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Freedom of Thought

Talks of freedom of thought and speech have become a staple of every advocate of democracy, particularly in the midst of the new wave of popularity of market brand democracies and democratic principles. While the implications of freedom of speech should not be very difficult for anybody to digest, it is on the question of freedom of thought that logical problems arise, as pointed out by European philosopher Karl Popper in one of his many essays on the concept of freedom. He says the HIllelian principle which forwards the meaning of true democracy and freedom to mean, doing unto others what you would have them do unto you, is meaningless in an environment where thoughts remain largely unarticulated.

Fine idea. Democracy in its true essence cannot take roots in a society that shies away from articulating thoughts and consequently debates. For the concept of freedom of thought, in a social situation has basically to do with the prospect of making complex negotiations through the mazes of ideas and interests and finally arriving at the best possible path everybody can use to achieve their ends. Again in a social situation this will often mean making compromises. But all this can happen if individual thoughts do not remain as individual thoughts forever, but are shared widely, so that in the process of the interactions the thought processes themselves are continually refined.

Looking back then, can we honestly say that our society has been one which encourages the expression of individual thoughts? Have we been a society with a wont for articulating and sharing thoughts, with the intent of testing their validity and accuracy by pitting them against the real world? For thoughts and ideas need constantly to be tested of their applicability by having them stand the scrutiny of other thinking members of the society. Our experience has been, our society by and large is a silent one and more often than not this silence has been deafening. More to the point, the section of our society whose thoughts are sought have been seemingly on an unreasonable vow of silence, even when their voices are called for in the state’s hours of crises. In direct contrast, other sections who can render the society better service by a little more restraint in opening their mouths unnecessarily, have been relentlessly making a nuisance of themselves. Indeed there is a despairing scarcity of sane, intelligible, coherent voices while a perpetual cacophony of political mudslinging and juvenile slogan shouting have been numbing the finer senses of the society by and large. It will not surprise anybody then that after every one of these bouts of frenzied dins, nothing substantial ever emerged by way of refining or resolving any of the agendas before the people of the state. On the other hand, what the state has been witnessing all along has been a transition not from chaos to order as it should be, but the other way around. The end result in the process is we have today the important business of governance virtually taken over by an ever mushrooming number of students and other non government pressure groups.

For democracy to fructify then it is absolutely essential for the state’s intelligentsia to independently start articulating their thoughts and ideas, and generate healthy debates in the society. They must be the ones to set the agendas for the state, otherwise others less qualified to shoulder the onerous mission will begin doing so, and in fact have been doing so for much too long now. Only when this section of the society has begun considering it their duty to generate the state’s discourses can policies in the state begin acquiring a definite direction. It will also be the time when democratic debates begin ceasing to be a cacophony of shapeless and meaningless noises replete with crassly disguised vested interests, and assume a constructive role.



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