by Joel Fernandez
They say that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Most people usually have individuals in mind when they hear that old proverb. But governing bodies are not immune to the corrosive effect of self-policed power. The effects of such a degeneration become tangible when the ruling class of a particular country gradually descends into the realm of the autocratic while hiding in plain sight so as to deceive the people into giving popular consent. Today’s discussion is about what happens when hiding in plain sight is no longer possible and the truth gets out to the world.
Let’s start off with an obvious statement and say that not every country in the world is free. It is also worth mentioning the fact that the word freedom is very subjective. As such, it is impossible to connote a ubiquitous definition of the word freedom within the context of the entire global community. One country may allow you freedom of speech but then censor the media on pain of unofficial yet tangible treason charges. Another country might restrict speech in a more obvious way but its citizens will feel free to be in public without fearing random mass murder from someone with previously unnoticed social issues.
Going back to the freedom of speech topic, there are countries who allow you to say pretty much whatever you want but then record every last phone call in the country, irrespective of whether the nature of the conversation is business or personal. Which begs the question, what does freedom really mean? Freedom to speak under 24/7 surveillance would be interpreted as tyranny in some countries.
Let’s say hypothetically that a particular country’s justice system became little more than a bureaucratic tool that serves at the pleasure of the ruling class. You would have cases where the innocent are made to look guilty without a trial before being charged and taken into custody. That not so clever definition of the word freedom would, in effect, turn a “private” citizen into a prisoner in the court of public opinion. Imagine being suspected of crimes that you have never committed for an indefinite amount of time. It turns out that the word freedom is more subjective than we thought, or so it seems.
What happens when freedom of speech and freedom of the press combine into widespread collusion? Within the spectrum of possibility, there is legal room for collusion in societies that claim to value freedom of speech while encouraging the good to become the enemy of the “perfect”. When hypocrisy becomes the price for civilization, one can argue that it’s just not worth the price of admission. Freedom is definitely something that everyone wants. But when the word itself becomes a false pretense under which freedom is restricted by a particular country’s world famous class system, intellectual dishonesty becomes common practice. A veritable culture of “do as we say, not as we do”.
That brings us to our billion dollar question. How can do we reconcile the political definition of freedom with the actuality of freedom? Since the word itself is so subjective in nature, we have no choice but to employ nuance. It can only be attained in countries where the law doesn’t make blatant dishonesty a seemingly praiseworthy virtue. Even though no country is perfect, it would be best to avoid the ones whose laws allow the dishonest to outnumber the honest and supplant the definition of the word virtue. Simply put, there are countries that allow lying to become socially acceptable as a matter of course. In other words, the constituency can be given the freedom to change the definition of the word honest with a “vote”. As if there can be more than one definition.
Moreover, the world at large is better off because of its many cultures and countries. The varying definitions of life, liberty and happiness serve as a check and balance that will prevent any one country from using legal authority to define the aforementioned words in every nation. If for no other reason, because what makes one country happy might make another country sad and so on and so forth. To that end, every nation has a right to positively influence the factors that lead to happiness within its own borders. That way, tyranny can never become inescapable simply because the virtuous are outnumbered by the “votes” of the corrupt.
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