kerfuffle there were some high-level voices using phrases including the words "freedom of speech". Of course, said phrases were always prefaced by a much more fervent declaration relating to the "deeply offensive" nature of that piece-of-incompetent-video-shit, with a direct implication that said "offensive" aspects are the reasons why it a) shouldn't have been made in the first place, and b) most certainly shouldn't have see the light of day. In comparison the subsequent advocacy of "freedom of speech" usually appears limp and emasculated (kind-of same thing, I know, but I'm trying to emphasize that, in the eyes of the major current opponents of freedom of speech a limp defense amounts to effective emasculation).

Before I go on with this, let's draw a baseline for mutual understanding here:

Complete 'freedom of speech' is unachievable.

And that's all right. Achieving it would be undesirable. Like 'freedom' itself it is a target. Not an 'ideal', though some might think of it that way, because ideals belong into another ontological category. Targets or goals, on the other hand, can be achieved, at least in principle, even though in practice they may never be. As far as freedom of speech is concerned, everybody with a modicum of intelligence should realize that 100% achievement isn't even desirable. And the oppressors might note that 0% is also unachievable and will ultimately turn out to be counterproductive to the oppressor's or oppressors' intentions.

Freedom of speech exists on a spectrum, and in different historical and cultural contexts it fluctuates between the two extremes. All this is pretty self-evident, but people seems to forget, as they tend to, especially when they defend the desirability of a state of affairs at either end of the spectrum. What really matters is how the reality of freedom of speech, or 'free speech' as it's usually abbreviated, is placed on the %-scale in any given context, and how it is trending; that is, is speech getting more or less free.

I'd also like to propose that the degree to which speech is 'free' in any given country is closely correlated to the much more complex issue of 'civil liberty'. Indeed, 'Freedom of Speech' should perhaps be better labeled as 'Liberty of Speech', since we're talking about 'negative liberty' here, that is, freedom from interference by others with our expression of a point of view—said expression being able to take a wide range of forms, from reasoned argument to cutting satire or outright mockery. The degree of (negative) liberty to express oneself is the canary in the mine of civil liberty.

Speaking from the point of view of someone living in Australia—which is, in most important aspects, representative of current trends in 'Western' culture—the current situation is iffy and the outlook is grim. Both versions of liberty are being inexorably eroded in so many insidious ways that it's hard to keep track of it all. It used to happen with glacial creep, but we're slowly getting to the point where the sheep that constitute the vast majority of all human societies are being pushed along at an ever-increasing pace, without apparently noticing it, or if they do notice they either live in a state of progressively strengthening denial or they're just too plain stupid, denialist, dull, apathetic and preoccupied with 50" LCD TVs, boats, cars with loud exhausts and sport to give a shit.


The erosion of the negative liberty to say freely what's one feels one needs to say, all in order, allegedly, to enhance the positive liberty of those potentially offended by said utterances, or going against what is 'publicly acceptable', is running pretty much amok. The of 'positive liberty' that really creates is one-sided. Stifling freedom of expression by imposing real or 'social' penalties upon those who would utter them if only they were allowed to stifles their freedom not only to speak out, but also to develop personally and to potentially make significant contributions to social progress. What society has ever progressed that's clamped down on its freedom of expression? I dare you to name a single instance.

My second example is 'education'. I'd absolutely hate to have young children nowadays and to have to send them to the brain-washing factories that call themselves schools, and then onward to what once upon were the bastions of learning, but which now have turned into production facilities for the kinds of people society wants to 'prosper'—all according to whatever econo-political or socio-political flavor of the day happens to rule the tax-grabbing roost. Anybody who wants to be something else, take a ticket and wait in line, possibly until you die. Anybody who thinks they can actually be different and pick some subject that would classically be associated with being different—the arts and humanities in particular—has better make sure that he or she tows the line, because even here what gets you anywhere is carefully circumscribed by, often subtly but sometimes with contemptuous obviousness, those who have the power to dictate what should be considered, say, of artistic or other cultural value.

The irony here is, of course, that this kind of crap interferes with people's negative liberties as much as it does with their positive ones; it imposes pressures on people's personal and social development that forces them to conform or else. What those in government tell the sheep their govern—in order to sell the progressive enforcement of what's risibly called 'modern education'—are prevarications and outright, deliberate, calculated, manipulative lies.

I know, I know, it's kind-of always been like that. True enough. But, looking back and comparing things to today, the degree of enforced conformity has reached grotesque proportions. That's because the power of control systems has come full circle. In the good old days you sent a bunch of thugs, disguised in uniforms, into a village or town, picked up the dissidents and their families, plus some more for good measure (maybe the whole damn village) and strung them up along the roadside on makeshift gibbets, there to rot for the scavengers to feast on. Nowadays you smother them in nanny-state care, put surveillance cameras everywhere you can, enact legislation and tools ostensibly aimed at creating 'security', force them to send their children into the public schooling system, brainwash the shits out of them until they're a bunch of declawed pussies (one of the most abhorrent, and completely legal, mutilations performed on cats).

And always—and this has not changed throughout the ages of man—make sure that the weapons of physical violence in the possession of the citizenry are pathetically ineffectual when compared to those in the hands of the 'authorities'—or preferably disarm the citizenry completely, and if that's not feasible, as much as they can be persuaded into tolerating. And in Australia the sheep by and large were only too prepared to do so, with the only weapons remaining in the hands of 'authority' and criminals (these including perfectly good people, who happen to have an unlicensed weapon of two stashed away somewhere for personal protection), plus such intellectuals as security guards and a small group of 'licenced' individuals (shooters, farmers, etc) whose bureaucratic license renewal process requirements tend to cross the line into the outright risible.

E.G.#3: One of the immediate responses to the recent random (and media-frenzy creating) killing of a lovely woman in Melbourne by a human predator instantly brought about, among other things, (a) calls for even more surveillance of public spaces in a country that already close on the heel of the UK and the US in the invasion of privacy in public spaces, and (b) a plethora of commentaries, the gist of which was that 'the authorities' basically are responsible for making sure that such things don't happen, because they shouldn't happen.

Well, of course they shouldn't happen. But they do. That's because some people are bad, dysfunctional, psychopathic, sociopathic, deluded, idiologically or religious fanatics or zealots of any kind; and there will always be such people, and unless we're going to—as it seems like we actually might and in some placed are very close to—progress into a world of Minority Report and Person of Interest, there's no way to protect personal safety except by people assuming personal responsibility for it. But, of course, it is exactly that which is systematically being bred out of us by the same 'leviathan' system that Stephen Pinker is so enamored with (The Better Angels of our Nature), because it appears, superficially at least, to continue reducing overall violence in the world. The problem that that is that the reduction of physical violence is—possibly inevitably, because of the control required to make human beings conform—accompanied by a commensurate and possibly disproportionate increase in violence being done to the very essence of what makes us human. Violence to our dignity, our freedom to speak our minds, to pursue what we feel an urge to pursue, to allow us ideals and values that aren't forced down our throats by self-righteous religious or ideological morons, self-serving opportunist politicians, or any damn do-gooder who happens to be in a position to impose his or her opinion and desires of how things should be upon the rest of us.

The bitter joke on all of us, who say that they want 'freedom' but instead act as it they really didn't—except maybe the freedom to choose what LCD TV or car to buy and how to spend their holidays— is that the we-are-entilted-to-some-damn-respect-or-else-we'll-just-kill-you bullies of the world do, in fact, have the full, albeit unwitting, cooperation of the western societies they are bullying. And I wonder if we can survive the onslaught of medievalism, since we're the ones who opened the drawbridges. And I also wonder if those amazing political documents (the only 'political manifestos' eliciting my personal respect and even admiration), the American Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution are going to survive the current century.

Let's face it, their spirit has already pretty much gone POOF, and I suspect that most Americans, at least those still capable of independent thought, will pretty much recognize significant parallels between their own country in the snapshots of Australia above. What's currently putting the US ahead of Australia in the 'liberty' stakes is, I think, its lack of homogeneity. While that sometimes—actually quite often!—expresses itself in bizarre ways, it also keeps the country from sliding quite as fast as Australia is into mind-numbing social and political conformity.

Most Australians would claim the exact opposite, but they're wrong. The same elements that make the US so objectionable to many are also what may yet save it. Another of the great ironies of contemporary political life on Earth.

And you know something? I wonder if the one issue that remains a major cause of other western societies looking down on the US, namely the continuing battle between the pro- and the anti-gun lobbies—with the 'pro' still ahead, and I hope it stays that way!—isn't like a pillar, a solid, concrete symbol, of that wonderful, yet scary, mix of contradictions that made America great and may yet save it from going down the drain of the kind of BLAH conformity that's slowly choking the rest of the West into oblivion.

You can't have creativity and human progress without diversity and strife, differences and conflict. Period. I don't want the world to become the 'verse of Serenity, where only outlaws and anarchists keep the spirit of the human species alive.