Freedom of speech as defined by dictionary.com is the right to speak without censorship or restraint, to communicate one’s opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation. Amnesty international goes even further and defines freedom of speech as the right to express ideas and opinions that may be deeply offensive to others. It adds a caveat: use your freedom of speech responsibly: it is a powerful weapon for change. It certainly is a weapon.
They say the pen is mightier than the sword.
Its message reverberates down the ages for far longer. Expressing ideas that rattle the pots and pans of established thinking can start revolutions. And yet without them we would stagnate and die for lack of oxygen. Once the earth was flat and people risked the flames suggesting it was round-ish. Polish priest Copernicus risked being labelled an heretic when he suggested that the earth was not in fact the centre of the universe but a smallish planet, third rock from a smallish star that got lost in an immensity of galaxies extending into infinity. The idea shattered the vanity of the church and flattened the egos of Italian nobles who thought they were God’s gift to everything. But this flashbulb insight of Copernicus got people thinking and soon rooftops all over Europe were sprouting telescopes pointed at the heavens and curious people peered into space looking for other worlds “out there”.
Change begins with a new idea, a thought that defies gravity and tests our wings. Dangerous yes but exploration of the unknown is how we discover new worlds and new worlds are essential to the perpetuation of life.
There is a term in cosmology called a singularity, where the known laws of physics break down. The most famous singularity is the Big Bang, a theory that once the entire material universe was held in a single concentrated state, compact as a billiard ball. How long it remained undisturbed we have no way of knowing. But one day all the laws that governed it broke down and it exploded apart setting in train life as we know it. It is puzzling indeed that such range and diversity of expression flowed from this uni-dimensional state.
To quote Stephen Hawkings: “It is not easy to see how so much variety could come from a single explosive beginning to everything.” Someone or something had a new idea and what a brilliant flashbulb moment it was. Shattering apart the old world that had constricted life into a rigid ball there was no way of knowing what, if any, good would come of shattering it. There was every chance that like Humpty Dumpty the pieces may never be put back together again.
The shattering opened up streams of potential and creative variations hitherto unimagined. Worlds within worlds grew in colour and diversity and beauty so intense it is difficult to process and we are still making discoveries that delight us and all because of a singularity that deviated from the known.
Likewise original ideas set in train a flood of possibilities for expression and yet, humanity is so afraid of new ideas and the changes they ring in. Science is always on the look-out for singularities because therein lies our heritage and our future. Nothing can progress without an event that defies the known and crumbles the existing rigid patterns.
And yet, humanity would rather go to war than change their minds.
Like most of you I watch the evening news and feel both sad and sickened by the prattle of people unwilling to give ground. I hear the same old patterns of commerce, punishment and pugilism that keep us shackled to disharmony. I observe people who would rather kill than listen and I empathise with people who are dying to be heard. All the arguments are over Words. Mightier than any sword, their meaning is often lost in the shouting and defiance-based fear.
Fear of change.
Fear of life.
Because life depends on singularities of being, thought and actions that kick-start creation and patterns that become new worlds.
I see a world enslaved in a fear of words. There is a certain safety in institutionalised thinking. It’s the burrow of the lazy mind, the retreat of those cowed or beaten by ostracism, prejudice or social isolation because they happen to be singularities, different, original and therefore dangerous to the herd. If you don’t think like everybody else and share the same social goals you are dangerous or stupid. Certainly you are not one of us and you don’t belong.
People hide behind social edifices called nations, armies, institutions, ethnicity, gender or wealth. There are many and they are subtle in their methods of controlling our thinking and our behaviour. So much speech these days is either politically incorrect or subversive and the “rules” that keep us and our thinking in place are stringently applied in behavioural codes and media hype biased towards drama and fear. Fear constitutes the bars that cage us in social stratas where we risk ostracism if we dare commit the crime of originality.
The last bastion of freedom of expression and speech is Art. It has always been the temple of imagination where original thought is prayer. In a world increasingly nervous of new ideas it is incumbent upon artists in every field to express themselves uniquely and ask the questions most people are afraid to ask for fear of being misunderstood or worse, executed, and it is vital that we risk the answers that lead us into unknown territory and open up parallel or complimentary worlds that defy all the known laws and social mores that keep us manageable and obedient to outmoded paradigms of being.
If we don’t we will never truly live.