Is State Sponsored Censorship Ever Justified? Essay, Research Paper
So many new ideas are at first strange and horrible though ultimately valuable that a very heavy responsibility rests upon those who would prevent their dissemination (J.B.S. Haldane).
Whether parents are censoring material for their children or the media is presenting to the public only the things it deems newsworthy, a nearly infinite amount of censorships are being exercised every day around the world. More significantly, every legislator or person of political power must consider carefully the decision to censor the governed. Those decisions carry consequences of varying weights, but regardless of the issue, it is essential to decide whether the benefit of one choice outweighs the negative aspects of the other. If so, the decision to censor is justified.
When asked off the cuff, most Americans would readily proclaim their opposition to censorship. Censorship violates the First Amendment, or America s supposed to be a free country are some likely responses. The truth is, most Americans are actually in favor of several types of censorship. They simply haven t thought about it enough to realize their feelings. Ask a father if he wants his eight-year-old daughter reading a sexually explicit magazine, or if a mother wants her six-year-old son watching extremely violent movies. Assuredly they will tell you, no. They may continue to explain their reasoning, citing statistics about youth violence or inappropriate behavior, but the reasons don t really matter. In terms of battling with censorship in these examples, both parties would have to agree with the statement that some censorship is necessary.
This type of censorship doesn t appear to be the state sponsored suppression we were expecting, but it is. Governments are hierarchies, and the governed are like children to the rulers, who act as parents. Just as children who in their ignorance prefer to think they know it all, we too are ignorant of the censorships controlling our lives. Of course we would like to think we know everything about our government and country. We re a free, democratic nation and we ve elected people to govern our lives. They wouldn t hide things from us . so we say. Do we really believe it? The curious can generate an infinite number of hypothetical situations in which the government, or politicians would be forced to make decisions with consequences involving censorship. Take Roswell, New Mexico for example. Rumors about aliens and cover-ups could all be completely untrue, but then again, if the censorship surrounding their existence is good enough, how would we ever know? In a situation that could provoke mass-paranoia or anarchist behavior, would those who know of imminent danger choose to tell the public, or would we go on uninformed? Given situations in which knowing the truth actually risks the safety or health of the citizens of a state, most people would rather remain in the dark. Sometimes however it is extremely difficult to predict the complex reactions of a society to a given problem. Decisions will ultimately be made before the people even know what s happening. Given this, their would-be actions can never be known.
When acting in the best interest of children, parents must make preemptive judgments about how to deal with oncoming situations. Unfortunately, making decisions beforehand stops children from drawing their own conclusions. The same goes for organized society in general. It could be said that a society of virtuous people would never need censorship, but that has never been proven. As stated previously, most societies censor the governed before they have a chance to really prove their virtue. Void of that freedom, what is virtue anyway?
Freedom itself gives rise to many more important points of censorship. In fact, looking from this direction severely skews our prior conclusions about the importance of censorship. For example, two students meet in a laboratory. When discussing a topic they find themselves having differing opinions. Upon explanation one of the two concedes to the other, explaining that her previous understanding was incorrect, and her colleague s idea has more merit. Given a strictly censored society, this problem of opposing views would not exist. The two would have the same understanding because it would be the only explanation ever made available to them. That view of things makes the idea look promising because of the lack of disagreement in society. Unfortunately we neglected to see the underlying significance of the discussion. Once scientist, whose understanding of a topic was incorrect, benefited from the knowledge that her colleague shared. At the same time, the other scientist gained a better appreciation for his understanding and was able to grow in his ultimate knowledge of the subject. Through this example we have illustrated one of the main points people discuss with regard to censorship. Educationally there seems to be no benefit to censoring materials for the student and the negative aspects of such a decision far outweigh the benefits. Imagine the seriousness of such a problem if it were regulated at the state-level.
Is state sponsored censorship ever justified? Sometimes yes, sometimes no is the most obvious answer at this point, but take a closer look at the word ever and its role in the sentence. Mathematically and scientifically, phrases like ever, necessarily, and at any time have a very important function. If a person wants to prove a point about something he must provide many supporting examples. However, to disprove such a point requires only one. If at any time, under some given circumstance, by anyone s authority, and for anyone s benefit, is it ever appropriate to endorse state-sponsored censorship? Yes. The opposite would be never and upon saying any one thing is justified, never is invalidated. If the society being discussed is a Utopian dream of some kind, it is possible the people involved are virtuous enough to do without censorship. However, in reality people have a certain set of freedoms, and with any freedom comes the ability to make incorrect choices. As long as governments are reflective of parents and believe their people are capable of wrong decisions they will exercise censorship. Some of it we would call appropriate. Whatever the case may be, it must always be assumed that censorship is wrong unless the benefits outweigh the negatives. Then again, who is really justified to make such judgments?