Markos Kounalakis comments on free speech in The Sacramento Bee

January 21, 2015

In his article "Ideas are worth defending against dictators and theocrats", CMDS fellow Markos Kounalakis comments on the attack against Charlie Hebdo, and what the defence of ideas and free speech means in the 21st century. 

Candles are lit near a sign that read in French “I am Charlie” lights a candle during a demonstration in solidarity with those killed in an attack at the Paris offices of the weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in the Kosovo capital Pristina on Wednesday.

Ideas are dangerous things. Allow them to spread uncontrollably and they can infect the thinking and behavior of a people. Some ideas can lead to revolutionary acts, as with democracy and the concept that power can accrue to the people instead of deities or despots.

Ideas allow us to question our beliefs, our leaders and our societies. The viral spread of these ideas has been accelerated over the millennia, making an exponential leap in the early 15th century with the invention of the printing press. What Gutenberg’s machine did to spread ideas challenging religious hierarchy and ideology of the day was revolutionary and catalyzed the Reformation.

Enter the 21st century. We are now at a point in human history where the spread of ideas is instantaneous, global and ubiquitous. Nearly 600 years after the invention of the printing press, we are in an information environment that envelops us in words, images and sounds that force us to reflect upon and question every aspect of our human condition. Data swirls about us to challenge every form of authority.

Democratic systems and societies are best able to adapt to this changing environment. Those who are less democratic and wish to preserve a power structure try to limit or stop ideas from spreading. They often do this by killing the message, disrupting the Internet or practicing broad censorship...

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