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Freedom of Speech

It is time to move beyond freedom of speech and towards supporting freedom of thought.

Although of fundamental importance, freedom of speech is a passive promise of government to not encroach on a private ability; the ability of people to express themselves.

{ I wrote this with a concern that it might be overly obvious, preaching to the converted and maybe an unrealistic request for mankind. But then I look at the current state of the race protests and I see the planet shaking off a horror of a past. I see the fight against Covid19 and, though patchy, I see how we can work to refocus our efforts towards communal safety. I remember last year (oh it seems so long ago) when the climate crisis came to a head and positive action grew. So I continued to write this and wonder what you, dear reader, thinks. Is this naive? Is this the right direction? }

Freedom of thought is where we need to focus. This is an aspiration to augment our mental freedom of movement, to better understand and to better change our understanding. This will be no easy task but it will be a crucial component for our species to move forward in combating all aspects of environmental harm, from the physical environment of climate change to social inequalities and racial discrimination as well as combating current and future threats to our health from viruses, bacteria and more.

Freedom of thought will come from greater empathy, which is an emotional and intellectual closeness to the world and to other people. Most of all, the idea of freedom of thought is a prism to see the world through and to prioritise goals.

Of course, even the idea of freedom of speech comes under the idea of freedom of speech. In order to truly have freedom of speech in a larger sense than simply ‘not constrained by government’, we’d have to invest in improving our eloquence and thinking. As an advocate of the importance of developing richer interactions with text, since much of our intellectual discourse is via text, it is no surprise to me that it is very hard to put complex thoughts into linear text. Thinking is hard and as a tool using species it is worth noting our ancestors used tools before we became Homo Sapiens, we have always used whatever tools we could to expand our physical and cognitive abilities. Our brains simply rely on tools–our brains have never been without tools. The tools of our ancestors have been upgraded again and again but in our hyper-connected world we are not building tools commensurate with the scale of change we are seeing and the rate of change we need to effect in order to achieve a harmonious and sustainable future.

{ Thinking, not just repeating, is hard. Interaction is crucial. Go and look at a large tree. You will instantly capture its majestic nature but look closer: See how some leaves are clustered over there and hoe you can see branches here, as well as openings to look through the tree here and there? Our perception of the world is not ‘literal’, it is impressional. We think we know everything but then we look at something, something as mundane and physically real as a tree or something as abstract as the idea of freedom. At first glance we capture an impression based on what we see and what we know. When we have to translate this knowledge into other forms, such as simply writing a school essay or painting the tree, the complexities become apparent. This is also when our sense of ignorance grows. Picture your knowledge in a specific area as a dot and everything outside of that dot everything you don’t know. The picture the process of learning enlarging the dot and you’ll see that the circumference of the dot grows larger as the dot grows larger: This is the boundary of what you know and what you don’t know. This is a graphic illustration of how you understand more about your ignorance as you learn more about something. Thinking is hard. }

How would we go about focusing on making freedom of thought a species level priority?

We would have to upgrade our schools to track understanding. How could we do this and how could we measure success?
We would have to build powerful software tools and infrastructures to allow ever deeper literacy to interact with our digital information.
We would have to develop a culture of dialog and not the clash of expressions. This would involve employing the best of our understanding of the human mind.
Perhaps most of all, we would have to foster dialog around the very notions of freedom, with discussions of freedom to act and freedom from being acted upon. We would develop a ‘new religion’–whether we choose to call it that or not–around the pursuit of coming together as a species with respect for each other and hope for the future.
And much, much more.

We would never achieve this in our lifetimes but in our hearts we be lifted into the future knowing we are building cathedrals of light in the hearts of our descendants.

Frode Hegland
The Future Text Initiative

Published inFuture Of TextNotes On...Why?

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