Sunday, March 13, 2016

Civil liberties activism is a battle against pernicious totalitarianism

Rigorous freedom of expression advocacy, applied irrespective of societal taboos and dominant attitudes, is always political because it always has an effect towards leveling the playing field between powerful state-backed corporate and institutional forces and the individual.

 Discourse, including the extremes, is the main democratic mechanism against spontaneous advances of totalitarianism.

That is why the American Civil Liberties Union, for example, has defended the freedoms of both the KKK and the Black Panther Party, when these freedoms were most at risk. Any group or individual that most needs protection to express, from state-backed threats, should be protected to express.

Otherwise, democratic discourse is impeded and society suffers, to the benefit of dominant power. A stale and thought-moderated "safe space" society is a dead and totalitarian society having no push back against increasing control and exploitation by the top.

Civil liberties activism is a battle against pernicious totalitarianism. Expression is a fundamental human right. We need to hear our worst fears in order to express solutions.

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Levantine said...

Rigorous freedom of expression advocacy, applied irrespective of societal taboos and dominant attitudes, is always political ……

‘Freedom of expression’ sounds too abstract to me. Maybe it’s because I’ve experienced too little of it in my part of the world in Eastern Europe. I recognised there is crucial lack of such a thing only on my own accord. The concept of free speech, nevertheless, continued to be nebulous.
Then came the Danish cartoons controversy a decade ago, and I used that opportunity to learn what it means the easy way, through discussions. There was a lucid and likeable fellow debater, a mathematical physicist who is exceptionally passionate about defending freedom of speech, Hirsi Ali this and Hirsi Ali that, such was the discourse in those days. I asked him what does freedom of speech entail for the ordinary person in his or her everyday life. … We settled on freedom of speech being a right of everyone to be carefully listened to by at least one person, for about fifteen minutes, about once a fortnight. Of course, there should be non-oral equivalents of that, too.

Funny as it sounds, I’m grateful for that description to this day. It’s clear, concrete, - and apparently without competitor-proposals!

Why are there no similar, plain depictions?

Maybe because attempts to define a value necessarily run the risk of excessive formalisation, which in turn leads to intellectual and emotional degradation. That would be an extreme outcome of pursuing exactness.

There is an opposite extreme, what Eric X. Li called “faith” in a right of free speech. He said, it's on some youtube video: What is the basis of such rights? Faith that some divinity has given them? ...
Such faith, I may add, would involve laziness about elementary questions:
How can we establish the difference between naturally limiting circumstances, and malicious or pathological limitations of freedom of expression?
Since all liberties worth having are gained only through personal struggle (so goes an adage), what is the reason for advocating some principles to be widely accepted? (What those principles do if essentially all that matters is one's own struggle?)
If one lacks the will to express himself, should he be left alone, or should he be actively persuaded to change that disposition?

So, there is apparently much more to be said about free speech than has already been done.

Denis Rancourt said...

@Lee: I watched the video you recommend. Good one! However, I have this central criticism:

I think the binary proposal of "complete dismantlement of capitalism" as the only way to avoid "complete totalitarianism" is itself a fiction. "Friction" is not a means to an end. Rather, it is a constant element of the unavoidable struggle between suppression of the individual by the dominance hierarchy and individual liberation. The hierarchy can be remodeled and largely deconstructed but it always spontaneously rebuilds. The steady state is friction v. domination. See my book:

Lee said...

@ Dr Rancourt: Thank you for your reply.

While I think I can understand your pessimism I also think we can agree that the multinational empire is, and has been for some time, looting itself. Picture, if you will, a serpent devouring itself. This, in my opinion, is an inevitability with unrestrained capitalism. The economy that has literally lived on debt for decades will collapse. It seems to me that when the "western" economy collapses there will be a window of opportunity to mold the ensuing inevitable state of flux into an economic social democracy and, politically, to set countries and regions free to pursue their own interests.

As Russia and China have been forced closer together into an alliance of self preservation they have been building an alternate economic system. Both countries appear to desire freedom with real internationally equitable laws enforced by a global forum.

Friction is likely an understatement of the single minded state of mind and purpose required to shatter the false reality (quickly becoming a tangible reality) in which most "westerners" live and the hierarchy/elite will not give up their control without a struggle but the window will be there, hence my statement in my original post:
"I believe that the empire is approaching a tipping point. It will not go softly but there is hope"

Denis Rancourt said...

@Lee: Thanks for your additional comments. Yes, the global movements involving Russia, China, BRICS, and so on is apparent.

However, US "debt" is fictitious. No one can enforce US debt payment. Only the US can, through its instruments, enforce debt restructuring and debt-based exploitation. It only works in one direction: One one regime has all the guns and the money printing machine. US "debt" cannot cause a collapse, as long as preeminence of the US dollar is enforced.

The "collapse" or "resistance" comes from dumping the dollar (opting out of the wholesale exploitation) and from defaulting on the artificially created national debts, such as Iceland has done.

But the window you see will not be as you see it. Chances are, instead, that it will be a complex mosaic of openings and closures spread in time and geography... The US will seek to use wars where there is little blowback to Europe or its domestic interests. It will continue to use military and terrorist force wherever it can extract control and riches. It will move and take and destroy all over our large planet as long as there is no global alliance to stop it.

That's how I would predict it. Africa, Latin America, Asia... There are continents beyond the Middle East, and Israel can wreck any self-determination efforts in the Middle East, if push comes to shove.

In all of this, the US wants to break the taboo regarding nuclear weapons, as this would make for completely effective scorched-earth campaigns. It is constantly looking for a strategy to break that taboo, and it will eventually manufacture/exploit such a "tipping point".

Just my thoughts. I don't consider my views to be pessimistic at all. I see them as realistic and evidence-based. Look at the monster Clinton.

Levantine said...

Let me self-correct in the part where I expressed myself shoddily:

A reasonable minimum of free expression for any citizen in a truly free society would be to have at least one occasion in about a fortnight, for at least about fifteen minutes, of having your absolutely free expression carefully attended by at least one person.

That was the notion of free speech I spoke of earlier.

I also wrote: ‘If one lacks the will to express himself, should he be left alone, or should he be actively persuaded to change that disposition?’

I left this unexplained. The significance of this is in what it indicates. It indicates an arbitrariness in judging

what is free expression, versus what is routine action…

and in judging, basically, what is normal.

A person may be ‘inexpressive’ because he experiences his “routine” actions as his self-expression, and sees our talks as mere grooming among primates.

In other words, mental patterns between people differ sufficiently radically to pose problems for realising absolute standards.

I’m pointing to an opaqueness in society. When its extent and importance are underestimated, that attitude lends itself to imperialism.