Stumbling on the article “The Dying Art of Disagreement” on the New York Times made me remember something very pivotal about free speech. The idea of free speech, central to all democracies, has more or less been a contested claim in the context of philosophy. The recent charges against Gurmehar Kaur for instance brings up the topic of hypocrisy on her part – an allegation levelled even by supposedly-progressive publications like ScoopWhoop.
However, the idea of the ‘Freedom of Speech’, as mapped out in Indian and most of the international law, is a restrictive one – a fact that seems to elude most of the so-called ‘liberal establishment’ by virtue of their idealist stances. Therein, liberal authors like Nick Spencer often take stands against any violence against the speech given by far-flung right-wingers. This philosophy presupposes that since the State provides no objection and no violence against free speech, the common person should not be offended either – or if they are, it should be resolved through respectful discourse and disagreement.
The presupposition that free speech exists as an absolute right itself is a product of our comfort level with State policies. Since the liberal establishment has viewed the State as the ‘end-all of all discourse’, they forget that the violence done by the State against the philosophy of free speech – for instance, the beating of Jadavpur University students back in 2014 by the State machinery, or the recent violence against female protesters in the Banaras Hindu University. This line is towed by the authorities firmly placed in structure too – only last year, a tribal rights advocate, Soni Sori, faced an acid attack.
The idea of ‘absolute free speech’ is very sternly, an idealistic one. It entrenches itself in the suppositions that seem to be rampant on the liberal front that State guarantees are ‘absolute’. And while, the ‘Freedom of Speech’ does guarantee them the right to seek reimbursement – it, like most other rights, has been subject to a lot of violence by the State itself. In a world where journalists like Gauri Lankesh are killed for expressing their views, the naiveté of wanting to salvage your idealism by supporting a meme page, which itself represents structural violence, is a lost cause.
The page, as visible from the oft-shared memes pointed out by an article on Youth Ki Awaaz, stands for the voices of the establishment. The supposed ‘dankness’ of these memes thus lies in the violence they create by disallowing feminist speech in the first place. ‘Discourse’, that the respected journalist in the aforementioned article wants, has already been shut off. Meme pages like Squint Neon instead engage in mockery and hide behind the idealist Left’s stance of free speech. The Left, supposedly being idealists, protects the structure in this case – while also claiming to engage in discourses about patriarchy.
Another factor that often comes into play is the intensity of the ‘progressive politics’ practised by Left outfits. Violence is automatically scorned – so is any disdainful remark, or a mockery of the Right. ‘The Left can’t meme’ precisely because their idealist stance creates a vacuum where the Right can safely hide and promote their own hatred.
We need to evaluate this course of action – the Right’s sensibility in approaching feminism with a purely structural perspective, which wishes ‘workforce success’ to women, but not self-sustenance and fulfillment of their identity. The Right does not ‘discriminate’ – in the sense that it showcases a profound wish to arm women with money – but, this ‘feminism’ must occur from pre-established spaces. Their liberation is armed at the back with subjugation. These are facts we need to acknowledge before we go ahead and criticise Gurmehar Kaur for her actions – or agree unanimously with the article mentioned above.
Violence demands an answer – and the answer isn’t protection!