Friday, December 11, 2015

We, the Silly People and Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speech is one of the biggest boons of democracy. But does that really help in perpetuating the democratic values in our country? There was time when people believed in anything that came through the All India Radio. People also believed in whatever appeared in the newspapers. They had some of sort of truth value. Television changed the discourse of social truths and the privatization of the media changed the discourse of both appearance and reality. In the process, truth got displaced and as of now it remains irretrievably lost. Theoreticians may pin point the shift in social discourse with the advent of post-modernism by the beginning of 1990s, which in a way replaced the post-colonial debates and in its place brought in the multiplicity of views pertaining to the fringes. The mega narratives of the modernist and the post-colonial discourses gave way to the micro narratives from the subaltern; of the displaced, dispossessed, muted, amputated, curbed, curtailed, banished, forced out etc. It was good in many ways and the socio-political and economic discourse further changed its complexion once the social media came into being. Everyone became a tongue, not really talking but wagging.

One may say that during the making of our country as a modern nation, the government used to hold the reins of the media including the Radio and Television, and indirectly controlled the passage of information and news. This was not really censorship but this kind of control was perhaps the need of the time. However, the private owned newspapers and the very diligent journalists who worked in them made it a point that the truths be told as they were. The ethics of journalism changed drastically as the firms that hired the journalists came to have profit and power related interests both in the business and government. Hence, the shift of the social debates of the so called ‘argumentative’ Indian from the letters to editor to the social media should be seen as an outcome of the privatization of the media in general. Now, we have a state controlled media on the one hand and the media driven by vested interests on the other. The general populace that lost its faith in both has now started speaking out through the social media.

The apologists of post-modernism and the liberalism attached to it might say that whatever happening in the social media is for good because everyone with a facebook or a twitter account seems to have an opinion, that too very strong, to offer. Each person who speaks out in the social media believes that his or her voice matters a lot. True, it could matter a lot provided someone takes fancy in somebody’s loose cannon and make it viral so that the opinion expressed in that might look like profound therefore heeded to the last point. It is a false belief. The people who talk in the social media are of different varieties. Some of them speak their conscience and one has to understand that our conscience does not stand for a larger cause, nor is it the ultimate truth. Some of them express their opinion because they have a general understanding of it but we have to understand that their general understanding of the thing need not necessarily be the actual truth of the issue. There are some other people who feel the urgency to share all what consider right and we have to be forewarned of them because they consider it as their social responsibility and this responsibility can be absolutely nonsense when it comes to the larger cause of the society. Some people are lobbyists and we need to shun them like plague.

To be frank we should not take all what is said and done in the social media very seriously. Even if some of them help to proliferate the right kind of ideas in the society, we should avoid them because as humans we will be forced to look at the stupid and silly also with the same rigor that we invests for finding the right and the true. It is always good that people have opinions and it is also good that if they express it. But human beings have this folly that they feel the need to be always at the right end/side. Hence, if someone says anything against the opinion expressed in there, then it will spark off a very heated debate, which often takes the point away from the debate and it becomes an open forum for gleeful as well as vengeful mudslinging. Do I say that people should not express their opinion at all or they should follow the leader like the packs do? No, I do not wish the people to be like herds manipulated by the stick of the shepherd. They can have their opinion they can share it and discuss it but never try to be always on the right side of the things. Imagine, we all start a day without looking at the social media. We have something to say but we control that urge to say it. Initially we feel left out from the world. Nothing like that. Without us being a part of the threads, the world is happy; nothing is indispensible and nobody is that important.

 (Prime time television news is nothing but absurdity)

Yes, our opinion matters and that has to be expressed when it is asked for and also at the right forum. Anything that is given unsolicited would end up in adding to the already existing cacophony of voices. One may ask then why the social media is that important. It is important because it is one of the avenues in which we see the world going around us and us going around the world. In our physical life, we do not pluck and share a flower from a garden, if we happened to see one. We do not feel the urgency to show our pictures to everyone who visits us in our home. Anyway, these are all already said things about the social media. My attention is rather seeing social media as a useful tool to understand the world and its varieties without being opinionated strongly about all what is happening. Having an opinion and finding a solution are two different things. We have to become so discerning in our acts so that the representatives chosen by us in order to solve our problems would never fail us. And that would never make us stand and shout against them at the street corners; here in the social media.

Does that mean that we all should shut up and become the passive consumers of all what is going on around us? Not really. We can engage where we find that our opinion is valued and our opinion is all meant for the larger good and a larger cause in the society. Our opinion does not matter or rather it would worsen the situation if we all jump into the fray like whether someone should eat beef or not, or someone should wear this cloth or that cloth? Making things visible is one way of getting justice for the wronged. When a Dalit is burnt alive for getting into a feast uninvited should be talked about and justice should be sought. Definitely, the social media should be used for getting justice for people. But things go wrong when everybody starts talking for and against someone at some corner of the country talking against the Prime Minister or against celebrities like Shah Rukh Khan or Aamir Khan. By talking about the person or people who started the criticism and debating it vigorously in the social media give unnecessary visibility not only to the criticism but also to the critics who in fact should be neglected with due contempt. Most of the contemporary debates in our country today are silly and irrelevant amounting to nonsense. Had the people in this country shown some kind of restrain in debating issues in the social media, a majority of the social figures who have come up of late as self-styled celebrities would not have been even recognized in a photograph.

 (our debates move around things like this)

I do not want to say that the folly of making inconsequential people into celebrities is mostly done by the people who actively debate things in the social media. On the contrary, I would say that the same folly is committed by most of the television channel teams. I cannot just pin point who exactly are the reasons behind getting inconsequential people into the prime time debates only because they have made some controversial comments. I do not know whether they are chosen by the management or the editors or the anchors or it is a collective decision. Whatever be the case, eventually what happens is that a very insignificant comment made by a very avoidable person would scale up into something nationally important and the person automatically becomes a celebrity. We say that we are not in traffic but we are the traffic. Similarly, controversies and controversial figures are not controversies and controversial figures unless and until we make them so by constantly giving them visibility over television channels and the social media. They say, that it is the TRP rating that decides the quality of the prime time news or anything that matters in a television channel. In that case, we all should avoid such channels, exactly the way I personally shun television channels and read news from the printed media with a pinch of salt.

Then there is question: if we avoid debating things in the social media and also if we become successful in changing the ethics of television journalism (or journalism management done by the vested interests at the top of the managements) and the complexion of debates, whom should we look up to for the right direction and also is it necessary that we all remain silent forever? First of all, I would say that none need to be silent. My suggestion is to be discerning. What to be shared, what to be talked about and what to be avoided should be prioritized depending on their worth and also we should tell us every morning to ourselves that our voices are important only when they are meant for the general goodness of the universe. If our opinion causes larger conflicts in the country or the world, or we contribute to the cacophony by expressing our ill considered opinions, then we should desist from expressing it. We should look for the right kind of things that makes the world a better place to live on not only for us but also for the generations to come. And also we need to look at those erudite and experienced people who are well versed in the subjects that we are interested in. We should take them as beacons and our opinion should be tested and testified by the knowledge repository that they have provided to us through their considered views and debates. Considering the shooting of loose cannons in the social media, the latter is a bit difficult thing. The more we talk about the issues, the more we need to ask how much we understand or know the depth and breadth of the issue at all. If we understand that we are just moles before mountains, we should learn to become mountains than challenging the mountains and ridiculing them for their size and nonchalance.

(fall of democracy- a con woman becomes a celebrity in Kerala)

Our country has become a silly country. That is the impression that I get when I just cursorily go through the social media sites and the debates happening there. Stupid people, ignorant ones, arrogant people and the impatient ones rule the world there. Each person sitting in front of their twitter handle or facebook account feels that he or she is going to change the world, today and now. But one should understand that things are not that easy. Real democracy is not the freedom to talk loosely. Freedom to talk does not mean that one could say anything that would make the world a horrible place. Democratic values could be perpetuated through silence and pursuance of beauty and knowledge. Democracy blooms fully when the people within that democracy come to have the ability to choose and discern. Their right choice of the right leaders and their ability to stand up when it is needed, and their ability to voice the concerns when they are expected to, make the democracy fully functional. Today, our democracy is comical due to the existing cacophony out there in the television channels and social media. Most of our concerns are sillier than silliness and we have successfully turned our country into a land of silly and nonsensical people who talk about others’ dresses, others’ food, others’ morality, others’ aesthetics, others’ religion, others’ customs, others’ practices, others’ politics, others’ cleanliness, others’ vehicles, others’ sex lives, others’ secrets, others’ manners and so on. Pay a moment of attention to oneself and see if everything right there in oneself. Turn the mirror unto you and see the visage and conscience reflected there. If that is good and clear, then rest is fine. 

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