I suppose it doesn’t really matter if we have free speech or not because heroic people will speak up about important stuff anyway- and sometimes the shock of that rebellion is helpful
Dear Editor, please consider the following letter responding to Matthew Sears’ piece:
The dictators of the world don’t seem to agree with Matthew Sears that freedom of speech benefits the already powerful. I maintain the hope that when something good is well said everyone listens, even when it comes from a humble source on the margins. I share Matthew Sears’ resolve to listen to everyone; I just don’t see how we can listen, though, and be open to paradigm shifts, without everyone also being free to speak. I’ll add that in this polarized world let’s resolve to use that speech with honesty and generosity.
Stewart Britton, Belleville, Ontario
That’s what temperance does when it works like it should: it’s a kind of balance that strengthens, rather than waters down, both ingredients
I read that the The European court has ruled against the Russian ‘gay propaganda’ law- saying, “given the vagueness of the terminology used and the potentially unlimited scope of their application, these provisions are open to abuse in individual cases.” https://www.theatlantic.com/news/archive/2017/06/european-court-blasts-russias-gay-propaganda-law-as-discriminatory/530925/
I think that’s a good standard for laws and I’m inclined to totally agree with the ruling because the law is only capable of policing certain things. If the law isn’t incisive enough it becomes absurd and oppressive. The court would do well, though, to look at all European and Canadian laws through that same lens (Americans legally have the most expansive freedom of expression).
I can think of a few canadian laws and I gather Europeans have similarly stifling laws that certainly fit that discription of vagueness and potential abusiveness. The Russian law probably targets some speech and expression that is really harmful and misguided but it probably does a whole lot of bullying too. There isn’t a ‘group’ of people on earth that isn’t party to reprehensible speech or insightful speech. That’s the thing: although I would certainly like the government to ban a bunch of things I don’t like, I know it would be bad in the end because the government does a poor job of policing speech or personal ‘propoganda,’ usually just bullying political opponents in the end. The totality of life is too dynamic to police with legislation. The upshot is that the law can’t change hearts. The government can’t coerce people to be virtuous or tolerant- people need to discover and nurture virtue and tolerance on their own, and communities can help. So while Russia has a long way to go to be a free and tolerant country, we shouldn’t be smug and complacent in Canada: Canadians have our own vague laws and need to find virtue on our own.
Emma Green wrote an excellent, vital piece on the importance of talking about virtue- and what makes it so hard to talk about! It requires the virtue of temperance in order to strengthen our hearts by tempering our passions with humility.
It seems 1984 would be more useful in Russia as the Handmaid’s Tale would be more useful in Saudi Arabia- Canadians should be looking to Brave New World (a book I regret not looking at more closely when it was assigned in high school). What Huxley shows us in Brave New World isn’t a police state or a brutal theocracy, but a society where political nudging, social status signalling, shallow relationships, and the ideas that advanced technology and pharmacology can solve moral problems and quench spiritual longings are paramount. The dystopian world in Brave New World should help us hone back in on first principles; The wild man yearning for higher beauty and willing to hurt for it should inspire us
P.S. I think I’ll give The Handmaid’s Tale a closer look because it seems like the cause of infertility that impelled the dystopian world might be shallow relationships, status grubbing, and pollution, so tracing it back Atwood might share some of Huxley’s warnings
The government of Canada works for you: if you build your mansion in a flood plain, the government will buy it from you after the flood; if you make 200K a year and feel like you’re being squeezed in the middle class, you’ll get tax relief; if you’re the son of a lawyer, you’ll get your prescription drugs paid for just like the next young person; if you want to drive a luxury Tesla sports car, the government will give you a big discount- if you work every day but can’t afford to get your teeth or eyes checked, the government isn’t working for you yet, though- how about we get the government working for the working poor or let’s start limiting the government