Freedom of Speech and Expression is akin to Rocket Science for most. It’s mentioned as a clichéd cop-out in most forums and very few know what it really is and how to approach it.
We explore the technicalities of it all:
The right to freedom of expression is recognized as a human right under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Article 19 of the ICCPR states that “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”.
Article 19 additionally states that the exercise of these rights carries “special duties and responsibilities” and may “therefore be subject to certain restrictions” when necessary “[f]or respect of the rights or reputation of others” or “[f]or the protection of national security or of public order (order public), or of public health or morals”.
It’s unfortunate that the last passage, while intended to prevent intellectual anarchy, is also where it all can go wrong. People get offended by ideas, opinions and concepts. We need to be weary of this governing what people can express simply because:
What offends people is incredibly subjective.
Remember the last person/object/movie/book/song that truly offended you? Think about why it happened.
You will realize how specific it is to you and how it wouldn’t even be nearly as offensive to even the person sitting right next to you in that situation.
As a musician, Pop Music is can be insanely offensive to me. The world of pop is littered with blatant, unapologetic advertisement, lifestyle marketing, hyper-sexualized actors and actresses (not musicians) whose music is designed by specialized teams of content creators to guarantee the best market penetration.
The intricate art of writing music and the power of unfiltered artistic expression is destroyed by the commercial angle it takes. Innovation takes a back seat as catchy melodies and predictable rhythms rake it all in. This only affects me on a personal level because of how invested I am in it all and how much I value artistic expression. A person who listens to music occasionally for a good time wouldn’t find it nearly as important.
I am an Agnostic Atheist and very public about it. This leads to situations where I’m frequently in debate with people over organized religion. Drawing some inspiration from said debates, we come across some more arguments that accurately portray exactly how subjective it all is:
- “You have to respect my belief. You can’t talk about it the way you do.”
A typical rejoinder pushed around when you start handling an incredibly religious person’s beliefs. The very concept that any topic is beyond the scope of discussion for mere mortals is dangerous.A glaring feature of faith is that it is almost always, intensely personal. Now, to say that human beings should react to everything without letting emotions cloud their judgment is an incredibly difficult idea to stand behind. Human beings are complex, emotional creatures. We find it difficult to separate the emotional context from any kind of situation. The personal factor of those beliefs make people scramble to defend them when questioned.
However, a concept does not objectively gain any weight because of that emotional context.
When it comes to beliefs, we all must remember that:
You may respect a person’s right to belief. There is absolutely no obligation to respect the belief itself.
And this where we learn that while a person has the absolute right to hold a belief and even publish it, so does another person have the right to criticize it. This is something that people with an appreciable amount of power tend to forget since they’d rather use that power to defend their belief and shut down those who question them.
- “Oh, so you have the opinion “X”? You should keep it to yourself!”
One fundamental concept behind the absolute freedom of expression is that a group of people is able to process many different opinions to come to a clearer and well-founded solution to a major problem.
Decisions cannot and should not be made without taking into account every piece of relevant information. The information is only given focus if there exists a way to push it out into the public domain.
When one opinion is given more weight over another by default for reasons other than its validity, it leads to an imbalance. One that threatens every individual’s right to a fair and equal experience in life.
I leave you with the directive to try to re-examine the world around you and your approach towards free speech in it. Perhaps you will realize its importance and protect it fiercely from those who want to monopolize the game.
See the world in a different light.
Shawn Kenneth Fernandes