LXXIV – The Importance of Free Expression

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A
fifteen-year-old California boy has been sentenced to one hundred
days in a juvenile prison for writing a poem that school officials
interpreted as a threat to kill fellow students. Part of his poem
reads: "For I can be the next kid to bring guns to kill students
at school," and "For I am Dark, Destructive & Dangerous."
His case is on appeal to the state Supreme Court.

For
a culture that regards "discrimination" as a statutory
offense, it is not surprising that state school officials and prosecutors
were unable to make a distinction between the expression of words
and behavior. But if the state perceives words to be
of sufficient danger to allow for the prosecution of those who speak
them, how twisted are the priorities that focus attention on what
is, at most, boyish boastfulness? How did this child's words rise
to such a magnitude as to surpass the lies and forgeries of a president
and his neocon advisors who were prepared to say anything to produce
a war that has thus far killed at least ten thousand people?

While
I have not read the full text of this teenager’s verse, what I have
seen suggests that there is probably no nascent Shelley, Blake,
or e.e. cummings being repressed in this case. Still, judging by
today's literary standards, his words might become part of the assigned
readings in undergraduate college poetry classes.

But
the quality and depth of his writings are not what interest me.
I have always been the defender of individuals to express their
thinking without any restriction by the state. Some of my friends
who are staunch "First Amendment" supporters have presented
me with hypotheticals to see if there are any limits to my defense
of free expression. If one has freely entered into a contract with
another to withhold information — e.g., the maintenance of trade
secrets — that person would be obligated to not make such revelations.
Any such violation would give rise to civil remedies for breach
of contract. But in my view, individuals should be unreservedly
immune from criminal punishment for the expression of any opinion
or statement of alleged fact.

The
importance of an unrestrained freedom of expression is not simply
to benefit intellectuals, encourage political debate, or, in the
case of pornography, to protect people with perverted tastes. Its
value is central to the very survival of man as a species. Whether
we have been blessed or cursed with consciousness is a question
that remains to be answered, but the fact of the conscious direction
of our lives is undeniable. Unlike instinct-driven species whose
behavior is programmed from one generation to the next, we humans
are able to — and, indeed, must — create new tools, organizational
systems, analytical skills, and concepts by which we can better
understand the nature of the world. We are biologically fated to
be the creators of the values and the environments in which we live;
our survival demands that we remain creative in a sense unknown
to other species.

This
creativity permits us to devise technologies, systems, and ideas
that help to solve an immediate problem, increase our productive
skills, or give us a better insight into the nature of the world.
But such continued vibrancy is dependent upon an openness to change.
When the established is continually challenged by the new, existing
ideas or systems must either make an effective response, or will
be replaced. To remain creative, this process must continue without
interruption, no matter how comforting it might be to call for a
time out. As we can intuit from sexual reproduction, the creative
process arises out of cross-fertilization, not from cloning. Clones,
like Xeroxed copies of a text, do no more than repeat an existing
form.

Having
seen the benefit of such creations, we often succumb to a temptation
that short-circuits our creativity: institutionalizing what
we have generated. We become attached to a production method, an
organization, or an idea that proved fruitful to us, and believe
that our well-being depends upon the preservation of these forms.
In so doing, the product of our creative nature takes on
greater importance than does the continuation of the spontaneous
and autonomous processes that engendered it.

As
I have written in previous articles, various historians have suggested
that institutionalization — with its insistence on regulatory conformity,
standardization, and the protection of existing organizational interests
— has been a principal cause of the collapse of previous civilizations.
"The essence of history is change," wrote Jacob Burckhardt,
while "the way of annihilation is invariably prepared by inward
degeneration, by decrease of life." Will and Ariel Durant observed
that the decline of civilizations arises from the failure of "leaders
to meet the challenges of change." Civilizations that fail
to respond to change can, at best, expect to "linger on as
stagnant pools left by once life-giving streams."

The
institutional order resists such change. It is premised on the maintenance
of the status quo; but a vigorous and creative society depends upon
resiliency, the capacity to make effective responses to a changing
environment. The state — as enforcer of institutional rigidity —
loves the cloned mentality. The government school system and military
training camps are the state's mechanisms for fostering the uniformity
and obedience that benefit its interests while helping to destroy
the vibrancy of a free and productive society.

This
phenomenon is not confined to the demise of civilizations. Individuals
who insist upon insulating themselves from unwanted external influences
also lose the fluctuation necessary for a creative life. Their behavior
becomes like that of brain-injured people who Abraham Maslow described
as wanting "to manage their equilibrium by avoiding everything
unfamiliar and strange and by ordering their restricted world in
such a neat, disciplined, orderly fashion that everything in the
world can be counted upon." What better explanation can be
offered for those socially un-housebroken misfits who seek to reconfirm
their faith in the state direction of people's lives by concocting
legislative schemes to micromanage the details of human behavior?
To be obsessed is to be existentially stuck.

Such
traits are also found in the behavior of many serial killers or
other mentally-conflicted persons who engage in violent acts. People
like Jeffrey Dahmer and the "Unabomber" are often described
by neighbors as "loners." Those who isolate themselves
from others can find themselves listening to no voices but their
own. With no one to question their information, provide alternative
analyses of events, or challenge their conclusions, they are easily
convinced that their opinions are solidly grounded. And why not?
From whom do they hear dissent?

We
need not rely on speculation to confirm the dangerous nature of
insular thinking. Experimental studies have been conducted with
individuals placed in isolation tanks and deprived of virtually
all sensory input. Their only experiences with the world came from
within their own minds, and they soon became disoriented and delusional.

The
lesson to be derived from such studies is that we require an energized
relationship with the world around us — particularly with other
people — in order to maintain our sanity. We need the countervailing
influence of others to remind us of the inherently limited nature
of our understanding. As anyone who has participated in "brainstorming"
sessions can attest, rational and creative decision-making is dependent
upon our access to as much relevant information as possible. An
unrestrained freedom of expression is more than just a libertarian
sentiment for tolerance of others; it is essential to our living
well.

To
be a changing person in a changing world one must have a mind that
remains innovative; that compares and contrasts the novel with the
established. But institutionalized thinking resists such openness
to change. When the protection of existing interests and arrangements
reaches the point at which critical thinking and expression becomes
ossified, a civilization dominated by such a mindset is destined
to collapse. The American civilization is dangerously close to such
a point. One need only review what has passed for thought in these
many months following 9/11 to find evidence for this enervation
of the mind.

The
phrase "beltway thinking" is used to describe the political
mindset in Washington, D.C., that regards every conceivable "problem"
as a condition to be dealt with through the intervention of state
power. Government regulation, extended police powers, increased
government spending, and the deployment of military forces, are
the major premises underlying this bipartisan "beltway"
vision of the world.

Immediately
after 9/11, almost all of America became infected with the "beltway"
virus. Like a lynch mob that tolerates no dissent, politicians,
the media, corporate leaders, academic and "think-tank"
minds, along with most Americans, embraced a lockstep mentality
that only a few were willing to challenge. Intellectuals and the
major media — whose minds ought to be counted upon as a kind of
immune system to challenge state power — went into autoanesthesia.
Even some make-believe "libertarians" quickly joined in,
labeling as "America-haters" those who questioned the
Bush administration's frenzied reactions.

The
United States became, quite literally, the world's "Unabomber,"
holed away in its retreat, talking only to itself, and inflicting
deadly violence on whatever other nations fit the delusional thinking
of a twisted administration. America found itself in an isolation
tank shut off from all outside influences save that of the cooing
words of its president. What countervailing voices questioned any
of this? Virtually no one in Congress raised any doubts, as members
stumbled all over one another to be the loudest to shout "hurrah!"
The major media — which once prided itself on being the watchdog
of the political process, obediently took up its role as lapdog.
The contrary advice of other nations was dismissed as "meddling,"
while the isolated dissent of Americans was regarded as "treason."

In
such a restricted mindset, why should we be surprised at the atrocities
at Abu Ghraib? Why would those who conducted such tortures have
felt any more sense of shame in their deeds than did most Americans
who seemed willing to allow the Bush administration to rain death
and destruction without regard for the consequences? I was reminded
of a Life magazine photograph — apparently from the late
19th century — showing a group of men who had just lynched
a man who had murdered one of their neighbors. Their faces,
like those of the American torturers photographed at Abu Ghraib,
bore the same grins, as though they, too, were pleased with their
deed.

A
free, peaceful, and creative society depends, for its continuation,
upon the open pursuit and exchange of ideas and information. In
a complex world in which the electronic speed of information and
decision-making is both more rapid and far-reaching than even a
few decades ago, we need all the dissent and contrariness we can
muster, for the sake of both our sanity and survival. It is no accident
that repressive and brutal state-dominated societies crush dissent.
Like deranged killers, they need the sense of self-righteous assurance
— which one-barreled visionary thinking provides — that their course
of action is beyond question. "If you're not with us, you're
against us," is the mindset of both insane men and the societies
that sustain them.

To
the extent American society is able to reverse its destructive freefall
and restore any sense of sanity to itself, its salvation may be
attributed to two major influences: [1] independent and foreign
journalists and other writers who, having no special interest loyalties
to interfere with their reporting, were able to freely communicate
information that an establishment-dominated media ignored or suppressed.
The efforts of these alternative sources were widely disseminated
through [2] the free and unrestrained processes of the Internet,
a system in which men and women must daily labor to separate truth
from fiction.

The
statists will do their best to insulate the institutional order
from the turbulence inherent in a free society. To this end, Hillary
Clinton will likely continue her efforts to subvert the Internet
by providing it with a "gatekeeper" (i.e., herself) who
will see to it that not just "anyone" will be allowed
to put their opinions out into the free market of ideas. Those who
value the pursuit of truth will note the difference. As the New
York Times and various establishment journalists perform their
mea culpas for having been caught in the act of giving evidential
cover to a vicious and depraved administration, there are numerous
Internet websites — including this one — whose voices can proudly
proclaim "we told you so!"

If
America is able to survive its present catharsis, it is only because
the open pursuit of truth will have allowed us to identify and confront
the dark side of our humanity, whose influences forced their way
into our consciousness on 9/11. If we manage to extricate ourselves
from the crevasse of mass-mindedness into which we have allowed
ourselves to fall, it will only be because of our insistence upon
— not simply tolerance for — differing and uncomfortable views.
History may well record that, at a time when America flirted with
— and was nearly seduced by — the madness of its political leaders,
it was delivered from a total collapse into insanity by an uncontrolled,
computerized network that owes allegiances to no one.

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