Freedom of Expression – Where to Draw The Line?

All the ways that the internet allows us to express our opinions, be it a blog like this one, a Twitter account, Facebook, or even angry emails to our local member of parliament or local newspaper, can leave us with a feeling of empowerment, as if we have grown a new set of muscles and find ourselves with a much wider range of capabilities.

We are free to express our views on any number of topics, from the mundane to the hot topic of the day.

The old days of venting an angry opinion at the local pub, waving fingers in the air and decrying the latest outrage to a few of our mates has given way to the worldwide mashing of keyboards and the spewing forth of all kinds of opinionated verbosity, from solid arguments to venomous rants.

In the decades before the internet became the global mouthpiece it is today, getting yourself a public forum was much more exclusive.

To be able to share your opinions with the world required the pursuit of a career in politics, journalism, or any other professional field of endeavor that gave you an outlet for your views to reach a public audience.

However, there was another set of avenues that could get you that coveted public ear, without all that tedious mucking about in university.

You could become a celebrity.

Music, acting, dancing, painting and creative writing, to name but a few, offered an access to the public via popular media that many have exploited in days gone by.

They still do, with some celebrities becoming celebrities because they’re nothing but, well, celebrities. Simply being the son or daughter of someone rich, powerful and or famous is license to hold celebrity status.

It would seem that once one has reached the dizzying heights of celebrity status, one can also assume the mantle of authority on a bewildering range of subject matter; this subject matter having absolutely nothing to do with the reason for ones elevated public status.

Many years ago I was struck by an outstanding exception to this rule.

Perhaps the greatest celebrity of decades past, the one they still call ‘The King’, Elvis Presley himself, stood apart from the crowd of singers, actors and others who took public stances in the arena of world opinion.

On June 9th, 1972, before taking to the stage at Madison Square Gardens, Elvis held a press conference.

One question among the plethora fired at him was this; “You were in the Army and were drafted. What is your opinion of war protesters? And would you today refuse to be drafted?”

His answer was simply this; “Honey, I’d just as soon keep my own personal opinions about that to myself. ‘Cause I’m just an entertainer and I’d rather not say.”

For me, this was as honest an answer as was ever given, especially on what was in 1972 a hot topic indeed, at least in the US.

Elvis doubtless recognized his power to sway the opinions of others and felt himself unqualified to do so on that particular subject.

Over the decades from the late 1950’s onward, celebrities of all kinds have assisted in swinging public opinion one way or another.

US presidential campaigns have been replete with supporting celebrities and will doubtless continue to do so, but why?

The reason, sad as it is, is that people look to such ones for guidance, for their thoughts to be dictated to them so as to avoid having to delve into things both dark and alarming to enable them to form their own opinions.

The world is swimming in such people, sometimes mockingly called ‘Sheeple’, and the internet is allowing free access to these folks for anyone with a computer, modem and a requisite opinion.

So it is that we can access web sites on subject matter which would never be tolerated in society on any other platform; political activists and extremists, religious and social pundits of every form imaginable, even lunatics and the mentally dysfunctional can and do have free right of expression here.

In some ways, this has wrested the crown from atop the heads of the media barons, though they continue to spend copious amounts of both time and money to avoid relinquishing their power.

It is unfortunate in the extreme that those inheriting the power of opinion are displaying no less in the way of weakness when it comes to dissemination of their thoughts.

Ego becomes inflated and seizes control in the heads of the many, thus they allow themselves to indulge in the venting of unqualified opinions which, sadly, get at least a small audience.

The problem here is one of qualification, is it not?

I am a blogger and soon to be a published author, but that does not change who I am by so much as a millimeter, does it?

If my book were to become successful (unlikely, but stay with me here), would that fact suddenly empower me with knowledge on a wide range of subjects? Of course not.

Elvis opined, and rightly so, that his abilities as an entertainer in no way gave him the authority to hold forth on the contentious subject of America’s military presence in a foreign country.

Indeed, the celebrity of an individual grants them nothing in the way of rights or ability to offer guidance on things in which they are unqualified.

The same holds true for bloggers and authors like myself.

I have an opinion on the state of the worlds environmental condition, for example. Is it a valid opinion? For me, it certainly is.

Is it worth expressing here? It certainly isn’t.

The reason is simple; I have no qualifications in that area and my opinion is therefore of little to no value to anyone but myself.

The world has both a scientific and a political community, those people hold both the knowledge and the authority to make a difference to the worlds environment.

Thus they have a right and a responsibility to both determine what needs to be done and see to it that it is executed in a timely manner.

The only right I have in that regard is the right to have a vote, if I wish to, on who holds political office in my country. As I have no qualifications nor meaningful depth of knowledge of the worlds environmental condition, I have no right to influence the thinking of another in regard to that matter, do I?

It is beholden upon all those who write to write well, and to constrain our writing to be held within the bounds of the depth of our knowledge.

Disseminating knowledge is our right, influencing others in fields of thought outside of our qualifications is not, in my humble opinion.

Such as it is.

 

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2 thoughts on “Freedom of Expression – Where to Draw The Line?

  1. For me, it is a step prior that is the most important. I dislike very much being told what to think about a subject, and dislike even more being told how to feel about it. I don’t believe we’re ever going to be able to totally insulate ourselves from public opinion, no matter how hard we might try. Forming your own opinion and respecting the right for others to do the same is fundamental imho as is the right to disagree on any given subject (within some fairly obvious constraints e.g some things are definitely not for little ears).

    To blindly accept the ill-judged ramblings of a celebrity is throwing away centuries of hard won freedom for the false comfort of the herd. We have a responsibility to ourselves and those around us to search for more detail, question where necessary and to above all think.

    All of that said, there is nothing wrong in being asked for your opinion and giving it, although disclaimers may apply. What is wrong imho, is delivering that opinion as fact and attacking those who may disagree. For that way lies demagoguery, and a whole raft of other ills…

    Wow. Apologies in advance if that came out a bit too strong…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not too strong at all, thanks for the reply. I agree completely, those three things you highlight, search, question and think are so important.
      The thing that impressed me about Presley in that interview was his humility and awareness of the potency his opinions had in the minds of his fans.

      Like

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