THB in the absolute freedom of speech.

This is in response to a request by Zacarias Joseph (ILS) for a case on the motion. Having finally gotten the time to put it down, here it is...

THB in the absolute freedom of speech [Gov]:

 "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to death your right to say it."
 -In status quo different societies have different philosophies regarding the freedom of speech. However, there are primarily three broad approaches which are adopted. The first is to allow absolute free speech, whereby an individual may say whatsoever he or she deems fit and stand immune from prosecution or persecution as a result of it. The second approach as seen in India is to allow free speech, but with “reasonable” limitations. The yardsticks to define what is reasonable are various and varied and encompass speech which may instigate people to cause others harm and slander etc. The third way to go about it is to dismiss the notion of right to free speech thereby censuring, moulding and encouraging the expressions of individuals and the society so as to prevent criticism of the state and promote ideas that are constructive in the eyes of the big brother state.

-Absolute freedom of speech is not only essential for individual good but is also critical for societal evolution.

-Before we move on to talking about the merits of free speech, we must first understand certain matters that are intrinsic to any further discussion.
Firstly, truth and facts achieve their status by virtue of contesting disputes on their veracity and their standing when faced with certain tests. Anything that is asserted as truth or fact without being opened up to contest inherently becomes dogmatic in nature.

Secondly, all civilized societies are governed on the basis of certain philosophies. These philosophies might be imposed upon the society by a ruling class or self-imposed by people based on consensus. Either ways it must be understood that in such, no philosophy or ideology is inherently better than other, whether political, religious or otherwise. Opinions contrary to the established philosophies must not be curbed, instead they should be allowed and encouraged to enable evolution of these philosophies through critique and revaluation and if they cannot accommodate the changing sensibilities or respond to the challenges they must be deemed redundant and the discourse taken forward.

-We will tackle the issue of free speech on two levels; the first will be to demonstrate why repressing speech in general is a bad idea and on the second level we will talk about the extreme cases and why even under those circumstances, speech must not be curbed or censured.

-Individuals speak to express their opinions or to communicate with other individuals in the society. Therefore, to a large extent the individual’s ability to communicate freely, directly impacts the ability of the said person to actualize to his or her self-determined purpose. As we will prove later in greater detail, being able to communicate freely with one’s peer leads to greater individual growth and thereby the overall evolution of the collective. What is right or wrong and what is good or bad are questions that are highly subjective and therefore at least in the domain of expressing oneself, these matters must be kept open to deliberation. Pre-emptively curtailing the expression of certain viewpoints on the grounds of their being wrong or counterproductive is in itself self-defeating as it will inevitably lead to the monopolization of the judgement on what falls under acceptable and unacceptable by a limited section of society. Those riding the popular sentiment or swaying it will as a result be able to dictate their interpretation on these matters while silencing the rest.

Societies exist to serve the individuals that constitute it and they thrive by virtue of the growth of those same individuals in all spheres. Therefore, individuals speech must not be subjected to the collective’s approval. There is a strong cyclical link between the curbing of speech and the overall degeneration of society which goes to prove the above.

Truth can only be established by discourse and it only retains its status till it is disproven. History is evidence to how things that are deemed eternal truths by one generation might have been deemed absurd or blasphemous by another. Societal acceptance and tolerance towards a particular view point is subject to its context and relative situational sensibilities. Subjecting free speech to these factors cripples the emergence of voices that oppose what is deemed “right”. This creates an unhealthy atmosphere whereby the masses lend inertia to incumbent truths, ideas and opinions and resist any change to what is established thereby dooming themselves to no further evolution. Anything that manages to dethrone its predecessor and establish itself with the mob sentimentalities then takes on the same role. Such a state is less preferable to one where society is continually evolving through self-critique and discourse.

Such discourse enhances the society’s understanding of what they root for as well. Swallowing down what is to be held sacred and what not leads to the dogmatization and intellectual inebriation of the society. Having to defend one’s belief cuts both ways insomuch as it forces both the individual and collective to justify to each other as well as oneself the reasons for supporting one matter over another thereby fuelling intellectual growth and enlightenment. It also breeds greater tolerance for intolerance is the fiefdom of the daft.

Now let’s consider the extremer eventualities involving outright outrageous matter such as that which falls under the category of racism, sexism, communalism etc. Individuals must be allowed to air opinions of even such a nature. Allowing them to express themselves will enable societal discourse on the matters they propagate. Censuring the individual will not only result in him clinging on to his opinion more strongly  but will also lead to others who lean towards such ideology to lean further due to greater sympathy towards what they perceive as the gagged and repressed. On the other hand, free societal discourse on the matter will bring forth arguments from both sides and expose the societal elements to determine the merits of each. Even the individual who holds such extreme viewpoints will be more likely to see reason in the arguments of the other side if he is given the opportunity to present his own case or compelled to justify it, since not having to defend your ideology as a result of no freedom to do so won’t be a valid excuse anymore. As far as speech with the intention of sparking conflict and agitating the masses is concerned, these work more effectively in constructs where such speech is prosecuted. The masses are more vulnerable to such propaganda due to their lack of exposure to extreme opinions and more often than not provocative speech galvanizes public reaction by relying on its ability to extract a visceral reaction from the masses. In an environment where the freedom of speech is absolute, the society will get desensitized towards expressions engineered to provoke a reaction. Greater exposure to the extremes and thereby to the arguments against the same will enable them to exercise greater rationality in such matters.

An expression of intolerance should not be responded to with a counter reaction of intolerance but rather with an expression of tolerance by virtue of having allowed the intolerant to speak and then be responded to with rational discourse. The nature of true tolerance encompasses tolerating the intolerant. Furthermore this gives a greater opportunity for the intolerant to embrace tolerance.

-Let us now talk about the matter of outright lies and slander.

A society in which one is free to lie and slander, every statement made in a manner of representing fact will bear a high burden of proof. This will be the inevitable result of the conditioning which will result from an environment where the collective understands that everyone is free to say whatever they wish to and that the only litmus of truth is the evidence and arguments presented to back it. Blatant assertions will lose their sensational value and thereby the benefits of making them redundant. This construct will be similar to that of the scientific community where a mere assertion holds no value whatsoever and only those statements or findings that are backed by evidence or compelling logical arguments will hold weight. Take for example the case of Arvind Kejriwal as a simplistic illustration. There was a strong societal reaction to his first few "expose's", however with his third and fourth expose' the masses began ignoring his statements due to the lack of substantiation behind his allegations.

Even then, it might be more convenient to make an exception in this case and limit the boundaries of this freedom to exclude defamation, slander and lying to the masses. However such an approach is highly problematic as is compromises the underlying principle and more importantly, the ability to interpret what deserves censorship under this provision can lead to the same sort of slippery slope and abuse that any other form of restriction is subject to. Take as example the ban on refuting the occurrence of the holocaust in certain western liberal states.

-The state cannot curb certain types of thought and it should not even try to even if possible. As long as a thought exists in an individual’s mind, he or she will desire to express it. As long as that desire exists, the only rational thing to do is to allow the individual to express it so he or she may either share with the society the merits of the thought or stand a chance to learn its demerits by virtue of the reaction to his thought. Curbing the expression is equivalent to curbing an individual from expressing one’s thoughts and the effects are potentially devastating. The will to express oneself is one of the most deep rooted burning desire that humans possess and it is that urge that drove us as a race to develop the art of communicating right from the stage of primitive grunts and hand gestures to a modern day state of linguistic and artistic plurality; all means to one goal, to express, to communicate. For all those reasons, the freedom of speech must be absolute.

~The Editor.

PS: Opp case to follow.


Arvind Raghavan said…
For precision, where does "expression" end?
Well speech should as is argued, remain absolutely speech. Expression in general on the other hand may be limited at a point where it causes tangible physical harm to a third party. For example, me expressing myself by slapping someone can't be justified.

Why the difference in standards? Human society can be and should be conditioned to become tolerant towards views that don't agree with their's. In such a construct, individuals would not go ape shit when faced with what they feel is blasphemous (like what would happen in Iran if they found a young woman professing pre-marital sex). However, society cannot and should not be conditioned to tolerate physical harm in order to accommodate for another's expression.
Ambar Bhushan said…

^is your opp case. Sunstein is SEX.

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