It is not about the metaphors

I might be a little late, but I see the need to write this post after realizing that most people seem to have missed the main point over the true significance of the arrest of Mr. Abdul Malik after his Facebook comments about setting ministers on fire.

The most disturbing significance of the arrest is not that the government is flexing its muscle in cyberspace or launching a crackdown on the creative use of language. Rather, it is the fulfillment of an Orwellian prophecy that is truly the heart of the matter – the criminalization of thought-crime has started.

Consider this. The amount of conscious effort it takes for a thought to be made manifest in the written word, the oral utterance, and the pixilated letter differs; the former two are likelier to take more conscious effort than the last. Yes, many have at some point or another exclaimed a thought aloud thoughtlessly, or written a rambling piece in a stream-of-consciousness trance, but the last mode of expression is deserving of attention.

The pixilated letter assumes existence into our physical world almost at the instant when we think of its content. Man and machine has become so integrated that our brain and the keyboard seem to share a neural circuit, undifferentiable from how our brain is connected to our hand or tongue.

What is different is that unlike the traditional means of expression, there exists in the Internet a culture that exhorts and encourages us to type out our thoughts openly in little snippets as soon as it begins existence as a thought. That such a culture exists is no accident, for social net-working sites are always driving users to generate content which they can later commercialize.

In the same vein, the illusion that we are communicating with people we know breaks down our inhibitions. Everybody seems to know one another on the web, with mutual friends, common affiliations in beliefs and groupings… and these superficial connections create a culture in which we become comfortable to share our thoughts. The mind and the private and the public become conflated, with the result of prudent judgment being confused.

Back to Mr. Abdul Malik. It is never a crime to think about burning some ministers in the mind’s theatre, but it becomes a crime to express that thought, for that expression of intent is the first step towards a criminal act. The need for legal intervention has to start somewhere, and the law draws the line at the point of expression of intent – understanding this logic, this is why verbal threats, planning and conspiracies of criminal acts are criminal in themselves.

With the advent of the web, however, the gap between thought and thought expressed closes, and the meaningfulness of persecuting thought expressed in the form of inane comments on the web is in doubt.

What is not in doubt however, is that an infinitesimal step has been taken in the direction of an Orwellian future.