To glorify democracy and to silence the people is a farce.
— Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed)
With this democracy, which I began to look at last time, comes the right to say whatever one wants (within certain bounds, of course). The problem comes from two directions. The first is being faced in the very act of allowing these people to comment and to speak and to flaunt their ignorance and to spread their worthless stupidity all over the place. But, who is to judge what is ignorant or stupid or worthless? Good question? So, those who allow this sort of commenting to continue are trying to show a basic trust in other humans. We should trust each other to do what is right. According to Paulo Freire, without that trust there will never be true democracy.
Now, I want to go back to the American Revolution. They were writing pamphlets and others were writing pamphlets to counter the first pamphlets and there was a serious dialogue happening. The entire process actually helped shape the ideals of the early America. Not that those ideals were complete and perfect, but they were the beginning of democracy in the world and the freedoms that those pamphleteers enjoyed were then written into law so that future generations could blabber away on the internet.
It seems that most people, today, think of the American revolutionaries as quaint old guys and a bunch of windbags that were only interested in not paying taxes. But, they established the very right which allows me to publish this essay on this blog. I have freedom of speech.
There is a cliché that says, “Freedom is never free.” And I believe that, and I’m sure you believe it, too. So, in taking the liberty, not only to write this essay, but to post it for all the world to read, I take that saying into consideration. I do not want to betray your trust and at the same time I have the faith that we as human beings can make democracy the powerful political and social ideal that it has the potential to be. That requires something else, which Paulo Freire mentions: “true words.”
Freire says that true words embody both action and reflection. If action is missing, then we see what we see today on the internet—what Freire calls “verbalism.” Without reflection we get mere “activism.” To truly change things we need both. We need “praxis.” Freire writes, “Thus, to speak a true word is to transform the world.”1 So, we have freedom, especially in this country, and every voice should be heard.
Ultimately, it comes down to how we choose to use our voices. We can use them to spread hatred and tension, we can use them to merely throw empty words into empty space where their lack of authenticity will change nothing. Or, we can choose to follow Freire's words of wisdom and we can speak "true words" that engender both action and reflection and thus have power to change our world.
Happy 4th of July! Remember the First Amendment and The Golden Rule!
1. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 30th Anniversary Ed. (New York: Continuum, 2000). 87