May 9, 2015 by Cláudia
After the Paris massacre, the debate around freedom of speech grew, for a while, completely epidemic. This always happens with every controversial issue, and it doesn’t seem to me like much of a debate when everyone says the same thing. First, everyone put Charlie Hebdo in a pedestal and gloriously claimed “Je suis Charlie”. Then everyone grew angrier and angrier at Charlie and it is a commonplace opinion that freedom has its limits.
The problem with defining limits is who defines them and how to draw the line. In a reaction against the cartoon which depicted Mohomed, people are starting to show less and less toleration of “hate speech”. It is not absurd to hear that Charlie got what he deserved.
I hope I don’t come off as a defender of hate speech, but I believe it is impossible to agree on what is tolerable or not. For example, many people demand that “Family Guy” gets banned because they find it offensive. Other people, however, find it quite amusing, so to ban the show would be to take away the freedom, not only of the writers, but mostly of the people who freely chose to watch it. This is why I consider that limiting freedom of speech is dictatorial: no one is forcing anyone to see or read anything at all, so if someone doesn’t agree with something he/she is completely free to not watch it or read it. Of course some thing offend me, I don’t like some types of humor but I wouldn’t think about forbidding it because if we start forbidding things just because they offend someone then sooner or later we won’t be able to say anything at all as everything unconventional is offensive in at least one point of view. Having the media being “filtered” as I heard people suggesting is really no different from censorship.
Without freedom, we are just puppets. I recently read a book (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead) in which the characters were on a boat following orders to go to England and they realized it was the perfect metaphor for the illusion of freedom: they were in a contained space, able to move within the perimeter of the boat and make decisions like going to sleep, eating or drinking but independently the boat followed its course and they were taken by it. We all are those characters: we can make decisions like where to live and what job to pursue but ultimately there are other forces commanding the boat for us. We have laws (explicit and implicit) and so many social constraints that actually freedom is an illusion not so different from the boat.
How to draw the line? Mankind is not prepared to have no laws and that would be impossible because the majority of people can’t even imagine that. I believe in a coexistence without any law, but I recognize that in the immediate time it would be disastrous. In my view, only laws that ensure that one person’s freedom doesn’t obstruct another person’s freedom are legitimate. This means that harming other people is not acceptable as everyone is (or should be) free to live without the fear of being harmed.
“My freedom end when your freedom starts” means that we could all be truly free if we stopped trying to forbid what we don’t agree with or what we think is offensive. Trying to control everything is, from my point of view, dictatorial, childish and insecure. For example, I cannot find a reason for people wanting to forbid gay marriage. It makes no sense that people who have nothing to do with it (and wouldn’t be in any way harmed by it) would want to interfere with other people’s lives and forbid them to do something. This is what I call a dictatorial approach because people don’t want to accept that other things beyond their comprehension exist and happen. Forbidding something that would do no harm whatsoever just because you don’t agree with it or you don’t understand it is like proclaiming to be the owner of Truth.
Freedom is difficult because it requires tolerance. Being free also means accepting beliefs and lifestyles that go completely against mine and, if that seems hard in theory, it is even harder in practice. People are not naturally open-minded and a natural dogmatism makes it easier to force everyone to think like you instead of accepting that people are different and have different point of view. But the way I see it, I may not agree with your ideas, but I will fight for you to be able to say them.
Freedom is a concept hard to define but I think it ultimately means that no one is going to forbid me to make decisions I want to make and I won’t harm anyone in any way. It is like a pact, a contract, between every individual and society, in which everyone agrees not to step on each other’s toes. I am aware that most people find this absurd and even dangerous because it upsets the order people are used to. Speaking for myself, I would like to not be forced to follow rules defined by others that I don’t agree with. Not in a rebel way, but in a way that I’m an individual and not a part of a homogeneous mass .