These days in France, freedom of speech is on the menu. It is the sizzling entrée of discussion amongst friends and coworkers in offices. It is the plat principal of public TV debates, between distinguished people dressed in suits and spectacles. It is the dessert to mull over during family reunions. It is the cognac to wind it all down, in the comment sections of newspapers and in social media.
Every Frenchman worth his salt, and his roquefort cheese, is swearing on the Marianne herself (the grim-looking arbiter of the values of the French republic) that he will have nothing less than la liberté d'expression absolue. The French are generally an emotional race and when they feel very strongly about something, even a good thing, they end up doing something chop chop chop in the public square. But what exactly is getting the snip of the blade now ?
Any snaffling voices questioning the premises of this debate are getting muffled and snuffled. It is considered better to do so than ruffle any unnecessary scuffles. After the vicious attack in Paris, it became more important to show a sense of unity and stand together. Here lies the paradox. Does the liberty of expression have any relevance if there is nothing to express and nothing to squabble about ?
Every sod, prick and granny has an opinion. And they have an opinion about expressing opinions. The problem is that they all do so very differently. A professional sod thinks he is serially shortchanged in his life and likes to whinge about it. A professional prick thinks it is his sacred duty to annoy the hell out of other people. A professional granny wants everybody to just shut up and be quiet about it. So how do we prevent professional pricks from picking on prickly sods ? And how do we convince grannies that we don't muck about in our speaking business and be civilized about things ? This is a question that is as old as democracy, that is to say, at least two thousand years old. So inevitably, I have to talk about monkeys, gossiping, the mafia, the unconscious brain, self-censorship, and finally about Socrates (the bastard who started it all). I don't have time for all that today.
But I will relate a simple scenario that easily opens up to common sense. Imagine a regular fellow who is going about his business. Let us call him Mr. Tweedledum. As he is trodding on his daily do, roughing up his ploughs, putting two and two together about his business, imagine a large bunch of people go up to him and chant.
"..Tum tum tum tum tum, Mr. Tweedledum
Careful with your bum, Mr. Tweedledum.."
"..I am not your chum, Mr. Tweedledum
And careful with y'r bum, Mr. Tweedledum.."
If this racket goes on for long enough, it would be natural for Mr. Tweedledum to wonder if something is wrong with his bum. He may reasonably think that his bum is in some grave danger, and that somebody is out to get it.In his inner consciousness, he would see his bum getting bigger and bigger, to the point of eclipsing every other element of his body. Ultimately, he would get twitchy at the very mention of his bum. But the mental gravity over this problem has already turned so acute that there is no going back. The non-mention of the bum would be felt as severely as the mention of it.
We humans have a peculiar kind of consciousness. If we keep paying attention to a topic for long enough, it will expand in our mind and colonize all our brain cells. Movie directors know this very well and use these tricks to drive their narratives of the plot. In a grander and wickeder scale, news media drives the narrative of our social debate using similar devices.
Let's come back to Mr. Tweedledum. He has twee diddly eyes. But he still got his bum. He has a sprigly jiggly step. But he still got his bum. He has a sparkly crackly voice. You see where it is going.
You see, speech is a complicated business. And freedom is even more complicated. It is a bloody complicated world out there. We cannot just snip away all the rough edges, fold it down to an equation that explains everything, put it in an envelope, seal it, and proclaim the situation is under control. It is not.
We need to keep dribbling the trifles. Keep fiddling the befuddling stuff. Keep budging the curmudgeons. We need to keep poking at the apocopia.
I just invented a word.
Apocopia (n): The tendency to chop the last letters of a word, or the last say in a debate, especially if the concept in question is infinite in length or even much longer.
I really didn't invent the word out of nothing. I don't have any copyright on this. Please refer to the list of apocopations in the English language: words which are chopped up by people who think they are cool. I don't have any problem with cool people, or with chopping up words, but we should do this in moderation and remember that there is a bigger story behind.
Just like myopia, somebody suffering from apocopia will not be able to see properly. A subway sandwich and a submarine will both be "sub" for him. But only one of them is good for lunch.
I hope we remember Mr. Tweedledum for his sprigly jiggly step. Or for his twee diddly eyes. In fact, however much we may pretend otherwise, we are all Tweedledums, who keep twiddling about the riddles in this life. We keep bumbling up the big jumble of this world. We cannot know every nook in the whole gobbledygook. We are just works in progress. The situation is far from satisfactory and definitely not under our control. The best we can hope for is a good sense of humor.
Tweedle-dee Tweedle-daa.. Life goes on.
(With apologies to the Beetles, Lewis Carrol and the million other references in my not-at-all-original opinion)