Decades ago, Justice Louis Brandeis seminally stated that those who won our independence believed that the freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think is indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth.
He further observed that it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope and imagination.
Brandeis underscored that fear breeds repression and repression breeds hate and hate menaces stable government.
And, finally, that a country’s path of safety lies in the opportunity to freely discuss supposed grievances and proposed remedies.
NOT SOMETHING BUT SOMEONE
The need for respect for human dignity did not only arise with the advent of constitutional democracy in Namibia.
Those who are Christian may have read the Catholic Church’s catechism which, on the issue of respect for human dignity, states: “Of all visible creatures only man is ‘able to know and love his creator’.
“He is ‘the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake’, and he alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God’s own life.
“It was for this end that he was created, and this is the fundamental reason for his dignity … Being in the image of God, the human individual possesses the dignity of a person who is not just something, but someone.
“He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons.
“And he is called by grace to a covenant with his Creator, to offer him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his stead.”
At a principle level, the above statements are appropriate in our constitutional democracy.
Lamentably, however, with the increasing use and popularity of social media platforms, people’s dignity and reputations are subverted, demeaned, marginalised and gravely savaged on a daily basis.
Judge Sibeya of the High Court of Namibia recently reminded us of a statement by Rhonda Jones, a Christian meditator.
In her article ‘Depression and Negative Thoughts’, Jones states: “Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”
Since the advent of social media and the ease with which instant communication is facilitated far and wide, social media rumour and gossip entrepreneurs have emerged in our midst.
They are fuelled not by sensible principles but by an egotistical lust for power, of control over others and, it appears, a cynical nostalgia for being seen as ‘dangermen’ or perhaps foul-inspired ‘revolutionaries’.
These entrepreneurs use social media platforms as a ready stock in trade to violate others’ reputations and dignity.
Disconcertingly, the existing right “to be left alone” has thus been jettisoned.
These rumour and gossip entrepreneurs work day and night, with a great measure of industry as well as effrontery, to harvest and spread toxic gossip, which, to their knowledge, is devoid of substance.
On a daily basis, men and women are subjected to the grossest mental pain and distress at the hands of these entrepreneurs.
Already in 1890, Brandeis and Samuel D Warren – in their work ‘The Right to Privacy’ – warned that “each crop of unseemly gossip thus harvested, becomes the seed of more, and, in direct proportion to its circulation, results in the lowering of social standards and of morality”.
On the other hand, even apparently harmless gossip, when widely and persistently circulated, as we hear and witness in Namibia at present, becomes potent for evil.
This is because gossip both belittles and perverts.
A ‘COCKTAIL OF EVIL…’
In our country, rumour and gossip entrepreneurs belittle others by inverting the relative importance of real things, dwarfing the thoughts and aspirations of others and, in fact, dwarfing the discussion of socio-economic matters of public importance.
Therefore, we should all be concerned about personal rumours and gossip made to attain the dignity worthy of circulating on WhatsApp groups in monumental and grand proportions.
I’m afraid we have reached a stage where these entrepreneurs rejoice at and are simply amused by a cocktail of evil, foolishness and sheer ignorance when spinning the rumour and gossip mill.
Short of inspiration to do constructive things, they pose a real danger to the very essence of human dignity and peace of mind.
It is therefore troubling that triviality and insult-based public discourse have unfortunately squeezed out mature robustness of thought and delicacy of feeling.
TRUTH MUST FLOURISH
We must accept that in such a toxic and lie-infested environment on social media not much space is left for constructive ideas to flourish.
The opportunity that social media may have created for advancing constructive interests and ideas of society is being used up by the rumour and gossip entrepreneurs among us.
It is therefore fair to say: Namibia, wake up and fight against social media abuse and the use thereof for the spread of hate and evil.
- Sisa Namandje is a legal practitioner of both the High Court and Supreme Court of Namibia, and is the author of five law books, including the upcoming ‘Cadres Administrative Law Guide’