The struggle for freedom can take many shapes and sizes, and can quite often be contradictory
To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the magazine More Intelligent Life is asking a dozen eminent figures what freedoms they’ve gained and what freedoms they’ve lost.
Commentator Neil Ascherson on his freedoms gained and lost:
Can one regret a right which damaged other people’s rights—in this case, their right to health and clean air? I was never more than an occasional smoker. Yet I still miss the compound pleasure of going to a movie in the afternoon, putting my boots on the seat in front, and lighting up a fat black Gauloise. The smoke curling up to the cupola of the almost empty cinema. The total, concentrated anticipation. The feeling that “this is the life”. With that loss went a whole grubby sensual underworld: the extinct trick of telling where a stranger came from by the perfume of his cigarettes: Ekstra-Mocny from Poland, Nazionale, Roth-Händle (this guy’s a west German left-winger), Morava from Nis which was so much sweeter than Morava from Sarajevo…
The new right for which I am most grateful has to be visa-free travel. A right still limited to certain parts of the world. But the knowledge that, within a few hours of an impulse, I can be not just in a capital city (Prague, Warsaw, Berlin) but wandering down Piotrkowska Street in Lodz , or standing on the cobbles of an East Bohemian village inhaling its scent of pork chops and cabbage, or buying the real original Weihnachtsstollen at the Christmas Fair in Dresden—that’s still miraculous. Do I regret the long waits at frontier stations, the sound of jackboots slowly moving along the corridor from compartment to compartment? No, it’s all been perfectly preserved in novels. And if you still hanker for that paranoia kick, just put on a burqa for your return journey to Britain.
Ascherson’s response made me reflect on what my response to the question would be. I’ve decided to focus on communication for both parts of the answer.
The rise of Political Correctness really took hold in the 1990s through several approaches ranging from the cultural to the educational. While they were enclosed in these areas the overwhelming majority of us were not in any sort of danger as to our inherent rights to speak freely. The worm unfortunately turned as Political Correctness began to be inserted into legislation. Anti-discrimination legislation as well as laws and bylaws in regards to racism, sexism, etc. have taken away our rights to speak freely should we hold controversial opinions outside of the mainstream. These opinions may not necessarily be correct nor educated, but they are nevertheless outlawed in a climate of fear. People are now forced to watch what they say (especially in work settings) for fear of a lawsuit or stigmatization.
Technology has done much to restrict and to increase freedom. Yes, the statement is paradoxical but it is also true. In the realm of communications, the technological leaps and bounds of this past century and especially these past two decades have seen communication flow faster, more freely, and over longer distances than ever thought possible. The internet and mobile phone technology have made communication remarkably cheap and relatively instantaneous. While I sit here and blog, my words will be put out into hyperspace and the market for my words has the potential for billions. I am incredibly thankful for this freedom.