Saturday, June 11, 2016 11:05 AM
Just because you may be ignorant and misinformed doesn’t mean that you don’t have the courage of your convictions—which is sad. It is unfortunate that the burning fervor we feel towards our beliefs has no connection to their veracity. Who knows how much of what I wholeheartedly support and staunchly defend is utter bullshit? Wouldn’t it be nice if we only felt right about something when it actually was right? I wish truth had the ring of truth to it.
By the same token, it would be nice if the people who were right about one thing were right about everything—or even if people who lie could be counted on to always lie. Any kind of standard would be good—but we are people, not machines—and proud of the fact that we have no standard—to each his or her own, as we like to say. Which means: “I have my truth, you have yours—and even if they are opposites, they are both still valid.”
The fact that such a statement is bullshit on its face doesn’t keep us from enshrining that belief as ‘freedom of speech’. In America, you have the right to be stupid, or pretend to be stupid (i.e. lie) in public statements—and even if you’re proven wrong, you don’t have to shut up. If you are right and I am wrong, I still get to spend a lifetime, if I wish, spreading my wrong to as many people as I can convince—that’s the American way.
This is particularly troubling when we remember that psychological experiment proving that those rooting for one side see every play in a game differently than observers rooting for the other side. Wrong ideas can spread but, worse, wrong thinking can color our interpretation of events—our every perception of what is happening. Here in ‘free-speech’ land, it has become a war of perceptions—and mass media becomes a powerful weapon in that struggle.
Logic is omitted from this equation—just as it is excluded from democracy itself—when the majority rules, the minority never get what they want. Satisfying the majority is referred to as the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’—but it also assumes that some people are not going to get their way—and that’s okay. It’s not a good system—but it’s the best we can do. The fact that American democracy isn’t entirely democratic—that our votes are only counted after the elite have picked the candidates we have to choose from—complicates the question even further—but even pure democracy, as an ideal, is a guarantee that people in the minority will not get what they want.
But don’t get me wrong—if there are faults inherent in free speech or democracy, that doesn’t mean we have it as bad as people who live in Libya, Syria, China, Mexico, Colombia, or Bangladesh. Those people live amid chaos and violence that make my squawks about American ideals pretty nit-picky. Sometimes, when I take a walk, I decide to sing and dance a little bit while I walk—and there are countries where that will get you jailed, shot, or stoned to death. So, yeah, democracy is okay by me. I think Churchill said something about democracy being a terrible form of government—but it’s better than all the others.
Free speech and democracy are wildly imperfect—but we defend them with our lives because they allow for a very important fact—nobody can be counted on to be right all the time. We need to be able to criticize our society and its leaders—to speak freely, even if that means we have to give the same privilege to an asshole. No law or law-maker is perfect, so we need to ask for everybody’s opinion and go with the one which (or whom) most people approve of—and that’s where democracy comes in. We allow for the minority being disappointed because we figure the odds are better that the solution most people desire is the correct one.
However, because of free speech, we allow for a misinformed electorate—which creates the possibility of the majority being misled. And that’s where this year’s election gets dicey. With significant portions of the electorate convinced that they are being lied to by their leaders, their media, and even their textbooks—one has to wonder what’s left to them as sources of information. And so now America has to deal with the phenomenon of people who ‘know’ what they want to know, and deny any knowledge that they don’t want to accept. That’s not the way I was raised, but freedom of speech says it’s all okay.
It’s all very complicated. It can make a person feel old, sometimes.