Lately events in my small universe and the world at large have prompted me to question the value of our much lauded democratic right to ‘say what we fucking like’. Years ago I would have defended that right to the death. Now I wouldn’t. Simply because, as a child of a democracy, I must defend everyone’s rights equally, and not every opinion is equal in its worth.
Facebook has been the catalyst. In its anonymity and remoteness from real world consequence it is a mecca for the opinionated and disrespectful. As a result I have recently withdrawn from several conversations, pages and a group.
The first incident was brought about by a comment I made regarding the acknowledgement of an artist’s work on a UK digital magazine’s FB page. I guess I could have been a bit less confrontational, but this magazine purported to be a ‘professional’ organisation and, as an artist, intellectual property infringements make my blood boil. The conversation went as follows:
Michelle Frantom: I think your magazine is awesome, but it seems as though this article has work in it that belongs to someone else (see Bert Schipper's comment). If that's the case, you really need to get your act together re referencing and copyright issues. There is way too much of this sort of thing going on on the internet. Please make sure you reference a designer's or artist's work - it's in everyone's interests.
Magazine: Michelle, can you clarify what you are referring to here? And where is Bert Schipper's comment?
The conversation got waylaid after that – the page regulator clearly missed the point I was trying to make and I just got frustrated.
I got no further response on FB but I did get, almost immediately, a dodgy e-mail with no text and a link via my website contact page. Call me paranoid, but I didn’t click on it because I was in no doubt who it was from and that its intention was malicious and viral. I Googled the magazine and discovered they were quite dodgy – they had appropriated their name from a reputable design organisation in the US to begin with.
Since then I have been more careful about making comments on FB, yet I was still attacked as a right winger for commenting on the issue of population growth and parental responsibility. I withdrew my comment and myself from that conversation too.
Today I got embroiled in an art page conversation after I made a comment supporting a post by someone who was making a point about professional integrity. When things got personal again, I messaged the page manager to thank her and opted out of the group.
Free speech is one thing, but real dialogue and the constructive exchange of ideas is being shouted down by:
1. political correctness and
2. self-obsessed and opinionated egoists.
In the democratic West we feel we have a God-given right to speak, even an obligation, to share our superior knowledge. Except that we are very often ill-informed and dissent is not even a possibility. I do not condone the shootings at Charlie Hebdo headquarters, but I can understand why it happened. How has satirising the iconic figures of some very dysfunctional politico-religious groups so soon after the shootings assisted in getting those disengaged people to the discussion table? It hasn’t – it has alienated them even more. Of course they are radicals, but the West needs to take responsibility for the fact that it has inflamed the situation by being so damned sure it was right in the first place.
I can’t remember if it was Plato or Socrates who wrote about the ‘rule of the shouting masses’, but it seems to me that this is what we have descended into. I have joined a political group called the Australian Progressives. I will probably vote Green as I usually do, but I support passionate dialogue so I signed up as a founding member so they could get started. So far this group has been having some really civilised, sensible and socially responsible discussions about what sort of country we want to live in as they develop their policies. But even here, individuals get shouted down if what they say does not fit the politically correct cultural canon which implies:
You can’t suggest people have less children, you must support all asylum seekers and refugees and you aren’t allowed to raise concerns about cultural incompatibilites. You have to support the current health system, even if you think the country can’t afford it and many people are clogging up doctor’s surgeries when they don’t really need to be there (cue personal health responsibility lecture). As an Aussie, you must love the flag and not criticise the rednecks who have several streaming from their car windows on Australia Day (my least favourite public holiday) I could go on – but these are the sorts of issues that get hijacked and shut down when someone tries to have a sensible conversation.
Currently in the West there is a ridiculous dichotomy – you are entitled to say what you think, give your often uneducated opinion on every bloody issue even if you are a moron BUT, God help you if you cross the line. You will be called a racist, a xenophobe, a feminist, a misogynist, a communist, a barren bitch or a homophobic.
On radio national the other day someone said something about the right to free speech, about how maybe we should question whether what we are about to say is going to actually contribute anything to the conversation. Of course disagreement can be useful, because conflict and debate are important and should eventually lead to compromise. Instead, there are so many shouting voices, so many ill-informed, ego-driven individuals with their own agenda that dissenting yet wise voices are not being heard.
At the basis of it all is a fundamental lack of respect for others. The West’s disrespect for anything that isn’t democracy is naturally opposed by those who’s alternatives are not even considered worthy enough to talk about. I don’t support oppression or dictators, but when my friends tell me that capitalism is the best of a bad bunch - I can’t agree with them. Capitalism encourages and justifies exploitation. And that’s the other significant point I want to make here – Capitalism and Democracy have become so inextricably entwined it is difficult to evaluate them independently. Capitalism is not Democracy and vice versa. Democracy serves capitalism but it is not a reciprocal relationship.
Do we have a right to speak out? Even if it hurts someone’s feelings, or contributes to terrorism and war? Ideologically yes, everyone has a right to speak, but mindless, uninformed babble without some kind of constructive social or philosophical agenda does not serve the world. When in doubt, I try to think like a Buddhist: what is the intention?