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Free Speech

And its hidden costs:
In which we propose "Free Speech Insurance"

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Cowardice on Speech & Dress in Iran: (This was written Christmas 2001, but still applies! I was there again in Summer of 2004. I was still a coward.)

I just returned from a trip to Iran, the alleged pivot point of the axis of evil. I, of course, wouldn't call it EVIL, but it does have its flaws. Flaws, of course, which are enabled by the flaws of its denizens, one of whom is me.

What flaws? Well, while I was in Iran, I was feeling like a total coward. Well, not a total coward, but a run of the mill, average coward. Not passing judgment on myself here. It's just an observation.

See, in Iran, every day, every moment, there is a Rosa Parks opportunity for a woman to say "I'm not going to take it anymore" and walk out unscarved, making a stand for her beliefs. I had 2.5 weeks of such an opportunity, and did not seize it.

No. I just towed the line as usual because it's so easy to sell out. And I'm not sure what I sold it for , what the cost is. The ominous "acid in the face" warnings (Is this an urban myth? How many women have actually been assaulted that way?). Jail time? A flogging? The harrassment of my parents?

And then if I'm detained, what will happen to returning to the states and maintaining payments on my credit card debt? And if I skip a few payments there goes my credit rating! Gasp.

So I just wore the scarf. Coward. See, they never do boil the frog. They just keep the frog simmering and THREATEN to boil it. The frog knows. The frog isn't stupid. The frog is uncomfortable. The frog would like alternatives, and would like the sadistic experimenters to stop fiddling with the hot plate. (Actually, the Boiling Frog thing is a myth. Although a friend of mine says she knows someone who was in a class where it was demonstrated. But I was never able to cross examine this alleged friend so I remain skeptical.)

Freedom of speech is supposedly an inalienable right. That means it is an integral part of you and not something that is given or granted to you. It can not be granted because one person can not give another the right to speak. Because if someone gives you the right, then they can take it back, they own it, not you. If it's inalienable, it's yours.

But you have to TAKE the right by exercising it. It's only yours if exercised. Alas, there may be consequences to exercising this right, but that's why America has a 2nd Amendment, dagnabit. Freedom of speech cannot exist without your right to bear arms and back it with lethal force! Oops. Where did that come from?

Risk Taking & Free Speech Insurance:
There are several issues here. One is cowardice. If everyone walked on this planet with full integrity and didn't shy away from speaking their truth, this would be a very different planet. That's a personal issue.

Another issue is risk taking. You weigh the costs and benefits. Does it bother me so much to keep my mouth shut and wear a scarf if the cost of not doing so is physical suffering?

The thing about RISK taking, though, is that it is a fundamental part of change. There is this amazing book Against the Gods on the history of risk taking, and the history of institutions that have risen up to enable people to take risks.

Yes, most of human progress would not be possible without the insurance industry in its various formal and informal incarnations. Yes, insurance. Wouldn't it be nice to set up a financial instrument, say an insurance agency, to help embolden people to take those free speech risks? Think of the progress in the speed of democracy, etc.

We here at Ajaban have the brilliant plan to embark on a joint venture with a reputable human rights organization (say, Amnesty International) and an Insurance Company (American Express?) to set up an insurance program that will enable people to speak their minds. See you can buy a policy so that if you speak your mind somewhere and get arrested by a repressive regime, your bills get paid and you have some health care when you get out, including reconstructive surgery after torture and career training in the event that you've missed a lot of changes in your field. (am I just too glib with these things?) The policy is more expensive the more risky the country you want to speak out in.

The beauty of this is that we get the insurance industry to calculate how risky free speech is in each country and we get an economic/statistical confirmation and fine-tuning for that assessment after claims start rolling in. Of course we make the most money where the perceived risk is much higher than the actual risk.

Additional benefits of applying for Free Speech Insurance - Policy Document:
Another benefit of formal "Free Speech Insurance" is that the policy form itself is a tool to help you figure out exactly what it is you want to say. You have to go through this long policy document to itemize the types of speech you want covered, up to and including specific phrases. It's a great tool for self-knowledge. You write down the type of speech you want covered in the places you want them covered. This further puts the insurance industry to work in breaking down the actual risk of certain phrases in certain places within a country, within your own house.

Iranian Self-Express Insurance:
I was going to call this "American Self-Express" but that's too obviously an infringement on American Express. Anyway, America is still pretty overwhelmed by extreme free speech (although Mr. "Nation of Cowards" has other thoughts on the cosmetic aspect of this "free speech" in America as real freedoms erode. But that's his deal and he can speak about it all he wants. Anyway, it's alway easier to preach to the choir. This insurance has to come out of some free-speech unfriendlier country to really be impressive and relevant. Ajaban.com hereby launches "Iranian Self-Express Insurance". Step right up, get your policies here.

Drawbacks to the Free Speech Insurance Idea:
A problem with the Free Speech Insurance idea is, of course, that it's not free anymore. But it never was really "Free" as in no cost. So you'll just have to deal with that. And the other problem is that it might upset people to have the protection of Free Speech privatized in a profit-making company, when government should be safeguarding it. Well, maybe government isn't always the best guardian. I'm not going to name any countries, but...you get the idea. Also, this fear of privatization is just a conflict one may have with capitalism. These things can all be worked out if we are willing. They will be flawed, but flaws are cool.

One other thing. Free speech is all well and good. But effective speech with some thought behind it, some compassion, a bit of strategy, that's better. Before you start blubbering on about whatever, we need to explore issues of speech and conflict. Some skills would be nice. Neutralizing inflammatory language. Seeing past the position to the need etc. Posturing, ridiculing, word play, all that good fun. Links galore to come. Just wait 'til this site gets dynamic and you can speechify all over the place in good company.

Do you want to be part of it?

Other thoughts:

Finding a Tipping Point for Free Speech and Dress:
This is all really a question of strategy. The Iranian Self-Express Insurance™ concept is one strategy. Strategy, you ask. Reminds me of that Mutabaruka song: "By the ballot or the bullet, by the bible or the gun, any which way, freedom must come." Well, maybe not. What is the best strategy? What is your goal? For a comparison of Violent approaches to freedom vs. gradual approaches vs. the alternative of rigorous integrity, check out Leo Tolstoy's essay. (Which, later I must contrast with Gholombezom's use of hypocrisy. Somehow a way must be found to compare the effectiveness of these methods).

Why "Tipping Point"? That refers to the optimistic little book on marketing that looks at major social movements as trends. For a while no one is doing it (speaking the truth), then everyone is doing it. This may give you ideas for strategy if you're planning some social shifts.

Irrelevance of Free Speech(?)
(aka Walk softly and carry a big stick.) Here is an excerpt from "Walter Mitty's Second Amendment" in "Nation of Cowards" which will rile some folks up:

"Once upon a time, there was a people who inhabited a majestic land under an all powerful government. now this government had the resources to control practically every aspect of human existence; hundreds of thousands of "public servants" could access the most personal details about every citizen because each citizen was issued a number at birth with which the government could track him throughout his life. No one could even work in gainful employment without this number.

"True, the government left certain domains of individual action largely free, particularly matters concerning speech and sex. But these activities posed no real threat to the state. When not used to entertain and divert, the power of speech was used principally to clamor for more or better goods from the state, or for "reforms" to make the state work "better," thereby entrenching the people's dependency. And insofar as sex was concerned, well, the people's behavior in this area also really had no effect on the scope of state power.

"In fact, the rulers noted that people's preoccupation with sex and sexual morality - whether premarital, teenage pregnancy, adultery, divorce, homosexuality or general "who's zooming who" - diverted the people's attention from the fact that they were, for economic and all other intents and purposes, slaves. Slaves, though, who labored under the illusion that they were free. The people were a simple lot, politically speaking, and readily mistook the ability to give free reign to their appetites as the essence of "personal freedom."

"In that fruitful land, the state took about 50 percent of everything the people earned through numerous forms of taxation, up from about 25 percent only a generation earlier. However, this boastful people, who believed themselves to be the freest on earth, retained the right to keep and bear arms. Tens of millions possessed firearms, just in case their government ever became tyrannical, and enslaved them..."

Whew. Stirring words. Get the book! Read the rest. But be warned. It's PRO GUN! ARE YOU PANICKING! I need to add a gun control coin to the PANIC BUTTON so that if you are pro gun, you can press one link when this site gets too disarmamental, and one link if you are pro control, and this site is too GUNg ho. Stay tuned.

The Role of Hejab in Iran:
Here's where I will eventually scan in this really cool poster I picked up in Iran during "Women's Week" which explains the role of the hejab in Iranian Islam. A fine poster. A dozen reasons: "The hejab is the flag of Islam, and women are the flagbearers." etc. Of course, that poster shows hejab as the full chador. In reality, women in Iran are "free" to not wear the full chador, to just wear a scarf on their heads (which often slips down suggestively, ooh, it's getting hot in here). So I will also scan in a series of pictures which demonstrate how far women in Iran have come with this covering. Finally, a picture of graffiti from the old days "Death to bad hejab", e.g., death to women who don't wear proper hejab (like the afore-mentioned suggestively slipping sluts).

I didn't see graffitti like that the last time I went back to Iran. Does this mean that the writing on the wall is more in my favor now? Who knows. Who can assess the risk?

Also, soon to come is a link to a tale of how the hejab came back to Iran after enforced hejab removal. Yes, enforced removal. My Grandmother and aunts can tell you about the days when the Shah's father, in order to "modernize" Iran banned the wearing of hejab. This was pretty much like public rape, as women who dared to venture out with their coverings on ran the risk of having it stripped off of them.

As a result, for some time there, they just didn't venture out at all, or sent children on up ahead to see if the coast was clear, as they dashed from one place to another frightened and clutching their chadors to their breasts.

Ayatollah R. KhomeiniForced covering and forced exposure are both ridiculous. Don't believe in forced anything. However, given there is all this force out there being used in unwanted directions, remember always the aikido approach of using the force against itself. This type of thing is shown as happening naturally, even if one does not intentionally try to use the aikido approach. Just getting out there and expressing yourself, even with some encumberances, generates momentum. We see this phenomenon in this article by Camelia Entekhabi-Fard "Behind the Veil" in Mother Jones magazine. The author talks about how the hejab, as promoted by Khomeini (seen above, engaging in free speech activity) has actually empowered Muslim women.

No, I misrepresent her argument. She points out that he promoted women, WITH hejabs, but promoted them nonetheless.

OK, here. This is what she does. She says "It was the Ayatollah Khomeini -- a theological maverick whose positions on many social issues were far more complex than is generally understood in the West -- who first broke with the clerical practice of banishing women from public life." You see, the issue was how involved the women were in public life. Khomeini provided theological ammo to help mobilize them and mutated the conservative Islamic stance somewhat. Yes, the women were to be pious and obedient, but militant and active as well.

As if anyone can control a militant active woman for long. And so the story unfolds, as all stories do, and "Over the next two decades, the complex dynamics launched by the Islamic revolution would alter age-old patriarchal structures and gender politics -- and, ultimately, undermine the power of the conservatives who had set the changes in motion." This process continues today. Where will it end? Give them an inch and they take a mile. Or, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a step. Little cricket. Let your conscience sing out.

(Are you panicking because this exerpt seems too pro-Khomeini? Am I suggesting he helped the cause of feminism? Well, in fact, I do have a soft spot for the man, possibly because whenever they say his name on the television or radio in Iran, it's followed by the title "Rezvanollah", Allah's Rezwan. So he is Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini Rezvanollah.

Boob Jobs vs. Boob Hejab's
OK, I'm not sure what all this hejab stuff has to do with free speech. Except that speech is about revealing your thoughts. Hejab is about revealing your appearance. So maybe they work as metaphors of each other. An article once appeared in the Los Angeles Weekly about how Western images, media, etc. were penetrating Muslim countries. The tide was seen as unstoppable. The picture layout accompanying the article featured a bunch of Iranian girls in scarves and raincoats on one side, appearing to look on with admiration at a picture of "Bay Watch" babes in red skimpy swim regalia on the other side.

But my friend, while it's true these Iranian women were covering their physical appearance with scarves (called "Hejab"), the Bay Watch babes represent another dimension of physical covering, on two counts: 1) they respresent a very small portion of the population which is propelled to visibility only because they are deemed worthy of being seen, and 2) those in the bevy who were not quite up to standards enhanced their visibility with, yes, BOOB JOBS!

So instead of a scarf thrown over the head we have saline injected into the breast. Plastic surgery lives! Let's call this BOOB HEJABS! Both strategies alter physical appearance.

Not to make it seem like I am comparing or judging either East or West here. Theoretically, the Hejab is designed to take people's attention off superficial things like physical attractiveness to force the easily tempted youth to focus on one another's minds. But it doesn't work. Those Hejab'ed women get as much plastic surgery as anyone (OK, you're right, I need an accurate statistical approach to this).

The point is, the problem of physical insecurity isn't solved by either social approach. Which brings us back to the beginning. It's not society's job to resolve each person's issues about how well they fit in with the world, it's their own job to come to terms with themselves and their appearance and thoughts, and to stand up for those thoughts and boobs.

Although I do have a cool invention which could address both the Hejab and the Boob Hejab issues. Yes, Programmable Rose Colored Glasses. It's all in the eye of the beholder.

Free Buttock Speech: Show us your Cellulite.
This brings me to a revealing dream of my own in which I faced this issue and realized yet another dimension of my cowardice. The triggering external stimulii was the Calvin Klein ad campaign in which under-age youth, yes kids (!) were - home porno movie style - being asked by an unseen middle-aged man to strip down to their underwear.

Shocking shameless ad! Really evocative of that experience of having your defenses undermined by the pressure of a sweaty old man with a camera. What, you haven't experienced this pressure? Anyway, on my drive to work was a billboard of one of these kids, unzipping his pants. Every day for weeks I saw this youth, boyish good looks, vulnerable. A sacrifice to the predations of horny old men or was it the fashion industry?

Then I had the dream. I was at some tawdry sun-drenched motel in Vegas. Hanging out by the pool. Wearing a bathing suit. And there was that youth, over yonder. The horny porno men were looking for him,, I could sense. The boy was cowering in the bushes, naked. "please! Could you get my clothes for me?" Yes, the boy needed his clothes to save him from those men.

I looked for his clothes. They were at the bottom of the pool. The horndogs were getting closer. All I had to do was just bend down and reach into the pool to get the clothes and save the boy. BUT THEN I REALIZED! If I bent over to get the clothes to protect the virtue of this poor shivering youth, why, EVERYONE WOULD SEE MY CELLULITE!

What a decision was mine to make! Expose my cottage cheese buttocks! To save this boy?

You see, THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE. As for me, I have to admit, in that particular dream, It's not that I actively shirked my duties in saving the poor youth. I just hesitated a bit too long to make that decision, my buttocks jiggling all the while. Yes, I think instead I started dreaming about exercising or something. And that poor boy, whatever his fate was, well, he asked for it. I didn't tell him to be in a Calvin Klein ad. Take some responsibility, will you?

The benefits of censorship and hypocrisy (sly metaphor development skills)
Ajaban, as you know, seeks to leverage anything, and I mean anything, into something that works in your favor, you being the base unit of action. So with censorship and hypocrisy. You see, the world is dynamic. So where censorship exists, it is a force which attempts to stifle and oppress, or whatever. And as such, it clashes against other forces. These forces all do stuff, which we have yet to measure. Anyway, you take the vector of these forces, and try to leverage them...This is hard to explain without an example. I'm just focusing on being fluid with forces. To try to eliminate censorship bears the paradox of censoring censorship. I would say, coexisting with it and railing against it strengthen's character. There is a good cop, bad cop thing going on here. It's important to have the voices of some clamoring for censorship because that makes those clamoring against it that much more dramatic and exciting. I'll try to find someone who expresses this better. And of course, there is the cost benefit of - do we really need all that oppression in order to have strength of character and growth? There is probably an optimum amount of censorship (which, you know can only be enforced if someone is enforcing it and someone is caving in to the enforcement, so this censorship, just like free expression is always temporary).

And, hypocrisy...well, that is a subject for Gholombezom to address, and he's still in Tahiti.

Comments on Ajaban's daring in the realm of free speech
This letter from an Ajaban user talks about the ubiquitous fears and anxieties that every person faces. Self labeling! ("I'm a wimp") and so forth. The user name has been withheld for general anxiety alleviating purposes. Let this missive stand here also as a marker in a personal journey towards free, empowered self-expression. Imagine the day when you (and this author) tell us your best, your worst and your mediocre...and we don't shun or stone you:

"I like your website...it's dangerous territory that needs careful navigation. I thought the stuff about religion, as hilarious as it was, could be construed as dangerous territory. I admire Ajaban's guts. Are you sure you want your names at the bottom of the page? See, I'm a wimp and would be too scared to have my full name on a page where I totally speak my mind. Paranoid? yes, of course, it's a natural state for me and I admire people who are not like that. don't get me wrong. I think your website rocks and I look forward to the day where I actually believe that freedom of speech exists and I can speak my mind with no repercussions to my family and I, but I don't. Living in America helps, but, somewhere in my being it's officially stamped and sealed that opening my mouth will mean losing my head. Maybe my next lifetime as a harbor seal will bring about a refreshing outlook of life, but then the sharks will still be after me. This is an ongoing thing with me and my filmmaking is directly related to it. I want to speak my mind, and have learned the tools to do so. But I don't since the consequences could be devastating and could result in my isolation. you, on the other hand, have grabbed fear by the balls and not only are you squeezing them, you juggle them like play things."

That, or maybe we're just stupid here at Ajaban.

And More!
OK, I lied. No more for now. Stay tuned. Ah! in the realm of free speech, empty promises are the freest.


 


 

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Speaking of Boob Jobs vs. Hejabs:

These comments were appended to an article on beauty that I read: I think a driving force here is that on one level, we are biological creatures engaged in a battle for survival of the fittest. This is a pure game of physical attraction of mates, and is incredibly unfair. All the pretty people score and the rest of us are outranked. But on another level, with technology and economic achievement, we can move beyond the simple demands of evolution now, to intentional living. Thus we find ourselves living in a time in which we have the luxury to reject the need to be beautiful, and also the luxury to artificially acquire the beauty we seek to have. This second thing is, in a sense, genetic fraud, since your offspring will not inherit silicone boobs and davinci tooth veneers. If your mate chose you for big boobs and a dentally enhanced smile, he chose falsely. Nonetheless, this fraud seems to be a result of market forces, and the people demanding "genuine" unenhanced people is kind of like a union of luddites. Pretty soon, we'll be headed towards completely modified, engineered people. And purists who shun all of these things like the Amish. And a whole spectrum of people in between. Brave new world.

But you know, boobs are fun! And here are a bunch of them:

 
               

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