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Free Speech: Are We Truly Free?

Updated on July 23, 2020

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his or her choice". So the first rule of the free speech, simply put, is that we can express our opinion whatever we want, whether it's a universal topic or even personal, and one can choose to accept or deny the message but cannot shut anyone's opinions down or prevent them from spreading the message.

However, if the freedom of speech represents a neutral ground for everyone to show their inner thoughts, why do we feel ashamed when we're discussing to our parents about our body changes when we turned thirteen? Why do we lie to someone when they're asking for our opinion about their ugly shoes? Why do I fear writing this article?




Understanding Contractarianism


Before we begin, let me introduce Contractarianism. Contractarianism is a moral theory about cooperating. Thomas Hobbes, a 17th-century British philosopher, believed that we are rational self-interested creatures and our only purpose is to maximize our own wants and needs. The problem is we are not alone. There are other humans who have their own wants and needs too and they are also self-interested. Of course, we seek the best strategy to maximize our own benefits rather than the others because we are self-interested but we are also a rational human.

Let's say; I am good at math but not for political science while my friend, Josh, is the opposite. Choices are either I have to read more about political science to get, at least, just a few points above the bar or study math even harder to get an exceptional point and forget everything I learned from political science. Of course, they sound like a good plan but, again, we are rational so, instead of working myself alone, I can choose to cooperate with Josh so we both can pass math and political science together.

But what if there is over one factor in a situation like this? Imagine giving some information, such as your political point of view, to a stranger. You have no right idea what is their point of view and what is going to happen once you express your idea to a stranger. Now let's pretend today is Thanksgiving Day and you are eating dinner with your parents. You're having a good time until your mom and dad are asking you about your career path. Your situation here is that you want to be an artist or graphic designer but you don't know what your parents want you to be. Ideally, your parents should not judge your choice and support you with whatever decision you'll make. It's your life, after all. However, you get a sense that they are probably going to do so. Would you tell them you are pursuing your dream that there is a chance they are not going to support you or rather abandon your dream and choose another career that, from your parents' perspective, seemingly sustainable?

In summary, Contractarianism is all about doing good to one another because we know we cannot live in the world by ourselves without another one's help and by trading this goodwill and good intention. Therefore, we eventually make a "contract" that everyone knows — even though we don't have a list of rules written on the stone tablet.




So what happened to the internet?


If you scroll through the comment section — aside from hilarious jokes and memes — there are some kind of comments that will start an argument. Take the latest Spider-man movie for example. There are a lot of opinions about the movie. Some like Tom Holland's version and some like two previous Spider-man version, both Toby and Andrew. And there will be a comment down there like this; "Tom Holland version sucks" or something nicer like "I'd preferred Tobey Maguire's version". Either way, this will lead to a bunch of insults and strong languages. Sometimes it was just noise but sometimes the difference of opinion is far more aggressive that might cause them to send a death threat to the actors like the case of The Last of Us Part 2.

The problem of why people argue to each other in the most deconstructive way is that we all think our opinion is correct, myself included. Nobody wants to be corrected by someone who seemingly has more intelligence than ourselves and we generally don't like an 'I-told-you-so' type of person. With what I just mentioned, that is the root of the problem. The other factors, like impulsiveness, are just a stimulation.




Politic and Opinion

Have you ever been in this kind of situation where you are driving with your parents and they are asking who you're going to vote for? Of course, they are going to react negatively in case you are not on their same side (but if your family understands you, then let me tell you that you are a lucky person). The nation is currently divided by the disagreement of thoughts and opinions, but what if we're exaggerating it a bit more? What will happen if we let our thoughts become the center of the universe, that others' opinions matter less? Riot, chaos, and outlaws would erupt in a blink of our eyes. So am I proposing a dictatorship as a solution? Absolutely not! However, as you can see from the point of view of being "free", some people might prefer this solution. To be controlled and bounded by the laws and orders rather than live free. Thomas Hobbes might even agree to this politics, according to his Contractarianism theory.

We are arguing this topic for many centuries now and yet there are still no absolute answers to the question of which is better? One is to embrace freedom and the risk of hatred towards each other who don't agree with you while the other one is to be under control with a price of freedom. For me, and maybe others who would agree with me, I would prefer something more like a neutral ground. A place where we can express everything we want to drive the world forward and live in harmony under the laws. However, that's a naïve thought but I would never let my optimism die simply because it sounds idealistic and seems like daydreaming because I believe we are all kind, rational, and not self-interested creatures who want nothing but for the best to each other.




Conclusion

According to Contractarianism, the nature of humans is that we are egocentric, self-interested creatures who want nothing to do with anyone. However, because we are also rational and know that we will benefit the most if we are helping each other, we also created a system called social norms. Then we have the idea of trading our expressions and opinions to everyone which is called "Freedom of speech" and yet -- based on the internet, newspaper, and what we saw on the street every day -- we are still fighting simply because our idea doesn't match and think that only ourselves matter and anyone who opposes that idea should be excluded and banished from our life.
Therefore, I concluded that we are still on our way to make progress of being truly free to express ourselves and I also chose to believe that we are not self-interested creatures like Thomas Hobbes said because we are not alone in this fight.

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