Barkha Dutt’s TV Show Last Sunday: Smoking in Films, by Actors, etc.

I planned writing on this topic but somehow could not find the time to. I will expand the writing some day, but here are the crucial points:

(i) First of all, my own position in the debate. I am for freedom of expression. That means, I am against censorship. Including the “live-saving” kind of murder of thought that Mr. Ambumani Ramadoss preaches.

(ii) Apart from stating my position, there indeed is little that I can add. In particular, I believe, I should not bother myself with Mr. Ramadoss. He is not going to change—he is hopeless, and telling him anything for the better would be like proving one’s own dumbness.

(iii) However, people like Rahul Bose and certain other gentlemen in the audience still are recoverable. I address my post to *them*.

Rahul Bose took the right side, but to a limited extent. He advocated free speech, and defended free will but only in the context of films. Not otherwise. Thus, he thought that actors, for example, should not smoke in public. He thus implied that their action in real life would have a definite bad influence. It is here that I wish to correct him (and others like him).

Mr. Bose, you have to accept free speech *in principle*. Two points. One, a concrete. Another, an abstract thought.

The concretes. In India, millions worship saints and godmen who smoke ganja. People ostensibly learn their ethics from them. Yet, can anybody point out a single example of a single soul taking even to just a beedi on the pretext that some saint smoked? (I mean seriously—not the jocular observations that smokers might offer in the defence of their habit. I mean to ask: Has someone took to smoking as an influence of a saint or a godman? Over all these centuries/millenia? …. On the contrary, thousands, if not millions, can be pointed out to have taken to meditation, or having given up meat, by way of purely indirect influence. But none picks up smoking by influence. Why?

The abstract thought. People like Mr. Bose (and Ms. Dutt) ought to note that it would be useless conducting such a debate or defending free speech without actually giving it away that there *is* some interaction in between films, actors, well known public figures on one hand, and the common man’s choices on the other. Often times, the defendents of free-speech vehemently deny any such interaction. But this is not true. There *is* that interaction.

But the nature of the interaction is such that free-will is still not violated.

It is important to understand the nature of the interaction. (And this is what is going to be lengthy and so, this is what I will write some other day.) What actually happens is this. There are ideas that people carry. Ideas and value judgments. Actors and others may or may not get these second-hand. But what they do (sometimes professionally, othertimes only in personal capacity) is to project those value judgments in a dramatic way. Note, the value judgments *already* exist with the common man (say, a teen-ager who is about to start smoking). What he sees externally is just a confirmation of what he *already* wanted, based on his freely made value judgments (which are often only implicit). What he sees is his own projection that is made real by the actor. But most people are not good in analyzing their mental states. So, it is possible that they end up naming the actor as “influence.” Actually, there is no “influence” in the sense that the magnetic force affects an iron object. There is no force involved.

People like Mr. Ramadoss get the nature of the interaction wrong—in fact, in reverse. They think that some sort of a flow of value judgments occurs from the actor (or the role model) to the teen-ager. But this is a metaphysical impossibility. Metaphysically speaking, the value judgements (right or wrong) must occur separately in each soul. Even if it is a second-hander’s soul, a judgment to the effect that smoking is desirable (say “cool,” or “great”) must be *dynamically* accepted by the teen-ager before he could act on it. So, people like Ramadoss get it wrong.

But the typical defenders of freedom of speech (who are absent in India—there are only defenders of “artistic freedom” here) *also* get the nature of the interaction wrong. These people think that no interaction at all occurs. But this is just as false.

I know I vaguely named the issue but am not precise. I will better this point sometime later on. But yes, there already are value judgements derived independently by each man, there is just a visible projection of it in films (or in real life by the actors–or by saints). Only when the value judgments match that people take to that action or form that habit. Not otherwise. It is for reason like these that it is dumb to blame actors for habits formed by the common man. (Or make it out as if actors were, at least morally speaking, murderers of millions of laymen, the way Mr. Ramadoss was busy throwing his weight about, in that TV show.) It is dumb.

I will improve all this writing point some time later on. (sigh!)