Saturday, January 17, 2015

Right speech as the middle path between free speech and censorship in the wake of Charlie Hebdo attack

 In the past week, after the world was shocked at a bias report of media on death of less than a hundred people in France (as compared to thousands elsewhere hint: Boko Haram attack on Baga), due to religious fanatics of people claiming to be Muslims.

Many irresponsible journalists immediately when into defend freedom of speech mode, saying that it's an attack on freedom of speech, causing Islamophobia to rise. Yet, there are many others who are more moderate (and wise) who recognize that freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences of speech. So far their voice has not been heard enough. People are still in very extremist mode about the incident, although the call for harmony and rational judgement is always present.

I had just read what the Pope has to say about it, and he is right. Insulting religion is going too far, as is killing in the name of religion. Well, Buddhist doesn't has a united world spiritual leader like the Catholics. So here's a voice from a Buddhist.

I believe that the Buddha has already addressed this issue of Freedom of speech vs Censorship way back in his time. Of course, come to think of it, everyone has freedom to speak what they like to speak. It's just how the law of the country and society would react to that speech that matters. In America, most likely any speech is allowed without any retribution, giving the false illusion that one can be free from responsibility of what one says. In countries that has internal security acts, like Malaysia (who recently just joined in the gang after a brief pulling out), certain speech has grave consequences, that of jail without trial. This gives an unnecessary feel of oppression and discomfort.

What did the Buddha said about speech? Once a prince was instructed by a rival religious leader to question the Buddha if he would speak words that are unendearing & disagreeable to others? If he replies yes, then he is no different from run of the mill person. If he says no, then point out an occurrence where he did said it. Thus, this would be a two-pronged question which the Buddha cannot swallow it down or spit it up.

Here we can relate to the arguments for free speech. Sometimes, hurtful things has to be said for the good of that person, so that they can change. Yet, the arguments for censorship is such that, sometimes, some speech is just too harmful that it's better to ban saying it altogether.

When the prince did approached the Buddha with the question, the reply was: "Prince, there is no categorical yes-or-no answer to that." Then the prince had said that the rival religious leader had lost there and then. After inquiring as to the cause of the prince asking that question, the Buddha asked the prince (who has his baby on his lap then) a counter question: "What do you think, prince: If this young boy, through your own negligence or that of the nurse, were to take a stick or a piece of gravel into its mouth, what would you do?"

"I would take it out, lord. If I couldn't get it out right away, then holding its head in my left hand and crooking a finger of my right, I would take it out, even if it meant drawing blood. Why is that? Because I have sympathy for the young boy."

You can refer to the picture now as to how the Buddha continued. In the same way, he would speak what he knows to be true, not false. And it has to be beneficial, not unbeneficial. And if it is unendearing & disagreeable to others, or endearing & agreeable to others, he would have the sense of proper time to say them. Why is that? Because he has a sense of compassion for living beings.
Right speech in Actio
So referring to internet journalism, it is still mostly reporting on what is true, for facts checking is one of the main pride of journalists. Yet, sadly, fake news websites are sprouting. It doesn't help that the disclaimer, which is often overlooked, says that it's a satirical site. Many people in social media has already been conned with fake news now and then.

As with regards to what is beneficial and what is not, I do not think most journalist take that into account when writing their reports. It doesn't matter so much about the thing they are reporting as how they are reporting it that would make the difference of whether it generates more fear, hatred, intolerance in the world, or does it generate more harmony, love, kindness in the world. Still many journalists does try to look into the positive aspects of things.

So, the Buddha seems ok on whether the thing to be said is unendearing & disagreeable or endearing & agreeable to others. The focus is on having the right time to say it. This might be the most challenging thing of all, because having the right time means judging the recipient's level of acceptance of what is to be said, and journalists has mainly no idea. Or is it? With the advert of the internet, the world is like a global village in closeness. So the myriad of social media, comments, blogs and independent news like this site captures the reaction of the crowd for one to judge if this article has gotten the right time to be said.

This right here is the main solution between freedom of speech and censorship: the sense of proper time to say it. If said in a wrong time, a speech that is beneficial cannot be accepted.

Right speech I believe is the middle path that's the solution between extremes of freedom of speech and censorship. Right speech acknowledges that we are free to speak, but not free from responsibility of the speech, therefore self censorship is practiced, to say what is true, beneficial, harmonious, in a kind and timely manner.

Yes, it doesn't address the problem of what the state should practice, but if you're reading this, then you can start to practice right speech. In the age of social media, where a lot of news get coverage from sharing, you are part of the journalists of the world by the choice of sharing or not sharing a particular article. Hopefully, you'll be able to practice right speech and share wisely.

To recap: share what you know to be true, to be beneficial, and have the sense of proper time to share what may or may not be endearing and agreeable.

The more people practicing this, the less extreme the world would be and maybe, just maybe we can come together in harmony and unity and start focusing and acting on seriously deathly issues for the future of our species: climate change.