Articles

Freedom of Speech

In Uncategorized on January 26, 2012 by Star-Light

It has come to my attention that a great portion of the Twittersphere is casually bandying about the term, freedom of speech, without any respect to history or even to material reality. No ideology, no matter how generous, is ever divorced from the socio-historical reality that allowed it to rise in the first place; and to overlook this reality—because the teaching of this ideology is wonderful to some people—is to blind ourselves into subjugation and further manipulation.

Over time, the battle between a ruling elite and a population of governed individuals took on many shapes and forms. As always, no matter what the elites were composed of (wannabe-gods, kings, religious prophets, bureaucrats, military commanders, businessmen, or politicians) they have always worried about the destruction of the status quo. Fearing the loss of their privilege, elites have always prevented certain forms of discourse that may endanger their position. You may go through all of history and you will never find a socio-political order that was immune to all forms of expression, and thus, allowed an open-ended freedom of speech. There will always be some topics that are off-limit, no matter what the order is composed of.

Another thing to keep in mind is that governance of a population does not only occur from the top level (the elites) downwards (the population). Yes, elites do create their own class of law-enforcers (courts, police, army, secret service,) but they also create the environment that would allow mere civilians to uphold laws as well (schools, homes, mosques/churches). In other words, when someone violates the tenets of allowed-speech, he or she won’t just suffer the wrath of official law-enforcers, but also the ire of their own class, from family members, friends, teachers, or strangers who overhear them in a coffee shop. This makes it extremely juvenile to speak of exploitation as a binary opposition between “oppressors and oppressed.” Even more ridiculous to demand freedom of speech.*

To talk about “freedom of speech” we have to, first, address “freedom.” What is freedom? What are its limits, if it has any? With what language should we define it? (And by that I mean, with what “discourse”?) Liberal, religious, Middle Eastern, Western, scientific, secular, anarchic, personal, relational, and so on. Most importantly, what can history tell us about the way that our desire for freedom has been used and abused by intellectuals and politicians alike?

Liberalism was born with the French Revolution whose motto was “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” Its aim was to eradicate the absolute rights of monarchs to rule (because Kings were thought of as God’s reagents on Earth at the time), in addition to the dogmatic sway of religion in political and civil affairs. Instead of all prior justifications of human inequality in spiritual terms (God had said a King was better than a carpenter, God had said a man was better than a woman), Liberal thinkers began preparing a secular constitution that would ensure the equality of all individuals to share civil rights and responsibilities. This didn’t mean that the wealth of the nation was divided equally among civilians. Rather, it meant that all individuals will have the same chances of participating in the legislation of laws, and everyone, without exceptions, would be held accountable for breaking these laws. It meant that there will be rich people and poor people, but that now, the justification for economic inequality will not be made in religious terms, but in secular terms. For instance, “Poor people are poor not because God created them that way, but because they are lazy, stupid, and wasted all their opportunities.”

Capitalism is the socio-economic manifestation of the ideology of liberalism. Religion, with its emphasis on the poor, discarding of material wealth, charities, and communal nature threatened the individualistic, material, and unequal structure of capitalism. And thus, while liberal intellectuals and politicians cried “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” they barricaded religious conservatives from their freedoms, they demeaned them, and waged an ideological war upon them. While all this was happening, human beings were treated worse than cattle, and were sold as cheap commodities in the slave market. Liberalism, history proves, is not only capitalist and averse to religious freedoms, but decidedly Western. The war for freedom of speech was equally a war against the freedom of expression of some members of the human race.

Fast forward to the 1960s. All over the world, counterculture erupted. Women demanded better representation in governments, workplaces, homes, and the media. Gays, blacks, Latinos, and other minorities also wanted a slice of the pie. They became anti-establishment. They were the opposition. They demanded freedom of speech. They called the white male European a murderer. They insulted their governments for curbing their humanity. They discarded religion. They embraced sexual promiscuity. They stomped all over tradition, norms, and moral codes of conduct. This was freedom of speech for the minorities, but decidedly not for the establishment.

This attitude continued in the seventies, and yet, while all minorities were gaining affluence, the Middle East’s humanity waned. Why? Because when Anwar Al-Sadat came to power in 1970, Israel had consolidated its invasion of Palestine. He roused the oil-producing Arab nations and held an embargo in 1973 that incurred a slew of offensive and violative reactions from the West. Again, history proves that freedom of speech was not only offensive to the other but it also limited other forms of expression.

In the 80s, Ronald Reagan came to power (1981-1989). He gave white, Christian, patriarchy freedom of speech again. If gays, women, blacks, and atheists had the right to express their views even if it meant offending and criminalizing the other, then he had the right to use the same discourse too. Talk shows embraced this notion of freedom of speech, inviting members from the Ku Klux Klan (The KKK) who were violently opposed to the Civil Rights movement that allowed minorities more socio-economic privileges, and who used terror and murder against minorities, in conjunction with Civil Right activists, such as gays, women, blacks, or atheists. Talk shows thought they were embodying the exact definition of freedom of speech: white supremacy had as much right to be freely expressed as multiplicity. While Arabs, at the same time, were described as savages, sexually promiscuous freaks, who threatened to dismantle the great stride of Western liberalism. So even when freedom of speech meant that the KKK had a right to express its racial and bigoted position, it meant that it still contained within it limits of expression!

So what version of freedom of speech are you on about? When you rant like a petulant ignoramus calling on the Kuwaiti government to grant you freedom of speech or democracy, demanding a blank get-out-of-jail-free card to allow you to spew any form of anti-law and anti-order sentiment that pops up into your empty brain, do you think you have a god-given-yet- assuredly-secular-right to this demand?

Freedom is a very delicate word that entices the deepest and most powerful human sentiments. For some, freedom constitutes the freedom of religious worship. For others, it embraces a looser more fluid, secular life. Your idea of freedom is cultivated by the media, the books, and the friends you spend time with.

Stop regurgitating the same old broken phrases. Freedom is the ability to adapt, to change, to learn, to grow, and to enhance our human living standards. Freedom of speech should not allow the criminalization of a class of individuals who happen to occupy a position of some sort. When Lenin came to power in the Soviet Union he exterminated the bourgeoisie class in an attempt to secure the rights and freedoms of the proletariat. The 60’s oppositional lingo should be gone like the era itself. We also shouldn’t articulate the farcical dimension of the 80’s freedom of speech.

We live in a nation-state. We have a responsibility to the people within our parameters. How can we ensure an upgrade for their living standards? How can we secure our nation? How might we bend and flex the rules in order to allow more tolerance?

I can assure you that you will achieve none of the above by continuing to use the same vague and damaging discourse.

 

Light’s out.

 

 

* Michele Foucault has taught us that we should instead focus on “micro-politics,” Antonio Gramcsi expressed the complexity of hegemony, and it was Louis Althusser who brought to our attention the functions of ISAs, Ideological State Apparatuses, and RSAs, Repressive State Apparatuses.

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4 Responses to “Freedom of Speech”

  1. Interesting, some of the associations I didn’t get tbh, like the Sadat example. I was going to ask you after you dedicated the majority of the post to critiquing the concept people had of free speech and how wrong they were about the right concept but then u mentioned it briefly in the last few paragraphs.

    “Freedom is the ability to adapt, to change, to learn, to grow, and to enhance our human living standards”

    Interesting concept, can this be achieved if you r not allowed to critique the ruling elites? The rulers/politicians have a great influence on your living standards, do u agree?
    You see problems in something and you can not speak out to correct this problem?

    The UN has defined a set of basic liberties describing them as “inherent freedoms” and one of them is freedom of speech which is not an absolute concept in any way. The way I c it, the “restrict speech” camp has enough proponents in powerful places. The other camp should try to organize and try to push in the opposite direction as hard as possible just to achieve a fairer system.

    The American model is really decent with the 1st amendment Freedom of speech. They categorize 3 types of speech: 1- Political/symbolic which is absolutely free and can not be regulated. 2- Commercial Speech: Which is allowed and can be regulated by the community. 3- Forbidden speech includes dangerous or obscene speech “yelling fire in a crowded place etc…”

    In case of speech the norm should be freedom and restrictions are only extreme exceptions. Not the other way around. We are not going to ask the powerful permission to say so and so. Humans do have some dignity

    Very interesting topic, my only suggestion is you should’ve focused more on the idea u think is right than critiquing what you think people got wrong

    • Q8Radical

      I focus on description more than prescription, that’s the point of my blog. I don’t write posts to tell you what to think. What I think should be the least important section of any post. Instead, I try to unearth some information that might’ve slipped the general discussion so readers can formulate their own ideas and arguments. I’d like to write more on each topic to be honest, but you see how long posts are already. lol. I do understand the premise of the American model but I fundamentally disagree that there is anything such as an inherent freedom. Everything is scripted and acculturated (history, after all, was made by men). The point is then to tweak and keep tweaking rules so they continue to benefit as many people as possible.

      And thank you loads for the wonderful comment!

  2. Let me just answer your question in several parts.

    Firstly, freedom of speech does, as you mentioned, depend on context. The FOS I yearn for is completely different to the FOS that somebody in Sudan yearns for. In my opinion, though, that is not to say that it is not all part of the same thing.

    What I think it means in Kuwait’s context is the following:

    For one, in a religious sense, the FOS I look forward to is one that protects me from those who disagree with my theistic (or atheistic) views. What this means is that I cannot be ousted from society and attacked or threatened because of my atheistic views. Also, there shouldn’t be any lost business opportunities or defamation due to this. However, all the above exists and that simply means that in a sense of stating religious beliefs, your FOS is not protected. It’s a social thing, and nothing that any law can help with.

    A more law-centered example is one that begs the ability to be able to actually speak at the sign of wrong-doing by government officials, no matter the position of power. It’s chaotic, but just like I can say obama is or isn’t good with no repercussions, I should be able to do the same here. Laws protect ANYONE (including those in power) from defamation and libel. So my opinion would be presentable, as you say, within limits.

    So yes, a total freedom of speech is not achievable, nor will it be. But we strive to move forward, and just because we can do more than our neighboring states does not mean we should ever be content.

    • Secularistic

      Makes a lot of sense. And I don’t understand why your simple desires are not granted. But let’s remember that in every political system “ultimate truths” are always used to foreclose the chances of tolerance and freedom of speech. I’m reminded of McCarthyism. I believe that change won’t happen. It needs to be made. So if you believe strongly in these two points I suggest you dedicate your life to materializing them. Don’t wait for someone else to do them.

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