The Thoughts are Free

Die Gedanken sind frei

Happy Republic Day, fellow Indians. Here’s some morsels for thought.

I came across this quote recently:

“Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom – and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.” – Benjamin Franklin

The whole idea of freedom of speech has always sparked my interest. Mostly because it’s always restricted in one way or the other in this country, regardless of what people might say. People are afraid to express their views because doing so will either:

  • Get them arrested
  • Make them the victims of vigilantes
  • Lead to them becoming shunned from society in general

This is the major reason why I’m all for online anonymity. I wouldn’t dream of typing up this article if it would somehow impact my career, or any other sphere of my life that’s barely related to this. Of course, we’re seeing anonymity being slowly eroded by several measures these days, but it’s still somewhat possible to achieve, without much effort.

The whole Aadhar issue is the perfect example: plenty of companies demand linking Aadhar to continue using their services, under the guise of collecting user information. Oh, but you don’t have to take my word for it. A former head of the Research and Analysis Wing said so. And Edward Snowden agreed.

I recently played this game called Orwell. A very good game, by the way, I’d highly recommend it if you want an Orwellian entertainment experience for about 5 hours, for one playthrough. It’s sort of funny to embrace that kind of surveillance in the game, because you do play a part in the very kind of system that 1984 made so iconic.

The game basically has you collecting info on individuals related to a number of terrorist bombings. A noble goal, surely. Most often, this is the reasoning behind the implementation of such wide scale surveillance systems. Give up your privacy to help us potentially catch criminals. “For the greater good”, they say.

In the current scenario, people get beaten up and killed for being suspected of even carrying beef, or opposing traditional views. Stuff like this happens a lot more than is publicly reported. Mass surveillance and further restriction of free speech is unlikely to help with these things.

Of course, the arguments go “but they’re disrupting social harmony!” No. The people who attack them are.

It’s kind of funny how in this country, people are exuberant about protesting to ban things at even the slightest provocation, yet will fight as much as they can to prevent legalization of things. I guess it is real democracy at work, the will of the people and all.

There’s really no one fix for these issues, and it’s a part of larger social change. I believe that through awareness and understanding, we can learn and progress much more than censoring and shutting ourselves away.

I’ll close with a stanza from the actual song Die Gedanken sind frei (The Thoughts are Free)

I think what I want, and what delights me,
still always reticent, and as it is suitable.
My wish and desire, no one can deny me
and so it will always be: Thoughts are free!

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