Dual-purpose freedom

By Brian Low

Dressed in his military fatigues, flowing beard and stogie in his mouth, you may be surprised Fidel Castro ever practiced a profession other than Cuba’s dictator… unless you knew he was a lawyer. Man, this guy just can’t stay away from jobs where he profits from the misfortune of others.

A few days ago, "el Commandant" had 15 "counterrevolutionaries" arrested for trying to draw attention to the perfidious goals of greater democratization and protection of human rights within Cuba. They were conducting a peaceful protest, hoping to take advantage of the media circus surrounding the Ibero-American Summit in Havana, and now they’re in jail. It’s like Castro thinks he’s the Prime Minister of Canada or something, what with all this oppression of "dissidents" at international

You know, the protesters in custody may have broken Cuban law. They may have even tried to draw attention to outmoded, outlandish and silly ideals. Heaven knows most talk of democracy and human rights is just bourgeois propaganda put out by the Great Satan (i.e. the us), but there are still a number of reasons why Castro should let them have their say. They’re the same reasons freedom of expression needs to be protected everywhere.

First off, the idea may be right. To silence someone because if ideas are "wrong" is to presume one’s own infallibility. Statistically speaking, even the most infallible of people have been known to hold opinions that are misinformed, misguided, or just plain wrong, on an alarmingly frequent basis.

And the last time I checked, politicians weren’t exactly at the top of the infallibility list, either. Take universal suffrage, for example. When women started making motions to receive the vote, the idea seemed outrageous to the vast majority of politicians in the business: "The poor dears would work themselves into a mental frenzy;" "The next thing you know, they would be neglecting their duties cooking and cleaning in the home!" If ideas generally held to be "right" were never challenged, who knows how long it would be before they were proved wrong?

Secondly, freedom of expression needs to be guarded because, quite often, the idea being expressed won’t be bang-on–it might not be altogether wrong, either. The truth will lie somewhere in-between. Communism is a good example. Experiences like Cuba’s have demonstrated it isn’t the best political system if you’re looking for economic success or personal liberty. Its influences on its watered-down Canadian cousin, socialism, however, brought about both health care, and the eight-hour working day. The damned commies stimulated the adoption of both ideas. If they hadn’t enjoyed the freedom to express their "crazy" ideas, we would be so much the worse for it. And when liberty of expression is tolerated, even if an idea is wrong, it can be demonstrated as such, and it loses the forbidden fruit-type appeal.

For example, white supremacists may hold obnoxious and distasteful views, but thanks to the freedom of speech, everyone recognizes how stupid they are. Their ideas can be openly discussed, discredited and everyone can move on with his or her life. You may have to tolerate an idea’s existence, but it is because of this tolerance that you don’t have to worry about widespread acceptance.

And so, Castro cheats both himself and his nation by locking up the people who are trying to express ideas. He stifles not only their ideas, but also free thought in general and its boundless potential for good. Ironically, he gives greater attention to the protesters’ cause than if they had just been allowed to wave their placards. Gee, maybe Fidel is onto something, or maybe it’s a shame the CIA’s best assassination attempts were a poisoned wet suit and an exploding cigar.

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