Philosophical Tangents – I

Freedom of speech part 1

We all have a right to the freedom of speech; this we collectively regard as a hallmark of life in the 21stcentury. The expression of views is a part of human nature. There are those who actively seek to persuade, and others who prefer to keep their ideas. Opinions, although they broaden our understandings of topics, can become aggressive and harmful. Too often, debates have left others feeling upset and abused. A majority opinion can be forced upon others and drown out the joy that is the diversity of ideas. Ironically, this creates a suppression of freedom of speech. As we try to equalise the spread of opinions, conflicts emerge and it becomes cruel and conflicting.
I suppose the true question here is ‘to what extent can we express our views regardless of content?’ Censorship is the “suppression or prohibition of any parts of the media that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.” But what is considered obscene or unacceptable? It is a difficult concept to establish. A view may incite hatred towards a particular race or religion. It could be intended to harm,  provoke or even exacerbate current events. Opinions should be informative and persuasive, not harmful. The key issue here is ‘intention’. If one was unknowingly to upset someone in a debate, could they be held responsible for their actions?
Unwittingly offending a religion due to the expression of an opinion occurs more frequently with the increased diversity of societies. If the intention was not present, can we be held responsible? A simple explanation of this would be that one must avoid ignorance and constantly strive to broaden one’s knowledge on various cultures, ideas and opinions. In this argument, we see that surely no offence could ever be taken if we were to know everything about the ideology. Realistically this is not the case; we cannot know everything. Can the offended blame the offender if they have tried their best within reason?  If we were to strive to widen our understanding of cultures and yet unknowingly offended someone’s belief, surely we cannot be liable for our actions?  
However, should it be a question of standing up for what one feels is right, does our rule apply here? As I am sure many are aware, opinions conflict. Occasionally there is nothing that one can do but to agree to disagree with another even if this results in ham. If one was to, in order to prevent this, agree with their argumentative counterpart, what are the implications? The world would be filled with similar opinions. Let us not forget that it is views that change the world, for better and for worse. If views that harmed or worsened society (such as racism) were accepted, society would crumble. If one was instead to disagree and voice an opposing opinion, one could hope to persuade the harmful ideology and prevent social catastrophes in the future. Surely, it is important to stand up for what one believes in to prevent the spread of harmful ideas?
However, we have overlooked one crucial element of the debate. What is a harmful opinion? Does it differ across individuals? And is there a one true guideline for morality?
For now, we should hope to be flexible in our beliefs. If they turn out to be wrong do not fear change or more specifically to change. We must be flexible in our beliefs in case they are harmful to society.
To be convinced is not to be defeated but rather to raise ourselves to a higher level of understanding. It is a skill that we should all hope to achieve. I’m hungry now so like, I gotta go coz – or is this derogatory and patronising?
By Karl Fonseka

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