Monday, August 17, 2009

what censorship is

There is a strange paradox with censorship in the modern state. Most of us like to nurture the belief that with ideas of civil liberty, freedom of speech and increased access to education getting more and more entrenched in society, we are gradually moving towards a world of lesser and lesser censorship. And yet, when we scour through today’s media, we get a feeling that these same tools have started playing havoc in a pluralistic, liberal milieu. Let us be clear on one thing from the outset- it has never been easy to decide on three things as far as censorship is concerned. First, is it morally and ethically correct to do so? Secondly, if it is a necessary evil, how much should be censored? And finally, is the state the best party to do it?

Traditionally, liberals have posited the right to freedom of speech and expression as among the highest ideals of civilized society, and have therefore, objected to censorship as the tool that undermines that right. It must be noted that ‘no censorship’ is a position that becomes difficult to defend, although it is a philosophical stand worth arguing for. Liberals hold that once you agree to ‘some censorship’, then it is difficult to decide between ‘good censorship’ (which might have some justification in the ends it serves) and ‘bad censorship’ (which is a tool of control and convenience under the guise ‘good censorship’). Condemned as we are to this bifurcation of expression, we must now perpetually reside in a state of constant tussle with the state and with opposing parties and with our own changing selves to move towards but avoid the attainment of the ideal case (another paradox in itself).

All societies that guarantee freedom of speech and expression do so with riders. For example, in India, it is qualified by subjection to ‘the integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence’ (Article 19). Proponents of censorship frequently appeal to these exceptions, which seem to be heavily loaded in favor of the status quo. One problem should be obvious by now. Who is to define what constitutes ‘decency or morality’? Who can judge whether an action or expression would have gone on to cause a legally unacceptable action or another action that would have caused a legally unacceptable action? One might say that the courts and judges would. But they work within a constitutional and political framework. Such frameworks have their concomitant pitfalls – they could have been framed to appeal to majority opinion (after all, most governments are elected), they could have been a product of the times and contexts in which they were created (and so, out of place today) or they could be a victim of the difficulty whereby, in failing to find a practicable and integrated equivalent of a philosophical position, we settle for the nearest alternative (for example, we know that ideally, punishment should be commensurate to the gravity of the offence and yet different countries would award different terms for the same offence, say, the theft of a car).

We are going to look at the issue of censorship in a philosophical sense. By such a sense, we mean a quest for something grounded less in the material and more in the perpetual. But censorship must work in the real world, one might object. Yes, it must, but in order to do so, we should try and develop moral and ethical arguments that are not a function of the government that is in power or of the events of the previous week. Censorship works within the larger domain of justice and following Rawls’ cue, it is worth looking for a parallel ‘Principles of Censorship’. Some of the issues that would need to be considered are – the nature of censorship, the relationship of the state and the individual, the legality of the laws of the state, the harm and the offence principles that are used to judge objectionable material, empirical evidence (or the lack of it) to justify causality and the non-state actors that have a say in censorship (the individual and society). Finally, we would see if a ‘maximum’ or ‘minimum’ principle would be best in determining the extent of censorship.

What is censorship?

The word ‘censorship’ is derived from the word ‘censor’, which has its etymological roots in the Latin word censēre, meaning ‘to give as one’s opinion’. A censor was a magistrate of high rank in ancient Rome, whose primary responsibility was to take the ‘census’ or to keep an account of those people who would be entitled to the benefits of citizenship. From this followed the power of regimen morum (keeping the public morals), for,
‘they would, in the first place, be the sole judges of many questions of fact, such as whether a citizen had the qualifications required by law or custom for the rank which he claimed, or whether he had ever incurred any judicial sentence, which rendered him infamous: but from thence the transition was easy, according to Roman notions, to the decisions of questions of right; such as whether a citizen was really worthy of retaining his rank, whether he had not committed some act as justly degrading as those which incurred the sentence of the law.’

Thus, the ideal of a government authority deciding what is to be allowed and what is not is almost as old as civilization itself. In the everyday sense, when we hear the word censor, we think it to be ‘a removal of material considered offensive or harmful’. This sense derives from the fact that censorship makes news only when it has either been actuated or when it has raised the possibility of implementation through public debate. In fact, there are many times when censorship is not noticed because it works more silently. For example, when we are at a workplace, we try and ensure that our language is gender-neutral and does not come across as demeaning to our co-workers. This is an instance of ‘self-imposed’ censorship. And it has been self imposed either because there is a law in place or because there is no law but the fear of social reproach. Thus, censorship is not always ex-post. Hence, we must add ‘prevention’ as one of the key features of censorship.

One may qualify the word ‘removal’ in the definition as well. When we go to watch a movie, we ask about the rating it has received from the censor board. The ratings are a result of give and take between the owners of the film and the censor board. If the board finds certain scenes objectionable, it has three alternatives. It can ban the movie outright because there is no possibility of showing it in a coherent form without inciting major unpleasant consequences. It can keep the movie intact, but rate it for a restrictive audience. Or it can remove the objectionable scenes and allow it for general viewership. The owners of the movie do a cost-benefit analysis and chose the option that best suits them (essentially, they almost never choose the first one). Thus, in the second case, there has not been so much ‘removal’ as ‘limitation’. One could argue that there has been a ‘removal’ in another sense- a part of the intended audience has been removed from potential viewership because of the restrictive rating. But there are two points to be noted here. One, that the integrity of the material has not been compromised. And two, that there is a possibility that everyone can see it, although with a lag now (movies certified ‘adult’ can be seen by people as and when they qualify as ‘adults’).

Finally, a definition of censorship has to accommodate the censoring authority (the Roman magistrate, if you please).

We can now have our workable definition of censorship.

Censorship is the prevention or removal or limitation of material considered offensive or harmful, as determined by a censor.

Censorship happens in a social context. If one merely spoke out objectionable lines within the confines of one’s own room, there would be no need to censor him. However, if the same lines were spoken at a public rally in front of a violent mob, they would require consideration. Thus, it is the impact that is sought to be avoided. The matter can be brought to the notice of the censor by parties that consider it offensive or harmful or the censor can take suo motu action in the light of the laws and precedents.

the good and the beautiful: union or fusion?

Very often, when we find something beautiful, we tend to think of it as being good in itself as well. It is natural to think of these states as concomitant. Imagine, however, that we were to stand in front of a painting in an art gallery and not ask, ‘Is this beautiful?’, ‘Is this good?’ but ask, ‘Is this beautiful because it is good?’ so maybe beauty and goodness might exist independent of the other- but that is not the subject of the enquiry at the moment. Let us be clear that we are taking as a premise the co existence of beauty and goodness and not questioning that. what we are investigating is the NATURE of that co-existence. This paper would begin by outlining working definitions of the abstracts that we would deal with- namely, ‘beauty’, ‘good’, ‘union’ and ‘fusion’. I would then shape my position on the issue and lastly, I would like to discuss cases which appear to be a deviation from my stated position.

In ‘Groundwork of the metaphysics of morals’, Kant defines Good to be that which is the product of a ‘rationally guided will’. This, of course, refers to what is good action. What is notable is that according to Kant, nothing can be taken to be good without qualification, except good will. So things like honesty, courage, or altruism that are usually considered universal goods can sometimes produce results that maybe undesirable. They could also arise out of motives that were not very genuine in the first place- for example, a celebrity might donate money in order to be in the spotlight. Thus, good is defined NOT by the effect, or the intended effect, but by the WILL guiding the action. That much is for a morally good action. Good THINGS are those that produce a desirable mental state in self-aware beings. Thus, a movie is ‘good’ because it guides our mental states closer to those of optimism, elation, intellectual validation or whatever we seek in a movie. Similarly, coffee that does not produce the intended mental state can be called ‘not so good’.

I believe that we can again go back to Kant, this time in ‘The Critique of Judgement’, to understand what beauty is. Kant defines beauty as, ‘PURPOSIVE WITHOUT PURPOSE’. This means that when we look at something beautiful we feel that it has been designed with a purpose in mind. Ultimately, however, we find that the thing serves to particular purpose. For example, when we look at a flower, we admire its symmetry, its general location and its form and we think that these attributes were present to either serve a specific use or exemplify a specific perfection. When we discover no such thing, we experience a sense of pleasure that Kant calls “disinterested”. The recognition of beauty PRECEDES the sensation of pleasure that it produces. A sunset is beautiful and therefore, we feel pleased in its presence and not BECAUSE the sunset gives us pleasure, it is beautiful. This distinction id very important because it tells us that Beauty is essentially a simultaneous impression on our senses and feeling. Unlike Good, we do not evaluate beauty. It is not mediated through cognition.

I would define FUSION as ‘a merging of diverse and distinct elements into a whole where the individual elements can still be perceived in their own right’. UNION, on the other hand is the ‘uniting of two or more distinct elements where the elements tend to become indistinguishable’.

On the basis of these definitions, I would now like to state my position on the issue- THAT THE COMING TOGETHER OF BEAUTY AND GOOD IS AN ACT OF FUSION, AS CAN BE DISTINGUISHED BY A REFLECTIVE CONSCIOUSNESS and they sometimes only produce an illusion of unity, which can be systematically proven to be misleading.

Let us now go back to that painting in the art gallery. When I first look at it I find it Beautiful because it appears to have a purpose and yet be purposeless. One can LATER admire the symmetry, harmony of colour, the order of objects depicted et cetera and call it GOOD. When I found it beautiful, I was pleased. That sensation was disinterested. It was a purely aesthetic judgment. I say that this is a case of FUSION because I can break-down the combined sensation of beauty and goodness if I focus on the process of that sensation. At this stage, I find the painting beautiful and it gives me pleasure. Now I notice this desired mental state, that is, the state of pleasure, and I RATIONALIZE purchasing that painting or desiring to own a likeness. That second phase is what gives us an idea of the ‘goodness’ of the painting.

In fact, the process of growth and education is very much a training to be able to analyze the good and the beautiful in a thing separately. A child yearns for a dress that is beautiful to look at and considers it also good. An adult has a better understanding of what part of a shoe is lending it its beauty and what part its goodness. Sometimes, we take this distinction the other way round and tend to find something beautiful ON ACCOUNT OF its goodness. There could be a comfortable and sturdy shoe that has lasted me for a couple of years. Gradually, I may begin to find the simplistic style and the dull colour beautiful. But this is a REASONED beauty, and either it is not really beauty but appreciation or we can still analyze HOW we started finding it beautiful. Either way, it is a case of FUSION where the individual components can be individually identified.

A seemingly anomalous caser is when employers hire prospective employees because they happen to be better looking than other candidates. Similarly, sometimes teachers favor students, voters favor politicians and even the jury favors certain under trials because there is a validation that ‘looks’ provide. This was interestingly analyzed in a 1972 study called “The Beautiful is Good” by Dion, Berscherd and Walster. Does that mean that there is a UNION between the two aspects and the judges could not make it out? It is quite possible that the focus was on the sensation of Good that favoring such a candidate produced IN the employer and not on the Good that another candidate could have done for the company. But we can find out the error in judgment later- showing that the indistinguishability between the two was not due to its OWN nature, but due to a less enlightened consciousness. A simple test to show that it is a case of fusion would be the ability to take out either Beauty or Goodness from an object and STILL have the other property intact. For instance, we can stick election posters all over on a Rolls Royce and still ride it as s good car. Conversely, we can replace the engine of a Rolls Royce with that of a lesser car and still find the car beautiful to look at.- though no longer good in what is expected of a car.

In conclusion, I would like to restate that my position of fusion was grounded on the fact that even when together, Beauty and Goodness arrive to us in two distinct phases, and can be separated one from the other if needed. This, I hope proves the case.

philosophy of prostitution

The book of Deuteronomy and the book of Kings forbade the sons of Israel from bringing ' whores' into their homes. Legal statutes in most parts of the world condemn it as a social and moral evil. And yet, the "necessary evil" of prostitution defines our culture and times as much as our economic and social transactions do. What then, makes the world's oldest profession such an enduring one?? Is it there because we need to gratify a need that we denounce in public but nurture in private?? Or is it the pure economics of trade with morality tied to it over a period of time??

Studies in the male genetic makeup have confirmed that the male of the species is by nature polygamist. There is this eternal subconscious desire to ensure the continuation of the Y chromosome, and hence, the need to increase one's chances of a healthy offspring by mating as diversely as possible. With women, the agnation is different because she is assured of her parenthood of her offspring. Of course, we may point out that people hardly patronize prostitutes to procreate, but we must acknowledge the fact that at one level the need to convince oneself of the continuation of the species is being fulfilled. That is partly why the Kings of yore (who did not have to visit 'prostitutes’ in the conventional sense) made it a point to maintain a harem of concubines.

There is no denying the fact that one of the major drivers to prostitution is the urge for instant physical gratification. Traditionally, it has been males who have been visiting women for paid sexual services. To the man, it is an opportunity to release his urge to copulate. He answers the call of his libido and that makes him feel good about himself. Growing up, a lot of younger men want to explore their sexuality by having their experience with a prostitute. It could be a release mechanism. It could be a tool of boast among peers or it could be a strategy of convincing oneself of finally having become a MAN and of having come of age. Whatever it is, because the pleasures are forbidden, they hold all the more charm. Men who are already into a marriage or relationships might do it just for the DIFFERENCE the experience promises. They have always been fascinated by women who choose to live life the unconventional way. This is not to suggest that they have been game for a woman's emancipation but the attraction of a woman who has broken some rules is always there. She is risqué, she is wild and she will present a facet of womanhood which the "good wife" would not. Men then become souls flirting with their dark sides and the visible product of this journey is the physical pleasure they derive.

Another materialist way of explaining prostitution's longevity is to look at it as an economic arrangement based on the tenets of demand and supply. The men, who have traditionally had the money, are on the lookout for more sexual gratification than what society would permit them. The prostitutes, who have lesser money, are there to fulfill this demand. They often have few other professional skills or services to offer. The idea of a “fallen woman" is intrinsically tied to the idea of a woman who originally came from the poorer section of the society. So, while they have it, they use their bodies to ensure sustenance. In modern times, this has become a little more complicated, with women doing it to flaunt their new - found sexual liberties, and not always for the money.

Another idea that could explain the issue at hand is the power structure that came into play with the origin of prostitution. This power structure could be in the form of a male to male rivalry or in the form of more subtle but more consequentional male - female relationship. A prostitute is a commodity put up in the market, and on the principles of free trade, she is available to the highest bidder. Angelica Bianca, recently released to the general public (after the death of her patronizing general) is a case in point. When such a situation exists, the prostitute becomes the battle ground for rival males (even though this 'rivalry' might co-exist with male bonding). Whoever has the money, the power or the physical charm can try and win over her - thereby, also vanquishing competing males. Not the theory of evolution at work, one might say, but the idea is not totally detached. On the male - female plane, the power play is much more nuanced. A single man courting a prostitute is trying to enforce the domination of his patriarchal forefathers. Very often, he would use the agency of money. He is like the caveman trying to have his needs gratified at will. For a man into an existing relationship, visiting a prostitute is like procuring the physical pleasures without any emotional accountability. Within a relationship, sex might come attached with strings. The distribution of the household income, the say in familial decisions, the balance of conversation and the comfort level with the partner - all of these changes after every physical intercourse. This might become too daunting at times and a man might not wish to upset the status quo and yet have the ' joys’ of a momentary alliance.

Prostitution, then, is here to stay. Any society that has more than three individuals (with necessary gender diversity) would have prostitution. With three individuals, it is unlikely because two of them might just enter an emotional relationship (possibly including a physical side to it), while the third one (also in need of emotional security and continuation of the species) would be in a state of bargaining on grounds of an emotional commitment. Money comes into the picture when another individual is introduced to include the possibility of a simultaneous existence of procreation and recreation.

So, while the books of the Bible never really condoned prostitution, sons of Israel and sons everywhere made sure that a little sin was not totally unheard of.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

what it looks like?

I always thought working life is the best life, atleast this is what they show in the movies..getting up late, hurrying through your cup of coffee, desperate glances at the news papers,et cetera. Now i am working and now i think that the best life is the student life. You dont get that intellectual kick in the professional life.Unless, ofcourse, you are working in fields related to academics. I am currently employed with a publishing house and it is perhaps one of the best things that has happened to me for quite some time.I am loving it :-)The reason why I am enjoying is that I am studying too..Academics is the best thing to be in.