OPINION: A word on freedom

Manolo Quezon -- the Explainer

Posted at Jan 31 2018 03:44 PM

Yesterday, the Senate held a second hearing on so-called "fake news." At the end of it, it seemed everyone pretty much agreed to disagree, except on the motherhood statement that fake news is bad, ok? As for the rest, what fake news is, exactly, and whether opinion is news, and, in turn, whether only the public but not officials are entitled to express opinions, there remains a wide variety of well, opinions on these subjects.

But to take a positive approach for a moment, I do think we got closer to some sort of consensus. The first is that this is one problem where discussion, however heated, helps. It forces everyone involved, and really, there's three sides to every issue--the positive, the negative, and you, the audience, listening and judging both sides of the argument--and the more each side is involved, the more each side is forced to clarify not just its thinking, but how it expresses itself.

The second is that this process has to be encouraged rather than resort to throwing the book at one side or another by means of creating yet more rules. There are rules aplenty governing how we behave to each other, both in terms of the law and in terms of standards, that is, good manners and right conduct. For every person finding comfort in the law on libel, there are, hopefully, many more who operate on the simple assumption that the Rotary Four-Way Test is a pretty handy guide to figuring out most public questions.

Which brings us to the third item for consensus which is, there's no substitute for thinking for yourself. As the late Teodoro M. Locsin once put it, freedom is responsibility and the affluent as well as the slave hate it.

Locsin went further and said as far as this freedom business is concerned, an editor and writer like himself is, like anybody else, actually free to do three things:

You are free to study, or not. If you prefer to remain in ignorance, you are not free, you are not enjoying freedom, which is the opposite of being imprisoned in ignorance.

You are free to think, nor not. To think is to doubt, the best antidote to conceit--because you are free to seek the truth, regardless of where it might take you, which is to a place of discovery where you might find out you were wrong. Just as all of us, at one point or another, will surely be wrong just as much as we might be right.

You are free to express yourself, or not. You are free to say what you think, or you can say the opposite of what you really think, in which case, you are not free. 

Yesterday, someone online mentioned that many of the personalities forced to be together in that hearing room, ended up more reasonable, respectful, even nicer, to each other than they normally are, online. In other words, much as so much hate is expressed online in the name of freedom, however we define it, when actually forced to face each other like human beings there seems to be a chance we end up being more humane--more human--to each other.

In other words, people had to behave more responsibly when facing each other rather than typing at each other from behind glass screens.

Here, in the final analysis, seems to be the missing ingredient in the whole search for a workable recipe to make online discussions and by extension, our public debates less toxic experiences. To restore the human and thus humane, dimension of it all.

In Locsin's hierarchy of freedoms, studying and thinking came ahead of expression. All the fire and thunder we saw in the Senate were crystallized in that one moment of studying--watching or listening, as the case was--combined with thinking--pondering what the whole dreary afternoon revealed--to be expressed in that one, useful, observation. If we look at each other as what we really are--people--we might just work out how to get along a little better and actually solve problems, instead of creating them.

At least, that's about as good an explanation I can find for digging ourselves out of the toxic hole we all find ourselves in, these days.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.