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Friday, January 9, 2015

Charlie Hebdo Tragedy and The Danger of Free Speech

My friend and I had a big discussion last night about this case, where a cruise ship worker was convicted for attack and attempted rape of a woman passenger in the ship. She told me that the worker was aggravated, that the woman yelled obscenity at him and he snapped because he was already on the edge due to heavy workload. I actually felt sorry for him, and when my friend explained that he did not receive proper help to defend his case I instantly think this was one of the case where big companies treat their worker as disposable material. I told my friend such, and I cussed the media and the woman's lawyer that manage to turned his snappishness into attack and attempted rape. Surprisingly, my friend said: "Oh no, he totally tried to rape her." Wtf??

This case, if anything, showed clearly how people from different part of the world think, well, differently about things. My friend, who is an Indonesian, clearly think that the worker has all the right to avenge himself after he was humiliated and hurt by the woman's word, especially since he himself was under severe pressure. As an Indonesian, I understand her point of view all too clearly. Honor is something that Indonesian take very seriously, and the lack of law means that it is not uncommon to take the matter in your own hand. However, being exposed to the westerner's way of thinking from the news/literature I read and living in US for a couple of years, I also understand that words are just words. Freedom of speech means you can cuss people with minimal, if any, repercussions; and if somebody physically attack you because of your speech, well they will be the one who is in the wrong. Is one point of view better than the others? Absolutely not, and debating the virtue of these two point of view is completely moot. Some people likes red apple and others prefer green apple, and that's all there is to it. But you need to know that not everyone likes red apple, nor does everyone like green apple. Some people don't even like apple at all.

A lot of people perceive the inability to think outside the box, to properly realize that others may view things differently, as being ignorant. In a way it is true. It takes a lot of courage from someone to open their mind and accept that other may have different point of view, that things doesn't always go according to what they think it will go down. Then again, it is also untrue. Our little planet, minuscule compared to the vast planet Jupiter which was minuscule compared to our sun which was a dwarf star among the other normal or even bigger stars, have so many going-ons that our little brain in our little head can only comprehend an extremely tiny fraction of it, despite the fact that our brain is much faster than the fastest computer ever created by man. In a nutshell, we don't know jacksh*t about our world. I am an information junkie and I did not know that some African countries (other than South Africa) actually have big cities with tall buildings and such until I saw a picture taken by Humans of New York. I did not realize how small and filthy Los Angeles is and how badly the homelessness problem is until I moved in (I still love it though, but I am still thoroughly unimpressed with the Hollywood strip). I could read and read and read, I could contact and talk and communicate with as many people as I want, yet there will always be a part that I don't know about. It stands true even with your closest friend or spouse, there is no way of knowing his/her entire experience in life and/or his/her outlook; you'll know only a tiny fraction of him/her, and sometimes it is the best that you can get.

As someone who is raised to respect God, it pained me to see some of Charlie Hebdo's cartoon. I am not Muslim or Christian, but I still find it difficult to see Mohammed and Jesus being portrayed as vulgarly as in some of their cartoons. To them, it's a symbol of free speech. To others, it is a legitimization, even an invitation, to hurt the cartoonists. Just like the case of the cruise ship worker above, it's a matter of two different point of view. It is in no way punishable by death, and the act of the gunmen (if they are indeed Muslim) hurt their fellow Muslim instead in France and other Muslim-minority countries which now has to cower in fear of retaliation. The attack and killing at Charlie Hebdo was a dumb and unnecessary act of violence, yet maybe it's time for everyone to mull over the freedom of free speech, or as Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park put it: "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should".

Let's face it, freedom is an illusion. Not even when you are stranded all by yourself in a godforsaken island or trapped in the remotest part of the jungle that you are completely free, and especially not if you live around other human. By yourself, you are bind to your basic need: food, water, clothing, and shelter; basically protection for the outside and nutrition for the inside. When you live among human, you inadvertently add human connection to the four basic needs, either to get the four basic needs or to fulfill the fifth basic need: fulfillment of the soul. Yet unlike the other basic needs that could easily be attained just by being resourceful, the human connection requires a great deal of patience and understanding. It is something that you can't achieve by being brawny, and sometimes not even if you are brainy. Human connection is an art, an orchestrated effort that requires you to give a little of yourself in order to receive a little of someone else's. 

One of the main arguments that I had with my husband over the free speech was him saying "Why can't I say it? Why can't I say what I want and be done with it? Why do I have to worry about other people's feeling?". That, to my opinion, encompassed the main thought, the main drive, behind free speech. By all means, free speech is everyone's right, even in countries that don't support free speech like Indonesia. As a human being, we have all the right to express our opinion; but we have to remember that we are not special in this matter, that other people have the right to express their opinion too, which all too often is a reaction towards our opinion. We are free to express our opinion, but there is no way we are free from the consequences that follows, good or bad. You can cuss your boss if you like, but you can't blame him/her from giving you the boot. You can speak bluntly what a terrible wife your brother has, but don't blame them for giving you the cold shoulder. You can express your opinion on how ridiculous an issue is (e.g. race or religion), but don't be surprised if you receive backlash from people who got offended. 

The biggest misconception with free speech is the thought that "I know I won't be offended if he/she ridicule my [e.g religion], so why should he/she offended about my remarks about his/her [e.g religion]?". For one thing, I usually find that people who don't get offended are usually the ones who don't prance around offending people. Another thing is, just as people have different point of views they also have different priority in life. A person who likes to make Yo Mama jokes probably won't care if you insult his/her mom in retaliation, but he/she might be offended if you insult his/her choice of clothing instead. If you want to insult someone's belief or something that is important to them, it is always a good idea to think how would you feel if someone insult something that is important to you. This requires a great deal of honesty and courage from yourself, and a full awareness that you will pay the price. As the Miranda Law stated: Anything you say can and will be use against you.

So yes, you are willing to pay the price. Yes, you insist on practice your right of free speech. Then please proceed, but remember that yes, you are being very unreasonable. Let's imagine the perimeter of your right is a big as a coin, and the world is as big as five coins being put together in one row. This means the world could only accommodate five people whose rights are within their own boundaries and not inter-lapping and bothering each other. But imagine if there are people who is more than willing to accommodate your right and you are willing to accommodate their rights too, imagine these people as an extra coin between you and the coin next to you, the world has suddenly add additional four more people. Since there is no way to eliminate as many people you needed to ensure your right is perfectly intact without needing to submit to their right (and mind you, there are other people that might feel the same way about you, that you are the one needed to be eliminated to ensure their rights), the only option is to work with them. This does not require you to believe and agreeing in everything that other people think, this only requires you to be thoughtful of what you said and do. 

Is it worth it though? I always believe that a smile and warm acceptance gives me better feeling than the satisfaction that I am right and I showed the world that I am right. And yes, dinner parties are always more fun than dining alone by yourself because others think you are so un-agreeable. Even if you think you can live by yourself, doesn't cute puppies or fluffy kittens or joyous smile moved you more than gnarly looking dog or scabies-infected cats or ugly frowns? Working in sales for about 5 years I can attest that a complaint note would have a better response if it's written objectively and not laden with tirades and name calling. You can catch more fly with honey, and this is indeed the truth of life. If you think that by not expressing your opinion you have committed a lie/being untruthful towards yourself, it doesn't have to be that way. You can say what you want to say, but if you want to get the optimum result it is best to put it in a way that does not offend other people, and if you have to offend you better make a clear case of it so people know you do not hurt them for nothing. Use persuasion, not raw force. Of course, if you are a troll and is indeed looking for trouble you might as well starts the fight. 

I saw the picture of the bloody Charlie Hebdo's office, and I can't imagine the horror and terror that happened that day. I remembered some of their cartoons, and I can still feel the pang of pain and anger towards the dishonor they did with what I think as honorable figures. It is time the thoughtless actions to stop, both the violence in real life and in the speech we make. It is time for us to extend ourselves as a human and asked ourselves before we do or say anything: "Do I really have to do that? What is the benefit of me doing that? Will it hurt other people?". Other people might still be ignorant and choose to blindly force their way and belief, totally unaware of the consequences that might happen both to themselves and to other. But you are not other people. You can't make other people to be nice and understanding, but you can change yourself and be one. This is your choice. Frankly speaking, even with all the extremists and terrorists abound I believe the world could be a much peaceful place if we learn to be nice to one another. Now, what is your choice?

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