Our nation’s founders, echoing the philosophies of the English philosophers, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, prized free speech and the spontaneous exchange of ideas. The profound belief was that good and useful ideas would drive out useless ones. President Thomas Jefferson believed that a successful democracy requires a literate and informed community of citizens, assisting the government by the free exchange of divergent and creative ideas.
Unhappily, an objective observer on the scene would, in this respect, be hard pressed to avoid a depressed feeling of true disappointment. In Blog # 21, we noted the tragic death of civic amity, the friendly and respectful exchange of well- intentioned opinions, divergent or otherwise. The decline in the proffering of new and creative ideas has unfortunately kept pace with the apparent, exponential decline in such civic amity. This invaluable and productive element in our modern society has alarmingly gone the way of the dodo bird and the wooly mammoth.
A diffident and unhealthy attraction of individuals for others of like mind and similar belief systems has arisen, coupled with a militant rejection and isolation of others of differing inclination. Such non-productive, sometimes, destructive, tendency may have its source in low personal esteem and the consequent need for acceptance by others as well as the avoidance of perceived uncomfortable and threatening confrontation with others of differing outlook.
Such inclination to avoid other, possibly opposing opinion, in safe concert with others of concurring views, in addition to being unhealthy, individually and societally, promotes insularity and division; it endangers the very traditions of independence and creative thought which constructively made America unique in history.
Those whose personal insecurity thus triumphs over intellectual honesty and creative spontaneity may become vulnerable to the demagogic appeal of disreputable would-be leaders who, history shows, seek to profit from such disunity and divisiveness. It is our spontaneous opinion that this phenomenon has recently seen the rise of such a dangerous personality to the high position of candidate of one of the two parties for the Presidency of the United States.
Our natural, innate inclination to the encouragement of healthy and vigorous exchange has degenerated to such degree that, strategically, the sole prudently safe course of action is the assiduous adherence, even if insincere, to some popular credo, or else, useless neutrality. In the current context, where differing views are viewed as militant attacks, rather than fair points, deserving of consideration, the converse between third parties can be seen as disappointingly sad or hilarious. Here is an illustrative example of such dynamics: A to B;
A: “In my personal opinion, these pickles are too sour!
B, under the pressure of the new context applicable to conversation, has the almost insurmountable task of evaluating the context and intention of the declaration by A, and needs time to consider his options, and the relevant possibilities. Was the use of the introductory phrase, “In my opinion…” made as a modest, unassuming observation and consequently, binding on no one and therefore non-controversial? Was it evidence of a strong feeling, couched in insincerely courteous language? Was it a cautious statement, “In my opinion,” meant to detract from the assertion of factual certainty in order to avert controversy? Could it be a falsely modest and acidic statement of incontrovertible dogma? Who can decide?? B certainly has good reason to be discomfited and does well not to reply until, at the very least, he has sufficient time to consult a reliable member of his insular group who usually” knows” the answers.
It may be a societally useful idea to distribute baseball caps in such various colors, as appropriate to the identification of individuals with particular beliefs and inclinations, in order to insure peace and the absence of strife.
The severe and costly damage to free and spontaneous speech has indeed kept pace with the disappointing decline in civic amity.