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Free speech: The hallmark of civilization

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Samved Iyer
Samved Iyer
Eternal as evolution is, I cannot purport to have grown in thorough measure, and I am hopeful of augmenting my perspicacity in the company of beings far more erudite than me.

As one may expect, any discussion with the eminent clinical psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson is eminently enlightening, and it so follows that one of his conversations with Dave Rubin and Ben Shapiro was no exception to this impressive feat. I shall, for the purposes of this post, employ that temperamental description of the political Left and the political Right which he had employed in the said conversation.

Owing to the ubiquity of congenital inequalities amongst humans, there shall ever be some such people who are more dextrous at giving effect to that which we value. Hierarchies, therefore, are inevitable. It is the logic of hierarchies that gives occasion to the division of labour, and bequeaths to our actions a semblance of efficacy. The political Right, therefore, insists on the preservation of hierarchies; it is temperamentally intrinsic to the Right to celebrate competence.

Some such people, however, who may not be as dextrous at giving effect to an action, would be dispossessed by the hierarchy, and they shall therefore be at the lower rungs thereof. Moreover, intrinsic to a hierarchy is the proclivity to calcify; to become so steep as to render the ascent of the dispossessed nearly impossible, and those already at the top may gratuitously use their influence so as to keep the dispossessed permanently so, as well as thereby accrue to themselves more benefits. The political Left, therefore, while cognizant of the significance of hierarchies, also draws attention to the dispossessed, and serves as a watchful entity in order to ensure that the hierarchy does not calcify.

Consequently, there must be a continuous dialogue between the Left and the Right, for the precise moment of the calcification of a hierarchy cannot be predicted in advance. Such calcification could only be determined once the hierarchy has been experienced. So that such conversation may proceed with utmost vivacity, therefore, freedom of speech is of utmost essence. It is akin to a commandment that must not be violated; certainly not by way of physical force.

Never can a human profess the pretensions of perfection, and so it follows that the complex systems we generate through our myriad transactions are susceptible to voids as well. Religion, nation, government, ethnicity, culture and all the hierarchies thereof, are thus not above critical analysis, which, courtesy of their imperfections, may lead to the incremental degeneration of society with the progress of time. A societal consensus on free speech is significative of a willingness to continually improve, and to not let creation, namely, the hierarchy, impede the autonomy of the creator, namely, humans.

The said autonomy presupposes the freedom to employ a satirical manner of critiquing a belief system. It also presupposes the freedom to employ the most uncivil of words. Against neither is prosecution warranted, for human life is superior to the preservation of a belief system.

I venture, again, to employ Dr. Peterson’s rationale. I may, in a conversation with a friend, be able with ease to ensure that I do not offend him, or what is rather vaguely termed “his sentiments”. I may, in a conversation with a panel of ten people, be able with some difficulty to ensure that I do not offend the “sentiments” of any of them. Of what Brobdingnagian divinity do you suppose I am, however, that you expect from me the miracle of not offending anyone in an assemblage of a thousand men?

We desire to augment, in our selfish interest, our individual perspicacity. A prerequisite to this is free ideation, or the creative process of generating, developing, and communicating new ideas. But if mere communication is to evoke within you such indignation as to endorse my prosecution, how am I supposed to survive? Why must my existence be subject to the placation of your conceit, which you rest on your doctrinaire adherence to your belief system? Who has bestowed upon you the authority to control my life?

There subsist in this world some such barbarians who perpetrate the most sordid acts on mere account of criticism of their belief system. Their actions are certainly heinous and inhumane. Does that alone, however, qualify your pretensions of humanity should you be willing to endorse arrest for criticism of your belief system? Perhaps the latter, in its severity, is far more humane, but both actions are essentially inimical to individual liberty.

Scarce is there any empirical evidence that the State is necessarily more rational than the masses. As Abhijit Iyer-Mitra notes, institutions reliant on the masses, and the State in a democracy is certainly as such, are neither any better nor any worse than the masses themselves. The government in India can certainly not be accused of adherence to rationalism; in so irrational a country as India, rationalism would scarce be propitious in the amassment of votes. Accordingly, the State must not, so long as I do not physically violate another’s liberty, have any jurisdiction over my sphere of liberty. He who ascends to power does not thereby prove his innate superiority over others; he is a trustee of the faith which the masses repose in him. He is no better than a barbarian, therefore, should he thereby assume that he can subject the liberty of those in his governorate to his arrogant, sweet will.

Belief systems cannot be privileged. The arrest of Munawar Faruqi is deplorable, and so is the killing of Kamlesh Tiwari, more heinous though the latter action is. That it be deemed a divisive ideology to maintain consistency with regard to liberty is merely inaugural of the speciousness of our public discourse. View it as fundamental humanity, not a political ideology.

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Samved Iyer
Samved Iyer
Eternal as evolution is, I cannot purport to have grown in thorough measure, and I am hopeful of augmenting my perspicacity in the company of beings far more erudite than me.
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