The Dangers of Fictional Human Rights

I have written in the past about some of the seductive qualities of suppressing unpleasant speech in my entry titled, The Seduction of the Thought Police.

Below are some points that I made in that entry:

“…when faced with realities that seem unforgiving or complicated, fiction quickly becomes a tantalizing target to control and punish.”

“Regulating fiction and art is never effective, and it never addresses the causes behind violence, but it makes us feel better. We feel we have done something, even if it is futile.”

“Thought policing never stops a person from having evil thoughts. Thought policing makes us feel better. It does not make us safer.”

I would like to add a few more points, specifically about the dangers of introducing real life rights into the realm of fiction and how that can be a losing proposition for everybody.

How would you respond to the following claim; “We should be willing to surrender elements of free speech when it involves protecting children in how they are depicted in fiction. We are dealing with the most vulnerable elements of society, therefore society should make special provisions to protect their sense of well-being and discourage any narratives that suggests they can be sexually exploited.

I have already stated the logical fallacy in the belief that children can be better protected by restricting fiction in my bilingual essay Thought Police Can’t Protect Real Children but the claim that I listed above directly targets a caring person’s heart, making it more difficult to question it validity.

In fact, we must be particularly careful in examining claims that are highly emotionally charged. Merits of a claim over emotionally charged issues must be found valid even when devoid of the emotional sentiments involved. Murder is criminal act because a life has been taken, and while the loss of a popular individual may incur more anger and sadness, this does not mean murder of an unknown individual should legally be treated as less important just because fewer people are emotionally invested in the victim.

When it comes to protecting children, few can argue the fact that they deserve special treatment. This is the very reason why we restrict certain forms of free speech from being accessible to children. We do not allow children to engage in certain forms of behavior involving risk as well.

Free societies places high value on an individual’s ability for self-determination, diversity and freedom of choice. Because we appreciate that certain risks are involved in a free society, we have various safety mechanisms in place to insure informed decision-making can be conducted, and for those members of society that cannot make informed decision-making, we restrict their access and freedoms. This does not only to protect those who are vulnerable, but it also protects a system that requires participants to be responsible for their actions.

Free speech does not compete against human rights so long as its creation nor distribution of free speech does not directly involve hardship against an individual, e.g. reproducing someone else’s material without their permission, harming someone during the creation of the content, threatening individuals with harm or violating their privacy, or making false claims against an individual, etc.

While opinion pieces and news coverage have to be careful in balancing the needs involved in respecting the rights of individuals and institutions with the needs related to the right to have free and open public discourse, fiction stands in a unique position. By their very nature of being a completely imaginary narrative, fiction can be easily identified as material that does not interrelate with circumstances of real people.

Attempting to introduce the concepts of human right violations into the realm of fiction makes the definition of human rights less concise–Are we concerned about protecting people or should we be concerned about making people feel they are protected? Not only that, the issues of human rights already can involve contentions issues, e.g. historical and/or cultural sensitivities versus changing concepts of human rights, or competition between the desire to preserve group identities that conflicts with aspirations for individuality. Debating the merits of human rights in fiction makes these discussions needlessly complicated and can contribute toward apathy spreading in the public regarding concerns over human rights. Apathy and indifference toward laudable ideals are likely to expand when some feel those ideals are discriminatory or meaningless.

Few would argue against abolishing abuse of people, but what about making the claim that people depicted in fiction should be free of abuse? The former statement it easy to understand, but the later statement is a minefield for misunderstanding and confusion. Why do we need to protect people who don’t exist? Who are we protecting? Are we going to be selectively reflecting our real life ideals in fiction? Why?

And yet, there are instances when some feel their sensibilities (however well-meaning they may be) must be righteous over your assertions that human rights and free speech do not compete. In circumstances when you need to match someone’s emotionally charged sentiments with something equally strong, then consider asking the following question to them; “Would you sanction the use of torture of adults by the state for information that may safeguard children?

Asking people to choose between the torture of adults against the rights of children is extreme, nevertheless, this is the same logic behind calls for restricting depictions of minors in fiction in order to expunge society of “unwholesome and dangerous fantasies.”

If one feels debating a willingness to subject of torturing adults to protect children is preposterous, then why are we debating the application of real life norms in the world of fantasy. And why should the rights of fictional children be protected, while other groups are not? Do children deserve more protection then any other demographic? Why not introduce the concept of hate speech in fiction?

I do not support the contention that it should be legal to conduct torture to protect children, or for any other reason, not because I do not value the lives of children, but because I feel human rights are universal. Rights should apply to everyone equally, and the state must not be allowed to be in a position to place priorities regarding which lives deserve more protections than others.

As individual human beings, there may be instances where we may have to make difficult decisions, but we should never enter a situation where the government is entrusted to create a hierarchy regarding the worth of human beings between different groups of people.

The universal respect of human rights is the cornerstone of a free and equal, democratic civil society.

Another important cornerstone of free society is free speech, a right that enshrines diversity and tolerance for even unpopular speech.

Freedom of expression should not just tolerate unpopular speech, but it should be its patron saint. Remember, the voice of the rich, powerful and the majority will always dominate due to the authority it enjoys and the popularity that makes it ubiquitous. Those voices do not need free speech for them to be protected. Speech that maybe unpopular, ideas that challenge the status quo, concepts that might not be refined need protection the most. The success a given work can enjoy should be determined by the open marketplace of ideas, and not determined by how the state looks upon it as favorable or unworthy.

And while I have stated this many times already, I will repeat some important core principles of artistic freedom once more. Forcing art or popular fiction to fulfill the role of textbooks for moral education is counterproductive and misguided. Entertainment exists to entertain. Art exists to enlighten. Education exists to inform. Just as it is dangerous to mix fiction with reality, it is dangerous to introduce the legal requirement that art or fiction should be educational and conform to moral guidelines of the state.

Nevertheless, there are those that feel the protection of free speech should be applied narrowly toward material that serve a social benefit, or help achieve a laudable goal. This line of thinking assumes that free speech must be justified through social considerations, and while this sounds plausible, it is actually very dangerous. If you reverse the logic, it means your right to say something must be approved by others who are willing to validate your ideals and goals.

Calls to qualify free speech is nothing less than making calls to limit your own right to engage in free speech. It is dangerous and this must be pointed out accordingly.

If you are an advocate for free speech, if you support free manga and anime and other forms of popular culture,  if you oppose those that insist upon censorship–If can feel very frustrating that you must engage people those who are blasé about curving artistic freedom. Nevertheless, you must patiently and repeatedly point that “A culture grows richer through addition, not through subtraction,” “Freedom of thought and free speech may protect speech you disagree with, but it also protects your right to criticize such speech and protects your speech as well, and therefore you should not be willing to surrender your rights in piecemeal so easily,” and “Human rights must be respected equally.” These are ideals that must be tirelessly advocated as being both meaningful and universal.

Lastly, for those who wish to come to the defense of creators, publishers, and genres which are threatened, I would like to point out that there are simple things you can do. Buying their products, sending letters of appreciation, and/or singing  praises of their creations publicly on any medium will keep people encouraged and emboldened to create more, even in the face threats of censorship or strangulating  regulation. Loss of income and interest will do more harm than any regulation could hope to achieve.

Also, please consider giving donations to any local bodies that help protect free speech. For those in the English speaking world, I highly recommend the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. While their ability to come to the aid of those overseas is limited, keeping the United States a thriving land of free speech for comic books and cartoons, which includes manga and anime, will play an important role in indirectly keeping creativity unhindered and channels of distributions open in many others countries as well.

This entry was posted in censorship, child pornography issues, harmful material, public morality and media. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Dangers of Fictional Human Rights

  1. Nicky_86 says:

    Great article Dan, i 100% agree with you. hope mangakas are ok, sometimes i’m a bit worry on what’s going on in japan but you keep us informed and is a little relief.
    I already donated once to the CBLDF, even as a non Us citizen, because i believe they doing a great job defending freedom of speech and japanese manga in general.
    Hope we will never have more restrictions to japanese fictional media, the quality of the last anime is worse compared to the past where people had more fredom. We should fight hard to protect our entertainment and remove any form of improbable rights applied to fictional characters just as an excuse to censor what other don’t like.

  2. Considering the latest hit piece done by the Beeb, this article is even more poignant.

    I wished I saw it before today, but alas, my reader is swamped by other anibloggers/gunbloggers.

While I may not be able to respond to all comments, I always welcome feedback. Thank you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s