The term “freedom” baffles philosophers but not artists.
It baffles philosophers because freedom is a negative term. You need something unfree to be free from; that’s never made clear when people talk about fighting for freedom. When they said they wanted freedom from Britain, that made sense, but claiming that we’re fighting in Germany or Iraq — neither nation having threatened us or stated plans to oppress us — for “freedom” makes it dodgy.
Logic does limit us in what we can know. For example, proving a negative case is very hard. “We have freedom” makes a claim on the entire domain of possible actions, many of which have never even happened, and claims that each one will be free. Neither inductive nor deductive reasoning breaks this barrier unless we apply them in a truly reckless manner.
We talk glibly about freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom in general to mean those and other activities because we inherit this Revolutionary language from the Americans and French. They wanted freedom from England and the artistocracy; we take freedom, then, to be a general value, which is convenient because if your foe has any values you can claim they’d oppress us on the basis of those values, where we have no values, so we’re free. Make sense? It’s not supposed to. It’s supposed to sound good and get you voting.
Onward to “freedom” of speech:
But now an equally troubling trend is developing in the West. Ever since 2006, when Muslims worldwide rioted over newspaper cartoons picturing the prophet Muhammad, Western countries, too, have been prosecuting more individuals for criticizing religion. The “Free World,” it appears, may be losing faith in free speech.
Among the new blasphemers is legendary French actress Brigitte Bardot, who was convicted last June of “inciting religious hatred” for a letter she wrote in 2006 to then-Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, saying that Muslims were ruining France. It was her fourth criminal citation for expressing intolerant views of Muslims and homosexuals.
While it hasn’t gone so far as to support the U.N. resolution, the West is prosecuting “religious hatred” cases under anti-discrimination and hate-crime laws.
The purpose of free speech is to be able to challenge widely held views.
History has shown that once governments begin to police speech, they find ever more of it to combat. Countries such as Canada, England and France have prosecuted speakers and journalists for criticizing homosexuals and other groups. It’s the ultimate irony: free speech curtailed for the sake of a pluralistic society.
Why is it ironic?
Demand something implausible, get implausible results.
No society has existed in which “free speech” has existed because when large groups of people get offended, they squash the speaker. Interestingly, these groups are overwhelmingly from the pro-freedom camp; they interpret what they do not like as a crime against freedom and then the executions begin.
But remember, anything done in the name of “freedom” is GOOD. So you can get away with it for awhile at least.
Freedom is like the word “free” in marketing: people are drawn to it like moths to lightbulbs.
Watch how every side of the political spectrum claims it’s about freedom in order to hoodwink others into supporting it — we take this claim by a typical citizen from a conservative forum on a large political site:
Extreme Left = 100% government control
Extreme Right = no government control – anarchy
And from one forum over, the liberal forum:
Fascists are extreme right wing.
They’re not even using the same language, but they make it clear: each side stands for freedom.
Well, then, getting compromise shouldn’t be difficult — except that each side believes the other is anti-“freedom” and is working to constrain them.
If I wanted to paralyze a nation, I’d toss “freedom” into the room. It’s like a golden hand grenade — when you throw it among your enemy, they fight over it, half trying to throw it out the door because it’s a grenade and the other half trying to steal it because it’s gold.