Is Responsibility Talk Responsible Anymore?

There are times when irresponsible speech is made behind the fragile protection of anonymity of which no one is truly assured. There are also times when irresponsible speech is made under the sturdy shelter of excessive state power, which assures protection for the sheltered until it is demolished with much difficulty.


In a discursive space characterized by excessive state power, to campaign against anonymity under the pretext of encouraging responsibility (while failing to consider if some supposedly anonymous individuals are perfectly responsible and failing to wonder what constitutes responsibility to begin with) is often to attack anonymous irresponsibility while turning a blind eye to its state-endorsed counterpart (which, ironically, could also be employing anonymity too). This is in itself either a heinous act of irresponsibility or an act of astounding stupidity.


In the first place, a nebulous degree of irresponsibility is inevitable, if lamentable, assuming that the freedom of speech is to be protected. This is simply because no one can presume to draw clear lines between what is responsible and what is not. Clearly, if an irresponsible person out there earnestly advocates the bombing of a building, it calls for legal action to be taken against the person. On the other hand, if someone (irresponsibly) calls you an overprivileged prick that ought to be amputated from the institutions that have bestowed you your privileges, you can try to silence him and inadvertently prove him correct.


But this obsession with responsibility is itself disturbing. Why this persistent use of state-disseminated terms of discourse?


To begin with, why is it that a country known for its lack of respect for free expression has more discussions about responsibility in speech than about how to expand and protect the freedom of speech? It seems ironic. Or perhaps not. After all, it is precisely the power omnipresent in a political climate averse to free speech that produces its own justifications, that generates spurious standards by which it will be normalized or even necessitated.


This is not to say that all talk of responsibility is merely hegemonic and irrelevant. It is potent and dangerous because it is relevant. Expecting those who speak to be responsible is reasonable enough in itself. Nevertheless, if we allow our worldview to be framed solely by such concepts as responsibility without recognizing their origins and their limits, if we persist in circulating and imposing them on others without interrogating their insidious effects, we will end up being unwitting agents of power.


In other words, the problems in the rhetorical call for responsibility in speech does not (at least not always) justify wanton irresponsibility. To attempt to be subversive in such a manner is rather myopic, if not uncannily easy. After all, to repeatedly make irresponsible speeches is also to allow the calls for responsible speech to proliferate, to be justified, to be perpetuated. Instead of challenging the power dynamics of a country, such acts contribute to their longevity.


Furthermore, the quality of public discourse is often only as strong as its weakest link. The oppressive state actually benefits from a promotion of public discourse that is kept banal as possible; any apparent subversiveness in banality is likely to be tolerated as a result. Unfortunately, certain socio-political sites that have come to be taken by some as the benchmark of radicalism have fallen into the trap of committing serial banality, such as by breeding xenophobia through unbridled sensationalism, hoping to push the boundaries of discourse. This sense of being politically subversive without really being so perfectly represents the way hegemony incorporates into itself elements that appear dramatically contrary to itself so that no one really has to see beyond it. Indeed, boundaries are often pushed by the aforementioned faux radicalism, but what’s the point of pushing the boundaries of a two-dimensional square and remaining forever trapped on a piece of paper? Why not make it a three-dimensional cube?


But people are generally more conditioned by the state than they would like to acknowledge. Between the misery of being aware of how overdetermined one is and the dubious comfort of forever stretching out two-dimensionally, it is easier to stick with the latter. Perhaps this very laziness to even reckon with the potential of a multi-dimensional space has been successfully built into all but the least fortunate of us.

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