When I started this blog, back in 2019, my plan was to write about a variety of subjects and express, what I hoped to be, thought-provoking opinions. It was never my intention to focus on a single issue. The pandemic, however, interrupted my attempt at exposing the world’s truths and life’s meaning. I also never thought that I would witness the collapse of human dignity, compassion and consciousness. I didn’t dare to think that I’d see our basic freedoms arrested and our fundamental rights crushed, and our very nature denied to us and debunked, our humanity ripped from our mother’s arms. But here we are – year 2021. It’s beginning to look a lot like Nineteen eighty-four.
The ordinary world
Six O Four
Malbork, Poland, 2002. I am fifteen. It’s a warm Summer afternoon. My friends and I have just been playing football and we are now hanging out at our favourite spot – the bench under the rowan tree by the road leading to our estate. As we sit here, minding our business and causing no trouble, a police van pulls over and two bulky, bald police officers step out. They can’t be a lot older than us. Early 20s, I think. They come up to us and start asking questions. They demand that we give them our details, starting with our full name, date and place of birth, and full names of our parents. They look like they’re enjoying themselves. They talk to us like we’re guilty of some crime they’re investigating, but we haven’t done anything wrong. In fact, we are just a bunch of losers and everyone knows this. Girls want nothing to do with us, cool kids don’t want to shake our hands in school and to top it off, there is this one guy, probably around the age of Bulk and Skull over here, who always kicks our ball away when it ends up anywhere near him and his friends – the real troublemakers of our estate. They smoke and do drugs, while all we want to do is play football and sit on a bench looking at nice cars and girls who are out of our league. One of the cops orders me to take my hands out of my pockets. I know it’s disrespectful, but he hasn’t earned my respect. It is clear that they are trying to intimidate us. They must hold some kind of grudge against guys like us or perhaps they used to be bullies themselves and they’ve never grown out of it. Proud of themselves, they now get back into their van and drive off. We take a note of the number, it’s 604. It happens a few more times this Summer. It’s always the same scenario and the same oversized idiots with shaved heads, trying to teach us respect through intimidation. We’re never guilty of anything, but just in case, whenever we see a police van approaching and whenever we see the number 604 on the side of it, we try to move along to avoid another humiliating encounter with the law. By the time we see the number, however, it is usually too late.
It’s my fifteenth year in the UK. My experience with the British police has been drastically different. Not only that, but I’ve also never felt threatened or intimidated by a police officer. This has been the case until lockdowns began twelve months ago. Sometime in April of last year, my respect and admiration for the British uniform started to fade.
Great Britain – the country that gave us democracy, the country that many Eastern Europeans like me escaped to in search of a better tomorrow – had begun to turn into the authoritarian regime and police state many of us ran away from. I know, as a foreigner, I should probably not speak negatively of the country I’ve settled in, but whatever was once Great about Britain, has died of COVID, I think. And I mean this about the police who forgot their oath, government officials who seem to have turned into tyrants who do things to us instead of for us anymore and think we are their property, as well as people of Britain, who have exposed their true nature of spineless cowards who play dead on the battlefield.
I sat on a bench today, just outside the library and the Town Hall which has been turned into COVID19 vaccination centre. I sat there for about an hour waiting for my wife and our three-month-old son to finish at the doctor’s. He was having his blood taken as part of the ongoing investigation into his hearing loss. I’ve attended a couple of initial appointments when we were given the diagnose and crucial information. Then, both because of their One Parent Because of COVID19 policy and my lack of challenging it when the appointments were no longer scary but routine, I just waited outside or took a walk.
Today, I decided to sit on the bench instead of waiting outside. I felt like such an outlaw. For the past few months, doing such a thing has been unthinkable. Sitting on a bench has been viewed as a dangerous crime and health hazard. I sat there and listened to Edward Snowden’s Permanent Record on Audible. As I listened to Snowden’s confession what led him to expose the US government’s betrayal of their citizens, I was looking at groups of college kids laughing, talking, hugging and chatting, eating takeaways as they walked to town or back to college. If it weren’t for the fact that the majority of them wore masks, I’d have thought it was just an ordinary day in an ordinary world where COVID19 never existed.
I used to sit on this particular bench a lot when I first came to the UK fifteen years ago. I would look at the people, couples holding hands, young guys and girls getting out of taxis and refusing to wear coats (presumably to avoid leaving them behind in the nightclub), runners, guys with gym bags drinking protein shakes, you know, all these ordinary things happening every day in the ordinary world. A world where I, sitting on that bench, could afford to struggle with my own identity as I measured the behaviour of the herd. I could afford to sit there as long as it took me to collect my thoughts, write poetry and dream. Back in the ordinary world. Back when I had my whole life ahead of me and I took it for granted. Back when I could sit there until my skin shivered or until I found the missing piece of the puzzle. What burden was I carrying? What mystery of my mind was I trying to solve? How unaware was I of what was being plotted behind the scenes? How blind was I to the strings attached to all of our shoulders? Perhaps, as I sat there unaware, ignorant and small, handshakes were being exchanged, signatures given, funds transferred, things arranged, alibi prepared, consent manufactured – all to one day take away every dream I had dreamt on that bench, crush every plan I had thought of, dispose of everything I had held dear and precious.
Today, I don’t have that luxury, that freedom. Doing such an ordinary thing belongs in the past. “The rules” say so. As I sat there, a lone police officer emerged from the underground passage. When I saw him, I had a familiar feeling. The feeling a man only gets to feel a few times in his lifetime. When he sees the love of his life, the most beautiful woman, object of his love songs and poetry walk in the room and he has to tell her how he feels. And when his great nemesis or his army charge at him and he has to fight. It’s about fear and conquering that fear. It’s a quick, sharp excitement and anxiety in his chest that make him focused yet paralysed, ready to fight and ready to hide.
That’s what I felt that moment I laid my eyes on the policeman. The sharp feeling in my chest was gone before I knew it, yet it expressed so many things all at once. ‘Is this the time I get confronted?’, it asked, exposing my lack or preparedness for the confrontation I had been anticipating and rehearsing for months. More importantly, it reminded me of the time I last felt it about the police. That summer I was harassed by 604’s Bulk and Skull. It also made me realise that as a thirty – four-year-old father, husband, legally employed and a law-abiding citizen I should never feel this about the police. After all, they are not my enemy and I’m not guilty of anything. My body should not turn on and prepare to flee or confront them. But because of how many of them have behaved over the last year, I now feel like a fugitive, who must always be ready to run, resist and sees them not as public servants, but as the enemy. Enemy of human nature, freedom and dignity.
Luckily, the cop wasn’t interested in my suspicious activity. It was just me and Edward again.
Malbork, Poland, 2002. Finally, they get what they wanted. They’ve created a monster. My friend, Adrian, isn’t a member of our group, but he hangs out with us occasionally. Part of the reason is that he lives in a tower block in a different part of town, and he prefers homework than sitting on a bench. Not all of us have mobile phones, so there are only two ways for us to all get together. We either specify time and place of assembly when at school or we pick everyone one by one by calling at their address until everyone is accounted for. Since Adrian goes to a different school and lives so far for us to get him, we simply don’t bother most of the time. When we do, however, we make his neighbours’ life a living hell. The lifts in those buildings are old, nothing like you might be imagining. The doors aren’t automatic. You have to pull or push them to open. Once the floor number is pressed and the door shut, you’re on your way. Our favourite thing to do is getting in the lift on the ground floor, pressing the button and holding the door slightly open for the next person who walks into the building. It’s often someone old. We stand there, holding the door, showing we’re waiting for them. We never hold the door wide open. Instead, we leave the smallest gap and that’s crucial to our prank. They always look very grateful as they show their appreciation and perform their mini jog to get in the lift with us. At the last second, when they are about to grab the handle on the other side, we release the door and watch their gratitude turn into disappointment as we fill the inside of the lift with mocking, knee - slapping laughter. We’ve done it countless times, but today, we’ve done it to the wrong man. He’s just chased us out of the building and as we’re in a safe distance, I extend my right arm and show him the middle finger. We are still laughing at the look on his face when his hope to get in the lift turned into embarrassment, when he appears out of nowhere and grabs me by the arm. Huffing and puffing from under his thick, unkept moustache, he looks particularly angry with me for giving him the finger. He’s not even mad about the lift thing. It’s the middle finger that bothers him. My friends abandon me, accepting that I have taken it too far and am now on my own. ‘Where do you live?’, he asks. ‘Just around the corner’, I lie, thinking he will let me go. Instead, he squeezes my arm tighter and demands I take him to my parents. ‘I’m lying, I don’t live around here’, again thinking he lets me go. I try to release myself, but my teenage strength is no match for his manly grip. His friend approaches on his bike and together they come to the conclusion that it’s best to call the police. I tell them both to fuck off, which gives the friend the permission to suggest that they “rough me up a little” before cops arrive. He does nothing. I struggle, but his hand doesn’t let go. The old man must be producing his whole strength from his front porch, I think. The police arrive and Moustache releases his sausage fingers from my arm. His grip made my coat all wrinkly. He lies to the officers, saying I “threatened him with violence”. The friend nods and confirms. I can’t see my face, but I feel angry and as I make my way to the back of the car, I call him a fucking liar and demand my version to be heard. They don’t wanna to know. It’s a short ride home in the backseat. What crime have I committed that I am being taken home for it? We drive past the rowan tree bench and it’s occupied by my friends who were quick to abandon me. Few minutes later I am being dragged upstairs and for the first time in the last half an hour, I feel anxious. I didn’t care about Moustache and his fat, sweaty hand. Not even about his courageous friend who threatened to beat me up. Hell, I didn’t even care about them calling the police. It is my mom who I am really afraid of. The police do the talking, I am just silent and embarrassed.
Just follow the rules
You can’t torture an animal forever without it lashing outJordan Peterson
If you are reading this, I’m sure I don’t have to explain in great detail what my feelings toward the police are based on. I suspect, what brought you here is the same resentment I feel after having watched hours of social media clips of police abusing their power, enforcing COVID rules. If you’re like me, these videos make you feel sick, angry and upset. They wake within you the unfamiliar rage and fury you had no idea you were capable of feeling. Maybe it even frightens you what you might do if these feelings are left unchecked. You imagine yourself punching, kicking and spitting your way out of the unlawful arrest while simultaneously knowing this would never end well for you. But it helps, doesn’t it? It feels so good seeing your fists land on their faces, making their surgical masks turn red. It feels good visualising, even for a minute, defeating the bad guys, serving justice and coming out as the hero. I know it works for me. It silences this desperation burning within me as I see people being tackled to the ground in their own homes for the crime of having dinner with their family. If you’re anything like me, this sense of injustice overwhelms you because you know these bastards get away with it every time and only their consciousness will ever be their judge and their executioner.
A few weeks ago, the government requested every concerned citizen to express in their own words the negative effects lockdown had on various aspects of their life, including mental health. I don’t know what I was hoping it would achieve, but I decided to submit my evidence, in which I say:
I imagine myself being dragged into a van after attending a protest in the near future. Then put in a cell and the rage, I am not supposed to feel as a father, returns. I shouldn’t feel like this. These emotions have come out of nowhere. In the first lockdown, I was fine. I was reading a lot, I was outside a lot. Now I feel like a ticking time bomb. These negative emotions – anger mixed with desperation, anxiety, heartbreak, rejection, bitterness – they don’t even have an outlet…
I described myself as a ticking timebomb. Probably not the wisest choice of words in a letter to the government, but I didn’t care. Perhaps I even wanted them to come for me. Take me into a room and play good cop and bad cop, asking me what I meant, who I worked for. What did I mean? This next fragment explains it well:
I should be the happiest I’ve ever been, but recently, I find myself feeling emotions I’ve never felt before. I feel anger, resentment and hopelessness. I feel powerless and desperate to the point where I want to cry or break something and who knows what I will do if I’m caught off guard? These negative feelings aren’t directed at my family. But this anger turns into rage within me, and I never knew it was there. This desperation I feel inside makes me so depressed sometimes and I feel I have no control over what happens to my life
The only time I ever feel anything close to how I’ve felt for the last few months is whenever I see a movie where the character is being kept hostage, tortured, isolated and made do things against his will by his tyrannical captors. When I see the scenes of this injustice, I boil inside, crave revenge and imagine what I would do to them if I managed to set myself free. In my mind, I do unspeakable things.
I see the same injustice when I watch a video of police attacking protesters, mothers with children, friends having coffee together and families in their homes. People often say that to avoid being fined or arrested, all we have to do is just “follow the rules”. Just follow the rules, they say. Never mind that the rules intrude and trespass on our rights, ruin our freedoms, criminalise choice and oppress people’s needs and interests. These cowards who welcome this invasion with open arms often defend their submission by pointing out various laws that they claim already take away our freedom. Their best example is usually something to do with speed limits (because of course, given the freedom to do so, everyone wants to drive like a maniac).
These people don’t understand the meaning of personal rights, where they come from and why no other person, no matter their position, can take these rights away. They don’t understand the concept of personal responsibility and that they themselves are the only ones who they should rely on to stay safe, not just from COVID19, but from any threat.
Another thing they love to say, especially to me since I am a foreigner, is something along the lines of, “go back to Poland, if you don’t like the rules of this country”. This easily translates to: if you want your freedom; if you don’t want to live in an authoritarian regime; if you don’t agree that police should have such powers; if you want to have rights then go to a country that provides them. They love to ridicule and belittle you for valuing freedom over safety and individual rights over collective duty. “Grow up!”, they often tell me. As if holding these values is immature and childlike, while theirs are morally superior and wise.
“Without rules there is only chaos”, they also say, which of course is a fallacy. It implies that people would just go crazy if the rules weren’t written down. But laws, at least the criminal laws, exist mainly to discourage and punish criminals. Most people are not criminals. Laws might be printed by man, but man’s morality is the ink. Most people not only recognise that murder is wrong but are unable to even picture themselves killing anyone. The law against murder, then, exists to discourage and punish the very few who are able to commit such an act. These men, who are a small fraction of the population, who don’t share the morals of the rest of us, who don’t value another man’s life, who aren’t scared of pulling the trigger are the reason why laws are written down. I would argue even in absence of certain laws, most people would have no desire to murder, rob and rape. Most men, as an example, find the idea of rape repulsive (widely available porn only confirms that) and that’s why they don’t do it, not because they are afraid of getting caught.
Most people simply want to live and let live without causing any harm to another person and his property. Other laws exist merely as reminders how to live in the community, guidance for businesses and protection of individual rights. Furthermore, laws and morality don’t always go hand in hand. For example, in some countries, prostitution is illegal, but it’s not immoral. Lying to your friend or cheating in your relationship are immoral, but they are not illegal. Not paying your debt is not a criminal offence, but it may be considered immoral. I would argue that forbidding lovers see each other for months on end is immoral and criminalising it is unlawful. Yet here we are.
It’s also interesting to see how many people simply needed new rules to be written down to completely abandon their empathy for another person. They just needed a rule to exist to see a normal, harmless activity as a crime for which someone should be put to death. They turn into totalitarian boot lickers happy to snitch on their neighbours for having guests for dinner. This tells a lot about people in this country.
a few bad apples
Just as people needed new policies and rules to turn on their neighbours and fellow citizens, to a number of police officers they were simply an excuse to become tyrants they always had been. Perhaps the surgical mask they now have to wear provides them with anonymity they needed to disconnect from their actions towards other men and women.
They may be in a small minority, but it doesn’t change the fact that the rest of them just follow along and turn the other way. That small minority is enough for there to be hundreds of videos exposing their abuse of power during lockdown. It has been happening here in the UK and all over the Western World. In Australia, a woman was arrested in her own home, in front of her children for organising a protest on Facebook. Another man had his front door kicked in for the same reason. A video from Poland shows officers tackling a man to the ground for refusing to wear a mask and threatening his friend with a gun for attempting to intervene. Just the other day, I saw a footage from a grocery store in Netherlands, where the security man not only attempts to forcibly remove an unmasked shopper from the store but gets assistance from a man wearing a mask like a good boy. There are many more examples, way too many to list them here. In Germany, the country that should know better, the police are seen using water to disperse the crowd of protesters. Not only that, but their government also introduced the concept of quarantine camps – places for people who refuse to self–isolate after testing positive or returning from abroad. Funnily enough, a number of people in the UK fully support the idea and think it doesn’t go far enough. They think people like me should be put in prison.
What really makes these people betray their integrity and commitment to others? Is it the moral superiority of doing the right thing? What about the men in uniform? What triggers in them the brainless, unconscious and detached android mode, incapable of own thought, compassion and reasoning?
You know, I’ve been writing this for a few weeks now and I feel like I still have a long way to go. It seems like every week there is another story in the press, another video on Twitter, showing police officers intruding people’s lives and disturbing their peace. There was a video a while ago, in the Midlands I believe. A man got called an idiot by the officer and thrown in the back of the police car. The reason? The cop didn’t believe the man’s trip was essential. He didn’t believe him when he said he lived around there so he arrested him in a very disrespectful manner. If the man were a suspect of a crime, it would have been a different story, but he was only stopped, grabbed and harassed for the officer’s assumptions and misunderstanding of the law and his powers. This is not the only video I’ve seen where the police officer acts disrespectfully, threatening and patronising towards a member of the public who is just going about their daily life. And this is the crucial part – going about your business is not a crime, no matter how they put it. If you’re exercising your freedoms (in this case, the freedom of movement) and there is a law that forbids it, it is an unjust law, and your duty is to break it and resist those who come after you to enforce it. As Nelson Mandela famously said:
When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.Nelson Mandela
In other words, if the government tells a man he can’t see his loved ones, can’t start a relationship, sit in the field and listen to the voice of nature he has no other option but to defy the government for they have no business telling him how to live his private life. And I don’t buy that “what you do is affecting others because you’re spreading the virus” nonsense. Everyone is responsible for their own destiny. We are all independent human beings and need to take responsibility for our life and ownership of our choices. We don’t exist to ensure others never fall ill, go hungry or homeless. We don’t exist so others can live. We aren’t on this planet to fulfil other people’s needs. That is at the heart of freedom – it gives each individual the right and more importantly, the power to take necessary steps to protect himself from harm, because he can’t control others. In freedom, everyone gets to make choices to live the best, happiest and healthiest life available to them. The moment you let go of that freedom, hand it over to the state, who then believe they have to take everyone’s freedoms for their safety, you end up with no responsibility for yourself and no ownership of your life. Your safety and your health, your very survival depend on what others do or don’t do. What if, one day, people simply choose not to follow the rules anymore? You will have no choice but to rely on yourself. You must understand that you wash your hands for yourself. Imagine, if you lived your life always counting on others washing theirs and relying on them doing it properly.
And now we have muzzled police turned against the public. They patrol our streets, they “hide in the shadows” and sneak up on us in parks like we’re all criminals. They stalk us, flying drones over our heads if we dare to take too long of a walk. They demand we tell them where we are going and why. They are rude, dishonest and brutal.
The grip never relaxes
People cringe when I use the word tyranny to describe our current situation. They hear the word regime and imagine Germany in 1943, when Nazism was already well established. They never think to look beyond the dates they know from history books. They forget that tyranny comes about gradually and introduces itself in small, careful steps. The tyrant pushes the people to their limit or very close to their limit. He lets them settle, get used to the “new normal” and then pushes them further, lets them settle again and repeats.
Similarly, when you look back at the past year, you’ll see that the restrictions have been piling up on top of each other and we never, even after the first lockdown, went back to the pre – lockdown state. The government claimed almost full control of our lives and gave back very little of it. Then did it again and again, giving us back just scraps of the life we used to know. This is in essence how tyrants rise. They rise from the ashes of our humanity and they thrive in the flames of our desperation, fear and blind obedience. They take and very rarely give back.
We’ve created a system which pushes us further into becoming passive spectators and not active participants in social affairs and one that creates an illusion of having control of our lives. We have done it without asking questions, without looking back and without resisting. In this system, we aren’t taught how to lead, but how to follow. We have become a nation of sheep who are convinced they need a shepherd; we have convinced ourselves that we can’t make rational decisions for ourselves; we trust neither ourselves nor other individuals in the herd but will follow the majority led by the shepherd into our doom and slaughter.
Boris Johnson and his fellowship of the virus, put us in lockdown in March last year, taking almost full control of our lives, making them masters of our daily rituals and activities. They served us with a strict list of things we were and weren’t allowed to do. They pushed us to our limit by taking from us as much as they could. They then returned some of our freedoms, but their boot remained in the door. We were allowed to go back to work, but still lived very limited and restricted lives.
They then intimidated, threatened and coerced people into cancelling their Christmas plans. They trapped students in their student accommodations, miles away from home, set up police checkpoints outside towns on Christmas Eve to make sure people weren’t seeing their families. They terrorized our minds, intimidated us with bullies hoping we would not find a way and strength to nourish our relationships and do what we felt was right anyway. And many of us did.
The tyrant, very much like Mr. Unkept Moustache who captured me all these years ago, once he grabs you, never relaxes his grip.
We have the luxury now, to go back in time, browse through history, listen to the testimony of the survivor reliving her horrors and we can look the tyrant in the eyes. We can witness him rise from the ashes of people’s defeated courage and thrive in their desperation. We can follow his steps from his first day as the ruler to the brutal end. We swear we would have done something, that we would have refused, rebelled and stopped him. We are baffled why nobody did. Today, as we find ourselves in the midst of tyranny, we welcome the tyrant and baffle future historians with our inaction.
Run, fat boy, run!
Malbork, Poland, 2004 A knock on the door wakes me up. I roll over on my mattress, which is all I have to sleep on, and check the time. It’s just gone seven o’clock. I don’t need to be up for another hour to go to school. After last night, however, I am surprised I even slept at all, to be honest. Times like these I wish I had a mobile phone to check on my mates and see if they’re alright. See if they all got away too. My mom gets the door. I can hear a man’s voice, but I don’t recognise it. It could be a neighbour or a postman, I don’t know. We’ve just moved here. Is it possible, though? Could it be…? I can hear my mom’s footsteps. They’re fast, they’re angry and loud. She storms into my room and kicks my mattress, sending my pillow across the room. ‘The police are here for you! Get up! Get the fuck up and get dressed right now!’, she screams through her tears. I pretend I have no idea what this is all about, but it’s a lie. The promise I made to her last time I was brought home by the cops is broken. I swore that was the last time. I am taken back to that evening we were chased by the police outside the church and I almost got away. Almost. The cop caught up with me outside the kindergarten. ‘Wait here while I run after your friend’, he said. Of course I didn’t wait. I’m not stupid. I ran. I ran only to be caught again by the other cop. Next thing I know, the one who caught me first is dragging Andrew by his collar, which kind of made me – the fat one of the group – feel better cause he is the group’s athlete. ‘I thought I told you to wait there!’, he looked at me with disbelief and anger as I shrugged my shoulders and looked at him amazed that he really thought I was just going to wait there for him. What an idiot. This was months ago now and we weren't even doing anything wrong. We were just fooling around and ran when we saw them. But for her it is still a fresh wound, a broken promise. ‘Hurry up!’, she brings me right back to the present and says I have five minutes to get ready. The men are waiting and will drive me to the station. I’m only seventeen, what’s the worst that can happen? Oh who am I kidding? I am shitting myself.
Seventeen years later, I expect a knock on the door and prepare for it to be kicked in. The amount of times I tweeted at Metropolitan Police calling them fascists and pathetic is more than I can remember. In the country where people get charged for things they say online, for offending others, I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens one day. Who will be the men at my door? Just some good men, men who joined the force to protect the innocent, defend our rights? Maybe. Or maybe it will be one or two tyrants who love their newfound powers? Or maybe it will just be some ordinary officers who are just following orders, right? Just doing their job. Just taking me away from my family for having an opinion or for spreading misinformation. Have you seen V for Vendetta? Asking for a friend…
Freedom of speech has been going extinct in the UK for a few years now. On paper, we have the right to freely express ourselves, but in practice, if someone gets offended or if you’re spreading conspiracy theories, they will come for you with torches and demand your head. This rather long article is my way of getting my head around the subject as well as an attempt to defend free speech and why I think we should embrace it, cherish it and use it in the name of truth.
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear”George Orwell
Cover your eyes
I don’t have too many memories of my father. He left before he was able to pass on his wisdom to me, but today I am reminded of one particular Sunday afternoon. The year was 1996 or 1997 and I was just nine or ten. My dad had by then infected me with his love for martial arts movies. He was to me an action star himself. He could do side splits and handstand with almost no effort at all. That afternoon we were sitting in the living room and watching the newly released on VHS Rumble in the Bronx with no other than Jackie Chan, who is known for his impressive fight skills, fight choreography and being his own stunt double. His movies, though action packed, are usually family friendly with moderate violence and nothing extremely upsetting or offensive. We were both admiring his athleticism, and my dad was excited to introduce me to him. He’d say to me, “He does all these dangerous stunts himself, you know? He’s nothing like those Hollywood fakes”. As Jackie Chan kicked, punched, jumped and climbed and surfed his way through the movie, something unexpected happened. His character was about to kiss a girl.
In order to explain what happened next and why it matters in the context of free speech, let me take you back a little. My sister and I often watched movies, either on TV or on VHS, with our parents. The unwritten rule was simple: don’t look when they tell us to. This meant that whenever there was nudity or violence in the movie, we weren’t allowed to see it. This might sound like a weird practice to you, but you have to understand that this was before sex and violence were everywhere. There was no internet, no violent video games, and movies rarely included sex scenes (and when they did, they were like a kiss on the cheek in today’s standards), and music videos focused more on telling a story than on showing tits and asses. Of course, these things did exist, but they did not flood the TV screens like they do today. Not in 1990s Catholic Poland anyway. Those days the only way I could be exposed to a naked female body was by discovering my dad’s secret stash of Playboys, which I did. I remember taking some of the magazines down to my parents’ shop and showing them to their young female employee, Renata. Because I had no real concept of age and I segregated people into grownups and kids, I never thought Ms Renata, as I called her, was perhaps a lot younger than my parents. She might have been twenty at the time. Me and Renata were friends. They sold electronics, so the shop was never too busy. I often came down after school with comic books and we’d read them together. Sometimes, Ms Renata helped me with some schoolwork too. Imagine the surprise on her face when, instead of the latest Batman comic book, I brought down a bunch of Playboys. We looked through them together without a shade of embarrassment. We both laughed when one of the models’ name was Renata. I don’t know if she ever told my parents. You can see how, before the internet or on demand TV, the only time you could see these things was if you physically went to a shop (no self-check outs either), picked up a copy of the dirty magazine, walked up to the cash desk, looked the lady in the eye, handed her the magazine and paid for it. If you’ve never done it, it is a pretty embarrassing experience, trust me. So, you can imagine that even Renata might have not been exposed to such pictures too often.
And now Jackie Chan is kissing the girl. My dad looks at me and, just like a hundred times before, orders me to close my eyes. But this time, I don’t. I look on. In my head, I am ready to see this. Not necessarily because of the Playboys because I don’t remember if I discovered them before or after this afternoon. I just think I am ready. I am not a kid anymore. I want to see the forbidden scene. “I can handle this, dad”, I think to myself. The kiss doesn’t last that long, but it goes on forever in light of my disobedience. My dad is not happy. The look on his face says if all as he repeats, “Don’t look!”. The anger mixed with surprise, disappointment, embarrassment and powerlessness are all painted on his face as he witnesses, what I believe to be, the moment I become a man. “Why?”, I demand. Silence. The movie goes on, Jackie gets the girl and I learn that it’s important to be the good guy of your story, and I also learn that adults do this disgusting thing called kissing – Yuck!
Looking back, I know my parents only tried to protect me from being exposed to what they knew and thought I wasn’t ready to see. I think this is reasonable. Parents should keep their children from harm, even if it means not letting them look at scenes they may not understand or that may upset them. You could say that parents get to censor certain content to protect their children’s vulnerable minds.
What is speech?
“If everything you did was right, you would never know what was wrong“Matthew McConaughey
As I write these words, someone is making a You Tube video expressing their views on climate change. By the time I finish the next sentence, millions of Twitter users will have condensed their complex thoughts into a narrow box of a tweet and posted them on the platform. Some of them will get hundreds, perhaps even thousands of retweets by other users who either agree or disagree with the statement they’re responding to. Somewhere else two friends are having a drink and are trying to settle their argument about the ending of Inception. Some politicians are having a debate about taxes. By the time I finish expressing my views here, millions of students around the world will have raised their hands in the classroom, ready to answer a question or ask one themselves. Millions of preachers and priests around the globe will have told the faithful about the glory of God and his kingdom, while thousands if not millions of job seekers will have declared themselves non – religious on a job application. All while someone somewhere, unaware of it all, is thinking and wondering about the world. He asks questions and ponders the possibilities. He is thinking.
What is speech? It’s all of the above because speech is communication. Speech is thought spoken out loud. Speech is the extension of a thought which then becomes known as “your opinion”. A thought that finds its way out to the world. It takes the shape of an idea, a view, a theory, a narrative, a solution. Of course, not all thoughts, when spoken out loud, lead to scientific breakthroughs or million-dollar ideas, but it is by communicating these thoughts to others, can we create new ones. Only by sharing our views can we find out if we are right or wrong and come back with an upgraded worldview. Without telling others what we think, what we believe to be true, without communicating, it is impossible to replace bad ideas with good ones or see the problem we are facing from a different perspective. We must all believe we are free to speak our mind. We must all value this ancient contract in order to be able to connect, solve problems and continue to prosper. Speech is a platform, the town square for our thoughts to meet, to gather, to mate, and language is a tool that allows them to flirt and create other thoughts. Speech is an arena where thoughts of people, like the gladiators in Ancient Rome, can fight to the death. Free speech is the right of an individual to allow their thoughts to come out and hope to be interacted with. Free speech is the right of an individual to present his or her thoughts to those who will listen. It is their right to do so without the fear of violence, persecution and with hopes of being listened to, understood, agreed or disagreed with, related to, learned from. It is the right to repeat a joke, share a meme. It is their right to say, “I don’t believe you!”. It is the right to let their thoughts, which are largely influenced by the outside world, to be spoken out loud. If speech is not free, and I mean all speech, then neither is thought. If speech becomes a crime, then so does the thought.
What is a thought?
Around the time I found those Playboys, my sister had a pet parrot. We learned that pet birds enjoy seeing their own reflection in the mirror, so we put one in her cage. God, I miss those days – when you couldn’t Google everything so every fact or information you found out felt like a ground-breaking discovery. I think this is what makes my generation unique. We spent our childhoods without our faces glued to mobile phones, our parents had to worry about bruises on our knees and not online predators, sexual content and social media bullying. Now we get to spend our adulthood consuming as much information as we want without taking technology, that makes it possible, for granted. But I digress. The mirror detached from the cage and fell on top of the parrot and she died. My sister was upset. She was only about five or six. The mirror tricked the parrot into thinking she had company. Her tragic death in the loneliness of the cage was caused by something that was supposed to save her sanity.
A thought is like that parrot in the cage. Instead of feathers she is made of words, images and memories. The cage is all she knows. What if she were to escape? What if she were set free? Through the mouth of the cage the parrot would announce her presence, her freedom to the world. And so, out through the window she goes. Still just the same, but now she gets to interact with the great outside. As she flaps her wings awkwardly, trying her best to do what she’s been designed to do, she gets noticed. Other birds (thoughts), who have been free for as long as they can remember, observe her with suspicion. Her unconventional colours and her unfamiliar song threaten, puzzle, fascinate, gain admiration, cause a debate above and below all at once. From this interaction alone, they all learn something they didn’t know before. The birds who all look the same, sing the same, behave the same, have learned that it is possible to be different. They now know that there is a world beyond their colony. The parrot now understands that the outside world can be uninviting. She knows now that she has to learn to communicate. She knows that not everyone will understand her song, its meaning, its context and her intentions. Richer in experience she can now go back to her cage and reflect, then try again tomorrow.
This is what happens to our thoughts. They live in our head. They remain unchanged, unchallenged, unconfirmed for as long as they stay unrevealed. These thoughts, these ideas, claims and theories that form in our heads need to be exposed to the sunlight. Only then can they grow and become better. Bad ideas and radical thoughts, when exposed, can be stopped in their tracks. They can be debunked, criticized, ridiculed, questioned and possibly destroyed. Interesting ideas, theories and points of view, on the other hand, can be pondered, explored, learned from, praised, helpful, revealing and revolutionary. We only ever find out when our thoughts turn into speech. If our idea has the potential to make the world a little better, we won’t know until we share it with someone who can put it into practice. If our opinion is wrong, unfounded, based on false information, formed on incomplete evidence, then only by exposing it to someone who may have already battled with the same arguments, can we really know if we’re onto something or not. If we allow our thought to stare at its own reflection, it may die admiring its own greatness before ever reaching its full potential, or it may live on and forever remain a delusion. I will argue that even if our opinion is clearly wrong or offensive it needs to be free to express. It may be, no matter how incorrect or hateful, based on pure ignorance and indoctrination.
Imagine if the parrot that was set free earlier is some form of a narcist, extremist or a heretic. She loves her blue, green and yellow feathers. After all it’s all she’s ever admired when she stared in her own reflection. Nobody ever challenged her. She flies out of the window and into the city and she sees that pigeons act like savages. They fight, they eat McDonalds leftovers on the street, they lack any manners, they poop everywhere. She comes to a conclusion that all pigeons are inferior to her. All grey birds are inferior, in fact. They are dirty, she thinks. She is now convinced that parrots are smarter, superior, more intelligent, cleaner, smell nicer and are more beautiful than all grey, black and white birds. She is a bigot. We know she is a bigot because we know what she thinks. Most of the time, we don’t know what people, or parrots think. We only know what they decide to share with us. How can we engage with the parrot’s views if we don’t know what they are? If she tells us her opinion, we can then explain to her why she is wrong. Both of us must feel confident that we are free to express ourselves without the threat of violence or punishment. We both must feel comfortable that our thoughts are safe when we let them out of our cage. Without it, no real progress can be made. Our opinions and arguments will never meet, they will stay in our heads and confirm their righteousness in their own reflection. Here they don’t die, like our parrot did earlier, they remain a delusion that never gets debunked.
It seems like in the world today, we prefer to prevent people from expressing their thoughts rather than dealing with those thoughts. Stopping a heretic, extremist or a conspiracy theorist from expressing their views does not eliminate heretics, extremism or conspiracies. It only suppresses an individual’s right to tell their truth, often pushing them further into their illusion by confirming their convictions. Racism, sexism, homophobia still exist despite the so-called hate speech laws. Facebook, Twitter or You Tube can delete offensive content all they want, but it will not turn the world into a big happy politically correct utopia. I am not saying that hateful content should be unfiltered (threats of violence or calls for violence should be reported and deleted), but I am saying that this only makes things look nice on the surface and the problems it tries to solve still exist. Would we prefer our parrot to remain silent about her racism, or would we prefer to know about it and engage with it, find the root of it and try to reason with it? It wouldn’t be easy, it could be impossible, but simply censoring her speech would not solve the problem at all. We can always choose to distance ourselves from the bigots. We are free to think. Speech is the expression and extension of thought. Thoughts seek validation. Speech should, therefore, be free as it is just a thought, just an idea that can be confirmed or debunked only by someone else using his freedom to speak his mind.
Of course, we can all read a book or go online to confirm or debunk our beliefs. But even a book can only exist because the author and the scientists and philosophers, he quoted in his book, all exercised their freedom of speech. Only thanks to free speech can The Bible and The Origin of Species be sold in the same bookstore. Only thanks to freedom of speech can you pick up both of them and decide which idea makes more sense. Freedom of speech of everyone employs your critical thinking. For thousands of years there has been no other truth other than that preached in churches. As a matter of fact, a few hundred years ago, in Europe, you’d face a certain death if you made a scientific discovery or a claim that went against the teachings of Christianity. In 1600, an Italian man, Giordano Bruno, was burned alive for suggesting that Earth was not the centre of the Universe (something Galileo got away with it just a few decades later and is now credited for that discovery).
Now, thanks to free speech you can listen to ten different people telling you what they think. You can agree with some and tell others why they are wrong, and they will tell you why you are wrong. The thoughts would be mating and fighting again. This is how critical thinking works. It wouldn’t be possible if our thoughts remained trapped in our heads or censored by those who think you are not ready to see them, that you are not capable of making your own judgement, that you are not an intelligent adult who can think for himself, that you need to be protected from your own thoughts. We don’t need our fathers to cover our eyes anymore. We are ready to see nudity because nudity is truth. We are capable of deciding what to do with it. I might have been just a little kid, but I didn’t go around kissing everyone after seeing Jackie Chan do it. I wasn’t interested in it. Twenty – three years later, I can read psychology books, news articles, watch You Tube videos about UFOs, ghosts or politics, documentaries about the Universe, listen to David Icke talk about lizards, judge Trump’s presidency based on his policies or speeches. I can do all that and decide for myself what I think and believe. I don’t need my views presented to me and formed by a third party. What I need is free and equal access to all sources of information, so I can evaluate it and create my own worldview based on which I can then vote, campaign, work and raise my children. I can be wrong but let me be wrong.
We are still being parented and the content presented to us is filtered and moderated. It’s almost as if we are back in the 90s, all sitting in my living room with my dad, who is deciding what we are and aren’t allowed to see, what we may not understand, what is incorrect or “false information”. He is our moderator and our fact checker. He is our daddy, and his name is Google. You can click here Vaccines or Immune System? – Deserts of Mars (wordpress.com) to see just how the information you google is manipulated before it is given to you. Don’t get put off by the title, it was just a quick experiment on what search results you get from Google and a less popular search engine when you search for the same exact phrase.
Of course, words have consequences. Whatever you say may be used against you. You tell the wrong joke at the wrong party, and you will be remembered as that inappropriate guy never to appear on the guest list again. The same joke worked when you said it to a few of your friends, and it worked even better when it was said by Ricky Gervais on the stage and in front of a thousand people. But at that party, people didn’t appreciate your dark humour. What for one person is “you shouldn’t joke about these things”, is “I know I shouldn’t laugh, but it’s so funny!”, to another. The line is different for everyone which means no joke is inappropriate.
Of course, this has to do with political correctness and hate speech. The former has been weaponised to change how people think and the latter has been relabelled and criminalised so that anything “offensive” you say can be used against you. But remember, offense is taken, not given. What should be just a disapproval of your family and friends, now has real criminal consequences. What people who create these laws don’t seem to understand is that you can’t put a joke behind bars. You can’t fine an opinion. No matter how offensive or controversial they sound. You can’t arrest a room full of people who laugh at a racist joke, so why should you arrest the one saying it? The same joke said in a different room would be met with a disappointment and disapproval and that should be the end of it.
It isn’t only offensive content or opinions that you can get in trouble for. I remember the time when you could go on You Tube and go down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories about 9/11. Plenty of them arguing that either the US government or the Jews were behind the attack. These videos had hundreds of thousands of views, which over ten years ago was a big deal. I admit, I did shortly buy into the theories, but apart from wasting my time watching hours of content, it changed nothing in my life. Now, Google, who bought You Tube a few years ago, are acting like our daddy again. If you type in 9/11 in the search box, your top results will be the so – called reputable sources like CNN and other usual suspects (despite having far less views than the more intriguing conspiracy videos). Alternative journalism, commentary and sources of information are as good as dead on You Tube. Your daddy, Google, not only tells you to look away, but also deletes all the content in case you’re not able to think critically and make your own judgement about it. What used to be a great platform for people to share ideas in a video format has now become just another TV channel. Unless you’re subscribed to various Youtubers, your landing page will have some music videos, movie trailers and news stories and it will be very difficult for you to find other people like yourself and find out what they think. You Tube, Google, Facebook and increasingly the government are like a restaurant where you don’t get shown what’s on the menu. Instead they serve you a meal they think you should eat and enjoy. In this virtual restaurant you are not trusted to decide what meal is good for you. You are not trusted to look at the menu, read the ingredients for yourself and choose your food. You’re just served the same vegan salad as all other guests – bon appétit.
Over the last four years, since I started paying attention, I have witnessed a lot of controversial views being silenced, stomped down, and their authors or even messengers deleted off the internet. I’ve seen a biology professor being removed from Twitter for stating a scientific fact about males and females which went against the transgender ideology. Offensive charm, triggering rants and controversial views got Katie Hopkins deleted from the certainly left leaning platform as well. Stefan Molyneaux, a You Tuber with nearly a million subscribers and nearly a decade of making thought provoking, philosophical videos, was removed from the platform without a warning. Not to mention hundreds of lecturers and speakers on US campuses that were cancelled or met with protests by students who were triggered by their very name. Just this week I read about another attempt at censoring controversial views. Jordan Peterson is a Canadian psychologist, University professor and a published author. His well thought out, evidence based and eloquently presented and controversial views gained him a large following as well as cult – like hatred. He has become a target of the Left who labelled him with every “ism” you can think of. His publisher, Penguin, have just announced his new book Beyond Order – 12 More Rules for Life. Some of Penguin employees, who believe Peterson to be a Right – Wing fascist, demand the book to be cancelled. A few months ago, a similar thing happened at Spotify, when Joe Rogan, who is Peterson’s close friend, moved his extremely popular podcast from You Tube to Spotify. Some staff at Spotify were not happy to host The Joe Rogan Experience, so they protested. Luckily, both Penguin and Spotify didn’t bend the knee. Their triggered staff however sound a lot like they don’t want you to see the menu and decide what information you want to consume.
Speaking of Joe Rogan, one of his guests and now the 2nd richest man in the world, Elon Musk, said on his show that sometime soon we might have mind reading technology. He suggested that a microchip could not only collect your thoughts but communicate them to somebody else’s brain through their chip. He argued that this technology would allow ideas to communicate more efficiently without the barrier of our vocabulary or inability to express ourselves. With a chip like this, I wouldn’t have to spend hours writing this trying to make my opinion of free speech clear. I’d simply have to transfer my thoughts through my chip to yours without having to explain what I mean. You’d just get it instantly by downloading words and images that form that idea or a thought.
My dad was right to protect my ten – year old self from offensive content I wasn’t ready for. My compass of right and wrong was still developing, and I needed guidance or perhaps he just didn’t want to or didn’t know how to address the questions I’d have after seeing that kiss. His censorship was justified. So where does this put the government or the social media platforms who take it upon themselves to decide what you can and cannot be exposed to? Censorship of speech, opinions, views is not only Orwellian, but also suggests that those who do it consider you and me to be incapable of critical thinking or dealing with negativity and offensive content. They think it is up to them, just like my dad did, to protect your eyes and ears from seeing and hearing what they think you wouldn’t be able to process. They think we are operating on that still developing compass and need them to hold our hand. They think that if you watch an interview with David Icke, you will immediately become a conspiracy theorist. They think that if you listen to Katie Hopkins, you will not be able to filter her words yourself and you will become what people accuse her of being – a racist, which I don’t believe to be the case. These people, whether they sit at the headquarters of Facebook, Google or Twitter or in the Parliament genuinely think that they are superior to us therefore get to decide what you can and cannot read, watch or listen. Yet somehow porn is easier to access than ever. What is so dangerous about believing a so called “conspiracy theory” or spreading or being exposed to so called “hate speech”? What is it that at the same time makes porn so widely available? We are all adults, and we don’t need the information, no matter how crazy or offensive, filtered by these people who think they know better. It is condescending to us and in the long run, ineffective at achieving whatever they’re trying to achieve. Are we not allowed to decide for ourselves anymore?
We already moderate our thoughts and filter what we share with people. We do it because we know words have consequences. We want to maintain social life, so we don’t tell people what we think all the time. Just imagine if someone had access to your mind just for a day. How many times did you think of something offensive? What are some of the taboos you battle over in your head sometimes? Did you ever fantasise about doing something horrible to someone you know? Do you ever have these dark thoughts that just pop into your head out of nowhere? How many of those, if you spoke them out loud, would get you in trouble or make your family, friends and colleagues distance themselves from you? Imagine if someone could open up this diary in your head and read every page. All the embarrassing memories you don’t think of too often, but when you do, you relive that embarrassment again. All those times you imagined beating up that customer. Throughout our day, we only give people a taste of what’s in that diary. Only the stuff we want them to know. In a way, we personalise the menu of what’s on offer in our head. But that’s ok. We want to maintain that friendship, keep that job, see that girl or man again. We censor ourselves and we know when to not say things that are considered crazy or controversial. Unfortunately, now, the Scottish government wants to take away your right to free speech even at your dinner table. They want it to be criminal to make a “controversial” comment while talking to your family and friends at your table. Think about it.
And yet, despite our self-moderation, thought crime is possible. It is possible because we read our diary out to people. We share some of its pages with friends and on social media. By doing so, we give people access into parts of our mind. It’s not always pretty. Sometimes it’s cold, offensive and unfriendly and aggressive. But, if this invitation into your head triggers the wrong response, you may end up losing your friends, your job or worse – with a criminal record preventing you from taking on certain jobs in the future. All because of your thoughts. All because what was in your head came out through your mouth and landed on somebody’s sensitive ears. Now your friends don’t want to be associated with your controversial views, your boss thinks they’re bad for business or for staff integrity, and the law enforcement must defend those fragile feelings of those you did or might have offended, so they must punish you. Your speech is now that kiss scene my dad tried to “protect” me from because he “knew” what was best for me.
Freedom of speech is your right to express yourself; it is your right to be wrong; it is your right to disagree; it is your right to speak your truth; it is your right to explore ideas; it is your right to protest; it is your right to demand answers and evidence; it is your right to consent to refuse and to deny; it is your right to lie; it is your right to think out loud; it is your right to teach and to learn from others; it is your right to laugh at a joke; it is your right to defend your beliefs; it is your right to vote; your right to demand justice; it is your right to listen and say you don’t believe; it is your right to write a tweet, a blog or a book; it is your right to say the unspeakable only because you first thought the unthinkable; it is your right to criticise or to praise. If any authority tries to rob you of that right, they are inevitably robbing you of your consciousness and your right to think.
The bottom line is this. There is time and place to speak our mind. We should all be able to freely hold our beliefs and express our opinions without the interference of the government, social media platforms or our boss if they happen to be your friend of Facebook. Free speech allows us to argue and debate, disagree and criticise. It allows us to listen to and read about different ideas, problems. Free speech allows diversity of opinion, diversity of thinking which are often key to solving problems in the company to figuring out how best to tackle a crisis like COVID19. Without free speech you are not exposed to different ideas. This disables your critical thinking and the ability to think for yourself and shape your own opinions. Similarly, when your phone upgrade is due you surely spend at least a little while comparing the latest phones to choose the one that suits your needs best. The freedom of Apple or Samsung to provide you with the options is your freedom to choose from them. We need free speech. We must not let the corporations or the government take it away from us because when it comes down to it, this is one of our fundamental human rights, given not by them but by Mother Nature herself when she endowed us with the ability to think and to speak. We must not hand it over to the state because without their suits and titles they are just the same as us, governed by the same laws that come from Mother Nature.
Speech is thought, just louder.