Friday, December 14, 2012

The price of being free

As law enforcement officers still find more dead bodies in a small town primary school in Connecticut, there is the usual and expected debate on gun control raging online, across cubicles and on the phone.
It makes me wonder, what is wrong with having some control, checks and balances, if you will, within a free society?
I grew up in a free, democratic country and now live in another. And in both, I have seen how easy it is to abuse that powerful concept, and not just while using guns.
A few months ago, the vast majority of urban and educated India revolted en masse when there was talk of possible Governmental regulations on the internet. Of course, that never happened and yesterday the deputy general of India’s telecom department said use of internet should be self regulated. Then he compared it to the solar system and said something about how nobody regulates day and night and how it comes “automatically.”

While I understand the bigger idea here, I also believe he is missing out on one major point: day and night, while not being controlled by any a person or group of people (let’s keep God away from this debate), is not at the mercy of human fallibility. The solar system has been following a strictly regulated pattern for years now and it cannot be disrupted on a whim. For example, night won’t turn into day one day just because. There is a term for when that happens and even that is a regulated pattern. It is called an eclipse.

On the other hand, education, the internet and guns are things that have come as blessings to us as society, science and men have grown. Like everything man–made, they run an extremely high risk of being misused.

So then, why not have some control? I am not advocating blanket censorship and if you are among those who feel their blood boil at the very mention of “rules”, here’s my suggestion. Calm down, count till 5 and then read this again.

I am all for the freedom of expression. What I am not for, however, is abuse, misuse and crassness.

Who am I to decide what is what?

Ok, let us talk about the hullabaloo about internet censorship in India (or anywhere else in the world). A minister reportedly found cartoons of leading politicians on social media websites and that riled him up. The entire internet using population in the country went up in arms against him when he said this was disrespectful and should be controlled.

I don’t know what cartoons he saw, but I have seen some on Facebook. And freedom of expression or not, I have to say they were downright silly and in bad taste.  
If I made a cartoon of your dad in very little clothes, holding his lady boss in an equally ridiculously skimpy dress, would you let it slide, saying “that is freedom of expression”?

I bet not. I bet you would say it was “uncalled for” and “insulting”. So, if it is not OK to do that to your dad, who is a regular ordinary citizen whom no one knows beyond his immediate friends, family and colleagues, how is it OK to do that to the Prime Minister of your country?  If one is an insult and disrespectful, how is the other not?

This isn’t about censoring political cartoons, this is about regulating unnecessary incidences of violence or even death till we as a people are at the point where we can truly self regulate ourselves. Because there is a limit to how much “chalta hain.”
 Because if someone does not tell 10 year olds today that there is satire and there is crudity, they will never know the difference between the two and will grow up into adults who don’t know any better either.

And don’t tell me in a free society; adults know what is good for them. I was once a teenager who championed that cause. I have, thankfully, long grown out of that phase.

If people knew what was good for them and were always in control, 5-10 year old primary school children would not die in an open fire in a random incident. A twenty something year old would not have done it to them, for much as modern society wants to negate it and stay teenagers forever, 20 year olds are adults.

It is not a question of one man tainting the entire population, oh no. For it is not one man. The misuse of the gun and the misuse of the internet are not sporadic incidents. I don’t want to waste my breath trying to convince you of that: just use Google.
Caveat: I am only sticking to the internet and guns because well, the “sun and moon” speech happened yesterday and the shooting today.

 So, in effect, what if there was a measure to take down particularly incendiary cartoons of famous people from the net?  And when I say incendiary, I do not mean the smart ones that the New Yorker or even the Simpsons portray.  I know a lot of people reading this right now will think, “Fine, Yes Minister and the Simpsons make you laugh, the FB ones make me laugh.” But seriously, do you really believe guffawing at this is the same as laughing at this?

Rules are not bad, it is only when we have no control over or clue about how to enjoy what and when that we find them oppressing. In an ideal world, every single person would have enough self control and sense of judgment to ensure proper use of our resources. But till that happens, it might not be a very bad idea to keep a stricter check on who you allow to own a gun and what you say in a public forum.
Of course, the danger here is that in a bid to “check”, the government goes to the other extreme and does things like arrest people for putting up FB posts. 

 But the good news is, every single time any ruling body/person has overstepped the mark, people have rebelled.  They have made sure the “rulers” do not get away with it.
Democracy is a powerful tool. It is of, by and for the people, but when 10 year olds die because a deranged man opens fire at them while they are in school, one is bound to ask if we really know what is good for us.

And if we are not collectively in a place where we can say that without a shred of doubt in our minds, would it hurt to have the same government that we elected to impose some rules on us so as to take a step towards reducing such atrocious behavior?
 Because, I believe those that are truly self regulated would not even feel the change.

For example, say FB sys your account will be frozen if you post derogatory remarks about President Obama or PM Singh (random examples, substitute it with anyone you like).
 By “derogatory”, I mean you say inane things like “he is a d@@#head”. Would that affect any sensible user at all? Will any sensible user say such things in the first place? To my original point, I am not advocating censorship as we understand in Bollywood.  I have read enough scathing reviews of people, books and movies to know that criticism can exist and is often more effective when coherent and articulate.
 By that, I mean say you disagree with every bit of this blog and to show your anger, you write “you are an A###ole”. Another person disagrees but explains in lucid, printable language, why. Who do you think will I take more seriously? So in turn, who is more effective?
 Say there is a rule that says citizens owning guns will have to go through psychological checks at regular intervals to make sure they are, in fact, capable of handling guns. Would that affect a sane person not contemplating murdering movie goers or kids?
 We all submit to security checks and even frisking at airports, do we not?

 But then again, my favorite living author once said that “the idea that any kind of free society can be constructed in which people will never be offended or insulted is absurd. So too is the notion that people should have the right to call on the law to defend them against being offended or insulted.”
 And this is a man that has seen his books been burnt by protesters across the world and has had a bounty placed on his head for writing a book that those that called for his head self admittedly never even read.
If anyone had a right to call on the law to be defended from insult and offence, he did.

That makes it a difficult call, does it not? The gun is easier, of course.

where the mind is without fear and the head is held high..

where the mind is without fear and the head is held high..