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Neil Young performs in concert during Farm Aid 34 at Alpine Valley Music Theatre on September 21, 2019 in East Troy, Wisconsin. (Photo: Gary Miller/Getty Images)

Divestment Is Wisdom, Not Censorship

We can all participate in the creation of a culture of wise choices that divest us from anti-democratic platforms and activities that are toxic to our humanity.

Hank Edson

We live in a time when bribery, in the form of campaign donations, is construed by our nation's Supreme Court as free speech, and divestment of the kind that helped pressure South Africa to dismantle its apartheid system is equated in the corporate media as censorship. These are signs that the culture in our democracy is unhealthy, diseased. 

The thing about health is that it depends upon the choices you make. Do you choose to drink alcohol because everybody else seems to drink and it feels impossible to socialize without being a drinker? Do you go for that morning dose of processed carbohydrates because the cinnamon bun is impossible to resist when you get your morning coffee?  Or do you try to listen to the nature of the body and life you are given and follow what you can learn from it about what it really needs to flourish and be happy?  What does a hangover tell you?  What does that expanding gut tell you? When do you really feel best?

Make no mistake, strong leadership in a government free of corruption could do much more than is currently being done to restore health to our democracy.  Our government, in particular, is very sick.

The censorship narrative going on right now over the choice made by Neil Young and other artists to divest themselves from economic participation in Spotify should be easy to recognize as just another version of the "free market lie." 

So called "free markets" are not "free of regulation;" they exist in the uneven real world in which the infrastructure of society provides huge, regulated advantages to a few while the many have to work harder and harder to get by. Markets do not represent a neutral, level playing field meritocracy; they represent the carefully crafted means by which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer—as we have seen in the data showing the chasm between the rich and poor growing more extreme every year. 

Both the "Neil Young is hypocritically advocating censorship" argument and the "free market is a meritocracy" argument are engineered to disguise choices that concentrate wealth at the cost of degrading the health of society. Both disguises falsely paint the exercise of choice based on the study of nature as immoral, as supposedly interfering with nature. These disguises use narratives that falsely claim to be based on freedom (free markets and free speech) to cover up and justify what is really the unnatural, unhealthy nature of society's anti-democratic infrastructure: things like apartheid, media monopolies, the sale of securities backed by worthless subprime loans, and a media platform that pays a purveyor of misinformation and racism millions in exchange for an exclusive rights agreement. 

This type of societal infrastructure is not an example of freedom, but of the imprisoning character of disease.  It closes minds, bankrupts households, chains humanity, and uses hatred to impose group think.

Freedom is choosing to make art that celebrates the nature of humanity at the same time it enables humanity to feel the joy of the music of life within one's very cells.  Freedom is choosing to keep that art pure by not allowing it to contribute to societal infrastructure that degrades human nature and its right to a democratic society.

Our society is suffering not just from poor health, but from a virus that is life threatening. The leadership of both political parties is infected with this disease, and for this reason our government repeatedly fails to make choices that would strengthen, rather than imperil our democracy.  Make no mistake, strong leadership in a government free of corruption could do much more than is currently being done to restore health to our democracy.  Our government, in particular, is very sick.

And when are government labors under the illness of corruption, the immune system of society is weak and other diseases spread, like the racism of Joe Rogan and Tucker Carlson.

But the good news is that the people have never been limited by the corruption of its elected leadership. The billions of choices made every day by the millions of Americans seeking health, happiness and peace prove far more powerful as an exercise of choice than do the disguised manipulations of the elected leaders who have sold their souls to serving the concentrated wealth of the few. 

And, fortunately, we can all be artists who study, celebrate, and teach our understanding of the choices that cause our nature to achieve its flourishing full human potential.

And we can all participate in the creation of a culture of wise choices that divest us from anti-democratic platforms and activities that are toxic to our humanity.

And we can all contribute to the establishment of venues in which freedom is understood to be the experience of living true to our nature, rather than in senselessly allowing it to be assaulted.

When the framers of the Constitution and its Bill of Rights wrote that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, they recognized that not everyone is wise, but that does not justify imposing laws that limit the ability to express one's point of view.  That is the full extent of the right to free speech.  It is a good right, a sacred right, a right that recognizes that expression of ideas is part of the process of developing, refining and improving them. 

But it is a right that appropriately leaves to the people the role of regulating what speech they are unwilling to tolerate. It is a right that appropriately recognizes that critical feedback from the people is the best way to transform ignorance, mendacity, and malice into wisdom, honesty and compassion.

So, here's my feedback, for what it's worth: Don't confuse your role as an individual exercising your freedom to regulate your life with the role of the government restraining itself from using its power to oppress.  And don't confuse Spotify's role as a media platform using corporate power structures to accumulated concentrated wealth with the role of Congress in promoting the general welfare of all people.  We all make thousands of decisions each day about how to keep our nature pure so that it may develop to its full potential in flourishing health and happiness.  We all regulate our lives. This is freedom. Exercise this freedom wisely based on a serious, disciplined study of your human nature and don't let anyone tell you that you have to tolerate violence, disrespect, or economic disempowerment of your being in the name of "freedom."  Our society is unwell, but artists like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and India Arie are teaching us how to cultivate a culture of democracy where the happiness of all flourishes. Don't call that censorship. Call it wisdom.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Hank Edson

Hank Edson

Hank Edson is an author, activist and attorney based in San Francisco. He is the author of "The Declaration of the Democratic Worldview" (Democracy Press, 2008).

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