A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”
“Nature uses as little as possible of anything.”
That actually means we are on our own. We have no rights, no privileges, no nothing to support or comfort our existence except what we choose to provide each other.
Let me make sure we are all on the same page with regard to ”rights” … which means you need to ponder rights, freedom, liberty, prerogative and privilege.
All of these are words which refer to the fundamental claims a person can properly make or his unfettered ability to choose <Use The Right Word: S.I. Hayakawa>.
Right suggests a concrete claim established by legal, ethical or religious sanctions <e.g., right to equality before the law>. Although … someone claiming a right tends to argue it is inherent, a person’s rights are differently spelled out in different cultures & countries.
Liberty is a more abstract and general notion suggesting the opportunity to choose among alternatives. A document such as the Bill of Rights spells out these conditions a citizen may construe as his rights. However … these liberties may sometimes in fact refer to an unwarranted breach of someone else’s right to consideration <we do not enjoy unbridled liberty without regard for the rights of others>.
Civil liberty is understood to refer to all the rights enumerated in the US Constitution and its amendments.
Freedom is close to liberty in its abstract generality but stresses a total lack of constraint more than the opportunity for choice.
Prerogative and privilege are much more specific in their meanings than the other words here. Prerogative refers to a right that one has by virtue of age, sex or position.
Privilege suggests advantages given as favors or added luxuries rather than necessary rights.
I share all that to point out that while we may complicate our lives by confusing all these dynamics we also complicate our lives unnecessarily.
We tend to complicate our lives in a number of ways.
Sometimes it is we feel like Life, or the universe, should be a little more helpful.
Sometimes we confuse privileges and rights.
Sometimes we seek an easier path because the way we are going seems a little too hard.
Sometimes we abuse rights in the pursuit of bad things.
Sometimes we assume privileges with regard to desire of good things.
“People tend to complicate their lives, as if living weren’t already complicated enough.”
Carlos Ruiz Zafon
“People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”
Far too often we view freedoms as freedom to be stupid, idiotic or thoughtless.
Specifically, far too often we view freedom of speech as a way to shared well-articulated insightful thoughts to better the world around them imply because … well … we were fortunate enough to be nearby when speech, freely given, was shared.
Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom to say only smart things. It also means freedom to be stupid, idiotic and thoughtless.
Freedom is a sticky wicket. It permits freedom to say stupid things, factual things and nonfactual things.
And, yet, as John Stuart Mill argued in “On Liberty,” freedom of expression is the freedom on which all other civic rights are based <someone should remind our President of this>.
I do believe those who speak have a responsibility to be … well … responsible. Freedom of speech, and expression, is a privilege not to be abused. But that is my opinion.
However … stupidity aside … I would rather someone speak, regardless of what is said opinion wise, than for there to be silence. In a world in which we complicate our lives and confuse liberties and freedoms and privileges … we shouldn’t shut up. And we shouldn’t simply shut off someone because they confuse all these things.
Here is the real truth:
“Idiocy thrives in the dark, not in dialogue.”
Jen Floyd Engel columnist
I have had this debate, sometimes argument, with several people.
I want neo-Nazis peaking on campuses.
I want feminists raging through megaphones on stand at street corners.
I want pro Life & pro Choice advocates debating on stages throughout America.
I want the most extreme of all sides and dimensions and directions to publicly have the opportunity to speak out.
We should all want that.
We, here in the USA, actually live in a country where unless you shout “fire” in some movie theater or seriously offer harmful threats you actually have the privilege & right to speak your mind. This is a gift that USA gives its citizens … a gift many of the 192 countries around the world are not so quick to give their citizens.
We should abhor silence.
It seems to me that we are quickly heading down a path where the only opinions safe to say out loud are the benign most milquetoast ‘safe havens’ of speech … Hitler was bad, genocide is bad, beets are bad <oops, that last one was just a personal benign opinion>.
We say we want honesty.
We say we want to hear the truth.
We say we want free speech.
And yet we are relentless in chastising those who choose to speak … and the words they choose to speak are wrong, maybe even stupid and possibly ignorant.
Uhm. This makes me say …
“I have met the enemy and the enemy is us.”
I do believe we are in the midst of a crisis of truth, ignorance and enlightenment … and freedoms, rights & privileges.
And it is an odd crisis in that we may actually speak up and out … but constantly get trapped in some simplistic dualisms — liberalism versus authoritarianism, Islam versus … well … Christianity/America/constitution/etc., white versus non white, intellectual versus nonintellectual, urban versus rural … and any other dualism thing you want to add.
But our issues seem to be more complex than ‘if this or maybe that.’
Our issues get compounded by the natural ebb & flow of “rights” <speech, religion, press, etc.> and what we believe is … well … right … all combined with the unfortunate situation that the everyday person struggles to discerns fact from fiction <and our current President has created his own fictional alternative universe in which his ‘facts’ exist and he wants to manage the narrative as ‘his universe depicting reality>.
We complicate our lives needlessly.
And while Alexis de Tocqueville suggested in the 1830s that the American promise of meritocracy, its uniformity of culture and manners, and “equality of conditions” would make for immoderate ambition, corrosive envy and chronic dissatisfaction and could swell “to the height of fury” and lead many to acquiesce in a curtailment of their liberties all leading to a longing for the rule of a strongman … I do not agree.
No matter how divisive we may get and no matter how much we complicate our own lives and how much we may confuse what we deserve and what we earn … what is a privilege and what is a right … all of our freedoms & rights are grounded in the one unchangeable thing we have … the constitution.
That said. I am reminded of some words written by William Martin in his fabulous book “The Lost Constitution”:
“A real American will tell you that our Constitution is not a tool for politicians hoping to make points, whether it is a cynical Republican pushing flag burning amendments because their poll numbers are down or a do-gooding Democrat who decides to protect ourselves by banning guns. The Founding Fathers knew what they were doing when they made the Constitution difficult to amend, so let’s think hard before we mess with it.
What it says is what t said two hundred years ago. I think the men who set their thoughts down here were men who cared about America. Some of them believed in a strong central government, some believed that government governs best which governs least, but all of them believed in the ability of thinking Americans to get up in the morning and resolve their differences and solve their problems. And we have lost that in this country.
The framers created a means of changing this document because they understood that the world would change. But they didn’t want to make it easy. So it up to you, the people, pick up your newspaper and read them, and think about what you read, and don’t always believe what you hear just because it is what you want to hear,. And don’t listen to what you want to hear because you hear it from somebody who shouts it loud or makes you laugh. The constitution demands more. Don’t believe the people who vote straight democrat any more than you believe the people who befoul the airwaves with rightist rhetoric every day. The theme, on every night, is that we are all American. “
It is an odd place we are in today.
It seems like never have so many free individuals felt so helpless and in their helpless feeling many people seem almost desperate to wrest control from anyone, and institutions in particular, they can blame for their feeling ‘lostness’ <however you would like to define lost>.
As I finish up this piece today it seems important to remind everyone that freedom of speech is just that … freedom of speech – and that freedom of speech is the foundation upon which all civil liberties reside.
I would rather idiocy, our confusion about what we deserve and do not deserve, be discussed rather than have to thrive in the darkness of silent strength.
Because all speech does is to start a dialogue.
It forces people to talk.
Personally … I don’t want to read, or watch, only whatever validates my beliefs.
I want to challenge my assumptions.
Personally … I know I get confused about what is a right, what is a freedom and, sometimes, what is a privilege.
The only thing I am 100% clear on is that I am privileged t exist in a country in which I can be confused on all those things and still be able to speak out.
And, lastly, I am absolutely clear that the universe has no real obligation to me … or us.
We have no rights, no privileges, no nothing to support or comfort our existence except what we choose to provide each other.
What this means is that only we can complicate our lives … and uncomplicate it.
Let’s be a little bit easier on each other.
Let’s listen a little bit better with each other.
Let’s become the universe in which we become obligated to each other rather than worrying about where my freedom begins and yours ends.