Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
“Freedom of religion or freedom of speech,”April 19, 2009, and “Free world bars free speech,” April 16, 2009 have me feeling very agitated about the growing boundaries of the campaign to outlaw offense and to regulate our emotions (for our own good).
The proposition that we have a right not to be offended and that “causing offense” - to others’ religious sentiments, for instance - is a human rights violation, is rank silliness. Outrage by the Muslim world in 2006 over the infamous Dutch newspaper cartoons parodying the prophet Mohammad was transparently crass, and its success would have diminished the humanity of us all. To diminish humanity in the name protecting human dignity indicates how mixed up the lines of thought are on these issues.
Looking to the courts to regulate through litigation how we feel indicates considerable infantilism. Plaintiffs want to be protected from themselves by asking authority to closely describe the boundaries of propriety. Not only is it asking too much of the state and the courts, but it seems to make human beings a tool of the law, not the reverse.
Personally, I claim my feelings as my own. My love, my hope, my fear, my boredom, etc. all belong to me. So if my sensibilities are wounded, I do not blame others for it, even if they act with demonstrable intent, deliberation and malice. I do not deserve nor do I require a right NOT to feel.
I think this notion that we have a right NOT to feel offended stems from the idea that we have a universal human right to be happy, that dignity lies in our happiness, and that happiness by definition excludes all contrary feelings. But I think not. Happiness is larger than any contrary feeling and it can easily encompass them without incompatibility. In religious or other matters how we feel about what others say seems largely irrelevant so long as we are free to think and practice with impunity. The freedom to think and practice with impunity are the real rights we should be protecting.