Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on my blog Welcome to Bartertown in 2013. It is reprinted here in it’s entirety by special permission of it’s author, Nina Illingworth (me)
The cornerstone of any free society is the right to express ideas and opinions that may disagree with established religious, political and social authority. In this regard, we tend to think of censorship as the violent act of silencing those who would express such opinions; the vilification, arrest and or execution, of people or organizations that dare to speak out against “the powers that be.” These overt forms of oppression are easy to recognize precisely because little if any effort will be made to hide them. Violent censorship seeks to eliminate dissent by both removing one source of opposition and more importantly, by frightening other potential dissidents into silence. While even the most brutal tyrants will officially deny these actions, the reality is that shattered lives, missing relatives and word of mouth ensure that the message is received. These atrocities will often be masked behind pretty words and grand ideologies but ultimately even the most oppressed peasant knows the actions of evil men when (s)he sees them. From the (relative) security of the western world it’s easy to forget that what we describe as racism, totalitarianism and fundamentalism actually mean torture, murder and terror to billions of people all over the planet. Simply put: without security of person there can be no freedom of expression.
So where exactly does that leave me? Without going into too much detail I am an employed city-dweller, born and raised in what’s supposed to be a free society. I’m white, which is important because it means I’m likely to avoid police persecution, racial profiling and casual racism in my everyday life. More to the point however; if I am arrested, my pigmentation means I am less likely to be a victim of police brutality, overzealous prosecution and discriminatory sentencing practices. Additionally I have enough money to hire myself a professional liar to represent me in court and with any luck he or she will be competent and concerned enough to ensure I can turn my currency into something resembling liberty. There’s still some uncertainty in the situation because I am not wealthy, famous or influential enough to exist above the law but it’s a damn sight better than my chances would be if I were a young, black male being represented by a public defender. Despite owning almost no property and renting my apartment; living in a developed urban area gives me easy access to emergency services (police, fire, ambulance), electricity, medical care, public transportation, food and a host of arguably useful products and services. Once again money is also a factor here as without it I’d be forced to rely on the charity and efficiency of my government to provide me with many of these necessities. Finally, the very fact that I am writing and you are reading this blog means that to a least some degree, I have the freedom to express ideas that disagree with those of established religious, political and social authorities. Although my ability to reach a wider audience through a random blog on the internet is questionable at best, there is no reason to believe that publishing it will threaten my safety or liberty in any tangible way. I write these things not with any sense of pride, but as a bitter reminder that I am afforded a greater degree of liberty than most other people on Earth and indeed, many members of my own supposedly free society.
Of course, it’s not all gumdrops and lollipops. As previously mentioned; I’m not wealthy, I don’t own a property or a business and I’m not influential in any significant way either. Possessing any one of these attributes would entitle me to a higher level of “freedom” than I enjoy now in the society I currently live in. Additionally the fact that I’m a woman means that at a bare minimum my security of person is at a much higher risk than that of any man around me. Whether this is caused by my physical limitations or a culture that casually turns a blind eye to victimization, rape and violence towards it’s women is largely irrelevant to this particular discussion. My prospects don’t exactly improve when you note that as a post-op transgendered woman, I have to work exceptionally hard just to guarantee even the precarious level of “safety” afforded most women in my society. All it takes is for one violent bigot, religious extremist or sexually repressed psychopath to notice that I’m a little taller than most girls, or that my hands and feet aren’t exactly dainty and suddenly, the threat of violence becomes extremely real. Even amongst the supposedly “normal” members of my society there are a significant number of people who would casually wish me dead, raped or harmed simply because I was born with a Y chromosome; despite lacking the fortitude to perform said violence on me themselves. Remember folks we’re just talking about my security of person at this point. I could go into wage inequity, social discrimination, religious (but non-violent) traditionalism, lost employment opportunities and casual sexism but out of necessity my primary focus must be protecting myself against violence despite my status as a citizen of a free society.
The disturbing part of all this is that these are just some of the many ways that I, personally am aided or harmed by the inequity of a society that proudly congratulates itself for being free and yet tolerates members being more, or less “free” based on numerous, seemingly arbitrary factors. This does not account for war, taxation, corruption, nepotism, the power of corporations, data collection or spying on citizens from both private and government organizations. It does not cover the devaluation of currency or the accumulation of massive public debt. It does not include austerity, worker exploitation, bailouts, environmental plundering, financial crimes, lobbyists or the disturbing connections between our governments, banking institutions and a complicit incorporated media. Our discussion hasn’t touched on politics, political organizations, the suspension of government services or the slow erosion of representative democracy by way of gerrymandering, legal manipulation and simple population growth. In short; we certainly have a lot to talk about and frankly just looking at the size of it all is enough to frighten most people away. It is simply easier to believe that everything is fine and spending the Soviet Union into oblivion during the late 80’s now means freedom, happiness and a McValue meal for everyone. Reality of course couldn’t be further from the truth and it is with profound sadness that I realize the birth of democracy and the free market represented not the beginning of a new era of freedom for mankind; but a high water mark for the peasantry in what may well be a never-ending class war.
Once again the question becomes, “so where exactly does that leave me?” I’m both unwilling and unable to pretend that I am truly free. Furthermore the realization of just how big a lie the suggestion that I live in a free society has become, both terrifies and enrages me. Finally of course my lack of influence and status as a literally insignificant number in a massive body politic means that I am virtually powerless to do anything about it. I say virtually because my one asset is my voice, but even when I speak out against tyranny it’s almost impossible to be heard above the constant roar of lies, disinformation and outright nonsense presented as news and entertainment by a profit-driven mass media. Again, whether this is on purpose or simply the result of government, corporations, monetary systems and media growing too large to give a damn about individual people is largely irrelevant. The final effect is akin to dropping a million haystacks onto a single needle; the speaker might as well attempt to shout his or her ideas into a raging hurricane for all of the good it will seemingly do. Where as totalitarian authorities use terror to prevent the spread of new ideas, here in the free world we simply drown them out with never ending waves of biased news updates, pop culture references and babbling psychopaths who don’t possess a single opinion someone hasn’t already paid for. Still, despite these many obstacles I do retain the right to freely express a voice of dissent in the face of an all out assault on the liberties peasants like me have fought and died for all over the world. I am, for this moment still allowed to talk about injustice in the world around me, whether it be local, domestic or international. I can still try to encourage readers to be a little less shitty to each other and to avoid being divided by politics, race and whether or not you can afford to buy a less awful life of slavery than your neighbors. Although it is likely to accomplish nothing whatsoever, I can still point out that not only does the Emperor have no clothes but he’s a filthy rapist with designs on both your mind and your wallet. What’s more, so long as this right is not afforded to all of my brothers and sisters on this planet Earth, I have a moral obligation to do just that.
So this is my story folks. There are many others like it but mine is special because it comes to you from the heart of a girl who just wants to see the day when all humans will truly be finally free. She has no politics, doesn’t want your money, doesn’t care which god you worship and isn’t asking you to adopt an ideology. I have a lot to say, and owing to an ongoing illness I may not have forever to say it. If you’re still reading this, there’s a good chance we have a lot more in common with each other than we have differences and even if we don’t, it’s an almost absolute certainty we have more in common with each other than any of our so called leaders and elites. I don’t know if you can change the world by talking but I do know that nothing ever changes without the free exchange of ideas. Besides, I’ve always been a sucker for hopeless causes.
See ya round Sam(antha).
– Savannah Nix (aka Nina Illingworth)