Wednesday, April 11, 2007

When blogging becomes a 'privilege'

Expanded from its previous form.

When a word ceases to be a term of description and becomes merely a term of praise, it no longer tells you facts about the object: it only tells you about the speaker's attitude to that object. -- C.S. Lewis

“Perhaps it does not mean what you think it means?” --Inigo Montoya

When Yuga said that "blogging is a privilege," I can quite understand what he meant. He was using the word "privilege" in a loose sense, perhaps as a term of praise for what he perceives to be an elite class.

But that is not its only meaning. And therein lies the problem.

In logic, it would be called a fallacy of equivocation. How and why? Because in the course of his statement, the word "privilege" is ultimately used in more than one sense.

Privilege, in its original sense, is a legal concept. Its etymology can be traced to "private law", that is, "a special right or immunity granted by a government to a restricted group, either by birth or on a conditional basis."

But all throughout his arguments, Yuga uses "privilege" to mean "economically advantaged." But "right" on the other hand, is understood in the sense of a legal or moral entitlement. And so we end up with a confusing proposition. Economic capacity on one hand, and a legal framework on the other.

If Yuga meant "blogging is only for those who can afford it" -- then there would have been little argument. Of course! It's no longer a matter of right or privilege but justice: in order to avail of a service, you pay for it. Not blogging per se, but all the other services that make it possible.

If Yuga meant "blogging is only for those who have time to write" -- then we start spinning around a tautology. In effect, it's saying, "writing is only for those who have time to write." It's just plain silly.

If Yuga meant "blogging is only for the rich and the middle class; it is not for the poor" -- well, now here is where I would have beef with him. I'm fairly certain many others would, too.

Why spend all this time and effort dissecting a seemingly innocuous statement? Because, in the first place, it's wrong in so many ways. Because, as "the country's most popular blogger", what Yuga says has weight...and he should know better. But mainly because, when you introduce the idea of blogging-as-privilege, it opens the doors for the legal interpretation...and that's something that's truly dangerous.

What happens when you apply the concept of "privilege" to blogging?

In Malaysia, ministers are in a fresh attack on bloggers:

Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin said bloggers should not be exempt from the same controls as the mainstream media.... Zainuddin also supported a proposal by deputy communications minister Shaziman Abu Mansor, who on Wednesday suggested bloggers be registered.

In China, the government wants to tighten control over blogging:

The Chinese Government already goes to great lengths in censoring what their bloggers publish, with bloggers currently subject to three layers of censorship...initial software generated/imposed censorship based on prohibited words, a second layer performed by a special team of censorship editors who read all blogs posts and delete offensive content that the software missed, and a third layer which in controlled by internet police officers....

When an esteemed entity like the government deigns to give you the legal permission to publish your blog, that is "privilege." Truly.