A Word in your Ear

The word tonight is free

Free as a word is not something that can be freely translated….although on some dimensions of its meaning, the neoliberal internet is having a damn good try.

First of all, there is the ‘right’ to be free to, and to be free from. The first has become a form of mad license among internet trolls, the second something the earnest right-on pc pinched goblins simply don’t understand.

Then there is the theoretically indivisible ‘free’ – that is, without cost. A product or service cannot be slightly free or free up to a point: it’s either free or it isn’t. But as the old saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. And on the www superhighway in 2016, ‘free’ means ‘free until you want to use the product’.

Usually, this offer comes free with the grammatically unfeasible ‘absolutely free’, which in the internet space means ‘not at all free’: you can see it, read about it and dream about it for free, but utilising the bloody thing involves a cost that is 100% free-free.

We also have the geopolitical definition of ‘free’, which means ‘free to choose until Russia/America/the EU/China decide they want you to choose another option’. This version also applies to the politics of those entities – and the concept of a free press, which is free in the very narrow sense of odd Channel Island Teletubbies and wrinkly old Aussie cradle-snatchers being free to peddle their twisted views on life as if they might be news.

Next we have ‘free’ thinking, which worryingly is defined by several American online dictionaries as ‘opinion at the extreme’. It does at times feel as though the idea of Non-violent Extremism (NVE) is being positioned as a virus invading the World. Free thinking today involves what The Slog posted to confirm this morning, but many ‘progressives’ today would indeed regard even that empirical dataset as heresy.

We are no longer free to think, and then translate that into the published written word. There continues to be talk about free elections, free winds, free passage, setting people free, and every other hypocritical use of the word that winds up being antithetical to its myriad positive meanings. Nobody understood this better than George Orwell, and his central 1984 theme of the individual finding freedom through belief in the unbelievable.

I would like free access to information, to be free to get an egalitarian judgement before the law, and free help if I’m poor to get legal advice about such judgements. I would like to  avail myself of free offers on the internet that are really free. I would like to feel that a free citizen vote on Brexit would leave me free from the bloodsucking tentacles of the EUSA. I would like to be free from updates I don’t want, and free to thread a dignified, polite comment at Huffington Post without being banned as some kind of werewolf racist.

But these freedoms are denied to me….and most of you. So all those 179 dictionary definitions of ‘free’ are really nothing more than hypothetical possibilities in some kind of Utopia that can never be achieved.

As the old Soviet Russian joke had it, a Commissar is interviewing an aspiring Young Communist.

“Are you ready freely to accept whatever the Party says?” he asks

“Yes” says the Young Communist.

“And are you prepared freely and without compromise to give your life for the Party?” the Commissar enquires.

“With the greatest of enthusiasm,” the youth replies.

“Why with such enthusiasm?” asks his interrogator. The youth answers:

“Because I’d rather be a free corpse than a live prick”.