Thursday, 29 November 2012

Leveson - free speech,responsibility and the 'Reality Principle'.

The Leveson Report came out today, raising discussion on a number of issues including free speech and responsibility. How do we strike a balance between, on the one hand, free speech; and on the other hand, on protecting members of our society, particularly the most vulnerable, from inappropriate and intrusive behaviour. This seems to me to touch on very basic values, both politically and for us as individuals.

Stepping stones across the water.On an individual level, freedom and responsibility can be difficult to balance, just as difficult as they are in our society at large. If I do whatever I want, then how does it impact on you? Therefore if I want to act responsibly, I need to consider how my actions will affect others. This then limits my individual freedom to some degree. How far should these limits on our freedom go? How do we best protect both ourselves and others?

We use rules and regulations to limit our behaviour - some from outside of ourselves, such as rules in our society, and some self-regulation. We need some rules or framework for our lives. These can give us guidance, including ways of behaving ethically and appropriately - part of having a social conscience. We take these rules in, internalise them, and use them in our own judgements and ways of behaving with others.

We therefore interpret our society's rules in our own individual way. We have our own individual social consciences and these can at times do battle with the part of us that wants to have the freedom to do whatever it wants. In Freudian terms, this is the 'superego' versus the 'id'. The superego may be said to voice our social conscience; while the id voices our individual desires and needs. These two therefore come into conflict with each other.

There is however a third part of the internal dynamic, according to Freudian theory. This is the 'ego', the part of us that tries to manage the internal conflict between superego and id; and beyond this with the outside world. The ego then is the part of us that looks at what is 'realistic' for us as individuals for ourselves and in relation to others, as members of society. Freud called this the 'Reality Principle'. We try to be realistic in our perspective and how we behave.

How we interpret rules and react to them therefore seems to me to be quite a fundamental part of human behaviour, part of our individual personalities. Some of us are quicker to follow outside rules than others; some like to position themselves more as outsiders or perhaps as rebels; others as more like campaigners wanting to bring about change - to modify existing rules.

Looking at how we react to changes in rules and regulations in our society therefore can say something about ourselves as individuals. Aren't human beings interesting?

Lin Travis Counselling Services

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