Verdict on Freedom of Expression

Anyone who says that freedom of expression should be protected in all circumstances because the right is inherently sacred is either lacking in maturity or being dishonest. No right is inherently sacred. A right is good or bad depending on the end it serves. Freedom of expression is not always good, and like any other right it is prone to abuse.

Should certain expressions be restricted in the society? Certainly. Should they be criminalized, declared illegal? I don’t think so.

My earlier position on freedom of expression was this:

Disregarding its effects on temperaments of other people if certain expression is harmful to the society then such expression should be considered as abuse of the right to free expression and should be checked.

The above rule still serves me well, except that I don’t think it should be checked legally. I have arrived at this conclusion after thinking long and hard about it.

I now stand in favor of freedom of expression in the discussion of whether or not to criminalize the freedom when the expression is offensive, even if it is harmful in itself. This is not because I consider the right to be sacred, but because otherwise the issue is tangled up in who will decide what should be considered offensive and what is harmful, for which I perceive no viable solution.

There should be restrictions on the freedom of expression, but they should be socially enforced, not legally. Social restrictions are in the form of family restrictions, biases, boycott and ostracism etc. I as the head of the family decide what kind of speech is allowed in my family. I am biased against people with feminist leanings. I boycott certain films and actors for the ideas they espouse. I would not hire someone who spreads harmful ideas in the society. These are the ways in which the society has been imposing restrictions on people directly or indirectly for as long as the civilization has been. And it is always necessary. Only a morally bankrupt society would be without any restrictiveness.

However, all that is not moral is not necessarily criminal. Every issue cannot be effectively addressed by the law. Morality, therefore, is more suitably a purview of the society than of the law.

Socially enforced restrictions are not a foolproof way to prevent abuse of the right to free expression, but I believe it is as good as we can have it as a society.

Below are a few types of expressions I feel very strongly against especially when spread through the mass media (radio, print or electronic), but for the reason that not everybody may feel the same way about these things as I, they may not be declared illegal.

  • Expressions which are not the carriers of ideas and opinions and are directly harmful to the society. For example, a range of pop songs with sexually explicit or otherwise vulgar content.
  • Profane media bits tailored for no better reason than mindless entertainment.
  • Mockery, because I believe if one has an opinion against something, one can make a rigorously structured case, or use satire (if one is not capable of rigor in thought but is creative) to make one’s point. One can even resort to creative humor to channelize one’s convictions and observations if one finds that easier. Mere mockery is the way of the mind empty of substance.

There is a lot of gray area. In the society with socially enforced restrictions on the freedom of expression, the final balance would be affected by what ideas are in fashion at a given time, which would be influenced by the media not run for the best interests of the society. Therefore, as I said above, social enforcement of restrictions on the freedom of expression is not a foolproof way to prevent degeneration. And looking at the current trend I don’t think that the society is doing a good job at it.

Unfortunately, however, there is no viable legal alternative.

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