Someone always knows what’s best for the rest of us to see or hear.
This someone can be the government, religious groups or just people who take offense easily.
Racial or ethnic slurs are the targets for the latter group, legacies of past discrimination or hate campaigns. Human history has a sorry history of such activity. Some of it perhaps is tied to the struggle for survival when small tribes had to defend against raiders out to eliminate them. The old hatreds die hard.
Diligence against racially charged words sometimes goes too far. A new edition of Huckleberry Finn excises the offensive word for Negro or changes it to “slave.” The idea is to get the book into high-school libraries without battles over censorship, but the bowdlerization can be seen as an act of censorship itself. It’s all about intent. Mark Twain was reflecting the society in which he lived; should teenagers today be protected from the offensive segments? The wrong answer will deny future generations the genius of the author and his work.
We have seen recently what government censorship can lead to. The Middle East is aflame with citizens taking to the streets to protest hard-line policies. Much of the unrest can be laid to economic failure, but censorship of opposing views plays a big part in sowing distrust. People locked out of the debate on where their country is going just might have some good ideas on overcoming adversity.
The FCC bans certain words from being said on broadcast television, but censoring these “dirty” words is difficult because they can be found somewhere else, raw and untamed. And it’s not so far from censoring offensive words to censoring the context around them.
Some censorship is necessary to prevent the spread of hate or calls for murder and violence. The trick is to find the right balance so that ideas are not killed simply because someone was offended.