Monday, November 8, 2010
Freedom of speech isn’t freedom to hide
Lateral violence in the blogging age
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of free speech. I’m equally dedicated to recognizing and embracing the freedoms in our society that both enable and permit freedom of expression across the diverse groups that comprise Canadian society.
Earlier this in year, in fact, I had the privilege of adding my voice to the debate in the Senate of Canada around the future of freedom of speech in Canada. For First Nations people in the country, I believe this is incredibly important.
The concept of freedom of speech is fundamental to democratic government. It’s said that “the test of democracy is freedom of criticism”. It’s so true that healthy, provocative, and even intense debate is at the very root of our democracy. Yet, so many in our country – and what’s far worse, in our own Aboriginal community – seem take these freedoms almost entirely for granted (more on this later).
Freedom of speech is not, as some suggest, an American concept. It’s an extension of free will. It’s a by-product of democracy. What’s more, it is an idea that‘s reflective of the notion that all men and women were created equal. Freedom of speech knows no political station, no power structure nor race, colour or creed.
Given this, how sad it is that we seem as a society to consider freedom of speech as less important than ensuring none might become offended by the hard truths of 21st century living. After all, there’s a fine line between freedom of speech and respect.
As an Aboriginal person, I am all too well aware of how freedom of speech is used as a tool to promote prejudice, division, mistruths and even hatred.
There are those who believe and generally practice that freedom of expression and free speech work in only one direction – those who insist on being able to express their views and opinions while denying others the opportunity to challenge those views or correct the record created when mistruths are spoken as fact.
One needs look no further than the myriad blogs on the internet that spew forth opinion, innuendo and allegation as fact. In many instances, the writer more often than not will not have the conviction to claim ownership of the practice.
The line between speaking freely and being spoken to freely without responsibility should not exist – but sadly, it most assuredly does.
As Canada’s first peoples, we need to be able to freely define our aspirations, to debate the real root causes of poverty in our communities and most importantly to compellingly prescribe the cure for the ills that confront us – in a constructive, productive manner.
This can’t happen in a vacuum where people live in fear of retribution and retaliation if they have the courage to speak out. This will not happen if divergent opinion is termed racist – and it surely will not happen without the full engagement and participation of grassroots Aboriginal peoples, convicted and convinced enough of the need to embrace the need for change.
We mustn’t take on this complex matter lightly. There are still numerous ‘fine lines’ that are to be found intertwined in this subject.
There is the line between freedom of speech and freedom of expression which must not be crossed --, and that is in the instance where freedom of expression can readily lead to lateral violence.
Lateral violence happens when people who are both victims of a situation of dominance, in fact, turn on each other rather than confront the system that oppresses them both. Lateral violence occurs when individual members of oppressed groups internalize feelings such as anger and rage, and manifest their feelings through behaviours such as gossip, jealousy, putdowns and blaming.
I can understand lateral violence and its causes. I can empathize with those who adopt it as a preferred method But I can’t even begin to understand why a few certain members of a community so rife with challenges to overcome would wish to adopt the practice and carry it out anonymously as a default position.
Lateral violence achieves nothing of worth. Lateral violence constructs nothing. It only obstructs and destroys any sense of the achievement of progress and the creation of hope. To those who practice it, I challenge to you to show me something of worth to grassroots people that was, is or will be created through lateral violence.
In the face of the practice such lateral violence, it’s important to emphasise the line between freedom of speech and the freedom to knowingly misrepresent the truth. There are clear lines between our rights to free speech and our rights to protect ourselves from purposeful misrepresentation of fact, slander and libel.
Freedom of speech is often a right that we might sometimes take for granted. I mentioned I would add more on this earlier in this posting, and here it is: I welcome your comments if you’ve the conviction to stand by them. I don’t accept anonymous posts on this blog.
In First Nations communities, the affirmation of the right to freedom of speech is something that needs to be taught, exercised and most importantly, rigorously defended in light of anything that attempts to trump it, short of hate-crime.
It’s essential to understand that for Canada’s First Nations peoples, in our hearts and souls this is indeed our home and native land – and one in which the ability to prosper and to speak should be equally as strong and as free as our nation is.