The Problem with Hate Speech

My friend Kathy Shaidle has recently posted a no-holds-barred article on the disaster of “hate speech” legislation, focussing on a proposed Liberal bill to punish “anti-transgender speech” by up to two years in prison. She reminds us that such totalitarian interventions into a presumably democratic society are by no means unique to Canada. As she writes, “bear in mind that New York state, for one, already has similar laws on the books, and they carry fines of up to $250,000. And [an] Oregon 'transmasculine' teacher got $60,000 because her colleagues wouldn’t refer to ‘it’ as ‘they.’”

The notion of “hate speech” has begun to infect an entire culture quivering under the aegis of political correctness, with the result that multitudes of subjects are increasingly off limits. But are there not things in this world that are truly hate-worthy? Should we not hate a racially supremacist ideology like Nazism or a totalitarian philosophy like Communism? Should we not hate individuals like Hitler or Haj Amin al-Husseini or Stalin or Pol Pot or Mao or Che Guevara or any mass murderer who comes to mind? Should we not hate tyrants who subjugate entire populations? Should we rather pity or love or labor to make excuses for those who blow up buildings and massacre thousands of ordinary citizens going about their daily lives? Are such movements and people not genuinely hateful? And is there not, as the Preacher exhorts, “A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak?”

When we observe pervasive cultural trends which are based on demonstrable falsehoods, like the global warming boondoggle or the feminist distortion of sound tradition and common sense or the epidemic of dodgy rape claims in a gynolatric culture or the Middle East Studies flagrant revisions of the historical archive or the politicization of the educational system as occurred in the Germany of the 1930s, is this not “a time to speak”?

If we are dismayed by the concerted attack on biological reality that leads to grotesque bodily mutilations and social policies that favor violations of the natural order while stigmatizing the skeptical and, as Robert Reilly cogently argues, promoting “the substitution of pure will as the means for unshackling us from what we are as given,” should we not be permitted to voice our outrage or express our beliefs, however unseasonable? If we object to the “slaughter of the innocents,” aka pro-choice abortion, which has given us the atrocities of Planned Parenthood’s craniotomies-for-profit, why should a free society not allow for debate and discussion?

Why should morally responsible convictions be tarred as “hate speech” and become socially rebarbative or even prohibited by law? It is the very essence of what we are as human beings that will have been rendered offensive or repugnant—a shrivelling of the self that is the signet of despotic societies everywhere. Indeed, where does “hate” enter into the equation? Or if we insist that it does, why should those on the side of repression not be equally accused of “hate speech” or, for that matter, outright hatred against those whom they would ostracize or imprison?

The term “hate speech” is like a kind of verbal spandex taken off the rack that can stretch to fit any intended wearer. If I should make a joke of the inherently preposterous identity category of transgenderism and refer to it as “transJennerism,” would I be liable to prosecution under Canada’s tendered Bill C-16? It’s not beyond the realm of possibility. “Hate speech” has come to mean anything one wants it to mean, just as “sexual assault” in the repuritanized West may encompass nothing more than a flirtatious look or compliment. The notion of “hate speech” is a convenient, multi-purpose strategy for silencing opposition to the shibboleths of our current political and cultural mandarins, subjecting us to what French philosopher Gilles Deleuze dubbed the “microfascism of the avant-garde.” In the last analysis, it is the broad and malleable concept of “hate speech” itself, which has developed into a license to abuse, that is hateful.

If, as the Preacher tells us, there is a time to every purpose under the heaven, then there is also a time for clarification, and the muddle created by the theory and practice of “hate speech” is no exception. The following points should be obvious.

  1. The feeling of hatred is a human attribute as basic as love; it is an emotion that cannot be vaporized out of existence, and which the human mind can subtly manipulate to pass off as a form of love, in the way that an Inquisitor could burn a human being at the stake into order to cauterize his soul for his own eternal benefit. But neither hate nor love nor their various mutations are reified entities; they are ingrained constituents of the human psyche. One can introspect and adjust, but one cannot abolish.

  1. The border between speech and action is admittedly grey and permeable, but speech and action are nevertheless distinct dimensions of human life. Overt incitement to actual violence and direct and unequivocal calls to commit murder—as, for example, we find embedded in the Islamic scriptures—can and should be monitored and curtailed, but they must be explicit and undeniable. Otherwise, curtailment is a breach of the principle of freedom of expression. The physical manifestations of hate—from physical bullying to terror attacks—are another question. They are legitimately punishable and should be rigorously policed.

  1. “Hate speech” is an elastic concept and subject to the vagaries of interpretation. Almost anything can be called “hate speech” by parties interested in pursuing a political or religious agenda, thus shrinking the territory of freedom of expression, criminalizing verbal behavior once considered legal or unexceptional, and eradicating independent thought. Hate itself, as we have noted, is a natural human emotion. This does not make it laudable, only inevitable. Those who seek to criminalize what they view as “hate speech” obviously hate those whom they wish to fine, imprison or destroy.

A culture that has lost the ability to distinguish between what is truly hateful and what is justly objectionable, what is plainly vile and what is reasonably debatable, is a culture no longer worth preserving or defending. It will only compound its degenerative power by what free market conservative and Thatcher ally Keith Joseph called the “ratchet effect,” whereby the state is rewarded for its failures by the accrual of ever greater power. Were it only possible, one would be inclined to retire from the scene, cultivate one’s own garden, as did Candide, and let the culture collapse of its own sickly weight. Unfortunately, the garden would be laid waste with it. “Hate speech” often comes for those who are not hateful but merely sensible.

The consequence of our progressivist momentum toward the suppression of normative speech and unfettered thought is not unlike the “perfect” communities described in much dystopian fiction. As Morris Berman puts it in The Twilight of American Culture, in such sterile conditions “we have a mass society that has lost all genuine diversity and individualism,” resembling “a large mental hospital with everyone required to take a daily dose of tranquilizers and wear bracelet IDs.” This ensures, he continues, “that any creative or independent thinking stays deeply repressed.” Such appears to be our destination.

Writing in American Thinker with regard to the transgender phenomenon, Deborah Tyler remarks that the “sinister campaign” that would have us “believe that new genders, like planets, are being discovered all the time…mentally enslaves a formerly free people, and the malapropism ‘transgender’ is a leap forward in that campaign.” Kathy Shaidle would unapologetically concur. “I have no defense,” she says of her potentially criminal "hate speech," “I don’t even want one.” Her public defiance of a smug and repressive political culture contrasts starkly with the attitude of the fellow travelers among us—the abettors, the self-deluded, the timid, the tribe of bromidic intellectuals, the safe-spacers. Come and get me is her dare to the real hatemongers and their morally supine appendages.

Shaidle is writing specifically about society’s embrace of transgenderism and the legal crusade against dissenters, but the issue, implicit in her contestation, is larger than that. In subscribing, really or apparently, to the prudish and pharisaic mores of the time, have we secured an exemption from eventual persecution? More to the point, do we want to live in a society in which the government can arrest us at its discretion for our opinions, however neutral, moderate, abrasive or vehemently expressed?

If we do not speak our minds, or prefer to huddle under a canopy of pietistic complicity, as many do, we will awaken one day soon to find our freedom of expression even more severely compromised than it now is—or worse. Indeed, “microfascism” has a way of morphing into macrofascism. The upshot is that we will have reaped the bitter harvest of our cowardice, and an ironic form of justice will have been served.

(Artwork created using multiple Shutterstock.com images.)