Shut up, they say

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - Bradley R. Gitz Free­lance colum­nist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, re­ceived his Ph.D. in po­lit­i­cal science from the Univer­sity of Illi­nois.

Let’s get the most im­por­tant point out of the way first—the very con­cept of “hate speech” is more dan­ger­ous than any of the speech that might be clas­si­fied as such.

As of­fen­sive as cer­tain racist and big­oted speech might be, the grow­ing left­ist call to pro­hibit it threat­ens the foun­da­tional prin­ci­ple upon which the American project is built—in­di­vid­ual lib­erty, in­clud­ing that cru­cial com­po­nent thereof called free­dom of speech and ex­pres­sion. The pur­ported cure (pro­hi­bi­tion of hate speech) is vastly worse than the disease (the con­tent and al­leged ef­fects of such speech).

A per­ni­cious ar­gu­ment is made that we must re­treat from our com­mit­ment to free speech be­cause “vul­ner­a­ble” groups must be shielded from its ef­fects, as if they are del­i­cate flow­ers that need tend­ing. This at­ti­tude is more of­fen­sive than any­thing racists might ac­tu­ally say, con­tain­ing as it does as­sump­tions of mi­nor­ity and gen­der in­fe­ri­or­ity and thus the need for spe­cial pro­tec­tions and in­su­la­tion.

Lib­er­als who seek to sup­press speech that “peo­ple of color” might con­ceiv­ably be of­fended by thereby end up in­flict­ing more dam­age to the self-im­age and self-re­spect of peo­ple of color than any­one wear­ing a white sheet with a pointy hat can.

The hate-speech con­cept, and the pres­sures it is now plac­ing upon the prin­ci­ple of free speech, flows log­i­cally from the an­tecedent no­tion of “hate crimes,” the per­ni­cious idea that some­one’s po­lit­i­cal views should be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion when sen­tenc­ing them for vi­o­la­tions of the law. Within this con­text, the move­ment to pro­hibit cer­tain forms of nox­ious speech rep­re­sents a fur­ther ex­ten­sion of ef­forts to en­trench po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness in our le­gal codes at the ex­pense of in­di­vid­ual lib­erty.

Lost in all of this tends to be the cru­cial ques­tions re­gard­ing pro­posed pro­hi­bi­tions on of­fen­sive speech, even ca­sual con­sid­er­a­tion of which should be dis­cred­it­ing—who de­fines it and on what ba­sis?

There are few more dan­ger­ous ideas than that the gov­ern­ment should get to define what con­sti­tutes un­ac­cept­able speech and then pros­e­cute those who ut­ter or write things that might meet that in­evitably hazy def­i­ni­tion. In­deed, we have that thing called the First Amend­ment pre­cisely to pre­vent such a gov­ern­men­tal role.

What might con­sti­tute hate speech is also en­tirely in the eye of the be­holder, a purely sub­jec­tive con­cep­tion that can be nar­rowed or ex­panded to pro­hibit any ideas par­tic­u­lar peo­ple or groups might not like. Ef­forts to pro­hibit it would pro­gres­sively con­strict public dis­course by grant­ing a veto to any­one who ob­jects to any­thing some­one else might say or write.

As the most hy­per­sen­si­tive among us are granted such veto power, self-cen­sor­ship (the “chill­ing ef­fect”) spreads and un­cer­tainty over what can and can’t be safely said grows ac­cord­ingly, with free­dom of ex­pres­sion di­min­ished in both prac­tice and prin­ci­ple.

Those claim­ing we must bal­ance free-speech rights with pro­tec­tion from nox­ious speech for cer­tain groups for­get that we all have a con­sti­tu­tional right to free speech but no one has a right not to be of­fended (nor would it be log­i­cally pos­si­ble to con­struct such a right, even if we wanted to, given that the only ev­i­dence of a speech crime would be the claim that some­thing some­one said “hurt my feel­ings”).

On col­lege cam­puses, where the move­ment to ban hate speech is pre­dictably most en­er­getic, the sup­pres­sion of con­ser­va­tive ideas is based on the con­fla­tion of hate speech and con­ser­vatism. Dare, for in­stance, to crit­i­cize racial pref­er­ences, ques­tion any as­pect of global warm­ing the­ory, or re­sist any of the de­mands of the LGBT com­mu­nity and you can be ac­cused of hate speech. De­fend­ing in­di­vid­ual lib­erty or cap­i­tal­ism as an eco­nomic sys­tem or the glo­ries of west­ern civ­i­liza­tion can also put you in the dock.

Even sup­port­ing the idea of free speech has come to be viewed as a form of hate speech in many such places.

It is not dif­fi­cult to see where all this leads, and why American col­lege cam­puses are becoming per­haps the most to­tal­i­tar­ian places on earth out­side of Py­ongyang. And it is, of course, but a tiny step from re­defin­ing non-left­ist ideas as hate speech to ac­tively co­erc­ing speech on be­half of the lat­est rad­i­cal left en­thu­si­asms (which in­vari­ably de­pend for ac­cep­tance upon lim­it­ing scru­tiny and crit­i­cism).

As hard as it might be to be­lieve, there was once a time when the “ab­so­lutist” po­si­tion to­ward free­dom of speech now de­nounced by leftists was proudly em­braced by all good lib­er­als, of­ten in sharp con­trast to moral­is­tic con­ser­va­tives seek­ing to sup­press “im­moral” con­tent (like pornog­ra­phy), re­li­gious here­sies (like the teach­ing of evo­lu­tion), and sub­ver­sive po­lit­i­cal ideas (like Marx­ism).

How things have changed, as con­ser­va­tives are now forced to take up the in­creas­ingly lonely de­fense of free­dom of speech in the face of left­ist at­tempts to erode it. We are, in short, a long way from Berke­ley and the “free speech” move­ment.

There is an ugly se­quence (and broader plan) at work here: Re­de­fine any speech the left dis­agrees with as hate, sup­press such speech and pun­ish the speak­ers on such grounds, and thereby re­lieve the left of the bur­den of hav­ing to de­fend its po­si­tions with logic and facts.

And the best part: You can call any speech that blows the whis­tle on what is hap­pen­ing “hate speech” too.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.