Cogito ergo sum. I think, therefore I am.
Thinking is the fundamental need for existence. It is a process which involves logic and one’s very own sentiments. It is either impossible or very difficult to directly control one’s thoughts. For me, controlling thoughts is same as controlling life! Therefore, I think absolute freedom of thoughts is inevitable for a healthy society.
But what about absolute freedom of action? If I am allowed to think whatever I want, should I be allowed to do whatever I want?
The obvious answer is No, if a peaceful and healthy society is a requirement. Considering the number of different types of personalities and their subjective needs and opinions, we always need a governing body which makes laws and regulates the freedom of action.
For example, freedom of eating is my right. But I should not be allowed to eat the food which I don’t own. Car driving is my right, but I should not be allowed to drive when traffic signal is red. It is a requirement for peace.
A general rule that can be derived from above is that, I should have absolute freedom of every action unless I hurt others’ freedom.
So far what I said is quite obvious. No one should have doubt on absolute freedom of thoughts and limited freedom of action.
Now let’s discuss a relatively complex issue i.e. Freedom of speech or freedom of expression.
Although Freedom of speech seems similar and as harmless as freedom of thoughts but actually it is not. I might be wrong but I regard freedom of expression as a special case of freedom of action because just like you can hurt freedom of others from your actions, you can also hurt one’s sentiments and emotions from your words and that can ultimately result in physical torture.
Just like absolute freedom of action can be violent and harmful for a peaceful society, absolute freedom of speech can also turn into violence. Therefore, I believe we do also need some level of regulation on freedom of speech. But how strict those regulations should be? I think that varies from society to society and we need to identify the related social factors.
I can give examples here to support my argument. Religion is considered to be a very sensitive topic for many people and in some places; tolerance level against religious views is too low. Believers usually have strong emotional attachments with their religious personalities and values. A single word against them can be absolutely intolerant and result into violence.
Politics is another sensitive issue. We regularly observe violence due to public expression on differences in political views. That’s why we often see signs like “Yahan siyaasi guftagoo kerna mana hai (Political discussions are not allowed here)” at public busses and other public places. The intention of these signs is nothing else but to maintain peace.
I would love to support the idea of absolute freedom of speech with no censorship at all. But unfortunately, reality is not favorable in most of the cases. In a society where sprit of tolerance is high and people are willing to hear and observe different views and opinions on every topic, absolute freedom of speech should be there. Infact, Freedom of speech in that case is the fundamental need for progress in society.
But what to do in a society where people take religion or politics in a very emotional manner and follow the teaching of their leaders as an absolute truth, without using their minds and without considering the needs for change? What level of tolerance you expect when you encourage absolute freedom of speech? Will not it create chaos and anarchy and destroy the peace in a worse way?
According to my very limited knowledge and wisdom, absolute freedom of speech in a society, where sprit of tolerance is low, will make the case worse. But isn’t regulation and censorship on freedom of speech is harmful in itself? Can we afford a stagnant society? Doesn’t it limit the flow of healthy and productive ideas? Sure it does. Just like absolute freedom has its issues, censorship or regulation also has some serious problems.
Another problem with regulation or censorship is that who will impose this regulation? If its government? Do we trust on its skills and sincerity?
What is the solution then? An absolute freedom or an absolutely censored system?
I wish that answer was simple. I can’t suggest absolute freedom considering the high risk of violence when the majority of population lacks sprit of tolerance. Neither, I can afford to even think about absolute censorship where a government has a right to control the flow of healthy information.
If we really want a progressive society with freedom and peace, we need to solve the fundamental problems. We need to work on increasing the tolerance level of the population first. We need to identify the factors which can help people to debate on different opinions and learn from each other with peace.
I personally believe that Education is the most important factor. Without basic education, we cannot expect people to have tolerance for debate. By education, I don’t mean traditional academic degrees but I mean the true awareness of fundamental human rights, arts, science and cultural values. By education, I mean the true intellectual enlightenment of minds where majority can see and think out of the box.
Other important factors that are surely helpful for the cause are economic prosperity and social justice. But I think these factors are also dependent on the basic education of the population.
If we are really sincere to solve our social problems, I think we need to focus on root causes. Instead of solving symptoms, we should identify and solve core problem. And in my humble opinion, education is the core problem of my society.
Note: I usually avoid unnecessary political or religious discussion in public and try to keep my views to myself or to a limited audience only. But a recent incident forced me to write this post. I am writing this after some interesting and detailed discussion with my friends. Their opinion helped me to modify my some views and I would like to name those here. Many thanks to Madam Jehan, Sohail Abid, Ammar, Fariha, Talha and some participants of last Karachi Bloggers Meetup.