Many have heard about the Right to Silence, the Right to Free Assembly, the Right to Privacy, and Free Speech, but I want to review these rights and add another The Right to Subjectivity.
We do not have these rights fully in the United Kingdom (and in fact in any countries around the world. Only modified forms of these principles exist). Historically these rights emerged in respect to a response to the protection of the individual against powerful elites who could weld power against poorer members of society. Some believe these are the Natural Rights.
These rights have never been always protected and some are not even sure these are valuable rights. I agree with those who believe such rights are essential for freedom. Let us explore each Right.
The Right to Remain Silent for example was changed in 1994 from the Right to Silence to the Right to Draw Inferences from Speech.
‘The traditional right of an accused not to testify has been modified by section 35 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. The provision allows the court and the jury to draw such inferences as appear proper from the failure of the accused to give evidence or from his refusal, without good cause, to answer any question.’ For more information see The Right to Remain Silent in Criminal Proceedings.
This means that in the moment of arrest, the individual has no recourse to Silence, and that Silence is potentially dangerous to their defence. The Right to Remain Silent is an absolutely important principle. That no person, under duress have to speak to another is absolutely crucial. We do not need the law to show us how important this principle is, we may at times refuse to speak to others and they to us. This is their right. They can refuse to speak and must know it is their right. It is important on an international, state, local and personal level. If someone does not want to speak to another, they have the Right to Silence.
The Right to Free Assembly, also significantly modified in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Why is Free Assembly important? In life, much of it is regulated, when one is in a domestic space or steps outside in the street, each and every aspect of existence has regulation of one form or another. But there maybe at times, a need to assembly freely, in a regulated space. The meaning of each assembly will be given in the act of assembly. Spontaneity is a crucial aspect of creativity. Machines are not creative because they are not spontaneous. Machines follow a set course and in their systems, the courses they can follow – while complicated – have a source. Human by contrast find it difficult to find the source of the actions of others. Free assembly opens up these possibilities of creativity because they allow people to move outside their typically hyper regulated experience.
The Right to Privacy is also significantly modified. The right to privacy is a crucial right. Do not forget these rights that exist coexist with others. As a public being, the person has the right to privacy, that is they have the right that their is protection to these freedoms. In the internet age and the age of ‘reality TV’ and the tabloid press and the NSA these rights seem under threat. The Rights presented here have never been fully realised but are always under threat. Why is the Right to Privacy important? When I was involved in the campaign against the Criminal Justice Bill (now an act) people said the following ‘if someone is not doing something wrong they have nothing to worry about’. This assumes certain themes about a human being, that there can be no mediation between them and the world around them. The space of privacy is arguably this space in which they have for reflection. No privacy will result in the merging of the individual’s lifeworld with that of the environment around them. Also those against the Right to Privacy assume the person is a given. We all know that we change our mind and feelings towards something after a period of reflection. We can bring to our attention new feelings, experiences and thoughts about what has happened. The Right to Privacy developed in order to protect individual life from the state, this is important, but I believe without the Right to Privacy no unmediated reflection on one’s existence is possible.
The Right to Free Speech. It is in this realm I have many debates with my friends. I don’t believe we live in age of Free Speech. To live in an age of Free Speech one will have to come to speech from the position of consciousness. I believe therefore what we need to call for is Any Speech – any speech includes hate speech. Any Speech is the speech of people as they are. Some believe by regulating speech you can change society. YOU CAN NOT CHANGE society – what happens is anger becomes displaced, or repressed, but displaced and repressed speech is also potentially dangerous. Therefore, I believe it is a fundamental principle that we defend Any Speech – on the web and in public life. That such speech can be met in the form it is spoken. Now some forms of speech seem so offensive and hard to engage with it feels like the right thing to do is to ban it. But anyone seriously interested in a humanistic society that fully values all its members can not repress speech. But such people can use the Right to Silence. It’s possible as an alternative recourse if Speech does not want to be met directly for whatever reason, the receiver of the message can activate their Right to Silence. In this, those that can address the Any Speech can address it.
The Right to Subjectivity. Overall all these claims are really a defence of human subjectivity. By using the principles above and by developing a robust defence of human subjectivity in any form is the precondition to freedom. For example by denying another subjectivity you actually move further away from the Real and humanism. A person can only come to their own Freedom through their own subjectivity, but not as an isolated being but in relation with the other.
More of these themes are explored in forthcoming publications.
The two images you see at either end of the text are symbolic images from The Divine Comedy. I read The Divine Comedy as a narrative about human subjectivity. In the Comedy we see represented the multiple subjectivities that make up a universe represented as demons, saints, sinners, gods, the divine, the virtuous, God and the Devil