Expression versus structure

I read a quote from William O. Douglas that resonated with me:

The struggle is always between the individual and his sacred right to express himself and the power structure that seeks conformity, suppression, and obedience.

Douglas was a cool cat, but you can read about that some other time. The idea expressed in this quote is fascinating, and I am surprised to hear it come from a Supreme Court Justice.

I recognize this struggle in myself, and I spend a lot of energy trying to spark this struggle in others. It is the (now) classic idea represented in the Matrix, wherein anyone part of that system can become a manifestation of that system, or as Douglas would call it, “the Establishment”.

It is difficult though, because it is not easy to see the line between sharing your ideas and repressing a fellow human’s expression. I assume that most people who strive to fit in and be a part of what they perceive as “society” do so on the premise that they are expressing themselves. It is a line in the sand, where I want to say that some kinds of expression, such as violence, are unacceptable. I am okay with that, but because it is on a spectrum we always risk making an unreasonable assessment as to what is acceptable. And this is just on the side of those who celebrate individual expression!

There are also people who fear the unknown and seek security, and it occurs to me that their personal drive to be secure and conform isn’t as annoying as their uncanny ability to artificially polarize the spectrum of expression in the most vocal way. I think I probably just described 75% of Jon Stewart’s nightmares.

When I talk about topics like this, which are inherently political, I like to take a moment to count my blessings. I am fortunate to live in this part (SF Bay Area) of this country (USA). Our freedoms are staggeringly bountiful when compared to some parts of the planet, and while I can go batty over some contemporary issues (vocal anti-Muslim sentiment and opponents of gay marriage don’t just come to mind, they linger there), I am glad that we have the processes in place to hold the discourse. I just hope that when those who persecute and suppress the expression of our minorities remember that we played ball with them, because when it is their turn to be attacked by the fundamentalist and crazies, we will again rise up to protect their expression.

I hope.