Why Your Mind Is Untouchable: The Rationale behind Freedom of Conscience
Freedom of thought may be one of the most valuable freedoms outlined in the UDHR—it has, after all, offered our society treats such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, feminism, the liberty to practice any religion (or no religion, if we so choose) and George Orwell’s 1984. But aside from adding to culture and promoting social development, what is the inherent value of this right? After perusing various stories and opinions on the subject, I’ve distilled and duly recorded a few of the key contributions of freedom of thought to society and our daily lives:
- It eliminates the possibility of power being wielded by governments and authoritative figures using mass opiates and scare tactics. Where religious freedom is endorsed, religious oppression will be less prominent. Where complete freedom of political thought is permitted, gulags will be empty (or better yet, absent).
- It tends to result in a higher premium being placed on education. As LBJ would have confirmed, education is the primary means of empowerment of the people.
- It promotes diversity. As we know from the study of biological ecosystems, the most diverse communities are the strongest.
- It ensures that democratic systems are not redundant. We have seen examples of the fallacy of ‘democratic elections’ being carried out in countries in which freedom of thought was not protected (particularly throughout the Cold War). Democracy relies entirely upon freedom of thought to maintain its validity and efficacy.
There are, of course, ethical counter-weights on this freedom. For instance, should we refrain from interfering when a peer or acquaintance displays deeply rooted discriminatory thoughts (but does not act upon them)? Like most ethical dilemmas of this sort, it can actually be resolved quite simply—it all depends on what sort of society we want to live in. If we select our greatest objective as the protection of democracy, then our decision to endorse freedom of thought is already made. However, resultant sensitive issues, such as the hypothetical one above, should not be entirely ignored—the deeply rooted thoughts should not be allowed to evolve into the overt incitement of hatred.