There is more to my own experience with free speech than the fact that I am constantly exercising my right to it, frequently much to the chagrin of those who would rather not hear what I have to say. I have been “detained” for exercising that right on more occasions than I care to discuss. I was once maced and violently brought to the ground by police for doing so. Of course all that is nothing compared with the people who have died for exercising that right or ensuring it for others.
Thank goodness for the internet, surely a safe haven where one can speak their mind without the worry of pepper spray wielding police officers or being taken to jail on their whims. Unfortunately, the way in which freedom of speech has translated on the World Wide Web has become somewhat of a joke. Without accountability it seems folks are bored with speaking their minds and discussing their ideas, instead they argue over petty issues and do so using the same rules and mannerisms one might see on a playground.
What free speech means is frequently a topic of online debate. Generally, people who behave in poor taste use it to defend their position while others use it to push agendas. It isn’t as though free speech is hard to define or is so complicated a concept that it is open to such a staggering myriad of interpretations so as to create confusion. It’s really quite simple, free speech means being able to say whatever one feels compelled to say.
Free speech is being able to freely agree or disagree with people and issues as one sees fit, and the internet is a perfect playground for exercising this right. With websites that are everything from spiritual to political to philosophical or just fun, there are hundreds of places for us to speak freely.
I use the word “playground” for a reason though, as using the internet for free speech frequently causes people to revert to playground tactics. Grown adults go around name calling, nit-picking and in general poking at people in ways more cruel than they ever did as children when they simply didn’t have the wits or vocabulary they do now.
Still, the tactics are the same, childish. The bottom line is that it isn’t about what you say, it’s about how you say it, and if you’re standing in a sandbox pointing your finger at everyone else and screaming profanity so loudly you can’t even hear what anyone else is saying, it somewhat strains your credibility.
It’s a kick to watch though. I have seen entire conversations derailed by arguments over who is right and who is wrong in situations where the issue itself has no “right” or “wrong” answer, in some cases, no real “answer” at all. Often, there are only varied and valid opinions that would make for interesting conversation if they were ever actually discussed.
In the real world folks might say that they respect the opinions of others and just don’t agree with them, but get those people on the internet and suddenly it’s all black and white, one side or the other, a line in the sandbox you’ll be berated for being on the wrong side of. And the thinking is so small there are never more than two sides and no grey areas.
There is no “agree to disagree” on the internet, instead it tends toward “argue to insult.” The agreement part is totally missed since the focus ends up being on who can be the most insulting, cynical and snarky. In most disputes, people are so blinded by their petty arguments they don’t realize that on the actual point, which they stray so far from they all but forget it, they actually agree.
The whole thing has me wondering why people are so obsessed with finding the things that separate us rather than the things that connect us. How about a balanced approach, can you imagine?
Actions speak louder than words, but on the internet, that’s all there are, words. Sure, there’s YouTube, but that’s still just talking heads, more words. The reader/viewer isn’t privy to the author/YouTubers actions on the daily. The vegan with the leather handbag, the environmentalist tagged in photo after photo with plastic disposable cups.
All too often the very same people who tout their abilities as teachers or even gurus behave in ways demonstrably the opposite of who and what they are pretending to be online where they’re untethered by the codes of conduct one adheres to in the real world. Free speech is a basic human right, a human right where human decency is too often removed from the equation.
Still, free speech is free speech, which means one can use whatever tactics they see fit. So go for it, speak your mind! Be free! That right is a wonderful thing, it has been fought over and hard won, we would be crazy not to exercise that right. Bear in mind though that how one does it also speaks, it speaks to what kind of a person you are, and if you’ve chosen the internet as a means to share your thoughts, they’ll always be there. Will they one day make an ass of you?
Will your logic now, shaped by current culture as it is, hold up in 25 years? Will it hold up in 10?
Despite the fact that how people react to our words is their own choice, not ours, our choices are also abundantly clear. Are we in it for intelligent debate or ridiculous, off topic arguments? Being polite doesn’t require one to change their point of view or concede to anything. Being a decent human being doesn’t make you weak or stupid.
We are, each of us, through our words and our tactics, speaking very loudly about what kind of people we are. It has been said that each of us puts our energy “out there” into the universe, what are you putting “out there” then? That is your choice, another freedom we have is to make that choice a good one, one that doesn’t end up being to our detriment in the long run. Think first, get all the information before you assume.