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Thursday, March 3, 2016

Understanding constructive and mature discourse 


Salleh Said Keruak 

In this day and age, especially in the era of the borderless world due to the Internet, freedom of speech and the expressing of one’s opinion is almost taken for granted. What we sometimes forget, however, is that this must be treated as a privilege rather than an absolute right. And privileges, if abused, can sometimes be withdrawn. 

There is no such thing as absolute freedom of speech. Even in the west where the limits of freedom have been pushed beyond what we in the east can accept and consider as acceptable, they still do have laws that regulate matters concerning slander, defamation, degrading, racism, sexism, and so on. 

It is accepted that discourse and the exchanging of ideas and opinions are the foundation of advancement and learning. But that has to be done in a constructive, civil, and mature manner and with decorum and decency. Running someone down or the hurling of insults would be the opposite to all this. You would be considered uncouth to not observe proper rules of engagement. 

A problem arises when we hide behind freedom of speech and pretend that we merely seek to discuss and debate and then we disagree for the sake of disagreeing. Politics is all about perception so the war of perception to be able to win the hearts and minds of the people intensifies as political disagreements escalate. 

And this is when we adopt the Machiavellian doctrine of the end justifying the means by embarking on a campaign of lies and misinformation. We cannot claim the moral high ground and say that our cause is virtuous when we are neither noble or virtuous in our methods. 

The Internet is community owned so we need to be considerate to other Internet users when we do things. While freedom of speech may be considered a right, others also have the right to not suffer indignity and harassment due to the misuse of the Internet. 

I concur with our Prime Minister’s recent blogpost – that the Internet is a shared property owned collectively by all global citizens, and as such we have the responsibility not to misuse it. We must be able to differentiate between truths, half-truths, innuendoes, and lies and not regard everything as opinions that you are free to espouse. 

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