Ming the Mechanic:
Freedom of Thought

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Freedom of Thought2004-02-08 11:54
22 comments
picture by Flemming Funch

The Green Man:
"It is easier to have freedom of thought in a concentration camp than in America today."
"So said Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. In 1970 he won the Nobel Prize for literature and is the author of a number of books that are insightful, both on the nature of the Russian political system and of the human psyche when placed in situations of extreme hardship. In 1974 he fled Russian persecution for the land of the free and the home of the brave. To his astonishment he discovered a land where freedom of thought was no greater than in Russia. There was a difference only in the nature of the restrictions on his freedom of thought not on the extent. Of course the natural response is to say "like it or leave it", that is, if he thinks it is so crook then leave (which is actually what he did, returning to his native Russia after the fall of communism.) Our friends, however, are not the ones that tell us what we want to hear, but those who tell us what we need to hear.

He made this statement many years ago. It is interesting to consider whether it is more or less appropriate today. Are we more or less able to question the behaviour of our country's respective leaders without being labelled UnAmerican/UnAustralian."
It is, unfortunately, even more appropriate today. Despite what many Americans would like to think, it was rather easier to think for yourself in a communist country. It would be much more clear what is government propaganda and what is your own thoughts.


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22 comments

8 Feb 2004 @ 21:36 by bkodish : Sollzhenitsyn's Folly?
"It is, unfortunately, even more appropriate today. Despite what many Americans would like to think, it was rather easier to think for yourself in a communist country..."

You lived in the U.S. for a number of years. During some of that time, correct me if I'm wrong, Eastern Europe and Russia were still under communism. Are you implying that you would have felt freer living in the Soviet Union or Communist Poland than you did living here?

If so, I find that astounding.

If what you report here about Solzenitsyn is accurate, than what I question is the man's good judgement, whatever his literary skills and honors.  



9 Feb 2004 @ 07:18 by ming : Thinking for yourself
We're talking about freedom of thought - whether you can think your own thoughts and form your own opinions about things. Not necessarily about whether you'll get away with acting on them.

And, yes, indeed, I think that the U.S. is not a place that is very supportive of free thinking. It is very supportive of mental conformity and of simplemindedness. There's a massive machinery in place to make sure it remains so and that everybody sticks with the program.

But, yes, in the U.S. I can paint my car any color I want and I can start my own business and invest in anything I want. And in principle I can say what I want. Except for if it violates the general norms for what is politically correct and moral and patriotic. Oh I can say some of those things, and that is part of the illusion of freedom, but I don't get very far with it unless my message is backed by massive vested interests.

I very much like free markets of all kinds, and open space for thinking what one actually thinks, and being able to speak it. And in the U.S. there's a lot of signs of materialistic freedom, meaning that if you have money you can buy lots of stuff and protect your property, and there's a lot of talk and pride around the subject of 'freedom'. But when it comes to actually being able to inform yourself about the world, and freely think for yourself, and freely express what you think, I'm afraid the U.S. is one of the more backwards and oppressed places I've run into.

It is very pleasant to live in the U.S. And after a few years one gets used to limiting one's thinking to the proper size, and instead expressing superficial 'freedom' on the outside. And one avoids the long list of things that are morally unacceptable to think about. Just like everybody else one is a little shocked if Janet Jackson bares her breast on TV, or if some celebrity is arrested for smoking grass. One jumps through hoops to be racistic in only the politically correct way, and one bends over backwards to not say anything sexist to anybody. One gets used to that the big national and international issues aren't being discussed at all. The press and the people who run the country compete about delivering commercials for various points of view about issues that mostly have nothing muct to do with anything, like abortion and whether to outlaw evolution in school curriculae. But there's very little actual discussion going on about anything. Just competition about who's view will win.

But at the same time, because the U.S. if founded more deliberately on a foundation of freedom, and most Americans still believe very strongly in it, even if they don't live it, there's probably more potential for changing the world from the U.S. than from anywhere else. There's a certain energy there that possibly might make all the difference, if it will mature a bit.

It is a bit of a paradox. Because Americans believe they're free, and because they have a lot of energy and willingness to act, they might potentially be very instrumental in creating more freedom. But, really, people in Europe or in the former East Block communist countries are in general way, way better informed about what is going on in the world, and way more free to think about it and talk about it. And they do. From the typical dinner conversation to what the media and governments are doing - they're all much more talking about things, having dialogues, dicussing things from all the sides they can think of, trying to find better solutions to things. But they mostly don't have the gung-ho energy that Americans do, and they don't generally feel as free to go and rearrange the world as Americans do.  



9 Feb 2004 @ 18:22 by Andrius Kulikauskas @81.7.119.11 : We're not as free as you might think! ;)
Flemming, I love your blog! Something to factor in about communist propaganda. It's still has effect. When people are trying to read the opposite into everything, they can go way off course. For example, many people here in Lithuania grew more racist because the Soviet press would write how Black Americans are oppressed, so they figured it must be the opposite, or they deserve it, etc.. Also, it doesn't do much good to know the news from the rest of the world, if you don't do anything to respond to the news in your own, as you suggest. The levels of disappointment in politics are probably higher here than in America. I think one complication in comparing America with other countries is that we tend to compare the very average American with the exceptionals from other countries. It's pretty awesome how functional the most average Americans happen to be. It's probably the one country where the average people dictate the culture. Just thought I'd chirp in.  


9 Feb 2004 @ 23:50 by ming : America
Indeed. I admire Americans in general for being optimistic, inventive, self-motivated, take-action kinds of people, who trust that they can go out and do something and make a difference. Because, yes, it maybe doesn't matter if people are generally better informed and educated elsewhere, if they don't do anything about it.

Interesting about how people would respond distrustingly to the Soviet news in trying to do the opposite. It is both good, of course, that they try to make up their own mind, but, as you say, that can get them way off course, if the news happened to be approximately correct.

It is truth we need, of course, not just repeating versus rebelling against propaganda.  



11 Feb 2004 @ 13:44 by E_Johnson @69.33.46.10 : Thank you for the inspiring post, Ming
Right on target as usual. I like the multiordinal quality of your entries and the freshness with which you revisit deceptively old issues under new and different perspectives, rotating ideas around like semi-virtual 3D objects.

Re America:
"There's a certain energy there that possibly might make all the difference, if it will mature a bit..."

Yes, l hope so!

"A civilisation that cannot burst through its current abstractions is doomed to sterility after a very limited period of progress."
[Science and Sanity, Alfred O. Korzybski—quoting Alfred N. Whitehead]  



16 Feb 2004 @ 11:48 by Ellen Fix @208.49.241.188 : Freedom of Thought
I hear exactly what you're saying about freedom of thought. For instance, at my kids' public schools, any expression of an idea that is neither status quo nor government-sactioned reaps frowns, stares, and disgust among the holier-than-thou crowd of parents who are so used to simply putting up with mediocrity that they think it's the ideal. In the U.S., mediocrity--and the errneous data that perpetuates it--has become so rampant that people think that's the way life is supposed to be! And people get too lazy to do their own investigation into matters of import, because they're so busy trying to make a living so they can acquire more things, that they leave major decisions (such as how my child is to be educated, for instance) up to others who, like Bush and so many other politicians of BOTH parties, are absolutely clueless.  


7 May 2007 @ 19:38 by Gary B. Wright @71.202.84.246 : American facade needing dialog
The American concept of self-proclaimed mythological omnipotence is cryptically written into its legislation and is oppressively evil. Close investigation will find that the Americans exercise unjust economic power over a group of people to sustain American status and wealth. This has been the unpaid debt that is metaphorically similar to the "dust swept under the rug continuously until there develops a hump that can no longer be ignored." America has convinced certain Americans that they are not deserving of true freedom. This alone creates holocaust. History shows that every great civilization eventually falls due to its' false sense of security and superiority. America is long overdue a dialog of true freedom of thought.  


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