For many decades now, people in the West have looked down upon the rest of the world for their lack of freedom. Russia is constantly criticised for its anti-gay laws, the Middle East is seen as the breeding place for all evil in this world and African and Asian countries are constantly looked down upon for infringements of human rights. Perhaps some of these are very valid criticisms, but… are we in the West actually any better?
I would have had great pleasure writing about how “the right thing” is completely subjective and that we only think freedom of speech is good because we were brought up that way, but instead, I’ll go into something a little less philosophical. Specifically, I am unsure about whether or not we truly have freedom of speech, and to illustrate that, I will go into a short (and extremely controversial) example that will make you scream if you take it too literally.
In the Netherlands, there was once a political party that stood up for paedophilia. They wanted to legalise sex with children above the age of 12 and to legalise child pornography, which they wanted to do in a democratic way. As you might expect, that did not exactly make the Dutch population very happy. They came under heavy fire, with all sorts of petitions being set up to try and get the party disbanded, all because people believed that such viewpoints should not exist. You know… the same thing the Russians would say about homosexuality…
Now, don’t draw hasty conclusions about what I’m trying to say with this, but how exactly is their situation any different from that of gay rights activists in Russia? Both are fighting for “equal rights”, and both have their “freedom of speech” impaired (although to be fair, the Dutch court quite impressively allowed the party to exist, despite fierce opposition from the public).
Does that mean that the Russians should keep their anti-gay law or that paedophilia should be legalised? Of course not. That is unacceptable. No less unacceptable than gay rights were about a century ago, but there is definitely a difference. Children cannot give consent, while there is no possible objection to homosexuality except religious or cultural beliefs.
Still, would it be so weird to think that, perhaps, somewhere in the future, the age of consent will be lowered? Currently we greatly underestimate the ability of a 15 year old to make his/her own decisions, something that can definitely change in the future. Perhaps sex between a 40 year old and a 12 year old will never be legal, but maybe there will be a day when it is fine between two people aged 25 and 16 (which, by the way, is already accepted in certain countries).
In the end, I think the main lesson we should take from this is that we ourselves aren’t all that open-minded either. Perhaps there is still an issue out there that is currently being ignored, but which in a century from now will turn out to be similar to the issue of gay rights today. We wouldn’t know, because freedom of speech is relative to what society accepts, mainly because people can say terrible and harmful things that should never be allowed, and the line has to be drawn somewhere. Just think of the narrow line between freedom of speech and blatant racism, an issue that will probably never be resolved. Ultimately, freedom of speech does not exist: not in Russia, not in the Middle East, but definitely not in the West either.
I would like to add that there was actually a pro-paedophilia organisation that was told to disband by the court as well, so apparently even the legal system struggles with these issues.
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