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Tag Archives: freedom of speech

Before I aim one day (when I can a. be arsed and b. become somewhat more knowledgable on such matters, which I probably never will be enough) to write some long treatise on what would make the ideal democracy, perhaps it might be beneficial to share one or two thoughts.

And here is one. There are always some banging on about how this or that party or candidate is bad because they do not “listen to the people” or put into practice “the will of the people”, and conversely, some others are better because, finally, they are in fact doing that very thing. Of course, this is what is supposed to happen in a democracy, right? The actual people are more in touch with what their own needs are, and the realities on the ground, than a bunch of over-expensed career politicians who have spent very little time in the “real world”, you think, or even the would-be experts in their ivory towers. Right?

Except, as many critics point out, many people are not always as intelligent or well-informed on many issues, they may form views and make decisions based on blind ideology and received wisdom rather than actual rationality and facts, and so on. For some, this is a reason to either abandon or limit democracy in some way, or an argument for representative democracy so that those best able to make decisions and have the time to become informed will be able to do so. As long as, it is assumed, they are in some vague way generally following “the will of the people”.

It is my thought that sometimes, these detractors are true in their diagnosis, but not always in their cure. Representative “democracy” often ends up turning into nothing more than choosing once every four or five years who exactly we want to rule over us and do politics on our behalf, and so to avoid becoming well-informed or engage our critical thinking faculties, to become involved in the debate to the point that we have to question and analyse our well worn ideas. At least if the elected politicians screw up, we can claim it is their fault for being corrupt imbeciles who took us along for a ride, or at least we voted for the other guy, or moreover, none of them ever listen to “the people” so why bother being engaged? It’s never our fault.

Another thing that certain people banging on about “the will of the people” fail to realise is that “The People” does not necessarily mean them and their mates, to the extent others should not be trying to form a contrary view. Even if their viewpoint is the majority (or at least the dominant viewpoint of those who are not the middle-to-upper class, well-educated elites) that does not mean it cannot be challenged, or that it might not be, well, wrong. People not agreeing with you doesn’t mean you are being ignored or sidelined. Especially when it’s by those who think that your views or actions are genuinely reprehensible.

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except those others that have been tried from time to time. No, it’s not a perfect system, but just maybe, the solution is not less democracy but more and better democracy. Democracy I think should not mean mob rule, or tyranny of the majority in the sense that majority opinion should silence or shout down minority opinion. This is why I think that legitimate freedom of speech and expression is of paramount importance. The relevant information must be available. Radical or novel ideas which might be right should not be ignored in favour of comforting old myths and the standard way of doing things. (If people want to argue for open borders, little to no interference in the operation of the free market, abolishing capitalism altogether, then let them.) Of course, note I said legitimate freedom of speech and expression. It is my contention, that freedom of speech is about the freedom of ideas and information, not an excuse to attack, insult, or ridicule, to threaten, or act in ways that might actually cause harm for particular people. Of course I can see there are times where one would want to limit that, such as those who advocate hate-speech laws or no-platforming agendas. But I would hope that such people (and their detractors) consider that it is best served when those speaking or expressing their thoughts do directly threaten others in so doing, or step outside the bounds of reasonable discourse. Marginalizing ideas or shutting them down does, I think, not remove them, simply creates resentment and allows those who hold them the opportunity or find other ways to organize and come back with a vengeance. Those seeking to remove fascism or other intolerant or hateful ideologies might need to consider not simply making these views unacceptable in that way, but rather dismantling them, exposing their flaws, and above all, be better able to communicate with those disaffected people who turn to such when things are not going well – and offer something better, which I hope they have.

But I digress. In short, democracy can work – but it will only work if all the people have the opportunity to participate on an equal and open basis, are able to have their views and decisions have weight, are willing to debate in a calm, rational manner and listen to each other, critiquing and adjusting our views as necessary, and are willing to make rational, well-informed decisions as best possible. It may not always work, but there you go.

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