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ck

Singapore

Why Censorship Is Wrong

March 21, 2016

In George Orwell’s prophecy of the modern, tyrannical yet functional brand of “Spectator Democracy” by which most States function on, it was said that, "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." Indeed, while the Big Brother of today may operate differently as the leader of Oceania did in Orwell’s novel 1984, the underlying principles of propaganda and censorship are thoroughly applicable today. And, much like Smith in 1984, I staunchly oppose the unnecessary use of censorship in today’s societies.

Censorship is wrong on three fundamental fronts, the first being from the societal perspective. Censorship, the act of intentionally withholding or blatantly restricting material considered sensitive, harmful or objectionable, stymies the advancement of society by restricting accessibility of information and concealing important truisms from the man on the street. In doing so, this shapes a person’s reality and creates illusions of the world which people are forced to blindly subscribe to. By limiting freedom in a society, people are stuck to reusing, recycling and regurgitating the same pieces of information, causing a severe dearth of creativity and innovation in society simply because information may be considered “sensitive” or “harmful”. It is a selfish, almost Machiavellian school of thought, in that censorship is rendered necessary to keep hold of power at the expense of the advancement of the human race. Pakistan, for example, is a painfully apt example of how a nation filled with valuable human capital has failed to realise its potential due to censorship. Pakistan has been notorious for its cracking down on freedom of speech and press, resorting to violence and even the killing of journalists such as Salem Shahzad, who was killed because of his coverage of Jihadism in the Pakistani military. Conversely, the few Pakistanis who have succeeded due to sufficient opportunities, such as Arfa Karim, are amongst scholars who top their respective fields, as Karim did and is now the world’s youngest “Microsoft Certified Expert”. This shows, rather jarringly, that there is untapped potential of many Pakistanis who could have succeeded if given greater access and support to information and technology. Nonetheless, the Pakistani government’s pursuit of control and power has only inhibited progress and advancement in Pakistan. Henceforth, this shows censorship to be wasteful and a stumbling block in the advancement of the human race by denying access to information and technology.

Additionally, the propensity of the State to abuse its authority deems its right to decide what content is “morally wrong” moot. Can the State conclusively draw the line and declare material to be “morally wrong”? The line that can be drawn is excruciatingly blurry and undefined, and there are almost always exceptions in what the State rules to be wrong or right. In that, it is often difficult to determine if any form of material is wrong. Although the State ultimately relies upon public perception and the general beliefs of a given country’s populace to make a decision as to where the moral boundaries should be drawn, the State often relies upon its own discretion and has its own interests at heart. This culminates in a grey area as to what can be deemed as moral or immoral, and may even result in abuse. In countries afflicted by endemic corruption, the abuse of power is more shockingly blatant. In the recent Tianjin chemical disaster, for example, the State placed a greater emphasis on the blocking of news reports and media than on clearing the damage and saving lives. Local media were instructed to keep silent about the disaster for 10 hours, whereas web censors stifled social media reports. The flagrant abuse of authority and irresponsibility of the State manifested itself in the mismanagement and stubbornness in dealing with the disaster. Evidently, given the State's inherent tendency to protect its interests, such as to cling onto power and inhibit dissent, censorship clearly should not be practiced out of the justifiable concern that States will abuse their power. 

Lastly, from an individual’s perspective, censorship is morally wrong. Censorship prohibits an individual’s right to freedom. This fundamental liberty to express, read or access any form of information is under direct threat due to censorship. An individual should possess the right to express him/herself in any way he chooses, and face the consequences of his actions separately. However, this should not mean that an individual should be restricted in what material he chooses to access. Are human beings not each unique to their own views, opinions and thoughts? To think humans are but mere cogs in the machine that is society would be cynical, and disrespectful to a human’s right in expression. Censorship mars a human’s ability to expand his horizons and his thinking, and leads to a neurotic perspective of the world that is formulated. Apart from that, being denied of a basic civil liberty is a condemnation of an individual’s right to live. The most poignant example of how censorship, when overcome, leads to a victory in protecting an individual’s rights would undoubtedly be the Arab Spring. When Egyptians harnessed the wonders of social media and overcame the tyranny of President Hosni Mubarak in the now-Christened Tahir Square Revolution, it was a victory for Egyptians who were oppressed under the Mubarak’s authoritarian rule. Overcoming censorship was not just a victory for Egypt, but for the universal right that is liberty. Therefore, from the perspective of the individual, censorship is morally wrong and unnecessary as it restricts the right for individual expression.

Given the state of affairs today - where democracies are but variants of totalitarian states, with censorship, mass surveillance and propaganda replacing gulags, prison camps and brutality, it is all the more haunting that 1984 was such a well-painted - even optimistic - picture of the future. In respecting the individual’s right to freedom, in humankind’s collective attempt to prevent the death of liberty, and in the hopes that Orwell’s cynicism was unfounded, we must come to the unanimous consensus that censorship is outright wrong and unnecessary.

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