Today there are many words that are subject to widespread censorship, words that are ‘inconvenient’ for or ‘go against the interests’ of those who hold political and/or economic power. However, even though racist propaganda is illegal according to various international documents – and quite rightly so – it is rare for racist discourse to be subjected to censorship: What is called ‘freedom of expression’ can also turn into the freedom to insult.
The Dumpling Post asked me to write a piece about ‘the concepts of human rights, censorship, and creativity’. You may find what I have to say strange, but I do hope you won’t misunderstand me or get angry with me.
Value judgements are made not only about behaviours but also about words, for example ‘censorship is bad’, ‘plurality is good’, ‘dictatorships are bad’ or ‘democracy is good’. If these value judgements are not properly scrutinised – for example, if we do not ask questions such as ‘the censorship of what, and why?’ or ‘plurality in what area, and to what ends?’ and if the answers to these questions are not grounded in knowledge – then they can spread and become accepted unquestioningly. And so when certain concepts that were established with the aim of protecting values are simply used by rote, they can serve a precisely opposite purpose from how they were intended, and thus do harm to ethical values.
So where does the problem lie?
A look at what is happening around the world on this issue reveals that there are many words that are subject to widespread censorship, words that are ‘inconvenient for’ or ‘go against the interests’ of those who hold political and/or economic power. However, even though racist propaganda is illegal according to various international documents – and quite rightly so – it is rare for racist discourse to be subjected to censorship: What is called ‘freedom of expression’ can also turn into the freedom to insult.
Why do we want freedom of thought?
We want to prevent this from happening; in other words, we want it so that when a person brings forth knowledge on an issue that goes against that which is widely accepted, or presents an idea that is different from the prevailing ones but does not violate the clearly conceived human rights, his or her other rights are not negatively affected. Here, we can see that the principle that we should ‘respect all ideas’, a principle that we were taught with the best of intentions, is in fact an attempt to ‘correct’ an error by committing another error: Because what should be respected is not the ideas themselves, but the people who put forth these ideas. The ideas themselves are open to scrutiny and evaluation.
This and other examples suggest that some human rights in the way that they are understood today – not the rights themselves, but the way that they are understood – need to be questioned. This requires providing answers that are grounded in knowledge to the questions of ‘what can be, indeed should be, censored?’ and ‘what should not be censored’; to questions on the conceptual content and raison d’être of what is being called into question. But immediately afterwards, there are a few other questions that need to be asked and answered: How can we raise human beings who do not utter the kinds of words that need to be censored? And how can we educate people who will correctly recognise what does need to be censored? What do these people need to know?
Submitted for the kind consideration of all concerned.
Translation by Kate Ferguson