On being afraid to speak like a free American


When I was reporting on business for my local newspaper in the 1980s and 1990s, I encountered a lot of people who were afraid to speak their minds and be quoted by name.

They weren’t afraid of the FBI, the CIA or any governmental or police agency.  They were afraid of employers — not just their own employer, but any potential future employer.  As one said, “I don’t want to be known as a bad employee.”

If you had to choose between evils, an oppressive government is worse than an oppressive employer.  In the worst case, the former has the power to take away your life and freedom, while the latter has only the power to take away your livelihood.  But a (comparatively) lesser evil can still be a great evil.


Almost all the people I ran into in those days who were unafraid to speak like free Americans fell into one of the following categories.

  • Tenured college professors.
  • Civil servants
  • Union members with strong unions and good contracts
  • Independent professionals such as physicians, lawyers and accountants, not employed by a larger firm.
  • Independent craft workers such as plumbers, electricians or handymen, not employed by a larger firm.
  • Independent business owners not dependent on a single customer.

It might not be a coincidence that the proportion of people in all these categories is declining.

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One Response to “On being afraid to speak like a free American”

  1. Holden Says:

    I’ve had some serious debates regarding this and the topic you covered in your other post on workplace surveillance.

    It seems to me, at a certain point you have to draw a line and decide that you’re not going to budge any further. For example, my co-author on my blog (Blogtruth.net) has worked very hard to create a certain facade of himself online and refrains from any speech attached to his name that would be considered anything more than PG rated at worse.

    I on the other hand have been foolish at times and made public statements that have caused me a lot of grief both past jobs and personal life.

    I’ve since decided to find a middle ground. I will speak my mind, but never in a way I would not be willing to stand up for and if need be, lose a job or hurt a relationship over. I’ve resigned to simply being honest. Not foolish or foolhardy, just honest.

    I cannot bear the idea of being a thought slave.


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