Freedom of Thought

I can think of nothing worse than slavery of the mind. Even if a person’s freedom of thought should lead him/her to untruth and its most depraved consequences, it would be better for that person to own their convictions of untruth rather than mindlessly accepting the same untruth.

Tonight a few friends of mine and I watched The Dead Poets Society, the 1989 film classic with Robin Williams as the inspirational instructor and Ethan Hawke as the meek crusader. This film, certain to ignite the souls of men’s hearts, highlights the injustice of tyrannic thought control and freedom of expression.

I have seen this film many times; and every time I do I feel as if I must rise against the oppressive powers of the thought police and wage war for the sake of expressive liberty. Fortunately, that battle has already been fought and won for me and you: nearly 250 years ago with many advances all along the way. Tyranny of the mind is not something much of us Americans need to worry about. There are no politically established Hitlers instilling their Youth with lies. By some, it has been said that it would better for these Hitler types to have a millstone tied around their necks than to receive the retribution that is their due.

But what about those who willingly become the slaves of the thought police? That is to say, what about those who willingly submit to the thoughts of another without ample investigation? Is not this the worst?

“People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”
Søren Kierkegaard

I fear that we as a country have fallen subject to proprietors of untruth not because we have been forced to, but because we have become apathetic. An unfortunate consequence of our society, which finds it unacceptable to question the beliefs of others, is that we fail to question our own beliefs. And this makes us vulnerable to become sponges of thoughts/ideas/beliefs that, under right scrutiny, we would find intolerable and inexcusable. How can anyone ever be able to think for themselves if they are not encouraged to examine themselves in relationship to others and their beliefs? Should not the discovery of truth be a conversation? Society says it’s okay for me to question myself but not to question another. Is not what makes me a human my relationship with other humans? Or is my identity as an individual completely isolated and devoid of influence from other people?

I could be presuming a lot here, but upon examining our ‘life in the fast lane culture’ it seems clear to me that what many of us have hoisted as the flag of freedom of thought and expression is merely the out workings of apathy and the unwillingness to take part in something greater. From an early age we have been taught to pursue the American Dream (whatever that means), all the while presuming that the American Dream is the best there is to dream. We proclaim that any man/woman can make his/herself in America. And yet sex and money (which are by no means bad in and of themselves) are the two things that we believe are the best life has to offer; not because we have been forced to, but because we have rolled over and neglected to think there could be something more this life has to offer. Thousands of images are put into our minds every day to pursue this American Dream. We have sold ourselves into slavery not out of necessity but for pure self-indulgence.

I am sure by now you are thinking, “Great! Here goes one of those crazy radical idealists. Can’t they ever just be quiet!?” Well, as long as I am able: No. Life is too short to just idly sit back and watch it pass by. Every person has the ability to live life abundantly and fully. But this can only happen when we each seek to own our life in a way that questions the very convictions on which we stand. In this we will be free to live.

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