The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Monday, October 15, 2007

Freedom of Speech and the United States

Is there true freedom of speech in the United States? Is there freedom of speech on the internet? Does it endanger international relations and stray into politics, to speak freely on the internet?
I ask these questions for a reason. You see, I keep an eye on the locations of those who visit my website and on who comments on my pages. It is helpful to keep track of such things, since then I know something of the perspective of those who comment. I have, therefore, noticed something with regards to one of my posts. I wrote of George Bush's difficulty with the English language, picking up on a Reuters report that had made his mangling of English centre stage. It seems that simply speaking of such things is not permissible, at least in the eyes of at least one American. You see, there used to be regular visitor to my blog from Bothell, Washington - or Washington, Bothell. Every day, they would visit my blog. Until, one day, I wrote about George Bush's linguistic limitations, not in censure, but with a sense of worry about the wherewithal of a nation's Commander-in-Chief. Apparently, one is not really free to speak of anything one wishes in America - at least, Americans on the ground don't really respect freedom of speech, with their hearts and minds. You see, if you speak freely, without wish to offend, they can get offended and take umbrage: so where does that leave freedom of speech? It is, in effect, only a theoretical entity, in America. That visitor from Bothell, Washington had been a steadfast regular on my blog - but after I alluded to the Reuters report on George Bush, she or he, wrote a somewhat miffed remark on the post, and then never visited my blog again.
To me, his or her action is very significant. It means that, in practice, there may not actually be true freedom of speech in the United States (or perhaps anywhere else - but most other places don't actually boast of having it in the first place). True freedom of speech, in my eyes, implies that no-one will take any kind of action against you, for voicing an opinion. Not visiting a blog, again, comes under the category of a retributive action. It indicates, therefore, that the high principle of freedom of speech is not actually respected by that individual. That action led me to wonder how many, or how few, other Americans really understand what a world where speech was truly free should be like. In such a world, no opinion would ever attract censure and all would be listened to with equal open-ness. That is the ideal that America speaks of, when it boasts of its freedom of speech. Yet, in truth, the reality falls short of that, at least if this example is anything to go by.
It is perilous, it seems, to speak of anyone in politics. People are polarized and any opinion, about anyone political, whether it be local or international, is likely to differ from the opinions of many of one's readers. In a free world, where speech was truly free, it would not matter. One's opinion would not lead to problems. I have learnt, however, from observing that event, that although one may write as one wishes, on the internet, that certain opinions - perhaps any opinion, in fact - will lead to some people taking exception to it.
We have, therefore, the freedom to write as we wish - but not the freedom to be welcomed universally.
Freedom of speech is an admirable ideal - and it is heartening that the United States says it upholds such a thing. Indeed, as I understand it, it is a First Amendment right, in the Constitution. Yet, its citizens - at least some of them - have not yet fully internalized what freedom of speech really means. I look forward to a day when all the world is free, in every way - being free in speech, is probably the easiest freedom of all - if only people would be tolerant of each other, in all our infinite variety.
(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and ten months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and three months, and Tiarnan, twenty months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 6:46 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it really heartening that you are thinking about free speech. I think you should consider posting more comments made by people who disagree with you. I am not suggesting that you allow any comments that contain offensive language, but I was really curious to read the response you said that you had from someone who disagreed with you on the ancient lineage of the Irish, for example.

I am an American, and I would be the first to agree with you that George W. Bush does not have a good command of English (or any other language!) However, I don't agree with your definition of "free speech" being speech without consequence of any kind. I think that you exercised your free speech and voiced your opinion of Bush's English. Your formerly loyal reader exercised his right to read something else when he no longer found your blog enjoyable. He did not hinder you in continuing to voice your opinion to others. He just chose to stop listening. All is as it should be!

11:17 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

You seem to have misperceived me. I do post comments that disagree with me - but actually there are very few such comments. You will find some long running exchanges, however, on some posts, that handle disagreements.

The man who wished to comment on Irish lineage was not posted because he was offensive in a way that did not use offensive language. He was a person of very strong views, who basically suggested that I must either have misunderstood what I had supposedly read (which I hadn't: he was totally wrong about the source of my information) - or that I was lying. I don't see why I should post a comment from someone who approaches discourse from such an angle.

Furthermore, he was discussing a scientific matter and his science was wrong. I don't see any good in promoting incorrect scientific views: the evidence shows his view to be in error, but he was insisting that I was in error - yet he was unable to explain the evidence against his view and didn't even try, in fact: he just denied it point blank. He gave a link to a page that, when I accessed it, was filled with garbage - an unreadable mess - so his reference didn't check out at all: it was just nonsense characters.

I did not lightly decline to post his comment. I didn't post his comment because for multiple reasons it was unpostable.

The only comments which I do not post are those which offend basic sensibilities or which should not be read by my children. Other than that, everything gets posted.

You posit a world in which one can say anything - but then get attacked for it. In my eyes, that is not a world of free speech. Speech cannot be free if there is fear of consequence. I know of countries in South-East Asia where you can say what you like - but if you do so, you risk being ruined by the courts or arrested (or far, far worse). Speech, with consequences, is not free: it is a form of enforced silence. I would suggest, therefore, that you should look again at what true freedom of speech must logically mean. It requires, in its very logical structure, that there be no consequence of saying anything whatsoever. If there is consequence, then speech is not free: it is repressed.

Best wishes to you

...and thanks for confirming my view of George Bush's grasp of grammar.

7:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Freedom of speech runs both ways. You are able to say whatever you want about George Bush (as am I, and I'm an American). But other people are just as free to say that they found your remark offensive and you shouldn't have said it. Free speech doesn't mean that nobody is allowed to contradict what you say or be offended by it. It simply means that they aren't allowed to prevent you from saying it.

9:21 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

This, then, is a much more restricted freedom than I had supposed. You see, I have lived a good chunk of my life in places where there is the ever present consequence to speaking your mind: consequently, people don't. Speech is not, therefore, free. If there are negative consequences to exercising the freedom to speak, people won't exercise it.

Yes, I agree that someone should be free to say that they disagree with something that another has said - but there are ways of disagreeing which don't constitute retribution - and there are ways that do. It would, in my opinion, be a better world if all those possible responses which might be felt as a negative consequence of speaking one's mind, are not acceptable. Then it is likely that more people will speak their mind. I have seen what happens when they are severe consequences for speaking up: no-one does. The world which the American commenters speak of, has a milder version of that. That would necessarily lead to a degree of self-censorship - and therefore impairment of the true freedom of speech.

A gentler, kinder, more tolerant and accepting world would, however, lead to the greatest freedom of speech.

Best wishes to you both.

10:40 PM  
Blogger Mari said...

I am also the parent of a gifted child, and I read your blog with interest. I did want to comment on the idea of freedom of speech. Having that freedom does indicate, of course, that you may say what you wish. By the same token, as I teach my child, one also has, what I've termed, "freedom of feet". In other words, if one disagrees vehemently with another person/company/group that one should state the case politely. Then, it is often wise to spend less time engaged in activities (or spending money) where the offense happened. I don't feel you should take the individual from Washington's departure personally. Instead, think of it as a person simply "voting with his/her feet". If that individual disagreed strongly with your point it may be better for him/her to not spend time on your blog, simply for that person's sanity.

Is it possible the person still reads but doens't comment? I am not familiar with how the owner of a blog might know who was or wasn't reading.

All the best to you!

11:04 AM  

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