March 27, 2014
There is a very seductive logic that has been and will be used by opponents of liberty to, every now and then, crackdown on free speech via internet censorship. Recently, a prominent spokesperson said, We are a young country and democracy is still new, the people do not know how to control themselves, how to discipline themselves. To him, average Malaysians must be sheltered from bad speech (and thus, bad ideas), so the Internet must be censored as such. In this vein of thought, to see if this stands, we must proceed thus:
Humans are naturally social. A strongest indicator of this is our unique ability for language, and as social animals, we have only two ways of interacting with others: SPEECH or FORCE. We can either talk someone into something, or we can use physical violence to get what we want. (I cannot think of other ways humans interact, and if someone should prove me wrong on this point, I would renounce my defence of free speech immediately.)
Since FORCE is everywhere undesirable, we must now examine SPEECH. By allowing us to interact with others, Speech expands our store of knowledge and informs us of our lives. It is our verbal ability to interact with those around us that allow us to learn, teach, admonish, correct, etc. We constantly acquire knowledge not only through our senses, but through our speaking with others. We can see this close correlation between knowledge and speech going all the way back to ancient times. For instance, the ancient Greeks used the word Logos to mean either speech or reasoning. But even in our daily language, we have a close interaction of humans in speaking (e.g., to communicate goes back the root word for “to share” in Latin). In this sense, only by speaking can we know, and I say that if humans were isolated individuals without speech, we would be no better than monkeys and gorillas unable to pass on their knowledge to each other and to the next generation.
With this in mind, the question then revolves around, “What if people learn something wrong?” Should government correct their views? Should the well-intentioned authorities have power to correct our faults? I answer a categorical, NO.
No one faults a man for being lazy or stupid. We have no laws that penalize people for being poor or marrying their daughter off to a bad husband. We do not care if a person neglects his studies or choose not to work hard. Whether people choose the wrong path in life or not are disapproved by society, but we don’t punish people for making unwise decision. So why do we do it with wrong speech? What makes exchanging “wrong” ideas so different (and more heinous) than making a wrong decision that has real consequences?
The fact of the matter is that people make mistakes when they are ignorant. It is our free speech that keeps us free from error. When friends tell us not to patronise a bad restaurant, when our parents give us advice regarding our careers, when our spiritual leaders counsel our hearts these are ways in which speech functions to inform our wills so that we can expand our options and make wise decisions. If this works on a personal level, it would be ridiculous to say it does not work on a political level.
I grant that people have some ridiculous ideas. But I have no idea what anyone means by a dangerous idea. Ideas dont harm anyone. A group of protesters can peacefully demonstrate all they want and assemble to chant their slogans (so long as they cause no damage to life or property), but if the media and press are free, counter-opinions would be made, and society would both be much more educated and experienced in making political decisions. It is a curious thing to gain more knowledge about the world by being shut up and alone.
In this same way, speech has an important and fundamental function in getting society out of their infancy and into their adulthood. I grant readily that Malaysia is a young nation, but I cannot grant that because babies might fall, we should never teach them how to walk. What kind of parent would shelter their kids now, only to prepare more peril for him when he grows up? I find this argument too fallacious to even entertain.
As I hinted earlier, humans are social. We correct ourselves through others. We learn from others. Free speech allows us to do all these things, and if people are given to exchange opinion, in this marketplace of ideas, bad, ignoble and “dangerous” ideas may have their ten seconds of fame, but most people are not stupid. I detest the oft used phrase, People are irrational. I always retort, Irrational by whose standard? Yours? I am confident that average citizens can think for themselves, and there is no need to guide their thoughts. They can do it themselves.
See the article here: