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Thursday, October 15, 2020

Individualism And Free Speech - The Lost Founding Principles Of The Republic

Individualism has gotten a bad name in our communalist society.   Not only are the self-interested actions of individuals questioned, but discouraged.  Unless an individual’s actions contribute to common perceptions of social good, they must be suppressed.  Free speech – that foundational principle of the Constitution – is considered conditional.  Any speech that appears to challenge the received wisdom of the day, should be censored.  Facebook and Instagram are engaged in an aggressive campaign of censorship, deciding what can be said on their social media platforms and what can not be.  In so doing not only are they assuming a broad, presumptive, and invasive authority to judge the appropriateness of ideas and opinions; but they are abrogating perhaps the most important element of The Bill of Rights, the right to express any opinion no matter how offensive or controversial.

 Image result for Images Thomas Jefferson

Censorship has gone far beyond the moral code of decades ago – a censorship of ‘indecency’ – and has deemed political and social extremism within their jurisdiction; but just as the Puritanical censors of the 50s insisted they knew what was indecent, the censors of today insist they know what is offensive speech.  The Founding Fathers demanded that there be no restrictions of free speech exactly because they knew that those in power would always assume moral, social, and political righteousness and would do anything in their power to limit or prevent opposing opinions. 

Times have changed and while there is little fear of an Orwellian state, the brutal suppression of the East German Stasi, Iranian SAVAK, or the Russian KGB there is increasing concern about a more insidious form of policing of individual expression – the censorship of Facebook, Google, Instagram and other social media.  Facebook routinely censors posts that it considers offensive to women, gays, and minorities.   Images of classical paintings, photographs, and vintage advertisements are removed.  Political speech, unless it falls within a very narrow acceptable framework of ‘reasonability’, must go.  There can be no fabrications, exaggerations, or distortions of ‘facts’; but philosophers, psychologists, linguists, artists, and writers have always known that there is no such thing as incontrovertible fact, and everything is subject to interpretation, evolution, or perception.

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The works of Kurosawa, Robert Browning, and Durrell dramatize the impossibility of concurrence – events are seen differently, reported differently, interpreted differently.  There is no such thing as immutable laws of science.   Scientific discoveries are not made in a social, cultural vacuum, nor will they endure because of it.  While we may assume that the speed of light cannot be surpassed, few doubt that it will be.  Human nature, so confidently assumed to be immutable, a product of genetic configuration which has not changed over time and will continue to produce the repetitive cycles of history which have occurred since the first human settlements, will of course be altered.  There can be no doubt that designer human beings whose DNA will be bought from catalogues will be a reality within the lifetimes of many.  Once an understanding of the human genome is complete, and all traits, both physical, intellectual, and emotional have been located, their genetic strands can be recombined, altered, and replaced.

In other words there is no such thing as received wisdom, absolute fact, incontrovertible science.  No social paradigm will last forever, no presumptions about socio-economic systems and the reactions of people within them, will last forever.

Yet, many in today’s American society act as though there are such things as facts and incontrovertible principles; that there is such a thing as progress and Utopia is not a fantasy, but a reality.  If one believes in the existence of absolute facts, then they can be understood.  They are not moving, temporal, subjective targets.  Their incontrovertible nature is the foundation on which to build a Utopian society.

Many if not most of the Founding Fathers had profound religious beliefs.  A Christian God was not myth, an illusion, or a fantasy, but a reality.  At the same time  they understood the relativity of such beliefs.  Being a Christian did not deny the relevance, importance, and even reality of other religions.  God has many manifestations, and citizens of the new Republic should be free to choose from among them.  There is no contradiction between the assumption of received wisdom, and the right to disagree about it.

Today’s social media are unhesitant to immediately close down the speech they find objectionable.  There is no representative, elected body to review such decisions.  No courts, no judicial procedure to rule on the Constitutionality of their decisions.  Their actions are exclusive, arbitrary and subjective; and there seems to be no other authority to brake their influence.  They have become arbiters of taste, morality, and culture; and by so doing they not only have they abused their power, but encouraged the increasingly prevalent culture of revisionism, moral righteousness, and cultural elitism.

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There is a meme circulating on the media, but dismissed by today’s neo-moralists – “We are all adults here”.  In other words, regardless of our upbringing, education, or social status, individuals are capable of deciding for themselves what to do with information available to them.  To assume that they are not capable and need a paternalistic hand to guide them, is contrary to every founding principle of the nation.  Those who support Facebook and Instagram in their censorship are complicit in this exclusive notion.  There are not only facts, but absolute rights and wrongs, and one cannot expect the uneducated unwashed to see the difference.  The gender spectrum is a fact, an advance from retrograde notions of heterosexuality to ones of gender elisions, choice of sexual orientation and behavior.  Abortion is an absolute right, and those who deny it because of outdated religious assumptions are simply wrong.  Nuclear families are oppressive, debilitating, and damaging to women; and no pseudo-biological arguments in favor of more traditional roles are admitted.  Cultural relativity is the only valid, operable social principle.  Every culture and sub-culture is the moral, ethical equivalent of every other.  The principles of Ancient Greece and Rome at the base of every successful civilization – honesty, honor, respect, discipline, compassion, courage, and integrity – are not universal, but the product of an elitist, imperialist, patriarchal culture.  Street culture is high culture.  Broken families are ‘alternatively-modelled’ families.  Cognitive intelligence – the common denominator of all social development, productivity, and success – is but one of many intelligences and no better than any of them.

Those who cannot see the truth, need to be brought along to it.  They cannot be trusted to learn, understand, and act on their own.  Not only must they be shielded from ‘untruths’, but they must be forbidden to originate them.  Censorship accomplishes both objectives.

Free speech is but the most obvious derogation of individualism in the country today; but there are others just as disturbing.  Identity politics which defines the individual only through the lens of race, gender, and ethnicity has done more to neuter the individualistic spirit than anything.  A black man is first, foremost, and most importantly black.  He is an artist, a thinker, a scientist, and businessman, a religious leader, a lawyer second.  He must ipso facto join racial groups, espouse progressive racial causes, and hew to principles of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusivity’ without questioning the meaning, importance, and significance of them.   He should never be critical or intellectually circumspect about the current race-driven and often violent and destructive street demonstrations.  Anything but full adherence to the received wisdom of the black activist agenda, assumptions of systemic racism, white privilege, patriarchy, and oppression can be tolerated.  He cannot have a mind of his own.  His individuality – his individualism is conditional; and what makes it worse, he is forced to accept this conditionality. 

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While one can understand the desire to create a better world, and few can deny the desire for it; fewer still understand that there is no such thing, that the world has revolved in the same predictable cycles since the first civilizations.  The Twentieth Century was one of the most bloody in history.  Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot were not aberrations.  They were heirs to Genghis Khan and every autocratic ruler since.  Life expectancy is higher than it was last century, but what is the quality of that life? Many contend that living in a divisive, contentious society; one in which few traditional supportive institutions remain and where much touted social reforms have had the unexpected negative consequences produced by any dramatic change.  Many people are concerned about global warming and its existential threat.  More are worried about pandemics far worse than COVID.  While mortality and morbidity were higher in previous eras, so was the profound belief in religion, the comfort and support of strong families, and an understanding of the fragility and shortness of life.

This belief in progress according to certain political philosophies has encouraged a belief in the existence of absolute facts and rights; has fostered the assumption that once these facts are known and understood, they can be manipulated to given ends; and has given the arrogated authority to do anything to achieve them.  Such authority has dismissed the importance of individualism, individual enterprise, and the authority of religion.  The individualism of the Founding Fathers was based on a firm belief in God, His endowment of a unique soul for every human being, and the consequent legitimacy of individual action. Any political movement to deny this legitimacy cannot succeed.  Progressivism, like many other utopian movements of social reform, will fail because of its absolutism – what it considers to be an irrefutable agenda, undeniable righteousness without consequences, and fundamental intolerance.

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