Thursday, December 25, 2008

We need to guard individual public speech, even in the limelight


My own biggest goal in “retirement” is to help the public connect and understand the more subtle aspects of the multiple problems that affect freedom for all of us. To accomplish this, I write about a lot of different topics, and link them up, rather than about just a narrow range of subject matter.

I still stand by a conviction that “amateur” bloggers and writers can add a lot to the public’s awareness of what is going on. The “established” media must stay within certain accepted journalistic practices when reporting, and what we do is an interesting, low cost and low capital supplement that can make a huge difference in how issues are perceived. No, amateurs didn’t quite disrobe the “credit default swap” problem, but we may have been getting warm.

Until about a dozen years ago, the best that ordinary people had was “collective” action, which is what most of the First Amendment text talks about explicitly. Some of it seems intellectually naïve at best, mailing or emailing form letters to politicians, joining demonstrations and physical boycotts. Collective action is important and collective bargaining is certainly a legally protected right, but we need more than that. A full democracy needs citizen speech and citizen awareness. While we have the right to collective representation (just go back to the concepts of the founding fathers and the American Revolution), we need to be aware of the individual responsibility each one of us has for what goes on in totality. The individualized speech forces us to remain aware of that. And some of the concerns that I have raised in recent posts demonstrate ways that that spontaneous speech could be seriously curtailed.

What disturbs some people about the public speech (and event “limelight” seeking) of someone like me is an apparent lack of personal emotional commitment and empathy, at least as many other families experience these. Events in my own life, occurring in a very unusual sequence and combination over several decades (I am now 65) give me some motivation to want to play the role that I do. As I noted before, people don’t like to be reminded everyday, even in abstraction, of their personal “moral hazard” even when the comments are true. And some people probably want to see someone like me fit into a social hierarchy and accept some formal responsibility for someone (whether out of completely voluntary "choice" or not) before my perspectives are seen as having any meaningful standing-- which would force me back into some kind of familial or social (if not political) partisanship. But we need our objectivity. We do need to be aware of what we should do to remain responsible for ourselves. In fact, we must additionally often be our brother’s keeper, even out of practical self-interest. (Just think about how foreclosures and property values work). We have every reason to look at some more aggressive solutions to problems in the financial markets, as well as health care and now elder care. I think on Christmas day, we’re reminded that self-interest sometimes is something we can never protect completely, and we do need each other. We see more evidence of that in the media every day.

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