IN 21st century Britain, it is generally accepted by all who are sane (or not- you decide) that freedom of speech is essential. I agree. Without freedom of speech, it is too terrifying to imagine the situation of our world today. Would we still be the poverty-stricken proletariat of the 19th and 20th centuries, being imprisoned for protest? Would women still be at home, nursing screaming babies, with nipples as raw as their black eyes? Perhaps we’d be in the grip of a repressive regime not too dissimilar to those we fight against every day. It’s too scary to consider. The voice is the thing that makes you, you. Voices matter. Firstly, let’s discuss ‘free thinking’… My definition for the purposes of this post is:
- Having the individuality and self-assuredness to be YOUR own person
- Breaking out of the crowd, contesting against Durkeim’s theory of ‘collective conscience’
- Embracing your own instincts and beliefs because they matter.
Society is a vacuum cleaner. An expensive one that looks fancy on the box but actually loses suction days after the warranty expires. It is a vacuum cleaner that sucks up all the dust, crumbs and hair balls from under the sofa. You are the beautiful earring lost eight months ago hidden amongst it all. Society takes your individuality and moulds it into a ball of everyone else’s mediocre thoughts, leaving you to fester and become ‘like everyone else’, the most terrifying form of reincarnation. If the manacles of society had their way, you and I would be born into this world as a speckle of dust floating sedately, choking babies and drying out people’s throats. This is the great thing about freedom of thought. Growing up we’re encouraged to think for ourselves, not to ‘follow the crowd’, to develop our own personalities. Through education, this individualism is hammered out of us quicker than we can say ‘yes, Sir’. In politics we are given a selected option of the parties to vote for. What happens if we don’t like what’s on offer? The weak ones amongst us will say ‘tough’. The important ones- those who think differently- will decide to stand for their local elections themselves and fight for what they believe in. Voting can make a difference. Imagine life without those who push boundaries. Think of life if people didn’t think differently. It is here where I reluctantly admit; begrudgingly offer the confession, that I read Russell Brand’s Revolution this week. It did open my eyes to the simple point of individual importance. That is all. I’d otherwise advise you to give it a wide berth, unless like me, you bought it because you like Brand’s vocabulary and majestic looks. On reflection, my head feels just as chaotic as Brand pre-rehab.
This stretching of boundaries, that’s free thinking for you. “Excuse me. Hi…yes, over here. I wanted cheese and pickle, not cheese and tomato.” “Right, I’ve had enough of this. I HATE CORNFLAKES! We’re getting Cheerios next week.” “Oi, you bastard! Get off my handbag!” (PUNCH) This is freedom of speech. Individuality is a vitality of life. Imagine a world where we couldn’t complain about poor service (even if the universe might not implode if you get tomatoes on your bagel). Where we couldn’t argue with our housemates over communal cereal choices. Where we couldn’t stand up against people who attack us. Where self-defence might lead to the death penalty. It would be horrific. We should all agree that freedom of speech and thought are the essential criteria for a civilised world- or at least a building block.
Now here’s the reality… (and hopefully not yours)… Since I can remember, I’ve been told “be your own person”, “think outside the box”, “broaden your horizons”. Stick kids in a sandpit, they’ll eat the sand. Give them paint, they’ll cover their hands with it and customise your living room. Offer them beans on toast- it’ll find its way on the floor. Secondary school was different. If school was a jungle, I was a nest waiting to be trampled on. One thing to learn from school is to not be your own person until you’re strong enough to deal with the consequences. Don’t show any individuality. Follow the crowd and you might survive. Or you might be chiselled down into a little gnome version of yourself. This, sadly, is the truth about life before sixteen. At college, I guess this is when you start to find your feet again. Making it through high school should hopefully leave you with an impenetrable shell of focus and determination. Towards the end of school, I was lucky to become friends with someone who had been there all along, hidden away in the background, who ultimately became the one person in the world who ever fully embraced me for being myself. The only person who got me completely. Who laughed when I ordered coffee in the pub or patiently read my latest attempt at writing an erotic novel. Who didn’t blink an eye when I announced I was learning Chinese or Swahili. After that, back in 2011, I stepped foot in college for the first time and realised that actually, I’d been right all along. College was a place where free thinking was encouraged. It proved that some people are outstanding whilst some are not. The new friends I made had open minds, confidence and an awareness of the world beyond their bus stop. These people will ultimately become politicians, doctors, lawyers. A friend called Anees was determined to become the first Muslim Prime Minister and I was sure he would make it one day. The others I’d left behind- well not all of them- were contented with doing nothing. Wondering the streets, their lives halted before take-off. Whilst many are interesting people, mixing in circles that stretch their minds, challenge them and inspire them, some still can’t step beyond the boundary of their own streets, their minds imprisoned in their next weekend piss-up or a strict soap opera schedule. I like to think that this is not me, but in that environment, that dungeon of the small-minded, my individuality is deemed venomous, a red coloured poison dispersed in water. Why does this exist? Because the world represses the individual; difference threatens familiarity. This ultimately will lead to a society no different to North Korea. Millions of little puppets hopping around like a human propaganda machine. We might as well start rehearsing for the opening show. If you’re still with me, I applaud you… Now, it is you who I wish to address. You are actually the ‘weirdos’ I’m talking about. You’re the little gnome. The red juice diluted in a glass of still water. You’re still reading because you see something of yourself here. But you, reader; you are that little shiny earring lost for so long. Concealed, beaten down into the ground amongst stale biscuit crumbs, rotten toenail-pickings and air-polluting dust. The one thing I would like to tell you is: THINK the first thought that comes to you, because that comes from the heart. That thought that comes to your head before you censor it, change its flavour to suit the taste of society, you think that because it is important. If my readers hold on to their own beliefs, thoughts and opinions, and don’t edit them, I know the world will be a better place. ▄ * * * This blog is written in support of Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi, who received the first 50 of 1,000 lashes on Friday. His punishment, including ten years imprisonment and a fine of 1 million Saudi riyals, has been condemned by the rest of the world, yet his country has remained silent.