Eternal vigilance as the price of liberty (a political meditation)

The above words were uttered by someone from those countries that have a huge tradition of fighting to keep liberty alive. This means that even there, they have to remain vigilant, lest their liberty be stolen from them.

The nature of liberty is that it is a perishable commodity, so you have to restock your supplies of it frequently. If you don’t, you begin to lose your liberty; and a free society can thus turn overnight into a closed society.

That was how Germany in the NAZI era was able to elect Hitler and become a dictatorship overnight, where the furher could murder 6 million Jews freely, without Germany batting an eyelid.

Who are the guardians that must be eternally vigilant to keep the fires of liberty burning eternally, morning after morning? The media is one of them. The people are the other.

The media is a platform where you could -rightfully or wrongfully- attack any government agenda, point out anything disturbing you about society, and check people who do bad things because those people are the most likely to want to extinguish the fire of liberty. So, it goes that the free press must be protected and it must be kept democratic. That means, there must be little barrier to entry.

Those societies where entry into media is regulated by licenses are actually witnessing the loose or tight restraint of a guardian of liberty. The government which is an institution that naturally would not want much liberty in the country -because of the classified things they do routinely as part of their business -must be forced by the people to lose its hold of the media and not stifle it to death with regulations.

They have their job to do to defend the state, but the upholders of liberty have theirs, which is to defend the freedoms of the people.

The internet is a media platform that the government will naturally want to regulate because it is currently the most democratic platform around. Anyone can start a blog or a Facebook page or a Twitter hashtag and publish something that powerful forces would rather prefer hidden.

So, the government is always trying to draw up new legislation to reign in the internet, that baby that they create, but always end up fighting.

If the guardians of liberty fall asleep even for a moment , the regulators  come out of the cracks in the walls and take and immediately begin to institute changes that would turn the society into a different one from the one the guardians left as they entered their ill-advised sleep, and they would have to do a lot of work undoing the harm that has been done in their sleep.

So, that is why even though it is a natural thing to relax, if you love liberty, you must eschew relaxation and embrace vigilance- that is sleeping with one eye open. That is why newspapers work a little more, sometimes even during holidays. Because the job of securing liberty is a job that isn’t complete until the journalist reports to his boss the people, the same way a secret service agent would report intelligence to the government.

The state and the people need each other. They are two poles in a symbiotic relationship with each other. The people need the state to organize them -because without organization there would be anarchy- while the state needs the people to remain relevant.

The Place Of The Press

The press or media should naturally be with the people, because their number one responsibility is to guard the freedoms of the people from the natural encroachment of the state and any private elements that may want to stifle liberty.

But sometimes you have government owning news organs. Well that is a necessary imperfection of the press. The only way the people can counter this is for them to make sure there is enough variety in the news for the government not to be the only media voice heard.

Technology is in this wise a great ally of the people, because it is what renews the vitality of the press and deepens its democracy. From town criers you had books, then papers, then radios, and then television and then cable and then blogs and the internet.

Who knows what would come next. Perhaps brain-based mass communications technology where one wouldn’t even need to type on one’s laptop, but rather they  just use a devise – perhaps a micro chip- that enables them to broadcast communication signals from their brain which is then received by a targeted audience.

Mass Communication Marches On

It would appear that in spite of the attempts to stifle mass communication over the centuries of human existence by dictatorial leaders, technology has repeatedly freed liberty from any chains – whether laws or new counter communication technology, or fear – that have been designed to chain it,.

Today, there are internet forums where technology has granted the power of anonymity to people who would have shied away from having their say. But because technology allows them to post their views without showing their picture or user name, they feel very free, and sometimes this irks the government.

Mind you, this is not to say that the governments are necessarily against liberty in principle, but the things they have to do to keep the state going sometimes requires some secrecy. But unfortunately for them, it is the job of those who guard the fires of liberty to be anti-secret.

It is the job of the press to report their findings to the people, and the job of the people to be interested in finding out what the press has to report. This is just as it is the job of the secret service agents and other government officials like civil servants to provide intelligence reports to those who lead the government for necessary information and decisions to be taken.

So, research to boost mass communications technology and interest in discovering what the press have to say are two ways that the fires of liberty can be kept burning.

In the case of research to develop new mass communications technology, the people are fortunate that government has taken a driving seat, even though it would seem that is only because it will make their bosses whom they always want to overthrow, the people happier and more occupied, thereby making their job of rendering service to the people easier. Another reason is because communications technology would make the government relevant in the life of the people, giving them one more reason to justify their existence.

So in the area of mass communications technology development, the people and the press have a great and unlikely ally in the government whom they are actually guarding liberty from.

However, in the area of interest in discovering what the press actually has to report, the people have to continue doing it day after day, because no one will help them do it. Luckily, the press itself, to remain relevant is always thinking of ways to make what it presents more interesting to the people. But whether interesting or not, the people really have no choice but to scrutinize the messages of the press day after day, because eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.