The Seduction of the Thought Police

Most aspects of what we consider “reality” are imaginary constructs built in our minds.

Nations, ethnicities, religion, and money. None of these would exist in reality if not humanity’s ability to convince itself they exist. With the advent of technology, through the strength of sheer numbers of large demographics, and by inheriting the innovations and discoveries our ancestors from our past, we have remolded the world we live in. Today, large swaths of the population have come to accept their artificial surroundings as being natural and ubiquitous.

We feel we are in control, both personally and as a species, and that having power is in our destiny.

And yet, at times, events do take place that remind us that we are effectively powerless against what fate has in store for us.

This makes us feel very uncomfortable. It is one thing to accept natural calamities as the result of powers beyond the control of human beings, but when it comes to random acts of violence and cruelty committed by members of our own, people feel angered and betrayed.

Venting anger is healthy, as long as it does not lead to irrational acts of transgressions against others. Seeking justice, gaining a deeper understanding of the circumstances, and proposing solutions and/or debating how to preventing tragedies can be a constructive process. But fear can grip our hearts, and while fear is an important emotion we must appreciate, too much fear is never a good thing.

The desire to reclaim control over our fates is very strong, so strong that people will strive for security and comfort by any means possible. And when faced with realities that seem unforgiving or complicated, fiction quickly becomes a tantalizing target to control and punish. 

When a “pain-free” easy solution to a social ill is presented, and if you have little stake in the costs involved, many will accept that cost, even if it is a false security. The easiest way to rob people of their money and/or independence is to promise empowerment or instill fear into their minds. In many cases, the two elements are intermixed.

Regulating fiction and art is never effective, and it never addresses the causes behind violence, but it makes us feel better.

We feel we have done something, even if it is futile.

This is why legitimate grievances in reality are commonly projected into the realm of fiction. “There are many things wrong with this world,” the trumpet will sound, “Why should we not admonish such failings of humanity in the world of pop culture?” Some will even go further and let out a battle cry that would many patriots and revolutionaries proud; “Free speech exists as a tool to improve our world, to challenge the status quo, to enlighten and uplift. Its power should not be abused to legitimize abuse and inequality!”

It feels good to say this, regardless of your political affiliation.

Most of us place emphasis on our emotions and sentiments that are registered in our hearts, and have difficulty heeding insights that are constructed abstractly by our minds that are grounded in actual numbers or careful logic.

When I throw caution into the wind of such sweeping calls for regulation of free speech–For example pointing out it is Orwellian to regulate fiction since they are extensions of private thoughts, how this could lead to tyranny of the masses, and this could discourage even legitimate discussions–many well‐intentioned, good natured people will say that the law could be crafted to be caring and considerate. That law enforcement would be selective in how they regulate “undesirable speech.”

Laws are not thinking, caring entities. It is never a good idea to assume laws will be implemented by a benevolent ruler. 

Laws are founded on protecting people and their validity is based on their impartiality. If you felt laws favored others at the expense of yourself, then your respect for the laws falter. If you felt popular people, rich people, powerful people gets preferential treatment under the law, then many would question the legitimacy of law enforcement. This is why clear definitions, transparent legal processes, and clear goals are important in laws.

Human morality can be quite ambiguous and differ greatly between people. Constructing a law that reflects that  ambiguity and diversity as a demarcation between legal and illegal thoughts is never a good idea.

It is better to allow the marketplace of ideas to debate the merits of different forms of human imagination.

But our sense of vulnerability, made raw by savage aspects of our existence on this planet, fed to us 247 through the countless LCDs surrounding us, seeks immediate addressal.

We encounter an injustice. Our peace of mind is ruptured. We desire a solution, and we will accept the prescription given, even if we do not understand its full scope. A sense of authority and legitimacy, and the warm feeling of compassion radiated by the speaker, will be enough to convince us that the solution will entail minimal costs.

But there never is a cost free solution when it comes to curving freedoms in order to force people to be more polite.

There are moments when we will feel embolden to cry foul at those who wish to silence us, but many times this is an emotional reaction to our normality of existence. By nature, humans avoid confrontation, and when speech leads to confrontation, the natural inclination is to ask the intruding speaker to be “more polite.”

But who sets the standards for politeness? It is the majority. It is authority. Most of us will support such standards as it is believed to be an extension of our own common sense. Culture is a norm that is shared by many and most believe they are encompassing. But to those who do not or cannot share those norms, they are alienating.

The true test of free speech does not arise when it protects the status quo or the norms of our existence. The true test of free speech is tested in how a society can tolerate speech that attacks the status quo and what we hold dear.

But fighting for the rights of others to be a thorn in your side is tiring and thankless. To be perfectly frank, many of us will silently hope that people raising their voices will go away, even when we agree with them.

We don’t want to see people arguing, and that is why we give so much power to the police and administrators. We want to let the experts handle all those noisy people.

We simply want to be left alone, content in our own worlds.

We allow words like “trust,” “responsibility” and “faith” to be is abused endlessly, but we welcome such abuses because it makes the confusing world we live in seem more manageable, more concrete.

When you move away from the talking heads and the hysteria of the bold type, it becomes easier to realize the fragility of our existence and how we are residents of worlds we construct ourselves. And yet, few wish to acknowledge such evanescence.

We seek clarity, even if it blinds us. We seek security, even if enslaves us.

Thought policing never stops a person from having evil thoughts. Thought policing makes us feel better. It does not make us safer.

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