Freedom of Speech And Thought

Freedom of Speech And Thought September 2, 2022

John Climacus in the Diapsalmata observed people demand freedom speech and neglect their freedom of thought.  While Kierkegaard wrote ideas he did not agree with under pseudonyms, something tells me he agreed with this one. Maybe it is just me. In the cultural and historical context in which I live, I see this people loudly saying things they really have not thought much about. They either fool themselves into thinking they understand the problem. Or they are afraid to give it any real consideration. “Sound doctrine” takes the place of sound thinking. We are told, “Action speaks louder than words.” That is only partially true. Neither actions nor words make any sense without some thought, consideration, or problem-solving being involved.

Thinking About It

“Think about it,” is how some rhetoric is concluded. Herschel Walker gave the weird anti-evolution argument of “if we came from apes why are there still apes?” It was an argument disguised as a question. Now ask the question this way. “If we came from our parents, why are they still around?” Of course, this is an equally bad rebuttal to the previous question. Evolutionary theory is about the diversity of species. It is not, as creationists like to argue, about one species changing into another. Think about it this way; “how can my siblings be from the same parents, and yet be so different from me?” No one asks this question because we know it happens. People asking the rhetorical question and including “think about it” are saying I know better. Or they are claiming, you will see it my way eventually.

The art of persuasion is rhetoric. People using this method do not necessarily want to arrive at the truth or fact. They are aiming for agreement. Their arguments are not logical. They are clever. Memes on social media are nothing if they are not clever. They do not have to state fact or truth. They simply have to sound right. Freedom of speech allows for both rhetoric and logic. It takes some training and discipline to recognize the difference.

Independent Thought

Fiction has given us the independent martyr figure. This person stands for the truth while facing serious persecution. The narrative usually gives us the impression that the proof of the truth is in the persecution. “If it is not true, why are so many against it?” Think about it. Identifying one’s self as an “independent thinker” does not mean one is correctly thinking. But independence of thought is necessary to test majority ideas.

Speech is often anything but independent. The mob is a human creature that shouts loudly without any thought to what is being said. Like the people in Ephesus after being instigated by the silversmiths, “Meanwhile some were shouting one thing, some another; for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together.” (Acts 19:32) This mob was called together to stop Paul and others from speaking. The mob shouts in displeasure intending to stop whatever it not pleasing to it.

Reflective Speaking

A fellow clergy person once said to me, “I don’t agree with your Dad, but I can tell he has really thought about what he is saying.” I think that is a great compliment. Speech should reflect thought. The carpenter’s dictum, “measure twice and cut once,” is useful here. Think about something more than once before speaking on it. Gilda Radnor’s Emily Litella was infamous for speaking without first understanding what she was talking about. The skit ended with her being corrected and saying, “never mind,” which she should have done in the first place.

Reflective speaking is often upsetting to people who know what they wish to hear. Speaking reflectively is intended to evoke thought. But few people want to consider what they already think they know. This is especially true when they know their idea conforms to that of their friends and family. This is also true of people who always swim against the current of thought. Is it really conviction that motivates this behavior? Or is it a desire to prove something about one’s self? Is it philosophy or arrogance? It is hard to tell.

Thought As Character

Disciplined thinking is a gift to the world. People with this educated ability usually understand what can be done and must be done. Still, there are times one reaches bad conclusions. This is why people do not think alone. The method of the dialogue is how human thought has been done. Kierkegaard used the dialogue between his pen names. One time he says this. One time he says that. And he does not truly agree with either one. Galileo wrote his revolutionary Two New Sciences as a dialogue. Plato’s works are too. It is too bad we do not have more of that writing now. One must demonstrate good character to participate in dialogue with an opponent. When we do not have that, we resort to force which Ammon Hennacy called “the weapon of the weak.”


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