Arrest of gamers: an alarming threat to individual freedom

As long as one’s actions do not harm others or violate any particular law, one should be allowed to form one’s own opinion and live one’s life according to one’s own wishes. VISUAL: STAR

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As long as one’s actions do not harm others or violate any particular law, one should be allowed to form one’s own opinion and live one’s life according to one’s own wishes. VISUAL: STAR

The recent arrest of over 100 youths in Chuadanga has highlighted a problematic trend in our police forces. Those arrested were arrested for participating in a PUBG (online game) tournament. The High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh (HC) has ordered the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) to shut down some online games which it considers to be destructive and harmful to young people. Specifically, on August 16, 2021, the HC issued an Interim Order to ban all internet links/gateways to PUBG. The HC order was directed at the BTRC, not the general people of Bangladesh. According to media reports, the BTRC attempted to comply with this order. The above is provided to provide context for further discussion. This article does not deal with the legality of the police action. He certainly has no intention of discussing the merits of the ongoing litigation. Instead, this play is about the fatherly role taken by our police force, and its moral and political legitimacy. Essentially, the growing practice of state paternalism in Bangladesh is very alarming.

State paternalism is the practice of the state using its coercive power to compel an individual to do something or to refrain from doing something, against their will, with the assertion that the state sees to their most great interest (like the demands of parents in general) . In a liberal state, this paternalism is acceptable, but to a minimal extent (if at all), because it seriously undermines individual freedom. It is important to note that state paternalism differs from the harm principle, according to which the limitation of freedom is justified only when it is done to avoid harm to others. In this context, “freedom” means the right of an individual to act as he sees fit. For example, the state forcing its young people to have their hair cut a certain way to make them look “softer” would be a paternalistic action, since the state claims to know more about welfare. young people than the young people themselves. The state creating a law prohibiting the violation of people’s bodily integrity would be more consistent with the principle of no harm.

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In a liberal state, we expect the state not to tell us how to live a good life. It is not the responsibility of the state (or anything in its power) to decide what the definition of a “good life” should be. On the contrary, the state must create a social environment of good governance where one can freely pursue his vision of a good life. By exercising paternalism, the state arbitrarily sets a standard for the good life. In a modern complex state, people’s standards of morality differ greatly, and it would be illiberal to favor one standard of morality over the others. Further, as Lon L Fuller rightly argued, the morality of duty (the minimum morality we expect of our fellow citizens) can be enforced by legal coercion, but not the morality of aspiration (morality of excellence/of perfection). For example, you can enforce the duty not to steal by legal compulsion, but not the duty to aspire to be a good person.

Now, if we look at recent events, the justification for the police to arrest online gamers, it seems, was that these games are destroying the morals of the youth. Here, the police, as an institution executing an affair of the state, use coercive power to impose their version of morality on young people. In doing so, they decide what a “good life” would be for young people and what kind of life they should aspire to achieve. Not only do the police act according to their own policy, but the foundation of such a policy rests on a subjective moral standard. We observed similar situations when police forces in several districts forced their local youths to have their hair cut.

A liberal state must respect individual agency as long as it does not harm others. To live in society, we voluntarily sacrifice some of our freedoms as part of our social contract with the state and with our fellow citizens, as long as we deem them justified. As long as one’s actions do not harm others or violate any particular law, one should be allowed to form one’s own opinion and live one’s life according to one’s own wishes. As Jeremy Waldron rightly noted, our dignity demands that our decision-making capacity be taken seriously and that we be recognized as having the capacity to regulate our actions in accordance with our own understanding of norms and reasons.

Nafiz Ahmed is a lecturer in the Department of Law at North-South University. Email: [email protected]