Free, as a bird

I’m a profound believer in free speech. I believe that everyone should be able to speak their mind, unencumbered by fear of persecution, the intimidation of social ostracism or the slow poison of indoctrination. I think it’s fundamental to the progress of humanity that ideas should be tested out through public debate, with each person giving his own views. And I think it’s vital to human flourishing that we should be able to express our being without regard to constraints or social norms.

I’m also a profound beliver in human flight. I believe that everyone should be able to fly like Superman, unencumbered by the surly bonds of gravity, swooping and wheeling in the updrafts and downdrafts, soaring through the air at the greatest of speeds, causing no pollution, each in a cubic mile of free space, breathing the high free air and exulting in weightless splendour.

Of the two, I think that human flight is somewhat more likely to be a reality during my lifetime.

This is a real belief; I happen to think that “free speech”, in the sense in which most people use the term, is about as possible for people living in any social group larger than two people (which is to say, “people”; I have no idea what great apes of the species homo sapiens might be like if living a non-social existence, but I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be very much like human beings), as Superman’s flight. The version of free speech which I’m exulting in the first paragraph above is a condensed and most likely parodic version of what John Stuart Mill attempts to advocate in On Liberty. It’s certainly, and pretty near provably through direct lineage, the ideal to which the First Amendment of the United States Constitution is appealing. And it’s a much, much stronger concept than the vast majority of people who invoke it believe. Mill understood, as vast numbers of people don’t (mainly because they are interested in pushing tendentious and legalistic theories of political morality), that laws passed by governments are about the ninetieth most important restriction on our freedom of speech. He also understood that the most savage restriction on people’s freedom to say what they want is the simple social urge to conformity; people don’t like to say things which they know people will disagree with. I get but scant pleasure from doing so myself.


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