In an environment where a celebrity-turned-politican can rouse up support through anger and vitriol, I think it is only natural to be wary of how people use speech. It becomes viewed as a tool of fear, a force to fight against, and this can lead people down the dangerous path of trying to fight fire with fire. From that sentiment springs the dichotomies of right and wrong, as well as the idea that the ends justify the means: if you’re so clearly and obviously right, anything you say or do should be for a just cause, even if that means silencing the opposition, right? But such thinking is on the precipice of censorship, and a sense of righteousness can blind people to that.
Whenever I think of the core functions of democracy, I think back to Yang Wen-li in the Japanese novel/anime series Legend of the Galactic Heroes. When comparing democracies and dictatorships as forms of government, Yang emphasizes that while a good, strong, and just dictator can create more sweeping changes and reforms at a quicker rate, a terrible dictator is beyond dangerous. They can seize and maintain power forever, suppress the people, and can only be removed with a great deal of effort. In contrast, it may be harder to get things done in a democracy, but the constant renewal of leadership means that, even if we get some bad politicans, they can only last so long. Democracy has greater potential for change, even if that change comes only in fits and starts.
I think freedom of speech serves a similar role in society, and that in order to have democracy you need to have an environment where people are free to speak their minds. The risk that comes with this is that people may not always say things we’re comfortable with or agree with. This does not mean that we cannot criticize ideas, or how they’re delivered, or that something like hate speech should just be allowed to flourish. However, this also does not mean that the solution is to shut them up or to try and “overpower” them. I do believe that, on some level, part of the reason racism keeps rearing its ugly head is that people are shamed into silence, and they harbor these feelings so that they take the first opportunity for them to voice their feelings in a way that feels empowering. If people speak at each other, it cuts off avenues for dialogue. It’s perhaps no surprise that American politics seem to often be games of one-upsmanship and stifling the opposition, as opposed to trying to find compromise and promote candid conversation.
As an anime and manga blogger, I know this isn’t the sort of topic readers would immediately expect, but I think it is relevant to how fans as people interact with the various worlds they engage in, be they discussions of fiction, participation in their local communities, or engagement in political forums. I hope that we remember that democracy and freedom of speech are not static tools, and they are best utilized as dynamic, ever-changing entities.