There is no such thing in the world as unlimited freedom (carte blanche) relating to the activities of humankind that do not have repercussions. Unrestrained freedom usually comes with negative consequences, felt either as an individual or a collective.
Hence, in our quest for liberty, it is always important to balance that freedom with a sense of responsibility. That is where restraint in the exercise of our liberty is important.
History is littered with examples of freedom entrapping the freed, including the very tenets of democracy. As Luiz Fux, a justice of the Brazilian Supreme Court and former president of Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court put it in the context of fake news, “Sometimes the excessive concern with freedom of expression ends up violating a more important principle – the democratic principle.
But outside of the context of fake news, people and societies are becoming slaves of their own freedom.
For example, in many Hesperian nations, it is considered individuals’ fundamental human right to choose their gender. Hence with the science and technology available to do it, it has become common practice for individuals to opt to be the opposite sex. The upshot of that drift is that it inhibits procreation, hence population growth, with the consequence of threatening such countries’ welfare systems due to aging populations. That goes pari passu with the shrinking labour force. Ultimately, the economy is negatively impacted. And, depending on individual perspectives, such practices are fuelling moral decadence. Some try to be transracial, which comes with future health costs. Others make claims of being children, even though they are adults, and vice versa.
Gun ownership in the West has become a pertinent issue for debate every year, especially in the United States where scores of lives are lost virtually on a daily basis either by commission or omission. That right to own guns is indeed curbing the freedom of many Americans, for example, as some fear going to certain neighborhoods. Also, it is costing state governments dearly in terms of litigations and compensating innocent victims of gun violence.
Freedom was taken to another extreme on January 6, 2021, on the US Capitol, the very heart and soul of US democracy, while a democratic process was taking place. Essentially, the exercise of freedom by mobsters was taken to such extremes that they attacked the very system that grants them freedom.
Unhinged and arguably irresponsible freedom of the media is partly to blame for the Rwandan genocide that occurred in 1994. It is scary today to fathom the degree to which social media can be a force for good or for evil. With the prevalence of fake news reverberating in every nook and cranny of the country on a daily basis, Nigeria’s orientation, law enforcement agencies, as well as legal system ought to be strengthened to deal with such marauding force. That call is especially directed at ethnoreligious chauvinism.
Historically, the priority of freedom of speech has been justified on both knowledge and democratic grounds. Following John Milton’s Areopagitica (1644), John Stuart Mill and others argued that the ‘free exchange of ideas was necessary for the advancement and testing of truth. Also, democratic theorists inspired by Jean-Jacques Rousseau have long insisted that unrestricted public deliberation and debate were essential to democratic legitimacy through the development, refinement, and expression of the ‘general’ will.
On the other hand, who should be trusted for saying the truth or doing what is absolutely right? Writing in the 18th century, Montesquieu observed that “In absolute monarchies, historians betray the truth because they do not have the liberty to tell it; in extremely free states, they betray the truth because of their very liberty for…each one becomes as much the slave of the prejudices of his faction as he would be of a despot.
Since, therefore, the absolute truths in words or actions are not guaranteed from imperfect humans, there should always be caution and limitations in the ways we exercise the same.
For many years, commentators argued that the rise of the internet and social media, by allowing a low-cost, easy entry, a way for information to be disseminated, would foster knowledge. For example, what might be described as “quasi-presses” reach large audiences without the intervention of the corporate giants that control the traditional media outlets.
While true, however, news filtering through such media is not subjected to robust debate, but rather a marked trend of ideology in which like-minded partisans isolate themselves in self-referential and reinforcing media echo chambers.
The speed and near simultaneity with which ideas can be spread (the phenomenon of “going viral”) in many respects makes social media communication akin to speeches made to an excited mob. All of this takes place without the intervention of a “responsible” editor, often anonymously, and without the informal social control that is characteristic of real, as opposed to virtual, social interactions. The volume of “fake news” is dramatically increasing while the capacity of citizens to distinguish true from false is decreasing, in part because the arbiters of truth have themselves been compromised.
Fittingly, the European Convention on Human Rights allows limitations on freedom of expression that is necessary for a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
Nigeria’s nascent democratic experiment naturally inspires the feeling of latent self-expression; and sometimes as a group, especially when it comes to ethnic and religious sentiments. As a nation of educated people, it goes with a caveat: MAY WE NOT ALLOW OUR FRE