philosophy

‘Freedom of expression’ – the word game.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines freedom of expression as “the right of every individual to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas regardless of frontiers.”

This proclamation represents an ideal, not a reality. It is one worth striving for and the greatest obstacle in the way of realising it is not the brutal self-righteousness of zealots on both sides of the debate but the assumption that freedom has no perameters. As long as there is anywhere on this planet a group of people whom we cannot accept as The nature of language determines that not everybody understands the same thing when using the same words. “Expressing” opinion is different to “holding” opinion. We tend to expect that the latter is implicit in the former. Expression is the verbal notification of intent and action is always performed according to strict rules of conduct. Speaking one’s mind always occurs within a specific context. The net of rules governing speech and action prevent thugs from bullying others into submission. History confirms the danger of the rule of bullies. It is at this point that the ambivelence between speech and action emerges. At what point and where do we place the limits of expression? The truth is that we are easily offended and that in most democratic states we have favoured protection of the condition of being offended over the condition of speaking. Generally, we are more afraid of offending than speaking. We don’t yet fully undertand what freedom is. A free society is not one where every person speaks the opinion they hold at all times. Rather, it is a society where opinions are expressed with the understanding that because they may be expressed, they will also have consequences. Freedom is not the abandonment of rules or boundaries. It may be worthwhile remembering that there are very few universal human truths. There are only notions that communities favour as a preferable over others. Everything we consider to be a social truth is a temporary construct reflecting little about the human species but everything about the group to which we belong. We (insert here the proper noun that names your group) have never had complete freedom of expression. It is a romantic and nostalgic illusion. We can neither say nor do as we please. Leadership, for example, is easily offended and blankets the choking of criticism under the guise of national security, protection of … yada yada yada. Once upon a time governments that currently espouse the concept of democracy as a political ideal traded in human slavery and legislated racism. Social truth, like political correctness is fickle. What feels like an insurmountable obstacle today is gone tomorrow and our collective memory is very short. In the context of human history, the commodity of equality has only recently been purchasable by many. And we do buy “equality”. We buy citizenship and equality monthly and render payment as taxation. In return we receive the right There is an old Cold War joke that is chillingly apt. An American talking to a Russian claims the virtue of being American. “I can stand in front of the White House and shout out that I think the American President is a fool and I will not be arrested. I am free to say that!” The Russian replies, “I have the same freedom in Russia. I too can stand in front of the Kremlin and shout out that the American President is a fool and nothing will happen to me.” We claim freedom but not everyone’s understanding of ‘freedom’ is the same. Ultimately, aside from a dangerous minority of thugs (let us not elevate bullies and stupid people beyond that) most of us have never thought too much about freedom of expression. Most of the time we don’t have original opinions on anything and most often we are more scared of offending others than saying what we feel or believe. The freedom of expression ‘debate’ is not a debate. It’s a semantic play-pen.It is a dog chasing it’s tail confusing movement with action. You can hold anything you want, but drop it on someone’s foot and you’ll regret it, get punched, sued or fined. Then it doesn’t matter whether you had the right to hold it or not. Then it’s a different discussion. 20130706_161834

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From somewhere in the stratosphere,  we humans must surely resemble ants. We move with purpose and yet we probably appear to be quite random,  chaotic even.

We labour to improve our world. A world that extends about five metres in all directions around our feet. We know the world is bigger than that, but we don’t really live in that world. We think we do though. We entertain thoughts of global citizenship via our mobile phones or laptops. It usually ends there.

On the way home we stop by the local shop for milk, bread, chocolate … we refuel, remember stuff we never did, watch cute pets on Facebook, like things we will have forgotten in ten minutes, eat, talk, sleep.

Then there are refugees fleeing Syria, kids drowning, ISIS blowing up World Heritage sites, idiots running for president, announcing their intention to run, “Run Forest!”, politicians trashing one another, more shootings in America, shooters running, presidents shooting their mouths off, suppressing the desire to run. Then buying eats, rechocolating, facing something, watching hostile people eat cute pets, fuelling animosity, buying kids, wanting to drown politicians, blowing out birthday candles in the wind while stuffing memories of forgetting to … where is the world now and how? Surf the world wide Web. Connect.

Seeking refuge from the world in, in this… running for the safe place where the world goes by quietly without wanting something from you. Unburdening the weight of the world.
Places to see.
Where in the world do I go when I can go anywhere?
Where do I come from? Or Belong? Stop.
Go back to where you came from.

Where do we come from we asked our parents once when we were very small and meant more than our biological origin I suspect. But our parents, and ourselves since then, always say the ‘when moms and dads ‘ thing because we’re not really sure. I mean being on this 110 000kph planet in what? In space, cyber, empty, infinite vastness of whatever then we die but before that we get the stuffing knocked out of us while dreaming of a better life somewhere else and there’s no such thing actually. So, this kid asks me where I come from and I don’t even know where I’m going because soon… So I say there is this egg and sperm and, just then, or maybe it’s 20 years later, who knows? I. I see these thousands of people running away, they’re walking when I see them, and they’ve been bombed and I know they’re human cos by now I know what humans look like and they’re them, and then there’s this discussion about the land and identity, and I imagine ants fighting over bricks. I don’t know if ants are territorial? Are they? I never saw ants fight. Mind you , I wouldn’t know because they might be fighting and it looks like they’re just carrying stuff. Maybe inside their network of tunnels they have strategies for outdoing other ants and maybe there are some clever ants who can argue how they actually own the planet.

I mean it’s possible. Maybe they do. Maybe after we’re dead our ash and ex bodies become ants and we keep on fighting. It must be important. It’s probably right that everyone just goes back to where they came from. Easier that way. We all do any way.
Don’t step on them ants.
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We’re all refugees.

We entertain thoughts of global citizenship via our mobile phones or laptops. It usually ends there.

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photographic essay

Not looking, through frosted glass

Here is evidence of suburban topography; an exploration of surfaces. A simulacrum of soul.

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I covered a round glass table top with small stones; touchstones for memory. Sensory evidence.

wpid-img_20150802_205223.jpgThen I was here in this room transfixed by shadows and light and swirls of cord around a dark knot. The manifestation of an inner dialogue, braking and grinding cerebral cogs. Like this tangled pulley system:

wpid-dsc_0751.jpgThis is absurd. This interminable process of observation and reconstruction. Then the sharing of it through a blog. Life through a frosted glass …

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… i begin to look at what’s always been here; there? Reviewing. Going in closer for the kill. Changing the angle,

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I need never leave this room. The cosmos unfolds itself magnificently here.

Two views of a wooden wall.

wpid-dsc_0749.jpgTwo perceptions, two receptions, tour of deception.

First time in three years I noticed this. What else have I not seen today, yesterday, the day before …

Why did I notice this today? What was I looking for? I wasn’t looking for the wall – it’s always been there, here … I suspect? I was looking elsewhere. A place less defined; a space within. I’m not sure of the difference between within and without. When I took this photograph I was inside looking out. Looking out while searching within? Where is the inside of us? Is it something like the ‘cloud’ where we keep our data, our documents and our photos? If it is, as was explained to me, in buildings all over the world, why call it a cloud? We understand what we can’t explain through metaphor. The ‘web’, ‘the net’, ‘seat of the soul’, ‘truth’,    ?    ‘indoor plumbing’.

Language forms our understanding of the world. Prevents us from understanding the world. Enlightens us, keeps us in the dark.

This window lets light in. I’m going within. I’m looking out. Prepositions locate our bodies. Am I in my body, or just wandering through it the way I walk around my house staring out of windows finding walls I never knew existed?

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Light is narrative.

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The lack of clarity liberates. I think sometimes it is better not to see the world clearly. I think I understand Jackson Pollock and Kandinsky and Malevich and will build a room with frosted glass for walls and for the ceiling too so that I might for the first time see the world for real.

But I won’t. I have neither the money, the plans nor the building skills. But …

I do have a roof. Here is a photograph of the roof of our boat house. Three winters ago strong winds nearly ripped it off. I paced a cement statue on it for stabilisation. There is no boat beneath the roof.

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Here is a fruit bowl. The fruit still in plastic with folds as delicate as crushed linen.
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Here are the elephants we bought in Mumbai where we walked in the warm rain of monsoon along The Queen’s Necklace and afterwards sat in Leopold’s Cafe with ice cold Coca-Cola and the warmth of gratitude.

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Somewhere in India a tree was cut down then someone brought these elephants out of the tree and we saw in them our connection with elephants in Africa where we were once chased by an old rogue who was camera shy and we spent some of our most intimate moments watching elephants, introducing our children to their grand elegance while camping in a reserve where some of our best memories of being alive were made. Now the elephants from India, like us, are 6000 km from that bush and when we notice them we might remember that once herds of elephant were commonplace, but not anymore. That is why we don’t always allow ourselves to notice them because the loss of elephants is sad and no matter the beauty of these wooden ones, they only point to what we left behind. So I keep these artefacts at a distance or in cardboard boxes for 6 years.

I am learning to let go of what was and take hold of what is . There’s a lot of beauty here.

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There is also this, my dogs remind me that the patina of futility which sometimes coat ‘s my vision is an illusion.

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then there was rain during the night and the drops on these leaves reminded me that finding beauty in the world is not about looking for it. You have to be not looking, through frosted glass.

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By Mike Scallan

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