The “Freedom” of Self Expression
Throughout the world, self expression is constantly under attack, in democratic societies as well as dictatorships. This kind of behavior is supposedly justified by saying that offensive things (whatever those might be) are detrimental to certain people, even though they might not be to others. Much of this kind of thinking is seemingly justified because it has to do with things like parents not wanting their children to be exposed to obscenities and vulgarities or gratuitous violence or something of that nature.
In other instances, the individuals who make the decisions to eliminate certain kinds of information claim that they are protecting people from harmful knowledge or from having their feelings hurt or having ideas stolen from them or some such thing. This, seemingly helpful process is known as censorship and the point that I am trying to make with this paper is that it is completely and entirely wrong to limit what anyone is allowed to say or write or film, etcetera… The way I see it, there simply isn’t any good way of determining what is allowed in the public domain versus what should be prohibited. As such, there is no good excuse to censor anything that anyone wants to present to others.
As part of this, given the ambiguous nature of the English language, it is necessary for me to clarify just exactly what it is that I mean by ‘censorship’ before moving on any further. In the sense to which I am referring, censorship is the suppression of speech or other forms of public communication which may be considered objectionable by a government or some other intervening agency like the media. This occurs in a variety of different contexts including books, art, television, and the internet for a variety of reasons including hate speech and the protection of intellectual property, to name but a few.
The way I see it, this is incredibly important because, many countries provide strong protections against censorship, but none of these are absolute in any way. Furthermore, it is often necessary to balance conflicting rights in order to determine what can and cannot be censored in a given society.
From this perspective, censorship is essentially just the omission of specific information or content, whether you’re talking about bleeping out a word on television, banning books, restricting the freedom of speech, or even something as specific as not allowing the homeless to panhandle (Wollan). The way I see it, everyone deserves to be able to speak their mind just as much as people have the right to listen or not to listen to anything they choose. In fact, that is part of the beauty of it all. Everyone gets to do what suits them best, even though some people might not like it. This is just the way things have to be in a free society.
Essentially, what I’m saying is that either it’s alright to say anything or no one should ever speak at all. Now, I know this seems like an extremely radical stance to take on all of this, but, in all actuality, there is no rational way to determine what is acceptable and what is not. As far as I can tell, this is a totally arbitrary decision made by a few people to regulate the actions of many.
As far as I am concerned, there shouldn’t be any restrictions on the kinds of things that people are able to express, no matter what. It shouldn’t matter if someone takes offense to something that someone else thinks is funny or interesting, or whatever. This is especially true of those countries which claim to be free, such as the United States of America. After all, how can a nation claim to be the ‘land of the free’ when certain freedoms are restricted within its borders?
To make matters worse, what is, is what is, no matter what anyone says or thinks about something. This is just the nature of the ontological status of existence as we know it. As such, we only damage ourselves, and our future generations by distorting the truth, in any way, shape, or form. In fact, we turn our backs on truth itself each and every time that anyone anywhere is censored in the slightest possible way. Granted, there are occasions in which governments withhold information from citizens for legitimate concerns of national security or doctors lie about the effects of a placebo to help a patient.
Although a government, or some other institution, may need to classify information and scientists might conduct blind studies, or some such thing, this is not the kind of censorship to which I am referring. If national security isn’t at risk, I do think a government should be completely and totally transparent, at least in regards to its own citizens. No government should ever lie by covering up the truth as in the case of the agreement made by Google and China to suppress the true history of that nation.
It’s not like it actually changes what happened by anyone lying about it, regardless of the status they hold. All this does is prevent people from really knowing what happened and why. So, if it is true that we learn from the past, then actions like these only prevent people from learning from their mistakes and moving on from them.
Moreover, based on the nature of the human condition, people tend to want to do things that they aren’t supposed to do. For instance, by making certain words vulgar or taboo children want to swear as much as possible. However, if every word was just another word then this could not and would not happen. This is because it’s the act of assigning special significance to words that gives them their power, even with racial slurs and libel slanders (Cohen-Almagor).
The insecurities of a few people shouldn’t affect the lives of everyone. Instead, people need to feel secure in knowing that they could speak their mind, if they wanted to. Simply put, it just isn’t healthy for people to keep things to themselves. In contrast to this, it is very therapeutic to say what’s on your mind or at least be able to do so if you so choose (Masato).
In addition to this, artistic integrity can’t exist in a society in which people are not free to express themselves as they see fit. Again, it is either OK to say whatever you want or else everything is off limits. There is no justifiable reason for anyone to tell anyone else how to express themselves. We don’t actually change history by removing knowledge about critical or conflicting events that we would rather not discuss, but we do change the nature of art by placing limitations on the things that people are allowed to expose the world to.
The reason that parental locks and movie ratings exist is so that censorship doesn’t have to. A world in which people are to afraid to take offense is not a good place to live. Part of being free is accepting the fact that everyone is different, so some people like certain things that others do not. The people who only want what they approve of to be seen and heard are not democratic, they are just being pedantic.
All in all, the point that I am trying to make is that there are far more reasons to do away with censorship then there are to keep it around. The bottom line is that no one has the right to tell someone else how to express themselves, but this is exactly what is happening all over the world. Until everyone can agree to disagree, people cannot and will not have the freedom to communicate with others in a way that is true and just.
Cohen-Almagor, Raphael. “Is Law Appropriate To Regulate Hateful And Racist Speech? The Israeli Experience.” Israel Studies Review 27.2 (2012): 41–64.
Masato Kawabata, et al. “When Effects Of The Universal Psychological Need For Autonomy On Health Behavior Extend To A Large Proportion Of Individuals: A Field Experiment.” British Journal Of Health Psychology 17.4 (2012): 785–797.
Wollan, Malia. “Free Speech Is One Thing, Vagrants, Another.” New York Times 20 Oct. 2012: 16.