Freedom of speech and expression is the indispensable foundation of a society of free individuals. Civilization cannot long survive without it any more than it can survive without food. As Rowan Atkinson so eloquently argued in his defense of free speech, it is the second most essential thing; the first being food in your mouth and the third being a roof over your head. I am afraid that the trend has not been good in that sphere and it is imperative that we fight for our freedoms. The mindless collective is the greatest threat humanity faces, not climate change or even total nuclear war. Continue reading
The Sardar Patel statue, also called “The Statue of Unity” which is to be unveiled tomorrow Oct 31st, is the biggest statue in the world at 182 meters tall. Built at the cost of Rs 3000 crores, it must be impressive to behold because of its sheer size. It is supposed to represent unity of the nation and to be a tribute to a great man who united India.
Maybe that’s so. But to me, it represents the power that those in government use to force people to do their bidding. Certainly, it’s not the worst form of naked tyranny like marching people off to the gulags to be worked until they die but it is something that reasonable leaders of a free people should never do. It is a shameful display of a gigantic ego and the misuse of power. Continue reading
Freedom of speech, expression, and the press is a distinctive mark of civilization. It distinguishes — and indicates the degree of civilization achieved among — the nations of the world. Nations that valued the Enlightenment traditions of the likes of Kant and Voltaire prospered and became culturally (not to mention militarily) powerful enough to profoundly impact, and indeed create, the modern world.
Just compare where the Islamic nations are in relation to the Western nations in terms of social, cultural and economic well-being. The Islamic nations fail miserably. They languish in the bottom of the heap suffering terrorism and imposing it on the rest of the world. Part of the explanation must be that their civilization lacks the freedom of speech and expression.
“Congress shall make no law …”
And consider that the most powerful nation in the world, the United States of America, is what it is partly because of the wisdom of its Founding Fathers who included the critically important First Amendment in the “Bill of Rights” of the US Constitution which says, in part, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press …”.
Say what you may (and you may say whatever pleases you) but I am a freedom of speech fundamentalist. It is non-negotiable, it is off the table, it is not for sale, trade, barter or exchange. I reserve the right to say whatever I wish, and I defend your right to say whatever you wish. And equally importantly, I reserve the right to choose to hear, read and watch whatever others freely choose to express in whatever form. The operative word is choose. You choose to speak, and I choose to hear, without compulsion on either side.
I recognize no authority over me that will dictate to me what I may say or listen to, read, write or watch. I will resist any government that attempts to take away my right to free speech, and the corresponding right to listen to the free speech of others.
Now that I have expressed my position on the matter, let me get down to why I did so. Continue reading
Slowly raising the temperature allows a frog submerged in water to get accustomed to its ever-worsening condition until it gets cooked to death. So goes folk wisdom regarding how to cook a frog. Though a pointless exercise, it does serve as a good metaphor for how countries gradually advance on the road to tyranny — in very small, nearly imperceptible steps.
But it is possible to notice small objects and minute changes if one gets sensitized to them. It is hard to notice a commercial jetliner at cruising altitude from the ground without its telltale vapor trail. However, after someone points it out to you, it’s easy enough to track the nearly invisible object in the sky if you focus on it.
I am convinced that freedom is an acquired taste, somewhat like dietary preferences. People brought up in a vegetarian households are likely to prefer vegetarian food. People brought up free tend to prefer freedom and those brought up under command structures, prefer that. Muslims apparently prefer the stifling, humanity-denying strictures of Islam that non-Muslims generally find horrifying. Continue reading
The economic growth of any economy depends on how much is invested in creating productive assets in it. Factories, buildings, ports, the transportation network, natural resource extraction, manpower training, the use of modern methods of manufacturing, energy production and distribution networks — all require investment. Part of the investment arises from domestic savings, part from foreign borrowings, and part from foreign direct investment (FDI.) Let’s look at how India does in FDI compared to other countries.
Here I will not address what kind of changes need to happen for India to attract, say, 10 times as much FDI as it currently does. That’s feasible but not with the current policies and leadership. Anyway, here are the facts.
“If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led like sheep to the slaughter.” –George Washington
The importance of the freedom of speech is underestimated by most people.
George Washington stressed the instrumental role of the freedom of speech — as a defense against oppression. But freedom of speech, like the right to be left alone, is also something of value in and of itself, even if there was no possibility of being oppressed.
“Liberty and good government do not exclude each other; and there are excellent reasons why they should go together. Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end. It is not for the sake of a good public administration that it is required, but for security in the pursuit of the highest objects of civil society, and of private life. Increase of freedom in the State may sometimes promote mediocrity, and give vitality to prejudice; it may even retard useful legislation, diminish the capacity for war, and restrict the boundaries of Empire.”
— Lord Acton, The History of Freedom in Antiquity 
My friend Veer shared this advertisement from 1947.
After 68 years, Indians are still fighting a war on poverty and it is still an “Uphill Task Ahead.” Very little has changed since 1947 in the economic environment, and what little change there has been regressive. Certainly relative to 1947, Indians have progressed but relative to others, India has slipped further behind.
The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost invariably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And if he is not romantic personally, he is apt to spread discontent among those who are. ― HL Mencken
And usually these troublemakers are the ones who need to be muzzled through suppression of speech and expression.