Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Freedom of Speech

Yggdrasil on philosophy

The Danish philosopher Yggdrasil has sent us another guest-essay.

Freedom of Speech
by Yggdrasil

Freedom of speech is the essence of democracy.

The reality today is that freedom of speech is threatened in the West, threatened as never before. Politicians are being harassed; people fear for their lives; satirists fight a lonely battle for their cause — and that cause is freedom of speech.

Without freedom of speech democracy does not function. You cannot have one without the other, but its not an easy freedom to protect, since it always provokes — that’s the whole idea with freedom of speech.

Consider what Socrates, one of the first and foremost defenders of democracy, had to say on the topic. The story takes place in Athens around the year 400 BC. The tyrants and the Sophists — the spin doctors of those days, wanted to get rid of Socrates. They wanted to kill him if he didn’t shut up. And here is one of the things he had to say about that:

And now, Athenians, I am not going to argue for my own sake, as you may think, but for yours, that you may not sin against God, or lightly reject his boon by condemning me. For if you kill me you will not easily find another like me, who, if I may use such a ludicrous figure of speech, am a sort of gadfly, given to the state by God; and the state is like a great and noble steed who is tardy in motions owing to his very size, and requires to be stirred to life. I am that gadfly which God has given to the state, and all day long and in all places I am always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you. And you will not easily find another like me; I would advise you to spare me. I dare say that you may feel irritated at being suddenly awakened when you are caught napping; and you may think that if you were to strike me dead as Anytus advises, which you easily might, then you would easily sleep for the rest of your life, unless God in his care of you gives you another gadfly.
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So Socrates is saying that if we stop criticising our society, our democracy will come to a standstill — we have to fight for people’s right to say what they want to, even when we don’t like what they are saying.

It is only when we are ready to criticise ourselves and those around us that we can move our democracy towards a better world.

It seems clear to me that the countries where people are ready to discuss this and that without killing one another are the most happy and dynamic countries. Democracy works!

The arguments against freedom of speech have been: You have to show respect, while using your freedom of speech. And that is indeed a good thing, but one should also think about what respect is.

To me, respect would rather be to listen to other people’s point of views without threatening to kill them. That’s the most important kind of respect in a democratic society: to respect that others have an opinion.

For a brief biography of Yggdrasil, go here.


Jason Pappas said...

Yggdrasil deserves a warm welcome as a fellow comrade in the fight for freedom. I see from his bio that Y was stirred by the violent response to a few Danish cartoons. Such a demonstration was an eloquent statement contrasting the Islamic mindset and ours in the West.

Our ability to deal with our fellow citizens via reason and rhetoric is what separates us from the fascists who rely on fear, coercion, and manipulation. It's a tradition that goes back to Greece and Rome but it took 2000 years to perfect. It's foreign to the Islamic mindset. Unfortunately, it is under attack within the West. "Sensitivity" and laws against "hate speech" are restraining debate when good common sense is sufficient for establishing a level of decency. A vigorous debate requires the free flow of ideas. Let's not allow intimidation to derail a much needed debate.

Good to hear from ya Ygg

Arcturus said...

Exactly, well put!

No free respect for ideas, just listening to other people's point of view.

In the same vein, Dawkins and Harris say the same thing. That religion should not get a "blank check", it should be criticized where it deserves. Some people don't understand this. Take for example the stupid behavior of muslims in Iran & Pakistan concerning the knighthood of Rushdie.

We must definetly overthrow this taboo of criticizing religion.

turn said...


A good addition.

Mike said...

Am curious...when Socrates refers to "God", is he referring to Zeus? Is the translation literal?

X said...

The greeks often referred to 'God' when speaking of general higher powers, conscience, fate and a variety of other things that they deemed to be overarching. They were like that. :)

Asger Trier Engberg said...

Mike: Am curious...when Socrates refers to "God", is he referring to Zeus? Is the translation literal?

Dear Mike what an excellent question and so hard to answer, let me try.

You have to see Socrates in the light of the spirit of the Hellenic Athens; at that time several question were afloat and the walls of what was “state approved” truth were not as tight as today. The two interesting figures of that time, concerning the question, are Plato and Aristotle. Now Plato found truth in mathematics, and Aristotle found truth in nature. Actually Aristotle believed that God and nature is the same. Reflecting this knowledge on Socrates gives you the following issues to ponder: Did Plato get the idea of finding truth, and consequently God in mathematics from Socrates? Or, was Aristotle actually the true follower of Socrates, finding truth in nature? Both philosophers are very close to Socrates, Plato being a disciple of Socrates and Aristotle being more or less a disciple of Plato. Well, we know about Socrates several things: 1. He was the mentor of Alcibiades, who was also guarded by Pericles, the first citizen of Athens – the democratic leader of that fair city at the height of its power. So Socrates must have played a major role in the development of Athenian democracy, being so close to the ruling class of Athens. 2. We know that Socrates always asked people for their opinion, trying to find truth in the process.
Now if Socrates tried to find truth in mathematics, why should he then ask people all the time? If that was the aim of his truth searching, he would have done the research with likeminded experts. If he tried to find truth in nature, he would probably have emerged on the same path as Aristotle, and started categorizing natural phenomenons. No, I think the answer is: Socrates tried to find truth in dialogue, thereby finding the spirit of God in the conversation with other people. Now things change, situations are never the same, and Socrates knew that, so he probably concluded that the spirit of God also changes. And that is exactly why democracy is so important for a truth seeker like Socrates – because how could he find the nature of God if he was not able to put any questions to anything? And this is essence of democracy, it is the frame within witch we can find truth in daily life – and we, who believe that there is something called God, we are free to understand what God is to us where we stand, in the situation we prefer.
So fighting for freedom of speech is not only fighting for an abstract principle, it is fighting for the possibility to have our own faith.

David M said...

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 06/21/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

Profitsbeard said...

Socrates now lives in iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and, thanks to our mishandling of their constitutional processes, Iraq and Afghanistan, and every other Islamic state.

And he's still getting killed daily.

For asking the fateful question:

Why should I be forbidden from thinking?

admin said...

I suggest overthrowing the taboo of criticizing the jews who founded marxism and leftism and continue to be its main proponents and financiers.