Words will always retain their power – Alan Moore
I rather enjoy writing social commentary week in and week out, and most of the time, the commentary always seems to sound negative even if the point of the message is steer the general population into positive action. So I was overjoyed to realize that this post was actually going to be a positive critique of today’s society. Plus, the way the news and media portray life at times can also make you feel like we are in dire straights. Well, if you’re a democrat who did not cross the aisle and vote Republican in the 2014 midterms, you may feel that America has reached dire straights after the Republicans took over Congress. After the Iowa Senate seat was taken by a Republican, I saw so many, “The apocalypse is happening” type posts than I have ever… oh, wait, since 2008, when the Republicans had the same reaction, maybe even a little stronger, when the Democrats took the White House, and both chambers of Congress; I mean the results then propelled the Tea Party Movement to what is today because people were so upset. In reality, this is what happens. But it’s not a bad thing. I promise, I have not gone mad.
Just like David Letterman jokingly said in his monologue the day before the election, “Take a look at this: gas under $3 a gallon – under $3 a gallon. Unemployment under 6%, whoever thought? Stock market breaking records every day. No wonder the guy is so unpopular.” (source). He was referring to Obama. And he’s right, gas and unemployment is down, and the stocks are doing the best since the recession. But if you ask a different American the lack of action involving immigration or the gaffes in foreign policy, they may have a very different opinion of the President. Why all of this makes me so happy, is that even though we disagree so fiercely these days, the election reminded me, to thank God for this freedom. Even though some family members absolutely hated each other on election night, the opportunity to go to the election booth and vote, and then be mad at the results the next day is a freedom we should still cherish.
Because even in 2014, there are so many people who still do not “have the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint”; or “the ability to express their thoughts and feelings is just simply not allowed”.
If we look at Eriterea, which is on the horn of Africa, it is the number #1 country on both the Committee to Protect Journalists and Journalist without Borders list as the most censored country. (source). There are no foreign reporters allowed and the media is entirely controlled by the government. And if you’re wondering who is second, it is North Korea, followed by Syria and Iran. In Eriterea, there is no other voice than the government, and this government commits human rights abuses continually, and maybe the abuses are only alleged (which many would find hard to believe), there is no one else to report anything different. Think about that for second, and not just on the national level. Think of injustices in our country that have been uncovered by journalists who were just doing their job or chasing a story. Or imagining always having one side of the story, because that is the only story you get and questioning the story can mean death. Currently, this would mean everyone at FOX would be wiped out! But there are times MSNBC, The Daily Show, Bill Maher have critiqued the White House, they would be banished too.
In Uganda, over the last year, they have passed a few repressive laws in their country that conflict with freedoms. They passed the Public Order Management Act (POMA) which places restrictions on freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. And do you want to know why they did that? It was “in response to increasing challenges from anti-corruption campaigns led by civil society groups and from popular senior party leaders with presidential ambitions”. (Source).
Can you imagine the lack of anti-corruption after the bailout in 2008? Even though the CEOs did not get convicted, and the fines may seem like a drop in the bucket in our country, at least the banks, like JPMorgan Chase were challenged, sued and “reached a $13 billion civil settlement with the Justice Department for its mortgage lending practices”, for corruption. Just imagine after the 2008 bailout, if absolutely nothing happened to the banks, or better yet, the blame wasn’t placed on the banks, but a different truth was given. Imagine if the response by Occupy Wall Street was more violent, and people died from the police, rather than the deaths that were caused by unrelated people who were being mischievous.
Now some people may not be convinced that the freedom of speech is even important in this day and age. But we really should be thankful for the opportunity to speak up. In fact, more people should speak up at times when it is necessary. Even if it doesn’t seem like anyone is listening, the reality is that you still have the option to speak out, and it’s free and doesn’t have consequences, (well, unless you say something racist or homophobic on national television). The reason there are countries that limit speech is to prevent the creation, the creativity, and the self-awareness that comes with developing real opinions; the use of language, words, and vocabulary is so fundamental in our being.
If you look at the atrocious, and tragically correct letter by Willie Lynch, although authentically disputed, this excerpt reigns true to me when you think of slavery:
“You know language is a peculiar institution. It leads to the heart of a people. The more a foreigner knows about the language of another country the more he is able to move through all levels of that society. Therefore, if the foreigner is an enemy of the country, to the extent that he knows the body of the language, to that extent is the country vulnerable to attack or invasion of a foreign culture. For example, if you take a slave, if you teach him all about your language, he will know all your secrets, and he is then no more a slave, for you can’t fool him any longer, and being a fool is one of the basic ingredients of any incidents to the maintenance of the slavery system.” (source)
Do you see the connection? If you are not able to express yourself freely, to deliberate, and to argue, there is a part of our language, that you are missing; discourse is a part of OUR language. Language IS “the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way”. More pointedly, “it is the system of communication used by a particular community or country”.
Therefore, we should embrace discourse and have more of it. It does ourselves a disservice to not be proud and happy with our freedom of speech, it’s more of a tragedy when we do not use it, because we convince ourselves that nobody cares or is listening. To question is awesome. If you missed it a couple weeks ago, the discourse between Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly is telling of the positive nature of exercising your right to speech, and we don’t see it quite enough. I admire that Jon and Bill, people who have drastically different ideals take the time to argue intelligently (to some that may be up for debate), and it’s not just bickering back and forth as many news shows often deliver to us. (Check out the video: Here)
As I stated in the beginning, we should be thankful for our freedom of speech. Even though the vitriol that is spewed at times can be maddening, and wondering how certain people formulate ideas may be perplexing to the point that thoughts of violence seem like a good idea, but at the end of the day, we still have the freedom to express yourself. So no matter how bad or ugly it gets, there is still more good, because the choice is yours in what you do with your voice… so use it.