Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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Any Move by Government to Curtail Free Speech is a Betrayal of a Lack of Calibre Amongst Public Leaders

Often, we find instances in our daily life where the law is subordinated to those in power. This can be seen in our everyday life when we commute on the road and get caught by the police for inspection. If we don’t have necessary social influence and the requisites to drive, we have to pay a fine. In the same situation, if we turned out to be someone from an influential family, the law would stop working and we’d be free immediately. There are also crimes without specific victims, especially if they are white collar crimes. There are also remarks that have sparked all kinds of controversy over what those in power had said or uttered, but could be hit with seditious laws if it’s spoken by an alien member. These instances naturally pop us to question the very credibility of the law. Does the power get an upper hand over law? Laws are not arbitrary as it applies to all citizens, while power can be the other way round if it is exercised in the ruler’s interest.

When people are slapped under the sedition law for putting their opinion on a public platform, it appears as if the person is not detained by the law but it is the individual who is in power that detained the person.

No politicians are sensitive enough to growing poverty, corruption, drug trafficking, crime against women and so forth, but they are sensitive to what others say about them. In fact, it is a paradoxical value orientation, one feels sensitive in an area that one shouldn’t be sensitive to. As we know some people have been slapped under seditious law in the past which was totally unnecessary and can easily be forgiven by fraternal treatment. This very erratic behaviour towards criticism also reflects the leader’s constant sense of ongoing insecurities.

John Stuart Mill pointed out that “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”. This statement reflects how important free speech is. It’s like breathing needs oxygen or you will suffocate.

Public leaders should have an inherent quality of patience to listen to the bitterest of opinions, if it contains grain of truth. If the representative has no patience to listen to the truth, no matter how painful it sounds, it implies a lack of credibility in the leaders involved. And if a person swears to be a public leader, he has a duty to stand firm like a rock, immune to every sort of criticism and accept the truth for what it is.

We cannot deduce absolute truth for anything we express. Every idea or theory starts with a point of view as the mind has its own limitations. It depends on how the audience sees the point of view. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as the saying goes and again it’s up to the listener how they perceive what is being expressed. For instance, if someone says I ‘am ugly person, I can accept that as a fact and avoid it. But if somebody finds it insulting, he might backfire. And whether someone who thinks it’s insulting will throw the speaker with an indecency claim against the remark also depends on the individual’s moral disposition.

Some actions may be beneficial in some places, some action may be harmful in some places, and in order to tell the truth, there could be an inherent risk of offending someone or somebody. As truth is not as soothing as it sounds to everyone. And the sooner those who cannot tolerate the truth leave, the better off society will be.

Every judgement that we pass about certain issues in our daily life is true only in reference to the standpoint that we occupy. As Gunnar Myrdal pointed out “chaos does not organise itself into a cosmos, we need a viewpoint”. Reality, when perceived by our senses, leads to chaos because it only has a jumble of sense impressions which makes no meaningful knowledge. So to arrive at a meaningful knowledge we have to look at reality from a certain point of view. And only when sense impression and observation are arranged according to that point of view, that, they made sense and meaningful knowledge. And without a point of view, they are just chaos.

 But the problem is, every point of view has a value bias. So subjectivity automatically creeps in. And this is perhaps the limitation of the human mind and the problem of objectivity. So what we see in reality is always contaminated and distorted by our point of view. So there is no way out. All that we can do is to make our point of view clear so that those who look or listen to our observation, they would know that it is not absolute reality rather it is a view of reality as it appears when seen from a certain point of view.

When such limitation is not phantom, we regard our judgement as unconditionally true and often come to quarrel. This is best illustrated in the story of blind people who formed their thoughts by touching the elephant’s leg, ear, tail and trunk respectively and then began to quarrel about the real shape of the animal. They quarrel because they think their thought or opinion is the only true and complete knowledge and should be accepted unconditionally.

If people don’t give up the idea of infallibility and smash all opposing views, then it implicitly reflects the status quoist stand to save the interest of a certain class from constant threat and insecurities. The more the majority see the encroachment of other viewpoints as a threat, the longer society will fail to learn the truth.

There seems to be a general lack of trust amongst people. It seems, neither the alcoholic respects the ministers because he knows he is corrupt, nor does the minister respect the alcoholic because he behaves badly. As a consequence, we have the least respect for one another characterised by contempt and disdain for each other. But how do people build trust so that people can listen to each other’s problems as if they were their own?

Sometime we find people with big opinion of society, talk about politicians as if they were their archenemy, but at time, surprisingly, they turn out to be hardcore members of certain political party in their private life. Perhaps there lies the problem. The problem for the lack of sincerity and honesty. In order for others to listen to us, we need to first ensure that the person listening feels he or she can trust us. And this trust will only come from honesty alone. If a citizen knows that politicians are cheap and liars, there will be no respect for each other. Likewise, if the politicians know that people who throw their opinion on public platforms are dishonest and hypocrites, they won’t be moved by the opinion. Thus all that we can do is to be as honest and objective as possible.

 Or as some theorists pointed out, a total amoral and apolitical stance on the part of the sociologist or, say, intellectual is like delivering a lecture on safe navigation on board of a ship which itself is sinking. Therefore we are obliged to commit to certain universal values like respect for human life, respect for human freedom, pursuit of reason or truth and so on. Otherwise society will lose its reforming push altogether and knowledge enterprise such as sociology itself emerge as a means of social construction and for betterment of society.

People also have a duty to critically analyse, whatsoever intellectuals or politicians say and should not take anything at face value because if we don’t think for ourselves, others will think for us. And that’s slavery. As John Stuart Mill pointed out, “the mental and moral, like the muscular powers, are improved only by being used. And individuals who act in a certain fashion only because they have been told to do so, do not develop all of these faculties… If the grounds of an opinion are not conclusive to the person’s own reason, his reason cannot be strengthened, but is likely to be weakened, by his adopting it”.

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