Have you ever expressed an opinion or had an argument with someone on social media? Have you ever dared to use your knowledge to debunk somebody’s fragile worldview? I certainly have. Eventually, there comes a point in any of these online discussions when the person on the other side demands proof of your claims.
If you base your views in reality, it’s really hard to argue online. I advise against it all together, but sometimes even I can’t help myself when someone makes outrageous claims. It’s difficult because you start to notice that people are fucking stupid. The source of their stupidity is often ignorance, but still they defend their uneducated opinions like their life depends on it. It often does, metaphorically speaking. People often get attached to their opinions and views so much that they become WHO they are and not just what they believe. If you question their beliefs, you question their egos. That’s why they are almost never willing to change their mind even when presented with clear evidence that they’re wrong. Losing an argument, letting go of an opinion is like losing some part of themselves. That’s why they show signs of discomfort and often get aggressive when their beliefs are doubted by someone. It’s their ego that’s being dismantled not their opinion. We’re all guilty of it, including me. The smartest people in this world hold some kind of beliefs they are not ready to let go of simply because of their attachment to them and because they allowed these beliefs to define who they are. I’ve seen some otherwise intelligent people get swallowed and consumed by one ideology or the other. Many of them are aware of the hypnotizing power of ideologies and “the madness of crowds”, but even they can’t resist this downward pull from the brain hungry zombies. This happens on both left and right and the person can only see their own gullibility and naiveness in hindsight when one day they look back with embarrassment at how easily they were seduced by the slogans.
More often than not, people subscribe to certain beliefs simply because they are held hostage by their ideology. If you’re on the Left, you very likely are a feminist who believes in climate change, that there are more than two genders, that capitalism is evil, and abortion is a human right. If you’re on the Right, you oppose all of these ideas, often relying on religion as your moral compass. You believe in free speech and the right to own a gun, while the left challenges those rights. Both sides clash on the field of battle – Twitter – and are ready to defend their beliefs, which aren’t really their beliefs at all. They are beliefs that are part of the package of the group they have signed up to. Before they know it, they protect ideas they know very little about but feel so deeply connected to that they feel they must defend the honour of their group. They become the righteous warriors who slay dragons and fight evil forces of this world. They are determined to crash the enemy and are fuelled by the support, admiration, likes and retweets from their peers.
I was like this at one point. I remember when I joined a Twitter conversation about abortion. My mostly Right-Wing views (to arms of which I was pushed by the teachings of modern feminism) put me on the autopilot and I assumed the attacking position seeing the other side as my sworn enemies. The enemies in this case were pro-choice activists. At that point I saw the subject of abortion with a black and white filter. I was arguing like I knew the subject deeply even though I had never thought about it much or read anything about it. In other words, before “joining” the Right, I wasn’t that bothered about abortion. When I saw the tweets from pro-choice activists, I had to show them how wrong they were. I had to make sure they knew abortion was never alright. My keyboard was on fire, notifications about how much outrage I caused fed my self-righteous thirst for victory and I didn’t care how many snowflakes I triggered. Every person who disagreed with me, I managed to convince myself, proved me right. I was fighting for the right cause. I was the good guy.
Today, there is more grey area in my views on abortion. In my adopted views there was no room for exceptions. Later, I realised what my true beliefs were, and they’ve remained so to this day. I realise now that I don’t really care about it that much. In my opinion, pro choice people aren’t defending women’s reproductive rights but their rights to not take responsibility for their actions. Pro life activists aren’t fighting for unborn children but for the power of their ideology over others. Understand that I am talking about activists. Not everyone who has an opinion on the matter is an activist. I still think abortion is wrong in most cases, and if people aren’t willing to take responsibility for the consequences of sex, they should either use various forms of anticonception and accept the consequences of them or not have sex at all. I mean, the pill might fuck up your hormones, but at least you’re not killing babies, right? I wish both sides of the debate would be honest in their motivations and admit what they really care about – power and control on the right and being irresponsible and unaccountable on the left.
To sum this section up, if you ever find yourself feeling passionate about a belief system, ask yourself if you truly believe it or if it’s something that’s been forced upon you by your group. You don’t want anyone to be able to predict any of your views based on one or two of your opinions. For example, I am an atheist. Many atheists, especially those in public eye, are hard leftists. They are pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-COVID mandates during the pandemic and many more. If you predicted that I too held these views simply because I don’t believe in God, you’d be wrong. It shows that atheism hasn’t influenced my other views and values. Similarly, if you’re a feminist, you really don’t want me to accurately predict your stance on climate change, gun control and Trump – as these are all completely unrelated to feminism. If your views on the above match those of other feminists then congratulations – your mind has been corrupted by ideology.
Let’s talk about evidence now. As I’ve briefly described above, people have different reasons for believing what they believe and defending those beliefs. As mentioned at the beginning, some people will demand proof of your claims if what you’ve said to them shakes their worldview. They want to see the science. If you can’t produce it, they claim victory even if their own views are formed in their gut and not in a lab. The problem with this type of people is that they aren’t willing to do any heavy lifting (or reading in this case). They want you to give them a quick graph or a short article that proves you right. They don’t realise that the answers lie in thousands of book pages one’s had to go through to come to the conclusions one has come to. There is no single graph or a slide show that can spoon feed these people with information. These people don’t think, they react. Because they themselves often pull their views out of their ass, they think you do too, so you won’t be able to produce any evidence to prove what you’re saying is backed by science.
Let’s say I believed there was a high probability of the existence of intelligent life out there in the Universe. Someone – a deeply religious person perhaps, who believes God created life exclusively on Earth and no more than six thousand years ago, and the rest of the Universe is only for us to ponder and admire – would stand there and say, “Oh yeah, Mulder? Prove it!”. There is of course no way to prove it. But with basic understanding of what conditions need to be met for a planet to host alien life, and knowledge of evolution are, in my opinion, enough to look into the night sky and make an assumption. My “evidence” in this case would consist of at least one book on evolution and one on astronomy. It’s more than you can put in a tweet, and more than most people can handle.
In other words, there is no single proof for anything. Can I prove that God doesn’t exist? No, but I can tell you all about the human nature, our superstitious tendencies and thousands of gods that have been worshipped and forgotten throughout history, to show you that all gods are most likely invention of man to explain the unknown and cope with mortality. It doesn’t prove that God doesn’t exist, but it shows that he probably doesn’t. I used to mock religious people, but as I got older, I’ve come to understand the value of religion and that, as long as it stays out of my bedroom or doesn’t fly planes into sky scrapers, it’s mostly harmless and it actually makes people happy. I used to attend a church service every Sunday for six months only to expose these people to the truth, but what I saw was probably the happiest bunch I have ever seen.
People will want proof, but they will not change their mind, because their belief system wasn’t built with evidence. It was handed to them by the group. The only proof they ever needed was how it made them feel. Unfortunately, you can’t convince feelings with reason. Feelings can often override reason, though. The bottom line is this – don’t argue online, form your own opinions, question the beliefs of your ingroup and educate yourself of what matters to you. Read books, listen to podcasts and live a life of meaning. Social media algorithms are out there to trigger you. That’s how they steal your time and attention. Don’t let them. You’re not changing anyone’s mind and you’re not making your life better. I was once arguing with someone on Instagram, eventually I clicked on their profile. It turned out to be a 17-year-old girl. I was twice her age. Twice her experiences and accumulated knowledge. There was no way I was opening her mind. You never know who the other person is, but it’s pretty dumb to argue with kids online. You’re on different levels and as an adult, you have the responsibility to be wiser and to set an example. We often forget that the avatar we see is another human being and allow ourselves to get carried away. We make assumptions about the person’s character and their morality. Social media brings the worst out of us and these online debates expose that. Don’t get triggered. Move on. You’ll be happier for it.
I made a mistake the other day by logging into my Twitter account and engaging in a conversation with a couple of people who were very passionate about living in chains – the lifestyle also known as lockdown. I am truly surprised that after a whole year of absorbing every misinformation and lie from their telescreens, they haven’t come up with a stronger repertoire of arguments. Instead, they tweet the same long ago debunked and ridiculed opinions as they did in April of last year. Opinions they mistakenly present as facts. One of the most often repeated “arguments”, they treat as gospel, is the Speeding Driver Paradox (SDP), which they think declares them the winner of every coronavirus debate. There could, however, be nothing further from the truth, and I shall explain why. Be careful who you share this with, not everyone can handle logic and reason in such high doses.
The Speeding Driver Paradox, like every other myth and fairy tale, when repeated too often, it too eventually loses its original form. The speeding driver becomes drunk in some translations. In others, he drives a faulty car, and yet in another, he just feels like driving on the pavement, running over pedestrians simply because it makes him happy. The last one was a direct response to my argument that one’s happiness is important and in context of COVID19 lockdowns and restrictions -which lead to depression, anxiety and suicides and medical neglect – it is even more important than other people’s lives and health. The mistake, of course, is that feeling pleasure from purposely hurting people is not the same as happiness achieved through personal and professional fulfilment and living a life of meaning. I have addressed it in my article from a few weeks ago titled Redefining selfishness – why being selfish is a good thing, where I explain why one’s own health, happiness and wellbeing should be prioritised, not neglected. Link to the article will be at the bottom of the screen.
So, the SDP, and its many forms, attempts to compare seeing your partner for Valentine’s Day or your mom for her birthday, wanting to work and support your family to driving like a maniac. In other words, if you want the lockdown to end because it ruins your life by compromising your physical health, financial situation and mental wellbeing, if you deliberately break the restrictions to simply stay sane and alive, to live your life and exercise your freedom to do so, you are exactly like a speeding driver who has no regard for human life. Shame on you!
It originated somewhere around April or May of 2020, when people dared to sunbathe and leave their house for other “non – essential” reasons, such as getting fresh air, but not exercising at the same time. These people just sat on benches and were compared to lunatic drivers. It continues being repeated by those who just want to avoid harder questions and difficult conversations. They don’t want their lack of compassion and empathy to be exposed. They quote this misleading fallacy, which to the untrained eye may seem like a perfectly fitting analogy. The untrained individual will often lose sight of the real conversation and instead try to address the Speeding Driver Paradox and often lose the argument or patience in the process. It’s because this was never the topic of the discussion they were having and it’s unproductive to address points that have nothing to do with it.
Apples and oranges
First of all, it distracts us from the conversation we’re having, where the issue is coronavirus rules. Sure, the SDP tries to argue that rules are there to protect people and “we shouldn’t just let people drive like crazy because they feel like it”, as the argument often goes, but it is, nevertheless, like comparing apples to oranges. Traffic rules protect lives – that’s true – but they don’t cancel people’s individual human rights. For example, traffic rules don’t prevent you from driving your car. They don’t tell you that you are only allowed to drive to work and to get essentials. In other words, you have the right to move around and travel. Coronavirus rules, on the other hand, attempt to take away the very freedoms we were born with.
Furthermore, drivers need the rules to remain safe on the road. Those rules let them know what manoeuvres to expect from other drivers and what they expect in return. It would be quite difficult to drive to work, for example, if everyone could simply choose which side of the road they feel like driving on. They want to stay alive, they want their car to remain in one piece, and they don’t want to live with a burden of killing innocent people, so they must know what the rules are, because doing the opposite is often a life-or-death situation. And yes, if a person is driving irresponsibly, say, speeding, drunk or texting, they are directly responsible for the accident and its casualties. When a person suffers symptoms of an illness, it is often due to their lifestyle choices, daily activities or pre-existing conditions, therefore it is hardly logical to hold the “infector” responsible. Especially when not every infection leads to major symptoms or death. Car accidents, on the other hand, usually don’t end well for anyone involved.
Moreover, traffic rules aim to prevent accidents that may lead to instant death or life-threatening injuries of the participants. It would be hard to apply the same rules to, say, mask wearing in supermarkets because if two people bump into each other when choosing their nutritious ready meals, it’s hardly similar to a speeding car running over a pedestrian – who dies instantly. A person in the supermarket may or may not be infected and they may or may not infect the other person in the isle. Additionally, if someone develops the symptoms after their visit to Morrison’s, can they really know where and when they CAUGHT it? What if they caught it on the train or a bus? When there is a fatal car accident or any car accident at all, you don’t need to ask such questions. And that’s why traffic rules make sense – they prevent instant, undeniable and unquestionable death or irreversible injury.
It is, however, worth mentioning that most car accidents aren’t caused by dangerous driving. Most such tragedies involve drivers who follow the rules and like every other user of the road, try to stay alive. The number one cause of car accidents, according to Matthew Walker, the author of Why We Sleep is, in fact, falling asleep while driving which is the result of insufficient sleep. This can be caused by not sleeping enough the night before, but in the majority of cases, people are “too busy to sleep” and regularly sleep less than six hours per night. This, as explained in the book, may eventually lead to the overpowering urge to close your eyes for a split second, which is long enough for you to lose control over your vehicle.
It would be more reasonable to call it the Sleeping Driver Paradox then, as you could argue then that the accident is the driver’s fault, because he neglects his sleep, putting others in danger. The problem is though – there is no rule against getting insufficient sleep, there’s only advice. But it would still not relate to lockdown rule breakers, though. It is worth mentioning here that many drivers do, in fact, break the rules and drive a little over the speed limit, they use their car even if it’s technically not fit for the road because of, say, a faulty headlight. People, therefore, choose which rules are less important than others.
Cars and rifles
Another reason why this argument falls apart, assuming that dangerous driving is comparable to, say, shopping without a facemask on, is something that will require us to first abandon all logic to even go there. But let’s see what we can do. The fallacy of this opinion is perfectly illustrated when you imagine a firing squad about to execute a prisoner of war. When I was a kid, I asked my mom why it always took a group men to execute one guy. It was simply, according to her, to make sure a bullet reached the target. A single shooter could easily miss all together or only wound the prisoner or his rifle could jam, all of which would make the execution longer and more unpleasant than it needed to be. A firing squad makes sure that at least one lethal shot is fired.
I believe, in addition to that, there was a deeper reason for it. Standing in a group simply takes the burden off the individual in the firing squad. Believe it or not, but even some Nazis refused to execute Jews and many others justified their actions, as demonstrated in Ordinary Men by Christopher R. Browning. It has also been said that many guns found or collected after the Second World War had never been fired. This shows that soldiers might find it uneasy to shoot at the enemy or execute prisoners. The firing squad provides a release and almost a guilt free fulfilment of the soldier’s task by allowing him to pull the trigger while sharing the burden with others. Only one bullet carries the death sentence. By shooting simultaneously, none of the men ever find out if it is fired from their gun, taking the man’s life or not. They know that only one out of ten rifles fired the deadly bullet, and they can choose the comforting thought that they weren’t the one pulling that trigger. In other words, it takes ten men for one man to execute another.
I’m not trying to compare apples with oranges here, I’m trying to demonstrate why comparing apples to oranges doesn’t work and why the firing squad analogy is far better to illustrate my point than the Speeding Driver Paradox could ever hope to illustrate its own. Let’s compare apples to oranges, however, and see how ridiculous the practice really is.
All of the lockdown restrictions are equally intrusive, and they all equally compromise our physical health and mental wellbeing. Somebody who wants to look after their own health must now live outside of the rules. If you take regular walks to the park, you might have noticed that all outdoor gyms have been closed. Strangely enough, playgrounds have remained open to the public and parents have been trusted to be responsible and keep others safe. The notice on the outdoor exercise area says that people shouldn’t use it because “COVID19 can stay on the surface for up to 72 hours”. I guess COVID19 doesn’t go to crowded playgrounds. It prefers the hardly ever used outdoor gyms. I do still use them, even with the tape around them. I believe it is essential for my health and fitness and I don’t see why I should compromise that. Somehow that puts me in the same category as a lunatic driver. But how many lunatic drivers does it take to kill or injure a pedestrian? When a pedestrian almost gets hit by a speeding car and sees it disappear in the distance, the risk is no longer there. In other words, the pedestrian doesn’t need to wait 72 hours to feel safe to cross that road.
Let’s ignore the obvious inconsistency of restricting access to outdoor gyms but not to playgrounds. Let’s focus on the crime committed.
I briefly covered it above, but let’s explore this unreasonable territory. When you’re involved in a car accident, you know where and when you were hit. It happened on the motorway, on your way to work. You were hit by the blue Sedan behind you, not the red Opel parked a little too close to you at work, not the car in front of you at McDonald’s drive through and not when you were at home while your spouse used the car to collect the kids from school. It also didn’t take ten different cars to finally happen to you. It’s not like the blue Sedan hit a BMW first, then the BMW hit a Ford which then hit a Seat and a Fiat, only for the Fiat to have no symptoms of the accident so it carried on and then hit you. No – the blue Sedan hit you and now you’re in the hospital. Yet, what I’ve just described is what happens when a virus “hits” you. It travels from host to host and you never really know where and when you CAUGHT it. Was it at work? Was it in the shop? Was it somewhere else? Who do you hold responsible? That guy who stood too close to you at the Post Office? That woman who wasn’t wearing her facemask properly or the cashier who touched all your groceries? Or maybe the cashier’s son who notoriously breaks lockdown rules? Or maybe the son’s girlfriend, who got sick, but ignored it, thinking it was just a cold? More importantly, why would you blame anyone?
And before all this? Who really gave your nan the flu? What chain of events led to her getting life threatening flu? Did you bring it to her that Sunday when you were a little unwell? Where did you get it? In the pub? Train? Gym? Work? School? Say, your nan sadly died of the flu that you gave her. If you were able to trace back your infection to the very person who sneezed or coughed on you or hugged you, or simply left their house knowing they were ill, what would you do to that person? Would you hold them responsible for your nan’s death? What if your viral transaction with this person was only a coincidence and your nan actually got sick at her book club? What if you were driving your nan to the book club and the blue Sedan drove right into you because the driver was texting, injuring you and killing your nan. Would you hold them responsible? Surely you can’t honestly answer “yes, I would” to both of these scenarios.
It’s just like with the firing squad. It may take multiple different people, different interactions and places to get infected (with anything). Back in ancient times, when the man flu and common cold still existed, people used a phrase, “Something’s going around”, when everyone they knew was one by one coming down with a cold. Suddenly, your work, your gym, your yoga class, the corner shop, petrol station and your evening baking class became the firing squad and you knew their rifles were loaded with the virus, but you didn’t know who would fire first. Back then, in the pre – COVID19 era, people didn’t expect all these places to shut. They simply accepted their fate or took their precautions to stay safe.
Car accident is instant and often lethal. It affects all participants, not their work colleagues or family. Say, you’re lucky enough to get out of a car accident without a scratch (asymptomatic). You go home and within a few days your spouse develops symptoms of having been in a car accident. He or she now has a broken leg and both arms. See how stupid it sounds?
Traffic rules serve as guidance for all road users so that everyone gets safely to their destination. They are more of a manual that tells us how to use the road. There is nothing restrictive about it because it’s as old as the roads themselves. Without it, there would be collisions every minute. When dealing with heavy vehicles and high speed, they need to move in harmony and agreement with one another. Each unexpected manoeuvre will almost certainly put others in danger, while infecting others (if we assume that people infect others rather than others GET infected), our virus may never actually find its way to the vulnerable person who is waiting for it at the end of this chain of interactions. Therefore, restricting EVERYONE and treating them as potentially dangerous bags of germs is unprecedented, intrusive and wrong.
Furthermore, for the Speeding Driver Paradox to make some sense, we’d have to scrap the word Speeding, since it attempts to illustrate the asymptomatic carriers of the virus – potentially infected and infectious people. As in, people who don’t know they are posing any risk. A speeding car is not potentially speeding, it’s not potentially dangerous, it’s not an asymptomatic carrier of speed. It “knows” that such high speed carries certain death and, if met with an obstacle, will deliver it. Every car on the road right this moment is potentially dangerous (asymptomatic) because as we’ve seen earlier, most accidents happen at regular speed and involve people just trying to get from point A to point B as safely as possible. It is safe to say then, that putting your foot on the gas pedal alone is potentially dangerous. Leaving your driveway potentially puts others at risk. Buying a car at all is potentially dangerous because you might one day cause an accident – even if unintentionally. Perhaps it is the car dealers or car makers who should answer for all the traffic accidents since their products might one day cause one? Or maybe, it just makes more sense for everyone to drive like their life depended on it. Oh yeah, that’s right – it does. In other words, stay alert, keep in mind that there might be a lunatic out on the road today, but don’t get paranoid. Control what you can, which is your focus and hands on the wheel and protect yourself. Hope that other drivers are as focused as you, but don’t take that for granted, don’t assume that they aren’t getting distracted as we speed. This is, by the way, a metaphor for life – protect yourself from what you’re afraid of and don’t count on others to protect you.
As you see, if we agree that wanting to open up your business to feed your family and save what you’ve worked for your entire life is the same as driving while drunk, then we are entering the realm of ignorance and stupidity. The two are not the same. The argument is mentioned, however, to point out that they are equally as dangerous, and many people agree. Some people even think that those who routinely don’t wear facemasks should be put in prison. Some even support the idea of “Quarantine Camps” where the infected would be kept against their will. If you ever need a guide in this realm of idiocy, these people will gladly show you around.
Finally, when we are on the road, we are all vulnerable and there is nothing we can do to protect ourselves from irresponsible drivers. When 2000kg of steel is travelling at 90mph and is going right at you, there is nothing you can do to stop it. You can only accept Jesus as your lord and saviour and hope Christianity got it right. When it comes to your health, there are number of things you can do not only to avoid getting sick when “something is going around”, but also to boost your immune system. This is yet another reason why not wearing a mask is unfairly compared to crazy driving. On the road, drivers are to a large extent responsible for other drivers who can’t defend themselves from unexpected manoeuvres of other cars. In a perfect world this would be enough, but we are only human and we get distracted by internal and external factors. In life, people get sick all the time and everywhere and restricting people’s freedom to stop that is unsustainable and again disturbingly wrong. We aren’t responsible for others and their health. Not like that anyway. Not even in the context of coronavirus. Speed limits don’t prevent accidents. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have them, but it’s worth remembering that the majority of accidents happen in regular circumstances where cars aren’t heard before they are seen. We can’t stop driving though, can we? So why should we stop living our lives? We weren’t born to save lives, we were born to live ours.
Share it with those who are still lost in the realm of unreason or if you came from that realm and disagree with me, and if you can construct a time worthy argument, comment below and let’s discuss. Drive safe.
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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”
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“
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.