Necessary Evils of Censorship
First, let me give an example to clarify the terms truth, belief and knowledge: Bill Gates has 62,345,000,321 dollars. This is the truth; it's the way the world is. I believe he has 72,233,000,333 dollars. This is not knowledge because it does not accurately reflect the way the world is; it's a false belief. John believes Bill has 62,345,000,321 dollars, which happens to be true; however, John believes it because he dreamed it last night. This is not knowledge because it's believed for the wrong sort of reason, and it's correspondence with the truth is purely accidental; it is a fairly worthless true belief. His accountant also believes that Bill has 62,345,000,321 dollars, and he believes this because he checked all the financial statements this morning. THis is knowledge: it's a true belief that is held for sound reasons, and it is something worth having.
What is the purpose of censorship? There is only one ultimate purpose for any form of censorship: the purpose of all censorship is to enforce ignorance about the targetted topic. This ignorance is an inevitable consequence of all censorship. If information on some topic, person, group, idea, or whatever, is censored for any reason, then knowledge on that topic is made impossible to the extent that the censor succeeeds. Censorship undercuts the very possibility of knowledge by breaking the tracking relationship between our beliefs and truth.
In some cases, this is a necessary and desirable thing. We do not want the technical details of how to build bombs or break in to banks to be general knowledge available to all. Ignorance is rightly desired in these situations, so censorship is an appropriate tool to aid such ignorance.
However, there can be no such easy justification for censorship in the political realm. In order to make sound decisions, such as for whom to vote and what policies to support, people must be well informed, and censorship of political parties, personalities or ideas makes this impossible. Censorship on issues of genuine public concern is even worse. Ignorance does not foster useful elections. Ignorance is not a healthy basis for democracy. Ignorance does not assist critical thinking. Ignorance is a poor foundation for economic development, for political growth, and for justice.
Censorship must also degrade any respect, hate or other feeling directed toward any figure, group or idea about whom or which information is censored, because any such admiration, loathing or other feeling must be based on beliefs that can not aspire to knowledge. Censorship of information about people means that beliefs about those people do not change as the truth changes, rather, they track the whims of whoever controls the information given out. What does this mean? It means that if you loath Bush, you should demand his website NOT be blocked, and that he along with his detractors be able to present their views so that a well informed opinion is possible. If you love and admire someone, you should demand that information about that person not be censored, because such censorship must necessarily devalue your respect and admiration; where there is the ignorance of censorship, your respect or other feelings can never be based on anything more substantial than empty beliefs. And the stricter the censorship, the more worthless your feelings of admiration and respect must be rendered. This is not to say that the loathing or the love are not real, sincere and genuine. It is to say that neither the love nor the loathing can be well founded or worth having, and that for as long as censorship is used to enforce ignorance about the subject, any feelings for that subject, however strong and sincere, will be of doubtful value. The more strict and effective the censorship, the greater the ignorance and the lower the worth of the feelings. The respect and love that Nth Koreans likely feel for their "dear leader" are real feelings, but the enforced veil of thorough ignorance renders them of little value. Mao was also accorded much genuine respect and adulation whilst he ruled China, but again, based on the necessary ignorance spread by censorship, no great value can be attached to such ill founded adulation. Religions tend to delight in censorship because respect for their nonsense flourishes best in the gloom of ignorance. Were the respect and adulation the same in the full light of knowledge, that would be something worth having and worth taking note of. The respect that Queen Elizabeth enjoys today might not be the mindless adulation of days gone by, but is worth far more for having withstood the test of free and open discussion.
This is why I feel that the forced ignorance that results from the persistence of censorship in Thailand is a major cause of the regularly repeated political failures. The Thai people are not stupid, but neither are they permitted to become informed on far too many matters of real public concern. On the contrary, the latest constitution and new legislation to control the internet and media actively seek to further the cause of ignorance. Sadly, no real effort has yet been made to address this deep problem, which must engender a fear that Thailand's future will remain most excessively interesting.
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