I ran across 2 items last night that have got me thinking about where, as a nation, we have strayed from the path of individualism, individual rights and responsibilities and independent thought and action. This is fertile ground, both historically and philosophically, but for the sake of narrowing the topic somewhat, I will mostly be concerned with freedom of speech here, thought the principal applies across the board, I believe.
The first item was a blog entry by Laughing_Wolf on the Black Five blog. It is a very well thought out entry that is worth your time. The second item is a copy of Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville I found a couple of days ago. I got into the introductory by Richard D. Heffner (this is the Mentor edition) last night and the two together sparked some thoughts.
Quote from intro “But had equalitarianism and majority rule proved to be unmixed blessings? Tocqueville thought not. Indeed, what he had seen of the leveling doctrines that pervaded every area of national life led him to question whether Americans’ liberties, whether Americans’ older concern for individual differences and freedom, could actually long survive their new penchant for equality and democracy. For as conditions become more equal, Americans seemed more and more to take pride not in their individuality, in their personal liberties, in their freedom, but rather in their sameness. So that, as Tocqueville wrote: ‘…every citizen, being assimilated to all the rest, is lost in the crowd, and nothing stands conspicuous but the great and imposing image of the people at large.’
Increasingly, then, Americans had subordinated their concern for the liberties and freedom of the individual to their new respect for –or fear of – the Majority, the ‘great and imposing image of the people at large’”
And further, from Tocqueville “I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America”
Or this, “After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the government then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small, complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence: it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”
Recall that Tocqueville wrote this after his visit in 1831-1832 and this edition comes from 1956.
And, now, from Laughing_Wolf. “That all said, there is one other issue that many fail to get, particularly those that scream loudest and do the best stuck pig impression: freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. This applies to all, not just to those with whom we disagree. The consequences can mean having a comment edited, being banned, etc. It can also mean threats and even attempts to carry out those threats to various authors.
As I noted earlier, there have been threats made to some of the authors here. My “meeting” Blackfive came from one such, when I offered to stand second for him in regards a threat/challenge. Blackfive does catch a few, and possibly even some meant for other authors since quite a few fail to grasp that this is a group blog and/or that we are NOT sock puppets for Blackfive. I’ve had a few, some quite amusing, and none that I was not prepared to handle myself.
There is a difference between a legitimate consequence of free speech and a threat, that is an attempt to end my right to speech by causing harm to me or mine. Even with supporting documentation, if I were to approach another author here and suggest that their mother/wife/daughter swam out to meet troopships I would be inviting them to hit me — and such is a legitimate and even proper response to those words (see the concept “fighting words” as there is much to be said for them in promotion of civility, civics, and rational discourse). To have someone disagree with the philosophical foundations or content of your post, and to threaten your life, the life and safety of those who are your family, your job or the jobs of your family as a result, that is not legitimate or proper. It is in fact intimidation at the least, and premeditation in most other considerations.”
Perhaps it is the Scots-Irish in me, but I just naturally bristle up when someone attempts to point out to me that I cannot do something, or that what I am doing is unacceptable to them. My instinctive response is “So sodding what?” I am a natural born rule breaker, convention upsetter and rabble rouser who loves nothing more than the taste of sacred cow properly barbecued to the screams of the faithful. Conformity is my most despised sin, even when just going along with something harmless would be to my benefit. Tell me I MUST and I will show you how I stick it up your backside sideways.
I accept that I am an aberration. My ulterior or interior motive comes from looking around at a world of sheep who very badly need to be woken up. Most folks would vastly improve their life if they stopped being so concerned with being comfortable and relished the growth indicated by the pain of dislocation. So, I highly value my ability to freely express myself, often to the dismay of my friends, acquaintances and perfect strangers. What holds me back from being offensive if not downright dangerous? Remember my goal, to wake the sheep up. I must communicate effectively or they are right to tune me out. It hurts to be skewered, to have someone prick your conscience but it is not dangerous or vile. If I were dangerous or vile, I would expect to receive the consequences due my action. I understand feuds and duels and would love to see them make a comeback. The natural consequences of being an ass for no better reason than being an ass should be painful. We learn from such negative feedback. We learn to moderate ourselves, we learn how to communicate and we learn respect for the rights of others to govern their own affairs rather than the faux rebellion so many sub-cultures seem to embrace which is simply adopting another group norm that is outside the main group norm. Try being a Goth kid who suddenly decides to wear a suit and tie or Liberty overalls and Roper boots.
Patrick Henry reminds us, “Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.”
That public liberty is individual freedom. Freedom to speak, but not freedom to be heard or to have what you say be accepted. Sometimes you lose in the market place of ideas. It may be because your ideas suck, or your ability to communicate sucks or because you are ahead of your time. It is up to you to be convincing, but it is also your right to be pig-headedly wrong…just don’t try to force me to accept your dogma…because I will well and truly fuck you over.