FREEDOM OF SPEAKING: Fact or Myth, Truth or Legend?
Hi,@drceeyou here and I am writing in response to the weekly featured contest prompt tagged "freedom of speech".
First and foremost, lets do a little history. Do you know that "freedom of speech originated as a democratic thing? That isn't a surprise. Democracy is supposed to be a government of the people, by the people for the people. And what is democracy if there is no free speech? The right to express yourself in speech without restraint from the government.
And just like in a lot of other things, the Greeks were the pioneers of free speech, they found a way to fashion it into a democratic principle for the people. It was coined from the Greek word “parrhesia” which refers to free speech, it is a word that is also used for confidence.
And thinking about it, to speak freely means that one must be confident enough to stand and speak knowing very well that there would be people of varying opinions who would stop at nothing to get their voices heard too.
But has it really been about giving people the freedom to air their opinions? The first amendment of the United states guarantees freedom of speech, but fails to define this freedom in terms of the type of speech and the circumstances of speaking that are considered "free speech".
So the courts have worked to put a limit to this freedom "before it escalates into chaos". That is to say, you are only free to speak about the things the government say you are free to speak about. Is that really freedom of speech? I mean, doesn't it defeat the definition? Oh, wait, there is no definition.
The first exception is the fact that the government can place restrictions to the time, place and manner of speech. So they get to control when you say what you say, where and how you say it. For example, the government may restrict the use of speakers in certain places at certain times.
I know, some people can become loose canons, hot heads that would care nothing about how their words may affect other people. I mean some people would take loud speakers to residential areas and begin to preach very loudly, when people are in bed after a very long day at work. It is a very common thing here in Nigeria.
But, it is free speech. People are supposed to be able to say whatever, whenever, however, without restrictions, right? Well, that only applies to a sane society. I mean, an ideal society where everyone is sane and to a very large extent, reasonable. And it is a very difficult thing to find a society where every person fits that description.
The problem with defining freedom of speech as the right to voice your opinions without government restrictions is that, it doesn't really define free speech. Most people take that definition to mean what they will and a lot of times that defining is left to the courts to decide.
We have come a very long way. I know that if it were a 100 yrs ago, I could be beheaded for making this post, depending on there I am. In those times where the autocrat who seats at the helm of affairs determines what happens based on how he feels, many people lost their lives and faced harsh punishments for saying the truth, or what they perceive to be the truth.
Social Media today has taken free speech to a whole new level where people can say whatever they want from wherever they are with sometimes, complete anonymity. Twitter has been tagged the headquarters of free speech in this era. And anyone with a smart phone and internet access can say whatever he want to. Comparing today to 100yrs ago would be like comparing day and night.
But, even with the advances we have made in the world today, there are still places where people can be killed, maimed or prosecuted for speaking freely. A lady was recently killed and burnt to death in northern Nigeria because she supposedly "dishonored" a religious symbol by what she said. There are other places in the world where free speech isn't so free.
Does free speech make for a better society? Allowing people to voice their opinions freely without restraints, does it improve the government? does it help growth? I know that healthy criticism is always a good choice for growth. But in a society where many people are saying a lot of things at different times, some even trying to teach the government how to run itself, it is really difficult to say if free speech would make such society a better one.
Is the world a better place because of free speech? Maybe, or Maybe not. We don't know how the world would have turned out without free speech. Oh... people would have died for no just cause if not for free speech... true... But people are still dying for no just cause today without free speech.
Maybe if we could see an alternate timeline in which free speech was outlawed, maybe we could do a more informed comparison and know if the world is any better for free speech.
But since that is not possible, here's what I believe:
Free speech I believe should be defined a lot more clearly. Free speech should have more contextual definitions. it should not be a blanket that applies universally. It should be defined by context, environment, people involved, and the local authorities. But that would take a lot more organization and hard work, and no one is ready for that.
So, I guess we are stuck with what we have... I'll try to enjoy it while it lasts.