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.

Provocation and Sharing the Blame

Originally written in June 2013

A woman goes out wearing revealing clothes, gets raped. Does she deserve the blame for provoking the rapist? Could she be said to have provoked it, simply because she wore revealing clothes? An adult woman can’t be so naive as not to know the laws of sexual attraction. Does she deserve partial blame at least, for wearing revealing clothes in the world with sexual predators? Ignorance is not a crime, but is willful ignorance to be tolerated? Let’s analyze.

You go into the jungle unprotected for pleasure. A tiger pounces on you and you are badly wounded. Who is to blame? The tiger? All would agree that it is foolish to blame the tiger. All would blame you for going into the jungle unprotected when you knew there were tigers in the jungle. Did you provoke the tiger? You may not have, but it is tiger’s nature to attack humans entering their territory. To walk in there is nothing short of provoking. You didn’t know that? Well, then you should have known better, that’s what is called being adult. In any case, one can’t blame the tiger, for it merely acted according to its nature.

The man who walks into the jungle unprotected and gets attacked by a tiger deserves the full blame. And no one would disagree. Because tiger is an animal. It can’t be expected to know that the man was there just for pleasure and would not have caused any harm to it. Tigers don’t have advanced thoughts as humans. They act on instincts. Nature, not intellect, directs them. They are heteronomous beings. They don’t have free will. It is for this reason that we can’t blame animals for their actions which may be harmful to humans. Since the tiger doesn’t have autonomy or free will it couldn’t be expected to behave differently. Therefore, it was entirely the man’s responsibility to gauge the danger and act accordingly.

There is, however, a difference between animals and humans. Humans are expected to contain their nature, because unlike animals humans are autonomous beings. They are not slaves of their nature. Therefore, when a woman dresses revealingly, we expect men to control their natural urges and behave in a civilized way. If a woman gets raped we place the full blame on the man, because he could act differently owing to his free will.

The decisive element, here, is free will.

There is large body of scientists and philosophers who are determinists, that is, believing in determinism. According to them, we don’t have free will. In determinist view free will is merely an illusion. I personally don’t subscribe to the determinist view for practical reasons, but I can’t (and no one can) refute the view either. At large, I am a proponent of free will, but being also aware of and humbled by the philosophical truths of our existence I think it would be fair to say that what we have, at best, is partial free will.

We are like a dog tied to a truck by rope. The truck is nature. We can move around a little bit believing that we have autonomy or free will, but ultimately we have to follow the truck, or be dragged by it. Therefore it is partial autonomy.

Think about some mental states like romantic love/obsession and its suffering. The one suffering from the obsession wants to get the person of fixation out of one’s head but can’t, because one’s nature is in control, not the will. From sexual desire to craving for a smoke, there are many urges that we know we would be better off without, but we can’t always control them. We have to indulge them against our rational nature which gives us the so-called free will.

Science is now finding that our forebrain (neocortex), the house of rationality, has evolved only to rationalize the proclivities of our hindbrain, the house of animal nature. We never really have total control over our animal nature. Even when we feel we are fully in control, it may well be an illusion created by our forebrain.

It is not true that humans are virtuous beings capable of animalistic behavior. We are animals capable of virtuous deeds. Fundamentally we are animals. Animals with partial autonomy.

In the example quoted above, the man who becomes a victim by walking into the tiger’s territory is blamed fully, for the tiger does not have autonomy. A woman who dresses revealingly and gets raped isn’t blamed at all – and the rapist is fully blamed – because here the attacker is believed to have autonomy.

What if autonomy or free will is shaky? We have partial free will at best.

If the blame was placed because the attacker had free will then if the free will is partial, the blame too has to be partial, not full. Where do we factor in the other part of the blame then? Clearly it has to be shared by the victim. After all, she too has the “autonomy” to act diligently.

When a woman puts herself in the way of danger and gets attacked, she has to share part of the blame even if she did not mean to provoke the attacker. Considering the natural laws of sexual attraction and the kind of partial autonomy we have, getting in the position of being attacked is nothing short of provoking the attacker. If an adult woman does not know that then that is willful ignorance which a virtuous society should not tolerate.

Note that I am not saying that the rapist does not deserve the full punishment, or that the victim has to share the punishment. In the eyes of the law the rapist is the criminal and the woman raped is the victim. Because we would want a society where rapes don’t take place even if women dress revealingly. Therefore, in practical analysis we must lay the full blame on the rapist, for otherwise we won’t get the socially desirable conclusion or outcome. In pure analysis, however, we must look at the full reality of our existence and draw the conclusion without regard to what is socially desirable outcome. In pure analysis the provoker as well the provoked deserve the blame.

While criminal justice system should take care of punishing the attacker, the morally conscious society should impart values and create pressures for its members to not behave in a way which would create undesirable disruptions in the society.

Everything That Is Legal Is Not Moral

Originally written in April 2013

It is a popular belief among today’s generation that one doesn’t have any obligation towards the society over and above abiding the laws. These freedom-defenders demand that they should be free to live the way they like as long as they don’t break any law.

This raises the question: Is everything that is permitted by the law automatically morally good? I don’t think so.

Laws are not God-given and absolute but are created by man. To believe that every aspect of human life is addressed by the laws such that there is no scope for improvement is to be confident about human intelligence to the degree of arrogance. Human life is far too complex to be perfectly understood, and thus laws can’t be perfect. For this reason, laws are amended from time to time. New laws are added and many are even discarded when the time demands the change.

To say that there is no moral obligation beyond abiding the laws is to derive morality from laws. It is actually the other way around. Morality is the blueprint for laws. Though morality too is not absolute, but if we agree on the common human goals then morality becomes fairly objective. Human well-being and flourishing being the undisputed common pursuit of humanity, it gives us objective morality. Laws are created to keep the society on the moral path of fostering human well-being and flourishing. Laws are, therefore, based on morality.

All that is moral has to be legal. But all that is legal is not necessarily moral.

Practically, there is bound to be gap between laws and morality. As the society evolves and assumes new levels of complexities, new laws are required to keep the society on the moral path.

For example, a century ago there was no law requiring wearing a helmet for bike riders because there was no reason for it. Even when the bikes were invented, the helmets would not have been invented until the need was felt for them. Today there is need for the law requiring bike riders to wear a helmet. Many people clamor against it saying it is their own life that they are risking by not wearing a helmet, so the State has no right to compel them to wear a helmet. Wrong. It is not moral for people to risk even their own life, because when they meet with an accident they make other people’s (especially, their relatives’) life difficult, financially and/or emotionally. If they die in an accident, their children (in case they have any) fall into the society’s care and someone in the society pays the cost. (The person’s family is a part of the society.) Any action on one’s part which entails negative consequences for other members of the society falls under moral scrutiny. Whether or not we have a law against not wearing a helmet, moral argument for wearing one is pretty strong. Same goes for numerous other issues, from smoking cigarettes to owning guns.

Talk about environmental degradation. The rate at which we are destroying our environment urgently calls for numerous laws relating to carbon emission, waste disposal, and myriad related matters. We don’t need a law against owning a vehicle in order for the use of public transport to be a morally superior action. While I won’t go so far as to say that owning a vehicle is immoral, but if in time the environment is screwed enough then it may well become so.

At the time we pass a law against something is not when it becomes immoral. It is when something is identified to be morally harmful that calls for the law be passed against it. Besides, laws can be unfair too. Laws don’t even necessarily describe moral soundness of a particular action.

A law abiding person is not necessarily morally flawless. Understanding of morality and the awareness of one’s moral obligations has never been more important than today. If people start thinking that they have no duties apart from not breaking the laws, I can only imagine the chaos the future holds.

Equality and Justice – Part 6

Originally written in November 2012

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5

Over the last five posts I have tried to develop the basic framework of equality and justice from a scratch. In part 5, we came to the final equation of equality and justice in the society. Let’s apply the equation to one of the contemporary issues in equality and justice – that of gender equality – and see what picture is drawn.

The equation we arrived at in the previous post is as follows –

(a) Strength in the state of Nature – (b) Moral development = (c) Incentives in the society

The idea was this: In the simple two-person world, person A represented the physically weak, and person B represented the physically strong. In the state of nature B would prevail over A. In the society, if we were to prevent violence and chaos, B would have to be given incentives not to attack A while he can. These incentives would result in B enjoying overall more benefits in the society than A.

There is also a component of moral development. However, as we noted in the previous post, moral development is constrained by our innate animal nature, thus having a limit to it.

Now let’s consider the case of men and women.

Men are naturally physically stronger than women. Therefore, men are represented by person B of our example. Women on the other hand are represented by person A.

In the state of nature men can prevail over women because of their physical strength. They can enslave women, they can do whatever they wish with women. They wouldn’t necessarily hurt women in a way that would be disadvantageous to all  including men, but at least we know for sure that men would have the upper hand over women.

That’s the reason in the society men enjoy overall more benefits than women in that most societies have been male-dominated. Those are incentives to men not to make women’s lives miserable for their own benefit while they can. To many this may seem like utter injustice to women. That’s because they have taken for granted the comforts the present state of the society affords without having a clue about what goes into creating these comforts.

As long as the equation holds the setting must be just.

It’s true that historically in many societies women have been treated literally like slaves and have been beaten up by men. Even though that would fit the equation, and thus be just (though uncivilized), we wouldn’t want to have that kind of a society.

Justice can exist with violence. As I said earlier in this series, the state of nature is by default a just state. There is no morality in the state of nature, but justice there is. It is justice through violence.

In the society we establish justice through 1) moral development and 2) incentives to the strong. These two components replace violence exerted by the strong in the state of nature and prevent chaos, thus fostering well-being.

If the weaker group (women) wanted to have a pleasant life then either they would have to accept domination of the stronger group (men) or wait for moral development to take place. Or both.

Or both, is what the society has gone through to find the new equilibrium in justice away from the state of nature. The society has always been dominated by men. And women are no more oppressed in most parts of the modern society, indicating that the society has certainly developed morally over time.

But now male domination is reducing in most of the world at a very rapid rate. Looking at the equation this means reduction in the component (c). To compensate it, if there is increase in the component (b) on left side of the equation, it is fine. Otherwise there is a problem as the society would be moving away from justice.

At this point I would like to talk about feminism. Feminism is a powerful movement of our times wherein women are demanding equal position as men in every sphere of the society.

Let me make this clear that I have no problem with women getting equal position per se. But my concern here is justice, and to see that the equation capturing justice holds.

Equal position to women would mean male domination would no more be. Higher benefits that men enjoy through domination are incentives for them to not make women’s lives miserable. Family system where women are housewives taking care of family and social ties instead of slaves treated like animals would be an example of what I am implying. This is the component (c) in the equation. The equation implies that if (c) is reduced and (b) remains unchanged then there will no more be justice. In that case, justice will be established the nature’s way (B attacking A).

Considering the level of sophistication and complexity of the present society men and women physically fighting is unlikely. What is quite likely is men’s natural strength finding different channels to the same end.

This, however, assumes that the component (b) remains unchanged. How do we know that it is not increasing? Maybe it is early to tell considering feminism is still a recent phenomenon in the history of society. But assuming that the component (b) remains unchanged while the component (c) reduces, the result should be decrease in the well-being of women if the equation of justice is to hold. Only then men would regain higher overall benefits/well-being.

Interestingly, that may be happening already. Early indications would be diminishing marriage rates. Love as we are used to seeing it is becoming a thing of the past. Men and women of the future will only use each other for sex. They will compete in corporations, in politics and in every other sphere of life. Men and women will no longer be companions but competitors at best, enemies at worst.

It stands to reason that if men and women hold the same and equal positions, there will be competition and animosity. And the fact remains that men are naturally stronger, making it easier for them to cope with the challenges. Women on the other hand, due to their weakness, will suffer in the long run. The loss of marriage and family is reducing the well-being of all (thanks to feminists), but women’s well-being will be additionally affected because of their natural weakness in facing the challenges of the world they are so keen on creating.

Feminists are not unaware of this. Hence, they are already making their future secure by demanding various legal provisions giving special treatments and rights to women over and above men – because women are weak. These rights through law would be designed to keep men’s nature in check. It would not be moral development (increase in the component (b)) but moral imposition (suppression of men’s nature). The equation of justice would not hold. Therefore, it would be unjust.

Not only that, these women-centric laws giving special rights to women and no corresponding responsibilities for their weakness create externalities in the society. Therefore, they are inherently flawed, harming the society in perverse ways.

This explains why modern feminist ideals are unjust and even pernicious.

[Please don’t comment with examples of the societies and cultures of the past that have been matriarchal or those where men and women had at least equal social status. The main point here is validity of the equation describing justice. If we factor in the peculiarities of a particular society or culture, the equation will hold.]

Equality and Justice – Part 5

Originally written in November 2012

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4

Our behavior shaped by natural urges and inclinations is malleable when we perceive the long term benefits in doing so. But there seems to be a limit to how much we can do that because to control or regulate the natural urges is an uphill battle, a tug-of-war with our animal nature.

Moral development, therefore, does not come naturally but requires efforts.

Every problem in the world may be solved in the long run without resorting to violence and chaos. But for the socially disadvantaged waiting indefinitely long without resorting to violence requires struggle with the animal nature. There is a snapping point to it. A person may be morally developed and may fight with his animal nature to control his urges in certain situations and to certain extent, but not always and not to infinite extent. Moral development depends on a lot of factors surrounding the person.

Morality, therefore, is not black-and-white as we are constrained by our innate animal nature when acting on the moral path given by rationality.

If we apply this to our question of whether it is not moral for the physically strong person B to require incentives in the society to not attack the physically weak person A, the answer is yes and no.

We definitely want a society where people can perceive the long term good and are willing to sacrifice the short term and the individual good to achieve the former. The society would strive for such moral development that the person B doesn’t require incentives to not attack the person A, seeing it as immoral and understanding that in the long run he too can develop himself to enjoy what person A is enjoying today. And the society has to make sure that person B gets enough opportunities to develop himself. Hence, we would say that B should not attack A while he can. Nor should he require incentives to keep himself from attacking A because that would not be moral.

But this assumes that B is capable of infinitely fighting his animal nature with his rationality. In reality, that is not true of anyone. As I said above, there is a limit to how much we can pull against nature. And that limit varies for everyone depending on various factors both natural and social.

Rationality can control natural urges and inclinations but there is a psychological cost to doing so. When B decides that he won’t attack A for his wealth while he can he pays a psychological cost for resisting his nature. (Note that this is a simple two-person world scenario where there is no law and police to keep a check.) Hence, there is for a sure snapping point. It’s like an elastic with a limit to how much it can be stretched.

This point must be taken into consideration when deciding on justice in the society.

What actually would happen is this: The society will pressurize B to not attack A while he can saying that it is immoral. This is done by enabling moral development through education and cultural teachings. At the same time if this moral development is not sufficient to contain B’s nature to resort to violence then the incentives will be created for him to not attack A.

The amount of incentives required depends on the specifics of a particular case. Higher the level of moral development, lower the amount of incentives required. It should be noted that moral development is constrained by the innate nature.

If the level of moral development is not sufficient to contain B’s nature (now take the persons A and B for representatives of the weak and the strong in all cases) then the just society has to create incentives for B, or else justice will be established the nature’s way (B using violence).

In the state of nature justice is established through violence. In the society it is done through 1) moral development of individuals, and 2) incentives to the strong (those who would have prevailed in the state of nature through violence) to not use violence.

Moral development is essentially a human phenomenon. Incentives to the strong are necessary because though we are humans capable of rationality we aren’t (can’t and won’t be) so rational as to be completely unaffected by natural forces within and outside of us.

In part 3, I gave a maxim: He who is favored by nature would enjoy higher benefits in the just society.

The equation capturing the maxim would be:

(a) Strength in the state of nature = (b) Incentives in the society ….. (1)

Where (a) is strength over others.

After introduction of the argument of morality in part 4 and adding the component of moral development the final equation of justice would look like:

(a) Strength in the state of nature – (b) Moral development = (c) Incentives in the society ….. (2)

Higher the moral development, lesser would be the incentives required for the strong to not attack the weak.

The above equation (2) describes the basic framework of equality and justice in the society.

To be continued...

Equality and Justice – Part 4

Originally written in November 2012

Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

In this post we will run through the basics of morality, understanding where morality comes from and what it purports.

Morality is not God-given, simply because there is no God. (Even if there was a God, morality defined by him wouldn’t be any more valid than that defined by us, as successfully presented by Plato in Euthyphro dilemma.) There is no right and wrong in the absolute sense. Morality, therefore, is a human construct. We as individuals and the society define what is right and wrong.

In the state of nature there is no morality. Animals in the wild don’t follow a set of rules dictating right and wrong – at least not consciously. Why, then, do we humans have them? Why did we create morality?

The answer should not be too difficult to guess if one notices the contrast between the life in the society and the life in the wild.

One answer to why we created morality (actually, morality developed over the centuries of social evolution) can be: because we are mentally capable of creating it. However, the more cogent explanation is: because we want to have better lives than the life in the state of nature.

Life in the state of nature is chaotic. The wild is literally a dog-eat-dog world. Without ethics and morality to guide our natural urges and inclinations we wouldn’t have upped ourselves from the level of the other animals. It’s another thing that other animals are not capable of rationality and hence couldn’t create morality.

The purpose of morality, therefore, is fostering human well-being. And the way to achieve that is by containing the animal nature within human beings.

Thus, morality is not a given. No action on its own is moral or immoral. Whether some action is moral or immoral that depends on whether it serves or dis-serves the purpose of human well-being set by the society.

In part 3, I introduced an argument of morality according to which the physically strong poor person B should not require incentives from the society to not attack the physically weak rich person A while he can – because it is simply not moral to do so.

Now in light of the basic understanding of morality we will see if this argument holds water.

To be continued…

Equality and Justice – Part 3

Originally written in November 2012

Read Part 1 and Part 2

In part 2, we concluded that the society has to create incentives for the strong to not attack the weak while (in the state of nature) they can, and that incentivised state would be the state of justice in the society.

It means that in the hypothetical simple society comprising of two persons, one physically weak and the other physically strong, justice would be where the physically strong person enjoys overall more benefits than the physically weak person. The silent benefit to the weak person being that he would not be attacked by the strong person.

The additional benefits given to the strong over and above those to the weak would be an incentive for the strong to not attack the weak. What reason, otherwise, would the strong have to not attack the weak?

To summarize the point: The one who is favored by nature, and thus would prevail over others in the state of nature, will continue to enjoy higher benefits (in the form of incentives not to attack the other while he can) in the just society.

Note that this conclusion is arrived at from a hypothetical simple two-person society. By adding complex variables the end result might (and will) change but the equation will essentially hold.

For example, according to the above rule, the criminal who is physically more powerful should be enjoying more benefits if the society is just than the common man who is physically weak. But instead in the society we actually have criminals in the jail and that’s perfectly just. Common people certainly enjoy (and should enjoy) more benefits than the criminal. One would of course say, screw the rule which says the criminal should be enjoying more benefits.

Now look closer. Is the rule really breaking? No, because ours is not a simple two-person society. Even though the criminal maybe physically strong, he is in minority. Would he have prevailed had our world been the state of nature? No, because his strength is way less than the collective strength of those he would have to fight.

The rule says that he who is favored by nature such that he would prevail over the other in the state of nature would enjoy higher benefits in the just society. The criminal being in the minority isn’t really favored by nature in a broad view.

Thus, the original simple-world conclusion holds perfectly if we properly account for complexities of our times.

Let’s make it into a maxim: He who is favored by nature would enjoy higher benefits in the just society.

After accounting for numerous layers of complexities between the above hypothetical two-person society and the actual present-day society, one should be able to see that it is following this rule of justice that the governments have policies of redistribution of income. If a large section of the society is making less money (is poor) and enjoys less well-being then what would keep them from creating chaos in the society by attacking the rich? Hence, we tax the rich and give benefits as social security, public distribution of food, health benefits, other numerous subsidies and suchlike (mostly) to the poor out of those taxes.

Discounting all complexities, in the simple two-person society this would mean that if one person is rich and the other is poor, and if the poor is physically strong enough to make the rich person’s life difficult by attacking him for his wealth then the rich person will have to share his wealth with the physically strong poor person in order to live peacefully.

Therefore, in the hypothetical simple two-person society, the physically strong poor person enjoys higher overall benefit than the physically weak rich, because he would get equal share of wealth as the other without having the brains to create wealth, simply for he is favored by nature in physical strength.

The state of justice in the actual current society would be based on the same basic equation as the above.

Argument of morality

Some people would say that even if one is favored by nature and would prevail over the other in the state of nature they should not do that. Since we are not merely animals living in the state of nature but civilized humans the ones favored by nature should not require incentives to keep them from attacking the weak – because it is simply not moral to do so.

Does this argument hold water? To understand that we will have to understand what morality is. Where morality originates from and what it purports.

To be continued…