“It’s never a ‘free speech’ issue. It’s usually a ‘these are the consequences of your freedom to speak’ issue.”
Kelly Oxford, via Twitter
In the last week or so, we’ve received a few letters from people who have asked for anonymity.
It’s something we’ve grappled with for awhile – oh hell, we’ve had to deal with it forever.
But there’s been an uptick lately.
So what gives?
Most of these people fear recrimination from the Yukon government – lost contracts, lost promotions, lost jobs, harassment. Understandable in a jurisdiction where so many depend on the government for work.
“I fear getting blacklisted for any sort of criticism of the Yukon Party, which could have serious implications on my career,” they say, or something similar.
Of course, this is not something unique to the territory, but that doesn’t lessen its importance.
Is there a real threat to people who express criticism in public? Or is it just imagined?
What tangible threat fosters such fear? Are there examples of Yukon government employees run to the slaughter for publicly criticizing their political masters?
Or is it simply imagined? One of society’s memes, passed among us through unconscious imitation, or through the air.
And does it matter if it is simply imagined? After all, the result is the same.
People are cowed.
They see things going on, stuff they don’t like, but they are powerless to do anything about it.
This creates a bubble, a place where bullies with titles, or a little authority, can do what they like.
The employees then go home and grouse to their spouse, girlfriend or best buddies – someplace quiet, where they can’t be overheard, or captured on video cameras.
Then they go back to work, collect their paycheques and draft the policies, bury the barrels, dig up the wetlands, sign the contracts and flip the switches again, quietly, like they’ve been told to do.
Occasionally, a bold one will poke their head up out of the sand, scribble a letter and end it with, “Please withhold my name and address…”.
Most disturbing, a lot of these letters are pretty innocuous. If people are worried about saying that ….?
So what’s a paper to do?
Purists will sniff that we can just deposit such letters in the round file.
And that makes a certain sense. Why reward cowardice? Especially when you live in a country that guarantees freedom of expression to all.
But these things are never that clear cut.
Those anonymous letters represent a person balancing their fear with frustration – they want to act, they just can’t go all the way.
And so, when the person is making a decent point, and we suspect the bullies and small-minded creeps will exact a pound of flesh, we’ll sometimes grant them their anonymity.
We know, perhaps better than most, there can be repercussions to speaking your mind. We just can’t shut up.
While it can cost you, it’s healthier to express yourself than not.
It certainly makes life more exciting.
And if everyone did it, and put their names to their thoughts, then there would be no problem – the suits can’t fire everyone.
But there are plenty of people who won’t do this.
We often wonder what that’s like – seeing things that don’t work, being powerless to fix them and being scared to speak up about it in public.
You can probably cut the salt to balance the blood pressure, right?
Beyond that, we also wonder if, beyond the wealth, your life is any different than those living in pre-revolution Libya. Or Egypt.
It probably is.