Free? Speech

Which is it?

Freedom of speech has some indescribable value in our western society. It allows a myriad of trends to survive and prevents tyranny from omnipotence. It is one of the more insightful developments of mankind since we left the cave, and now I want to put forth the claim that it is in jeopardy.

I want to be clear that I do not believe some external force, for example a dictator, is about to pass some legislation that will take away Habeas corpus and prevent people from saying they like ice cream and democracy. I want to put forth the claim that our speech is not actually as true an extension of our Free Will as we would like to believe. As a literal and not political concept, freedom of speech is a derivative of our freedom of will.

In an isolated perfectly hypothetical case, one can say that a human has an equal probability of performing any action in the next instance of time. In the real world, that probability becomes swayed by nature and nurture, so we can instead model free will by some sort of distribution of choices, with some more likely than others. Economists and psychologists have been studying this since always, and they have concluded that advertisements and propaganda can sway public opinion and behavior. It is not such a stretch to think that propaganda is an assault on an individual’s ability to think freely, and therefore, will freely and speak freely.

This is essentially what I am arguing; however instead of trying to highlight some threatening fascist regime or acknoweldge how a North Korean citizen likely has no idea what freedom entails, I am going to put into question the general path the discourse of ideas takes on a daily basis. This includes statements from the government, posts on facebook and tweets on twitter, youtube ads, and headlines in the New York Times.

Internet mediums and government statements create echo chambers, boost questionably false claims, and propagate thoughts into poorly understood yet highly passionate philosophies. Back to freedom of speech; although one still has the literal freedom to say or type virtually whatever he or she wants, overall probability of potential statements has been immensely skewed towards one echo chamber or another. In some instances, the culture one grows up in and the information one receives through the internet can push some potential statements to a probability close to zero. Now, in 2017, I believe that the swaying of ideas is at an all time high, and is significantly altering the trajectory of our society.

For example, one can not expect a member of a hate group to spontaneously write beautiful literature on inclusion and the power of diversity. As a society, we want our people to have the ability to make cognitive and free decisions to chose what to say in an informed manner.

As a thought experiment on the above, a society where everyone always tells the young that red is the most important and beautiful color, and that anyone who thinks otherwise is irrevocably different, would not be expected to have a perfectly even or even remotely even distribution of favorite colors. Indeed, the people may freely choose their favorite color as red. But the question remains: is their choice in fact free?

So in a day where the internet and the machine learning algorithms of advertisers that shroud it determine what information you have, ask yourself if your own thoughts are in fact free. Are your opinions free? Are your analyses free? Are your perceptions of reality free? Is your speech free?

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