Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, June 26, 2017

Week 4 - June 26 - Liberty of Thought and Discussion

           In last week’s post I criticized James’ communication skills saying that he could have done a better job with word selection and sentence structure. This week I praise John Stuart Mill for his concise presentation, his accurate analysis and excellent examples. On Liberty is much more readable and communicable than the lectures of last week, though the content of both is riveting and enlightening. It was enjoyable to read. His discourse on liberty of thought and discussion and his wisdom on the suppression of opinion could not have been more precise. But then, that is only my opinion…isn’t it [pun intended J].

Had there been television news coverage in Mill’s day, I’m quite sure he would have included the current alphabet soup of TV stations, both airwaves and cable, in his comment: “…government…will often attempt to control the expression of opinion….” If he were writing today in the current political atmosphere, he might say, “Certain factions of government, in collusion with the news media, are attempting to control opinion through news cast.” Though Mill was talking about government controlling the narrative through the power of legislation and/or force, the attempt to influence opinion through news media today, as in the past, is real. “High ranking government officials, both current and former,” supposedly leak anonymously to the media at an unprecedented rate. There are three problems with believing what anonymous sources say: 1) there may not be an anonymous source at all. News reporters are certainly not above making it up [Jayson Blair, NY Times, Dan Rather, CBS Evening News], 2) if there is a real anonymous source, she may be lying, and 3) it is illegal and against the oath of office to reveal classified information. There is a legal process in place to help and to  protect real “whistle blowers.” But the leaks by anonymous sources are not intended to help and to protect the public from government, but to hurt individuals. Nevertheless, the public must endure it. And as Mill contends, the idea that the truth will eventually come out is not always accurate.

Mill did not believed the “Dr. Johnson theory” that the truth would eventually prevail, regardless of persecution and suppression. Mill believed “…indeed, the dictum that truth always triumphs over persecution is one of those pleasant falsehoods which men repeat after one another till they pass into commonplaces, but which all experience refutes.”[1] He contends that suppression of truth has two possible results, “If not suppressed forever, it may be thrown back for centuries.”

The ideas and opinions that Mill elaborated on in our reading assignment for this week were neither new nor profound; but they were put together in a clear, orderly and understandable way with good examples.

[1] John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, Dover Thrift Editions (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2002), 29.


  1. I thought you might prefer Mill's style, which I agree is a model of clarity. As for its profundity, I think we've absorbed his ideas so integrally by now that they seem familiar and even "commonplace" - but they caused quite a stir in the 19th century.

    Let me warn you: if you found William James's prose convoluted, just wait 'til you read his brother!

    As for talk of "collusion" and "leakers" in our day etc., I'm sure he'd weigh in on the side of an unfettered and vigorous free press and media. The last thing an open society needs is a tightly controlled fifth estate.

  2. Thanks for the heads-up about Henry James.
    I too am an advocate of a free press and consider it absolutely necessary, even if some, if not most, are corrupt. Unfortunately, corruption seems to be the rule rather than the exception.

    In 1721 colonial Boston, a man named William Douglass established a newspaper, the New England Courant, for the express purpose of letting people know what he thought. He used deception, innuendo, and flat out lies in his newspaper rhetoric in his opposition to smallpox inoculation. In the end, he was not successful and many of the people of Boston received the lifesaving procedure. William Douglass was not alone in his opposition to inoculation, nor in the distortion and lies. He had many allies and some of them were in government. Our constitution guarantees freedom of the press even if many media like the New England Courant are not worthy of the protection.
    According to Brian Stelter, a CNN reporter, CNN just this afternoon accepted the resignations of three of its employees for publishing fake news on the CNN.com website. CNN, embarrassingly, had to make a retraction and subsequently fired the three people responsible (Thomas Frank the author of the article; Eric Lichtblau, the editor; and Lex Haris, the unit supervisor).

  3. Just to be clear: both James brothers are brilliant, in their different ways. I wasn't issuing a "heads-up"... more a wake-up, frankly.

    I seriously doubt that most journalists are corrupt. A few bad apples do not spoil the bunch.

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