I have to write an 8,000-word essay for Jurisprudence which will constitute 50% of my grade (the other 50% is - drum roll - exam! Yay!), and I am supposed to come up with a topic by the end of term, which is effectively the end of next week.
I don't have a topic. I don't what to write about. I'm thinking of writing about the prohibition on torture and relate it to Kant, who keeps getting quoted when academics make their case for an absolute prohibition on torture, but the problem is that there is so much academic material on this issue that I really doubt I would have anything new or original to add to the fray. I'm also considering writing about free speech, Habermas and his discourse theory, the Satanic Verses controversy, and blasphemy - problem is, I'm not familiar enough with Habermas' theory to find an appropriate angle, and the main reason I want to do this is because I love the novel. Yeah, that's not a very good reason, I think.
Habermas is a tricky person to deal with. On the one hand, I find that his theory rests a lot on the rationality of the participants in the public discourse - namely, that they are actually intelligent enough to frame their arguments in a rational, reasoned manner. Clearly, because I'm a snob and an elitist, I cannot agree with this assumption because most people are, simply put, pretty stupid. Look at "debates" on the Internet - there's so much thoughtless crap posted online that it's hard to fathom how a real life public discourse would differ very much from that if everyone got to participate as such in real life.
On the other hand, I am really attracted to the idea which I believe is central to his discourse theory, that whenever a person makes an utterance, he is implicitly asserting the validity of his claim; and so he necessarily undertakes to justify those claims if challenged by others. According to Habermas, the process of communication would eventually enable two parties to a disagreement to come to some sort of a consensus - assuming, of course, that both parties are rational, and that only the better argument should prevail. He somehow extrapolates this idea to the "public sphere" and develops a discourse theory relating to democracy, which I can't really explain because I don't fully understand it; but I think the gist of it is that the validity of norms (he makes a distinction between moral norms and legal norms but that's too complex for me right now) depends on whether all affected by it can freely accept the consequences of the general observance of the norm. The test of this is his democratic principle - whether all citizens have participated in the process that generated these norms.
I remember making a note about Habermas and the freedom of speech when I sat in one of the three seminars on Habermas. The ideal of the public sphere where rational people exchange their views in a rational manner in order to come up with laws/norms/etc is quite similar to the marketplace of ideas free speech theory that is prominent in the American First Amendment jurisprudence, namely, everything is protected by the freedom of speech save for a few categories of speech (defamation, obscenity, and I forgot the rest). The obvious distinction between the two constructs is that the Habermasian ideal of the public sphere probably does not envisage the participation of hate speech, or anything that does not constitute rational discourse; but still, the very idea of a public sphere in which participants freely express their views on certain issues in order to reach a consensus is freedom of speech.
Apart from how I think the Satanic Verses is one of the best books ever written in the English language, the whole controversy that arose from the publication of the book raises rather interesting questions about freedom of expression in modern, pluralistic democracies. I'm not so much interested in the reaction in the Islamic world because I don't think that can be justified at all on rational grounds (anything motivated by religion is not rational); what I'm more interested in is the responses of governments in liberal democracies to the furore that it caused - the extent to which freedom of speech can or cannot be limited in a society where the exercise of that freedom causes prima facie harm to its minority population; the extent to which a writer or a speaker should be censored to protect the religious feelings a group of people; whether banning a controversial book is justifiable just because it deeply offends certain people (obviously, I think the answer is no); and of course, the tension between blasphemy and free speech.
It's all very interesting and I would happily do research into the controversy because the book is so fucking awesome; but I don't know how to relate it to the Habermas thing. It seems that an application of his theory as I understand it would lead to the conclusion that freedom of speech has to be limited in the context of controversies such as the Satanic Verses, because I can't see how the open sale of this book would be an acceptable consequence to those that strongly oppose it. On the other hand, if we drop 'consensus' and substitute it with 'reasonableness', it might lead to a different conclusion - that open sale would be a reasonable outcome because those that oppose it can simply ignore it; no one is forcing to read it.
Another route that I could take is to point out the problems with Habermas' discourse theory and maybe talk about the tension between the conditions for democratic legitimacy (everyone has to participate in order for laws to be legitimate, including Muslims offended by a book they've never read) and the exercise and protection of freedom of speech.
Truth be told, I have no idea what the fuck I'm saying at all. I seem to be confusing concepts...if the public sphere is an idealisation of free speech as I seem to think it is, how the hell can it be said to limit free speech...?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?
I think I really need to see my professor sometime soon. It really sucks that her extra office hours are like, during my Terrorism class on Thursday. SIGH.
In other news, the weather has been so horrid lately. Last week saw a few days of warmth (read: temperature ranging betwen 8 degrees C and 15 degrees C; to me, anything above 5 degrees is warm these days) which made me hopeful that the winter is about to pass, but the temperate has plummeted again over the past few days. As if walking around in 0 to 3 degrees weather isn't bad enough, I have to deal with the massively strong winds that are fucking frigid and cold as fuck. I cannot begin to describe how it feels when I'm walking down the street with my coat wrapped tightly around me for warmth and out of nowhere, a strong gust of wind blows what feels like ice into my face and it's so strong that I almost lose my balance. Last night, I heard the wind raging against my window for the entire night. It was that bad.
Hopefully it gets better. The good thing about the weather in London is that it gets cold, but not too cold; even when it randomly snowed on Monday it lasted for a really short while and it wasn't too heavy. The other good thing is that the shit storm typically lasts a few days, then passes. Apparently the strong gusty winds are supposed to disappear tomorrow and wow, I really hope that BBC Weather is right on this one.
I had to read an article by some Singaporean government lackey on "Asian values" for International Human Rights Law class and it made me really angry. It made me so angry that I actually contributed in class today - I said that the writer was patronising towards those that he was criticising (hypocritical Western countries) and towards Asians too. This Asian values shit - seriously, I don't even want to get started on how retarded it is because it's 20 minutes to 1 a.m. and I haven't showered, haven't finished my readings, and I have to get on with my life, and talking about this crap argument is simply not worth my time.