”The world is not divided between east and west. You are American, I am Iranian, we do not know each other, but we talk and we understand each other perfectly. The difference between you and your government is much bigger than the difference between you and me. And the difference between me and my government is much bigger than the difference between me and you. And our governments are very much the same.” Marjane Satrapi
This is one of my favourite quotes and ever since I first came across it I've had reason to keep coming back to it to help illustrate how much we all have in common with each other across the world. With the advancement of the internet and more and more people across the world connecting with each other, we are starting to see how true this is. We can expose those misconceptions about other countries, people and cultures by literally hearing about the realities from the people living there themselves.
Is this why our freedom of speech and expression is coming under scrutiny and control in an ever increasing and heavy fisted way?
Freedom of speech is a topic that keeps rearing its head of late. It's a funny expression, really, because no-one can stop your freedom of speech. They can try to punish you once it's been said and through that punishment try to deter others from expressing the same opinions out loud, but you are still able to speak or write whatever you choose. I'm not saying that there are no consequences to expressing opinions. When it comes to living with other people there has always been the potential for backlash on your words or actions. It's why we have always self censored and that self censoring will vary depending on the company we're in at the time. So what we've currently got happening is a drive to coerce people into self censoring along with censorship of the written and spoken word on social media sites.
In my experience over the last 3 decades discrimination has gradually been dwindling. As a child and young teen in the 80s, I recall lots of talk about the glass ceiling for women in the workplace. Around this time a lot of awareness was made about the differences in pay and opportunities between men and women in the workplace and as a result, by the time I came into the workforce there was much more equality. I had the opportunity to choose pretty much any career I wanted and my pay would have been the same as a man's in the same position.
Around the same time all sorts of regulations were coming into place to prevent any form of discrimination in the workplace. Yet I believe that the real change was coming not so much from regulation, but from people in general as they became more aware and decided that discrimination should not be acceptable. Over the years, as we've become more aware of each other and our similarities through encountering more different cultures with our world becoming more connected, we have become less hostile and discriminatory. The internet has given even more people that opportunity to connect.
Yet we are seeing heavier and more forceful censorship than ever and a young adult generation who are hollering discrimination despite all the advances we've made. Why, suddenly now, is a process that was happening naturally not being encouraged to continue evolving, but instead being interrupted in a process that instils fear?
Perhaps, as we started to realise that people across the world are actually more alike than we first thought, more confidence to question the current paradigm arose as people realised they weren't alone in feeling like there should be other options or that truths were being hidden. It's hard to keep the propaganda machine rolling if you can't filter out the rest of the world. So anything that questions what the governments and media are feeding the people needs to be squashed on a large scale. With more acceptance that discrimination or saying things that might offend another should be a punishable offense, then its easy enough to stretch that to censoring or punishing anything that questions governments or the companies that have them in their pockets.
Yet what these attempts to stop freedom of speech is doing is the opposite of what the intentions seem to be.
When everything was coming to a head with Harvey Weinstein, actress Mayim Bialik wrote about her experiences in Hollywood and how she stayed under the radar. Unfortunately, despite it being clear that she didn't feel the victims of sexual misconduct were to blame, she was still accused of saying that they were and ended up needing to make an apology. The result of this is that rather than there being an atmosphere of support to bring issues out into the open for discussion, it’s actually more likely that people will keep quiet about these things for fear of accidentally saying something that could be taken out of context and coming under fire for it.
We all have different opinions and believe different things and as our reach becomes wider via the internet the chances that someone will be offended become ever higher. It's entirely possible that our opinion could be wrong about something, because we aren't getting all the facts. However, if we fear speaking up, then it won't make our opinions disappear, but merely internalise them and build up resentment from a feeling of oppression. Yet if these things were openly discussed, then information from all sides of the subject could be shared openly, shedding new light on it for all parties involved.
Really, if what someone shares isn't nice or is inaccurate, then that should be the opportunity to educate by sharing accurate information or other points of view. In most cases, multiple points of view are all valid, we just need to accept that not everything is clear cut. By censoring certain points of view, the message being sent is that those censoring have something to hide and it creates distrust.
So do we still have freedom of speech?
In a literal sense, we always have and always will; it can't physically be taken from us, short of cutting out our tongue and even then we can still write. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. We are, however, being coerced into self censoring and learning to fear speaking out and this isn't going to end well for anyone.