A friend, R, and I were having one of our heated political debates a year ago. She and I are both from developing countries and my banter with her always had the air of a wronged underdog using her freedom of speech to talk about things that she knew were almost impossible to make right. It was my only recourse, and while an onlooker may have had the impression of women fighting, we were really just making our passions heard to a compassionate ear: human to human, friend to friend, woman to woman – pure catharsis.
In these discussions, I was the younger, usually more naïve, and possibly hence, the more hopeful one. She would often have to explain to me how fashion trends varied from the 60s to the 90s as I was usually ignorant and couldn’t always tell the difference. I had my defense – I was still a young girl when satellite television came to India, and I never caught on as I came to hate television anyway, giving me an excuse for my ignorance.
One of my rants with R over a year ago was about debates in the UK on foreign aid during the recession. I was telling her about an article I agreed with in part, but was also furious about for several reasons – amongst these, my pet peeve – what I read as criticism of government spending on India’s space programme. I was discussing with her how the article showed the lack of knowledge of how technology can aid social development, and space technology in particular, as well as the other side of the coin – how it can be misused, of which Indian examples abound.
My rants led to the small matter of sterilisation, and the campaign in India in the 70s. I was discussing aid policy and development goals, expressing how the problem in distribution of food and related issues is turned into one of overpopulation, misrepresented for policy goals and responded to with quick fixes, while real, harder solutions are not considered.
Her response was, “It was the 70s, baby!”
I was confused. She told me how at the time, any government that needed to show any clout anywhere would take to sterilisation; it was ‘the in thing’.
Guns and colonisation, genetics and eugenics, nuclear physics and the atomic bomb – there’s a list over which if you do not think hard enough, has the danger to turn people on technology itself.
When the NYT reported how major technology companies were being summoned by the government to help screen content, it struck me as the newest fad. What was possibly worse was the fact that it was misrepresented as efforts to clamp down on hate speech.
One doesn’t need genius to figure it out: in economies where information is power, where do you clamp down first?
The answer’s obvious.
Everyone’s doing it, all over the world, directly or indirectly. And retaliation can range from asking for content to be taken down, to legal action, and even murder.
So that’s the newest global fad: censorship.
As I expressed this at the Make Blog not War Workshop, several of us agreed: “Censorship is the new sterilisation.”
This is no deep revelation, but perhaps it brings caution. Each of these experiments has caused damage that cannot be repaired for decades. Mara Hvistendahl’s research has uncovered how fears of overpopulation fuelled the boom in sex-selection – the result being 30- 40 million “bare branches” at the end of this decade in China alone.
I find that the trend of censorship, and especially the abetting environment in our country, where citizens are almost encouraged to take offense, must cause alarm. I’m not sure we will be able to repair the damage in decades.
Thank you Anand for putting it visually.
I live elsewhere now, and I don’t have R to rant with as often. But I know I can depend on other bloggers to add their voice to my rants. Perhaps we’ll get somewhere; even if we don’t we will at least have exercised our right to free speech – catharsis.