In "Fahrenheit 451" the free flow of ideas was threatened. What has threatened the free flow of ideas in our history and what threatens it today?
As Voltaire famously once said: "I hate what you are saying, but I would die for the right for you to say it." This emphasis on the vitality of free speech for humankind is something that is centred in this dystopian novel. One of the concerns that I have, as expressed above, and something that is picked up in the novel itself, is the debasing of the media. When we have media moguls such as Rupert Murdoch controlling several newspapers and TV networks, how do we know that we are receiving accurate, unbiased news, and not the news that politicans and people such as Murdoch want us to here? This, in my opinion, is a key concern for our society. Thanks to globalisation, we live in a world of unprecented information - but we must ask ourselves what kind of information and whose information we are receving, bearing in mind that globalisation also opens up greater possibilities for individuals to control and manipulate information.
This is an interesting topic, indeed. Certainly, the previous post was quite strong in its assertion that moments when governmental action tended to be motivated out of fear could represent a moment when the free flow of ideas was threatened. Along these lines, the Patriot Act could certainly be added to this list. I think an interesting dynamic that could emerge from this would be to consider how the news media, itself, might threaten the free flow of ideas. For a time, the news divisions of media outlets was seen as separate from the business component of media conglomerates. Over the last thirty to forty years, this has changed in that the news division has become an area where issues of profitability have gained more prominence, and at some moments, have come at the cost of the media's responsibility to educate and enhance the public discourse. This collusion between business and journalism could represent a threatening of the free flow of ideas, as profit and business models become the determinant factor for information dissemination, as opposed to the free market of ideas and thought. This is not only limited to the media. As literature and creativity become increasingly influenced by profit motives, the free thought and exchange of ideas become a casualty.
If you look at Ray Bradbury's take on this question, he proposes several things that limit our free speech, free thinking, and free ideas in our society. A good place to look for what he says in in Beatty's speech to Montag when Beatty comes to the house after Montag stays home sick. Beatty mentions several factors that have led to their society's rather limited ideas and thinking patterns. The first is political correctness, which means that people can't say or think certain things for fear of offending certain groups. So many people were offended by the content in books that books were censored and edited out of existence. This happens in our society, but not only with books. News programs have to phrase things certain ways so that they don't offend certain groups in the nation. Even laws, songs, lawsuits and regulations all reflect our society's obesiance to political correctness. If you say something the wrong way, you can get sued. So, your ideas are fine, unless they offend people.
Another thing that Beatty mentions that restricts free ideas and thought is sheer laziness. People don't want to do their own thinking anymore. For this reason, in Montag's society, books died out, because they forced people to think on their own, and elicited emotions that prompted them to act. Our society is often the same way--instead of doing the work to figure things out on our own, we watch the movie version. Or, we just want to be given the answer in our classes, instead of figuring out the answers for ourselves. In the meantime, we lose the ability to think, to process, to analyze, and these are all necessary factors in creating ideas.
Both of these factors, laziness and political correctness, have limited the flow of ideas in our society today. The last is governmental restrictions and regulations--this is also mentioned by Beatty. The government jumped on the bandwagon, and in the past 100 years of our society, there have been so many different regulations that have limited the production and sale of many different great ideas and products. In Montag's society, government took it to the extreme, and used people's laziness and penchant for sensitivity to keep control. A people that doesn't exchange ideas and doesn't think for themselves cannot rebel. Instead, they encouraged entertaining themselves into oblivion, because it kept people quiet and subdued.
I hope that those thoughts helped a bit; good luck!
Here in the US, there have been numerous times (going all the way back to the earliest days of the country) when the free flow of ideas has been threatened. I think that there is relatively little in the way of threats to it today, however.
A few times when there were threats to the flow of ideas:
- Late 1700s, the Alien and Sedition Acts. These made it illegal to criticize the government, essentially.
- Just before the Civil War, it was illegal to send anti-slavery materials through the mail.
- During the Civil War, Lincoln took the right to jail people without charge for indefinite periods. He used it against people who spoke out too much against the war.
- WWI -- there were again laws against criticizing the war effort, more or less. Eugene Debs was sentenced to 10 years in prison for urging resistance to the draft.
- Perhaps most famously, there was the red scare of the 1950s.
But today, there seems to be very little stifling the flow of ideas. The internet makes it easier than ever to get your ideas out to other people. The government is not, in my opinion, making any real efforts to prevent the expression of any ideas.