FREDERICK DOUGLASS on POWER and FREE SPEECH

I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.
—Frederick Douglass on escaping from slavery

I mentioned Frederick Douglass (February, 1818—February 20, 1895) in a recent blog, and then saw these two quotes. Douglass was born a slave, escaped (and wrote about it) and went on to become a great American social reformer, deeply involved in the abolitionist movement, a writer and statesman, known for (as the quotes below show) fiery and clear oration.

With the following quotes, think of the West in many, many instances, think of Frederick Douglass’ own fight, think of today even—think with great care and discernment. Power and Rights are always in flux, regardless of what tyrants say, or what legislation says. And, of course, think of the present uprisings across the generally dictatorial North Africa and the Middle East:

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they have resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they suppress.

And this one, with that wondrous freedom—freedom of speech:

Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down.

The hilarious Rick Mercer, who is host of CBC’s aptly titled show The Rick Mercer Report, said about the 4,000-year-old Dire Straits song Money for Nothing, which was recently, pathetically and idiotically censored in Canada for use of the word ‘faggot’:

“…the song doesn’t offend me, because it’s all about context, and it’s a character line spoken by an ignorant person who is jealous of a glam rock and roll star.”

Now Rick might only be saying why the song doesn’t offend him, because it’s all about context. That’s fair, of course. But we’re in a country that espouses freedom and free speech. Real, tangible, practicing, vibrant freedom of speech actually has almost nothing (verging on nothing) to do with context. There may, of course, be some exceptions. But true free speech rests precisely on the right to say god-awful things, and to have that right defended (the right, not what’s being said) by others—even if we despise what is being said, and the person is an ignorant, hateful knob.

I like what was said by actor and comedian Scott Thompson, who is not only funny but gay. He was disgusted by the censorship:

“When you ban a word, you make the word more powerful. All this banning that’s going on just makes (the hate) go deeper and deeper into the soul, where it festers. Let it it out. I want to know what you really think. I can handle it.”

That’s an important point: by pushing this kind of pathetic, moralistic enforcement above the power of free speech, the ‘state/government’ is playing ‘parent,’ coercively, and to me, sickeningly, all the while increasing their Big Brother Power. This is, of course, worst in dictatorships. Either way, to play parent to adults is offensive to freedom: they are of course not parents at all. But when they attempt to play the role (and by definition that is the state), they even fail miserably at that. The worst parents by definition: constantly squabbling, lying, distant and largely unaccountable, rarely if ever apologizing (unless it’s politically expedient), making countless rules that very few people believe in and, of course, they are infantile, even criminal, with money. Imagine leaving so much debt that you’re actually stealing from your grandchildren!

STRONG CHILDREN

We actually used a quote from Frederick Douglass at the opening of Uganda Rising, about the brutal war in Northern Uganda:

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.

I would not like to mess with Frederick Douglass—although I am sure he would allow and defend my free speech.

A ten-minute clip from Uganda Rising—this portion mostly about colonialism and the so-called Scramble for Africa.

Here’s to protecting everybody’s freedom, with intelligence and discernment, and expansive thought. A grand irony of freedom is that it requires stunning and intelligent restraint.

Pete xo

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