Fine, express yourself.

freedom_braveheartJust do it in a paper bag, in the middle of a desert or better yet, how about a padded cell at a loony establishment of your choosing, preferably far away from me.  Take your crap and beep right off.  I can write this and other drivel because the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; that this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

This blog and everything I write in it is quite obviously my own opinion and while I would like to just regurgitate my numerous flawed opinions, archaic beliefs and sometimes draconian morals, I tend to go to great lengths to stay away from things that could drag me down the horrible quagmire that falls under the phrase ‘subject to certain limitations’.  You know, those limitations that, if you don’t adhere to, bring a knocking on the door from a sheriff of the courts carrying unwanted gifts or being accosted in the parking lot by some testosterone overloaded thug with a chipped tooth and baseball bat called ‘My little friend’.  I do this because of experience (have an emotional rant about a supplier and watch the legal letters start flying) and because I live in a society that is at once, proud of its newish freedoms and yet very sensitive (overly so in my opinion) to people expressing their beliefs that could potentially offend others.

I am a firm believer in the principles of “Live and let live.”  If you want to do something – and it does not negatively impact on others (yes, yes flawed I know – now you know why I am a little nuts?) – then by all means go ahead.  A little courtesy and respect for others opinions and beliefs mixed in with a decent helping of tolerance and ‘fairness’ would, I believe, make for a far more pleasant experience in life.  Very important though – you deserve the same from others – what’s good for the goose has to be good for the gander – sorry, but turning the other cheek always seemed like a crap idea to me.

Do you ever think humans will evolve enough that this ideal will ever be possible? I think we will have to genetically engineer ourselves – nature will never let us… Hmm… interesting thought. Whoops sidetracked for a moment there.

For example, I do not believe in the Christian God or the gods of any religious faith. I am an atheist and I simply do not.  Here’s the rub.  I am perfectly willing to let anyone else – including my own children, believe in whatever they want to.  I do not attempt to convince people that atheism (or anything else) is the way to go.  My daughter, who goes to a relatively religious school, asked me the other day if I believed in “God”. I told her that I did not and her very next comment was “Really? Then you must have a very small brain Dad.” Yes, I laughed for an hour after – and no, I did not comment on her understanding on the subject.

It is not always easy to take this approach but it is how I chose to live.  If someone wants to face east to pray three times a day or fast for a month or celebrate Beltane nude, then I am perfectly willing to let them.  My belief (or lack thereof ) has no bearing on what someone else believes.  I do however expect them to realise that I may not want to participate in a ritual goat slaughter or be woken by their chanting at sunrise.  Quid pro quo.

Freedom of expression is pretty much an illusion here in SA – oh it’s far better than it was in our dark past, but it is still an illusion. Say anything about our illustrious leader and paperwork is lost, state security is invoked and journalists are threatened or cut off from the loyal followers teat. Paint a picture of our leader with a well endowed member and have that apology ready. Perhaps he thought it needed to be bigger?  (I love the Streisand Effect). There is even some new secrecy bill that is going through the works that will effectively stifle anything even remotely resembling freedom of the press to report on the sometimes otherworldly actions of our elected officials, government and public enterprises.

Unfortunately where to draw the line is difficult and the line itself is pretty pathetically thin sometimes. Add the fact that the world, alas, is not always black and white but a murky ever changing grey and you have a recipe for a delicious mess. Living by honourable codes just is not done any more (everyone always says I was born out of time) and the baser human natures and emotions, always far stronger than those favoured by the Dalai Lama, tend to win out more often than not.  To have the freedom to say and do whatever I want to do, requires that others have that right to the same and I simply have to live with that.

Take the woman who wrote a blog entry here on WordPress recently about alleged sexual misconduct at a well known US hot dog restaurant. (Note the butt covering here: alleged and I do not name the restaurant nor do I provide a link). The article would, in my opinion (ditto), not stand up to scrutiny as a factual representation of the events and is filled with emotion and opinion, yet it is still an interesting read. However it’s the comments made by readers that are the most fascinating – far more than the article. The author is lambasted from every end of the spectrum, threatened with liable, praised by “that happened to me too” readers and heated arguments between readers run into multiple replies. There are even a few thugs with virtual baseball bats lurking in the wings. It is quite something to behold. Does the author cross the line? Perhaps, but I do not think so. Perhaps the article could have been written with more care but said the same? Do the comments give us some insight into the right to express ourselves? Hell yes, I think so.

Closer to home, some doofus (again, my opinion) here in SA posted a Facebook entry that he would have a celebratory party to commemorate the deaths of 32 children in a bus accident in the 80s. The party would be for black people and the white children were listed by name in the entry.  Apparently (according to a newspaper article) the person advocates black superiority – although what that has to do with dead white children I have no idea. Has he crossed the line – for some, he has pole vaulted over it by 100 metres. In South Africa, with our history, he has riled up tens of thousands (probably far more) on
both sides of the hopefully ever closing racial divide. One of those limitations to freedom of expression triggered – hate speech and incitement. Sure he is entirely entitled to believe in the superiority of one race over another – I do not share his belief (and I think he is a sick bastard) but he has to have the freedom to think whatever he wants to. But he stepped over the line big time when he brought innocent children into the mix and he moved his opinions out into the daylight for all to see. The Net is full of people like him, lurking in the darker corners of the ether, usually bitching and moaning about something or other (have you ever heard them say anything vaguely resembling a happy thought?). I honestly could care less. If you don’t like horror movies, then don’t watch. If you don’t want to read sick comments by people who you think have questionable morals  then do not. They have the same rights as you have to express themselves and your not liking it is irrelevant – so long as it does not trigger one of those limitations then the good comes with the bad. War comes with peace. Peanut butter comes with Jelly… although who thought of mixing it in the jar needs their head examined!

Yes, I am making light of a serious subject but that’s just me. Without a little humour I’d be dead from stress and worry. Yes, I am glossing over the philosophical debates and deep meanings of freedom in modern society but that I leave to the more learned amongst us with elbow pads, ankle length skirts, warm wine and dusty books. It gives me a headache just thinking of the complexities of where to draw the line that everyone would agree with. So I draw my own line and do what I believe follows my own moral code.

So, express yourself however you like. If I like it, I will smile and say hello, if I don’t, I will turn my back on you and not give you another thought. Just don’t trigger one of those limitations or you ain’t gonna feel so free any more. Freedom comes with the good and the bad and sometimes we have to accept the one to enjoy the other.

In the words of William Wallace, I bid you. “Freedom!”

Lanceolot.

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