There’s been a lot of talk surrounding free speech in the past decade. The development of websites such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, as well as innovation surrounding the scope of possibilities surrounding general information transfer, has allowed us to become more connected people. Yet, despite this, it seems that even though we are always an arm's length away from being able to start deep and diverse discussions, with an endless library of knowledge provided to us by the internet, people are becoming more and more politically polarised.
Take America for example, a country that is seeing a severe structural decline. The still somewhat recent coupe of the Capitol building is one that springs to mind when thinking of internal instability within the nation. Granted, although the coupe, or, whatever you want to call it, was started by what could be considered extremist, this polarisation still spreads to the common individual, as shown below.
“In the United States, where we live and work, split-ticket voting is at its lowest on record. Eighty-one per cent of those who identify with one party have a negative opinion of the other party. Sixty-one per cent of Democrats say they view Republicans as racists, sexists, or bigots. Fifty-four per cent of Republicans call Democrats spiteful. A third of all Americans would be disappointed if a close family member married someone from the other side.” - Good Economics For Hard Times.
However, although the U.S is a particularly good example of the decline of thought, it is not the only culprit. The EU is one region that in recent days has of course seen a major crisis. However, even prior to this, Politicians such as La Pene have placed the union in a tough place. Take Poland for example, my home country, which, although is receiving praise for its attitude towards Ukrainian refugees, refused entry to any immigrants from Belarus. Granted, the argument is that these are no longer refugees but rather Economic migrants, however, it still showcases that the rise of Nationalism within the EU is not only exclusive to France's borders but has in the past and will continue spreading to other nations within the EU.
Now, this requires some clarification. The focus on Nationalism within this article as well as right-wing extremism is not due to some Political bias, it is purely as in recent years at least, it has been right-wing extremism that has been overrepresented at the forefront of our newspapers. Left-wing extremism also exists, and, in the context of Free Speech, poses a similar danger to society as with any other ideology. And this is the entire point. Ideology itself is the greatest contributor to the decline of modern thought. Free Speech is a prerequisite for debate, of course, it allows for the halls of debate to exist in the first place. Without Free Speech, we would not have discussion, however, it is not discussion on its own that allows us to have a humane discussion, one that prioritises Truth above all else. The Temple in the New Testament was a holy place, that is a truth, but this did not act as a deterrent for bad actors and merchants to sour its halls with their greed. The same applies to the way modern discourse is conducted.
With that being said, we must ask ourselves why Ideology is so prevalent in our time? Why? We live in the most connected age in history, but, because of Ideology, we are so distant, communities are Polarised Politically and discourse is nothing but a slanging match between two sides, most of the time at least. To answer why Ideology is so prevalent now we must go back centuries, back to when debate, discussion, and the forming of ideas were only permitted to a select nobility. Let us take Greek Philosophers, for example, granted, Diogenes was an exception, but the common peasant or slave had little education at his disposal to create a coherent thought that could be tried and tested within the halls of debate. The only ones who could do this were the great Philosophers themselves, and the great ideas they came up with. But how does one come up with a great idea? Well, that question is a fallacy in itself as for one, knowledge and Truth do not come from the individual. As John Locke found, Truth arises from discussion with others. This is because, through discussion, we can dissect the process at which one came to a conclusion, the idea. That way, one does not argue ideas, the language of the ideologues, but rather the step by step process at which one comes to an idea.
Yet, if this were the case, surely in our age, where connectivity has allowed us to speak to more and more people we would not be as Polarised. Debate should be flourishing! Well, perhaps what has failed to be recognised is that although discussion, backed by Free Speech, is essential in the pursuit of Truth, it is one's attitude to debate that ensures that the halls of debate are kept in good spirit. The Ancient Greek Philosophers, just like any other Academics, including modern ones, understand that you are incapable of finding Truth. Your own ideas are bound by your own experiences and framework, therefore, you are incapable of producing a completely original idea as it is impossible to do so as you are bound by your own experiences. In other words, the process at which you come to form an idea or a conclusion is limited, and that natural limit prevents you from finding Truth. Therefore, with this realisation that you are indeed inherently useless, you set out to the world to speak to others, to broaden your knowledge and experiences from that of others in the pursuit of refining your conclusion to hopefully, in the end, come closer to Truth.
With this realisation the focus shifts from debating the idea to debating the process at which you came to that idea, which allows for a much healthier debate. This is because you are discussing with the intent to develop and broaden your own natural process of forming ideas, which is what Academics do all the time. If a paper is inherently useful, a Professor might look at its conclusion and disagree with it, but he or she certainly won't close the paper and move on with their day, they will read it and see the process behind the idea itself. That is what is being critiqued and explored. The ideologues on the other hand play a different game where they purely critique ones conclusion, which, once again, sours debate and discussion, and, leads to Ideological Possession, where one continues to spout the same point over and over again without actually illustrating how they came to that conclusion in the first place. A flawed position solely based on one's presumption that they must be correct and find Truth, which, in itself, is foolish to believe in the first place. We cannot find Truth because we are all inherently useless at forming ideas, but through rigorous and healthy discussion, we can move closer to Truth. Despite this, the ideologue has a Dictator's Dilemma, one that is reliant on the assumption that Chaos, an element of surprise, embodied by an individual who comes across to debate the ideologue's viewpoint, will not manifest itself as a genuine form of criticism. This way the ideologue can sit atop his throne, artificially creating Order where no argument can change his viewpoint, and with that, it is impossible for him to change without realising that the process in which he arrives at a conclusion is flawed and requires critique from others. The Ideologue craves and desires Order, he pays the price by never finding Truth as ignoring Chaos, a natural manifestation that must coexist with Order, results in him living a life where his ideas are based on lies and fallacies.
And this is the separation between the common man and the Academic community. Academics, both past and present, understand this principle better than anyone else as their job is to critique others and have their own processes critiqued by others. This of course worked well centuries ago as back then the ones who would have the tools to debate would do so with the goal to get closer to Truth, either on purpose, or, accidentally, as either way, if an Academic to refuses to handle criticism, or dishes out terrible criticism by not focusing on one's thought process and methodology, they will lose their job or reputation. In contrast, in the modern-day, anyone and their dog can come up with a thought and have it tested practically instantly with the use of sites like Twitter. The problem is of course, for the common man, the forming of ideas is a casual discipline, meaning the only cost they have is one to their ego, which already seems to be an immense cost for the ideologue. With this, one does not have to put much care into what they say, and, what they think. Because of this, one can get away with not being prudent in their methodology, and, because their career is not on the line, they can avoid having to make the grim realisation that their own methodology is insufficient in the eyes of their critics. As such, although the education of the masses has led to massive benefits, the biggest cost, which is only a cost because we have let entropy have its way, is lazy and selfish thinking. This disregard for criticism, discussion, and one's ability to be humble about their capacity to develop thought, is eroding man's arsenal capable of moving us closer to Truth. With this, Ideological Possession is becoming more and more attractive, mob mentality is rampant, and we are becoming a more divided people. Freedom of Speech builds the Temple for the discussion, but if we the people are flawed in the way in which we conduct debate due to our own inability to admit that we are foolish and wrong, the Temple begins to stink. Changes in ownership of sites like Twitter to promote Free Speech will only bring marginal benefits. If change does not happen on an individual level, through admitting that our methodology is wrong and that knowledge and Truth come from discussion with others, we will move away from finding Truth.
Written by Hubert Kucharski