The freedom of information
Most people are aware of George Orwell’s work 1984, in which he depicts a dystopian society that is extremely oppressive, trampling on human rights unmercifully. In the book, the government uses war to incite fear and hate in the minds of its citizens. They also hold a tight grip on information. The main character of the book works in the news department, controlled and influenced by the government, which is centralized and aims to control all information. His job is to change the news as it comes in, before it goes to the citizens, to fit whatever the political interests of the government are. This effectively alters the record of history, as well as the current flow of information. They use this tool to control the flow of ideas to the population. To this end they’ve also outlawed all great works of art, including books and music, anything that would put ideas into the minds of the citizens that might make them harder to control. They keep constant surveillance of the citizens via video cameras throughout the cities and through two-way TV screens in their homes. The book was written in 1948. It is said that when searching for a title to the book the author gave up and simply switched the ‘48 to ‘84, indicating this could be our reality sometime in the future. This book is often required curriculum in many high schools in the United States.
Information is a broad term. Information can be a book, a painting, a song, a personal love letter, it can simply be an idea or any form of communication. When discussing the freedom of information, we are also discussing the basic human right to express oneself in any manner they choose, as long as it does not infringe upon anyone else’s basic human rights. There is a common saying, “knowledge is power,” what if it were truer than you think? In the philosopher Plato’s great work, The myth of the cave, he describes a hypothetical situation where a group of people live their entire lives in a dark cave, all chained together, in a way that they cannot move or look around at all, facing only one wall of the cave. Every once in a while some workers come in with their lanterns, bringing boxes of supplies and things through the cave. The people who are chained can only see the shadows on the wall, created by the workers. They hear the sound bouncing off of the cave wall, in such a way that it sounds like it is coming from the shadows and they believe, of course, that what they are seeing is reality. They have no other knowledge or information to make them think otherwise. Plato is demonstrating the importance of knowledge and information to the human mind. One can only work within the parameters of their own knowledge. When new information is presented to them, it can change their perception of a situation, often affecting their emotional response to it for the better, no matter how small or large the bit of information is. Information is a powerful force. One could even see it as a mind expansion device, your mind and awareness grow as new information comes in. It is almost like your brain is taking the information in, processing it, and then showing you a slightly new reality based on the new information. This process may even be linked to our evolution as a species. Ideas and information can and have changed people lives overnight, or, like a seed that becomes a strong healthy tree, ideas can grow in the mind overtime, eventually bearing their fruit in abundance, enriching one’s life and the lives of the people around them.
Many people have become millionaires because of a good idea. Many people have also lost fortunes due to a lack of information at the crucial time. We must recognize the importance and value of information in all its forms. Like a muscle that is not used and eventually atrophies, we have to exercise and protect all of our basic rights and freedoms. We live in a free society and should be enthusiastic about doing so. With the technology of computers and the internet, we can be masters of communication, knowledge and the attainment and application of information. We cannot allow fear to persuade us into sacrificing our basic rights and freedoms for security purposes. We must uphold the value of our right to privacy and personal expression, the right to life and to pursue whatever makes us happy, or we will inevitably fall into the paradigm of oppression, domination and control that so many great thinkers, speakers, writers and philosophers have historically warned us about.