Eye of Siva

Ars longa, vita brevis

Must read: mental substitution

Bryan Caplan reads Kahneman; and David Henderson picks up on the same. Very good reading in full (links below).

The point being made (quote from Henderson) is: people answer the question they want to answer rather than the question that was asked. This is especially the case for left brain-right brain type of questions. It is easier to respond intuitively or emotively to a question rather than rationally. Structured, quantitative or rational questions are replaced by a near equivalent heuristic in one’s head. This applies to economics questions (Caplan’s post has several examples) or political ones (Henderson).

Henderson in particular points to how media uses the emotive equivalent (in the example he quotes, the question of profanity on television) and changes a first amendment freedom of press question into a personal values question. Of course that is the United States, where the first amendment has usually found strong support in the courts. He does cite John Roberts (chief justice of the US Supreme Court) similarly framing the question in a heuristic fashion that seems to suggest he is on the side of diluting freedom of speech.

Here in India though the government and the courts have generally never been shy in placing restrictions on free speech. Indeed the constitution itself has been amended (first1 and sixteenth amendments notably) to restrict free speech in the name of security, public order, decency or morality, defamation, etc. And who is to determine what is decency or morality? Where does restriction in the name of decency end and censorship of political speech start?

In the same context the ongoing dispute between the government and major websites including Google and Facebook is a case in point. The government wants these websites to censor their users’ posts. There are some lawsuits in Indian courts on the same subject. On the internet, no one forces you to read any website. There is an active participation by the viewer by clicking on web links to get to the content. If you do not like the article in question or the website in question browse away. No one forces you to go online. If you choose to go online and get offended, you have only yourself to blame.

The same applies to offline content. Don’t like a television channel? Stop watching it. Don’t like a newspaper? Stop your subscription. Choice is available and it is up to the user to decide what he consumes.

Democracy is hard won and liberty is an integral part of democracy. My freedom of speech and expression is as important to me as your freedom to take offense. As they say in a democracy every one is entitled to his or her opinion and is entitled to express it. However no one is forced to listen to another’s opinion. The road to fascism starts with abrogation of these basic democratic principles.

1Ironically our First Amendment placed restrictions on free speech while the US First Amendment was part of the Bill of Rights that guarantees certain freedom to US citizens.

P.S. This article started from mental substitution and ended up as a rant on liberal democracy. I don’t know how.

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