Public Discourse and Freedom

In a free society, thoughtful and engaged men would gather as rational agents responsible for their own shared well-being, to discuss what ought to be done. They would attempt to persuade their fellows, and the results of these orations and arguments would sway public purposes and policies, even create discernible swerves in the course of history. Public discourse would be not merely relevant, but essential to political life, and at best almost indistinguishable from it.

Today, in all the leading matters of interest, public discourse is not only irrelevant, but absurd. To discuss what our authorities ought to do, or to debate the decisions they have made, is just as reasonable as slaves arguing about the wisdom of the latest order as to who must sleep in which hut, or “deliberating” over the amount of ankle chafing caused by the new shackles relative to the old ones. Slaves have no say in such decisions, and no recourse as to their effects. They must simply obey or be punished, regardless of their “opinion,” which will never be consulted or considered. Hence, in engaging one another on these issues, they might as well be discussing whether perhaps the sun ought to rise in the west tomorrow.

Public discourse today is an exercise in mutually infuriating futility. An act we perform mainly to save face by denying our emasculation, pretending we are participating in something, or contributing something — but infuriating because our performance is no longer able to fool our primary audience, namely ourselves.

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