When i met him, he must have been in his late eighties: a former prisoner of war who had spent years in a Japanese detention centre. He’d built a radio with his fellow prisoners. Not out of a kit: out of cotton, soot and segments of stolen barbed wire. It was powered by linking it up to the electric fence (they bribed a guard to change the voltage). The science eluded me: the desire was clear.
Why? To connect. To be linked to the outside world. To hear freedom, if only at a distance.
The news from France is bleak, not so much for the tragedy of the moment, more for the ways it moves us from freedom. Freedom from fear, freedom to share, freedom of expression, freedom to satirise.
It’s the way of the Social Age to be connected, to be amplified, to share, fast, globally. This freedom itself brings challenges: we recognise and reflect difference in culture, ethics and values, but sometimes those values are so far apart that conflict seems inevitable.
In the West, satire has long been the safety valve: at the edge of acceptable, but still a meeting of minds. A space created for dissent. A tolerable price of freedom.
Without satire, without the ability to tease and tweak, without the hope of freedom, what have we left?
You can have freedom, or you can have oppression. When you fear free expression, you lose freedom.
Unless we homogenise our global cultures, this conflict will worsen: a cartoon drawn in France is around the world an hour later. But to homogenise would lose our identify, our history, our very differences that are our strengths.
And if we oppress or permit oppression, we have lost our freedom.
Which is why we need discussion, tolerance, respect and a willingness to create the spaces for difference in opinion, religion and belief. We do not have to believe the same things to believe in freedom.