Sunday, 9 April 2017

Amos Yee's hate speech.

Amos Yee's asylum success kept me thinking about free speech. What is really free about free speech? Is there no price tag to what we say? Does the right to the freedom of expression mean that we can express whatever we feel, regardless? I communicate, therefore I am?

Surely the right to say something doesn't mean that what we say will be right, right? But what is right then? Can we expect that what we say will offend some people or class of people? Is that the price of free speech, that is, ruffling some feather in order to make a point? I provoke, therefore I am?

But how about hate speech then? What kind of freedom should one be granted or allowed when it comes to hate speech? Is it a case of "I instigate, incite and inflame, therefore I am?"

To what ends then? What purpose is one trying to achieve with hate speech? Can it sometimes be justified if the end justifies the means, that is, if it is against a dictatorship or an oppressive regime whose idea of the rule of law is an insidious form of rule by law?

But in Amos' case, what is he trying to prove in the society of his birth? What dictatorship is he railing against? Or what religion or mass belief is he rebelling against?

Well, he has already admitted to this: "I told you, it is hate speech, it is overly rude, it isn't good activism. I completely regret making these videos." How authentic and enduring then is this form of compunction? Is Amos sincere about turning over a new leaf here? I won't hold my breath for that.

But the issue here is really not about him (we all know he's the helpless prisoner of the mass attention he so cravenly seeks after rather than an exemplary leader in his own right). More relevantly, the issue is about what kind of society do we want our children to inherit?

I trust our government is pining and curating for a civil society. It is one based on the freedom of the right expression, and not just the freedom to express - full stop. Its delivery is just as important as its content; the medium is often the message, if done right.

In a civil society, there's no room for hate speech because we trust that the govt in this social pact of mutual respect, trust and protection will be civil in return. She will be civil to her citizenry by allowing the ventilation of different views, even for those views that they do not like. It is not about subjective offensiveness here, but it is about the advancement of objective truths in a civil society through the freedom of civilized expressions - even at the expense of one's ego, pride or one's desire to retain perpetual control.

Let me end with the boy who cried wolf. He is recalcitrant. He cried wolf just for fun. Because much is at stake, the villagers repeatedly converged in haste and panic just to discover that it was a prank. They were pissed.

After countless cries, the village chief decided to end the boy's sentry duty. He decommissioned him. It was a decision celebrated by the whole village. Frustrated by the actions of the chief, the boy took flight. He went to another village and persuaded them to allow him to perform sentry duty. And he continued his wolf crying pranks there. That's not the end of the tale.

The first village which sacked the boy hired another boy to stand sentry. This time, this boy is different. He is serious and committed to his work. He cried wolf when there were wolves. And the villagers came just in the nick of time to chase the wolf away.

Then, one day, the boy noticed that the wolf was talking to the village chief in secret. There was a handshake and an exchange of cash. Immediately, it dawned on the boy that the wolf and the village chief were in cahoots to steal the sheep.

So, the boy cried wolf about the village chief and the villagers responded in double quick time. The boy then told the villagers what he saw, but they didn't believe him. They thought he was mad, incredulous even, to accuse the village chief of wrongdoing.

After repeating the wolf-like cries on a few occasions, the village chief did what he did with the first boy. He decommissioned him and sent him away. My point?

A civil society cuts both ways. Sometimes, it is not just about the suppression of hate speech. That's just one side of the coin. At times, free speech works the other way. It provokes and instigates the masses to pursue and uncover what is wrong about the society and her leaders.

As such, a civil society has to find a balance between the two, that is, eradicating hate speech and encouraging truthful ones. Such a society would require the government to listen with an open mind and the citizen to speak with a tempered tongue. Cheerz.

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