Happy Independence Day to my U.S. readers and to all readers, a point of order: let us count our blessings and not let our pursuit of a more perfect union blot out the blessings of liberty that we still enjoy. But those rights must be carefully guarded, for they are painfully gained and easily lost.
Free Speech As The Bedrock Of An Flourishing Nation
In a recent story, I mentioned Hong Kong’s 25th anniversary of independence it recently celebrated from the United Kingdom. Quite a juxtaposition between our two nations, right?
We can’t be so superficial as to count up all of Hong Kong’s faults (lack of basic freedoms, an unacceptably high COVID-19 mortality rate considering the longterm shutdown, vast income inequality) without looking critically at our own (perhaps too many too count, as today’s latest mass shooting reminds us), but I’ll take the U.S. system and all its baggage any day over trying to google Tiananmen Square and finding zero results.
Freedom of speech is paramount to a flourishing society. Freedom of speech means allowing idiots and fools to spew off hate. That is why we take a liberal policy to comments on Live and Let’s Fly and why I will defend your right to voice your opinion in the public square. Words have consequences. I won’t hire bigots in my business. But I’ll still defend your right to speak freely.
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Meanwhile the war in Ukraine continues. As troubling as I find Russia’s illegal invasion of a sovereign nation, I find it troubling that both Russia and Ukraine share a dangerous quality: dissent is not tolerated.
Most of us know about Russia’s lack of free speech, but the Ukrainian government is complicit in its efforts to censor Russian-language media and suppress Soviet-era symbols and communist parties that frankly do have support in pockets of eastern Ukraine. One wrong doesn’t justify retaliation in kind.
As we think about the U.S. national anthem, penned by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812, one line resonates today:
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
Our great history that has built the largest and most powerful economy in the world has been built on sweat, blood, and tears…but also on speech. The power of speech to inspire and to change is critical.
Even when we see that speech is ripping us apart and we cry out for discernment in sifting between truth and fiction, I’d far rather grapple with that dilemma than be told what I must think by a government intent on preserving its power or the vested interests it coddles. And frankly I see no middle way.
So yes indeed, there is so much wrong with this country and we cannot just turn the other way and ignore it. But I celebrate the freedom of speech in this nation and as I travel the world and visit so many nations in which citizens do not enjoy that right, it merely confirms that in this way, we have much to be proud of.
Even as we celebrate the freedom that unites us, let us also lament the fear and evil that divides us. Yet the answer is not to stifle speech. The answer to speech is more speech.
Perhaps we would be wise to keep this oft-neglected verse of the National Anthem, added during the Civil War, in the front of our thoughts today:
When our land is illumined with Liberty’s smile,
If a foe from within strike a blow at her glory,
Down, down with the traitor that dares to defile
The flag of her stars and the page of her story!
By the millions unchained, who our birthright have gained,
We will keep her bright blazon forever unstained!
And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave
While the land of the free is the home of the brave.