Thursday, March 20, 2014

Dialectics and Freedom of Speech: Response to The Freedom to Cuss-Out

I wrote this when I read the post : The Freedom to Cuss-Out and I have been thinking of Tamer Amin's statements about the sexual assault incident at Cairo University. I thought it would be a cool thought experiment to try a dialectical approach in thinking about these dialogues.

Cartesian Reductionism and reductionist thinking has kept many of us isolated within our disciplines and has constrained our ideas within these disciplines understanding of human consciousness. A world that is cut up and dissected into discrete and separate parts and our understanding of human consciousness has not escaped its scalpel. Economics speaks of our consciousness as a rational one, Biology of a genetic one, Psychology of an internal (nature/genetic) and external (nurture/environment) that are informing each other, limiting or exacerbating the effects that each can have on the organism's behavior as an expression of its internal and external world. Yes the disciplines may inform one another, but essentially in their treatment of human consciousness they still very much remain separate even if they acknowledge the "other" factors that may inform our consciousness.

When looking at the idea of free speech I cannot separate that from our understanding of human consciousness and how our understanding of the human consciousness limits where we draw the lines of where freedom of speech lies. Meaning certain perspectives may attribute a higher value to material versus conceptual violence. Violence to the body, but not violence to the soul or a person's own understanding of what affects them, and in this post: "The Freedom to Cuss out" there is a lot of emphasis of the material measurable violence. When is an action material or verbal considered a trespass? When we distinguish between the material, the visual or the verbal where are we placing power and agency? Where do we see and and how do we measure effects and what does that say about who we are and the power we give certain discourses. When we ascribe to a material world of cause and effect how do we constrain ourselves and limit our own agencies and what conditions are we also perpetuating? Are material and semiotic effects truly that separate, do they not stem from the very inequalities that limit our freedoms and also inform our consciousnesses? Materialism emerged within a certain elite class, patriarchal class, when we conceptualize our world a world of the material versus the conceptual or semiotic how are we constraining our own agency. When our method is one of dissection, one which weighs and values the tangible and the intangible in different ways, we also continue to create worlds that emerged from the imaginations of a small number of a powerful landowning elite, that violently enclosed and separated using their wealth, armies and power the land and everything else that humans can utilize on it. I'm not talking about just what we do being part of that story of the violence of capitalism and patriarchy. I am talking about the thoughts that first interpret the world around us and then inform our actions of what to do are also part of that story that writes the world we live in with all its injustices. 

 So I am naturally uncomfortable with broad and encompassing generalizations about everything, where every situation is extremely specific. I believe in freedom of speech and I believe in freedom of expression. It feels good and right to say that, but maybe the problem isn't whether or not we believe in freedom of speech and expression, maybe we need to ask ourselves some questions about how we think of freedom of speech and expression. Speech and expression both imply a certain codependency on modality, avenue and audience. When we say freedom of speech there is an inherent assumption that modalities, tools, avenues are all easily accessible. That the expression can be released into the world and received by an audience, it is suggested that we can all do that equally since we are "free" to do so. When we think of a complex world psychological, political, physical world we realize the constraints to our freedoms are both the ones that are external to us and the ones that stem from our own consciousness. I don't have an answer to whether we should switch off the remote on people's words but not on their actions of hate, I don't know if we should cuss them back or use state-run methods to limit them. But I do know that as I unravel the way my mind and my body experience living right now, there are new spaces within me that are able to imagine, experience and tell a story of a world of different possibilities and trajectories. So I would think the issue here isn't prohibition on speech as much as leveling the playing fields to some extent and then initiating a dialogue from that space. It means that we first resist, but not just what makes sense to a mind and body that are dissected or an individual and whole that can be separated, but just what does not feel good to us, and we continue resisting till we do feel good. We are not isolation and there is friction and change and different things that other people need to feel good and that will never stop, but nor should resistance, or attempts to understand injustice and violence outside of stories that narrate the body and mind as separate.

There's a lot of Timothy Mitchell "Everyday Metaphors of Power" and a lot of ideas from "The Dialectical Biologist"