With great freedom comes great responsibility

We live in a country where freedom of speech, press and expression are not only valued but also legally protected. We are allowed to pursue all knowledge — whether it be about governments, the environment, crime, or literature and art. Thanks to the development and popularization of media and technologies, we are also provided with a variety of opinions and perspectives surrounding any topic we choose to investigate. Obviously this means we have the opportunity to become freer, wiser and more holistically knowledgeable about pressing events, situations and ideas within our environment. Unfortunately, it seems that more often than not, we do not choose to apply this freedom in a societally or intellectually productive way.

Censorship seems to be naturally detrimental and oppressive towards the freedom of expression, opinion and enlightenment. We agree it is wrong for a governing entity to enforce such things as “banned books” or limitation of our individual ability to communicate our ideas. We agree a governing entity should not be dictatorial, should not impose any degree of behavioral uniformity — for example, President Obama could never exile a member of Congress because they did not agree with his course of political action — and should be democratic and completely transparent. Essentially, censorship and citizen oppression is wrong when it limits our social, political and personal knowledge, our expressive freedom and our general autonomy. But do we have too much freedom of information? Have we driven this reality to be more detrimental than one in which extreme censorship prevails over the masses?

If the prevalence of censorship results in ignorance across many facets of societal participation, then the prevalence of freedom should result in the opposite. In modern America, however, this is not the case. According to a 2013 Gallup poll, television is America’s most widely used source of information and media. Cable television is currently perceived as a necessary household commodity, just as important for most people as their phone service. For the week ending Sept. 28, the most watched event on prime time broadcast network television, by adults ages 18-49, was Sunday night football.

The masses are not solely to blame for this gross misuse of informational freedom. Most nationally broadcasting networks don’t even show news or informational programs until after 10 p.m. It’s important to note, however, that this is not because television networks are a big cabal of corporate criminals, in cahoots with our government to keep us uninformed (hopefully), but because we as consumers have not displayed an interest in consuming anything other than Sunday night football or “Grey’s Anatomy.” So what is the purpose of complete freedom of expression and transparency of government if we really aren’t even looking?

Television is just one example of our misuse of information and opinion within popular culture. A quick look at the readership of certain newspapers and magazines or the most visited and trusted sources of internet information paint an even bleaker picture of a misinformed public. Consider not only the proportion of registered voters, but also their motives for voting in the way they do and you will most likely find that we have chosen to be nearly so ignorant as to imply that one might assume the vital and important knowledge was not even available in the first place.

So should we be concerned that more people in America would rather keep up with the Kardashians than the state of our union? Should we create a new banned books list including authors like Paris Hilton and Stephenie Meyer? Probably not. But we should make a better effort to take advantage of the social, personal and intellectual benefits of the absence of informational censorship.

And remember: There are people in other countries who are starving for political and social freedom, and just like our responsibility to finish all of our veggies at dinner, we have an obligation to harness the intellectual nutrition provided for us. So read a banned book, learn the Bill of Rights, and if you’re registered to vote, watch (or at least DVR) the political debates and addresses. Take advantage of the “transparency” provided by the government and societal system in which you are participating.

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