Freedom of thought and the public domain

Without freedom of thought there can be no suc...

Without freedom of thought there can be no such think as wisdom & no such thing as puclick liberty without freedom of speech, Benjamin Franklin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We have seen recent crises and events that stirred the public anger and indignation. From the Charlie Hebdo attacks to Katie Hopkins ill-tempered rant, the public have been forced to confront the limits to and consequences of the freedom of speech. Media tell us that we must be tolerant of such views. We are told that there are only two choices: tolerance or hate. Even with the attack on Charlie Hebdo, we are told that all decent liberal democratic citizens will abhor the attack and retweet the cartoons. If we refuse to condemn the attackers and their ideology, we must be supporters or at least ignorant of the issues.[1] There is no middle ground. There is no room for thought. We are certain of our views because we have been told we must be certain of the views. These are views provided to us by the media who in turn provide what a relatively small number of writers and thinkers suggest.

The public domain is the harshest censor.

Instead of a freedom of thought, our thought is limited to alternatives provided by the public domain. The problem, though, is not new. Leo Strauss pointed this out in his essay Persecution and the Art of Writing in 1941. The freedom of thought people believe they cherish is manufactured.

What is called freedom of thought in a large number of cases amounts to—and even for all practical purposes consists of—the ability to choose between two or more different views presented by the small minority of people who are public speakers or writers. If this choice is prevented, the only kind of intellectual independence of which many people are capable is destroyed, and that is the only freedom of thought, which is of political importance. 488-489[2]

The choice is to believe what the public domain tells you to believe.

In the social media age with the Internet of Things on the horizon, our freedom might be a pre-determined choice. Technology will allow you no space to think. Even if you found the space free from technology to think, the public will not tolerate freedom of thought. In the past, the government was the censor. With the Internet of Things, our friends, neighbours and community will be the censor. Their ability to broadcast any statement that might run contrary to what the public domain have determined as acceptable, will create conformity.

Freedom to think or freedom to choose?

We might have thought we have escaped persecution and tyranny to a land of free speech and freedom of thought. Instead, technology has created a digital Leviathan to ensure your freedom of thought does not exceed what the public domain will allow you to choose. Enjoy your technology and forget your freedom of thought. Who needs to think anyway? There is an app to help you choose so you don’t have to think.


[1] Consider the case of Garry Trudeau who made a mild statement about the Charlie Hebdo incident. He suggested that the writers might have overstepped the mark and “wandered into the realm of hate speech”. The response was immediate, harsh, and expected. (accessed 23 April 2015) He has been roundly criticized and and and (all accessed 23 April 2015)

[2] Strauss, Leo, Persecution and the Art of Writing , Social Research, 8:1/4 (1941) p.488-504 (Accessed 23 April 2015) Strauss footnotes the passage. “Reasoning is but choosing” is the central thesis of Milton’s Aeropagitica.

About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
This entry was posted in demagogic, democracy, public interest, public opinion and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Freedom of thought and the public domain

  1. Pingback: Thoughts on TRILCon15: The Privacy Arms Race | Thoughts on management

Comments are closed.