Free speech and hate speech.

  1. jacob_99
    I want 1st Amendment nuts like @ggreenwald to say they defend the legal chanting of, say, the N word at a black soccer player by 60k fans
    Fri, Jul 27 2012 08:22:16
  2. ggreenwald
    @jacob_99 Try to have someone slowly explain to you the difference between agreeing with a view & opposing its suppression by the state
    Fri, Jul 27 2012 11:00:08
  3. jacob_99
    @ggreenwald Please. Not accusing you of racism. Hence my saying *legal* defence. 1/2
    Fri, Jul 27 2012 11:03:20
  4. jacob_99
    @ggreenwald I’m just incredulous that you don’t hesitate in defending speech like ‘no blacks welcome’ signs outside restaurants.
    Fri, Jul 27 2012 11:05:20
  5. ggreenwald
    @jacob_99 You have no idea what you’re talking about – it’s illegal for businesses to refuse to serve people based on race
    Fri, Jul 27 2012 11:08:00
  6. ggreenwald
    @jacob_99 You are complete ignorant on the topic about which you’re didactically opining – not wrong: totally igorant.
    Fri, Jul 27 2012 11:08:48
  7. jacob_99
    @ggreenwald So disparaging. The hypothetical sign doesn’t say ‘will be refused service’. It says ‘not welcome’. It strikes a tone you defend
    Fri, Jul 27 2012 11:10:04
  8. ggreenwald
    @jacob_99 There’s zero question that’s illegal. To help you along, this is my view of free speech
    Fri, Jul 27 2012 11:16:54
  9. jacob_99
    @ggreenwald But it doesn’t refuse service, just expresses hate. “No blacks welcome”. So why should it be illegal on your view?
    Fri, Jul 27 2012 11:21:10
  10. jacob_99
    @ggreenwald And if you just want to snarl again and uncharitably assume I’m making basic fallacies, forget it. Expected more from you.
    Fri, Jul 27 2012 11:21:53
  11. ggreenwald
    @jacob_99 It’s the equivalent, like putting “Jews not welcome” in an employment ad – it’s not just an “opinion”- it’s a hiring act
    Fri, Jul 27 2012 11:25:03
  12. ggreenwald
    @jacob_99 And I acknowledge I have little respect for the desire to have the state punish people for opinions you dislike
    Fri, Jul 27 2012 11:27:54
  13. jacob_99
    @ggreenwald Ditto 2 those who deny from outset the possibility of distinguishing offensive and dignity-attacking speech
    Fri, Jul 27 2012 11:33:16
  14. jacob_99
    @ggreenwald I was hoping for the sensitivity to realise pol theorists are torn on this Q without automatically being authoritarian nuts.
    Fri, Jul 27 2012 11:37:37
  15. ggreenwald
    @jacob_99 I don’t agree that people can want the state to criminalize views they dislike without being authoritarian nuts
    Fri, Jul 27 2012 11:44:40
  16. jacob_99
    @ggreenwald Sigh. Okay. I give up. I’ll add Jeremy Waldron to Totalitarian Watch. But if you open up, do give his new book a damn chance.
    Fri, Jul 27 2012 11:46:27

The link that Greenwald was sharing in his column, and pushes once more in this exchange, sends us to the details of an ACLU case which he tells us is representative of his approach to free speech:

In 1978, the ACLU took a controversial stand for free speech by defending a neo-Nazi group that wanted to march through the Chicago suburb of Skokie , where many Holocaust survivors lived. The notoriety of the case caused some ACLU members to resign, but to many others the case has come to represent the ACLU’s unwavering commitment to principle.

It was this sort of thing that riled me, much more than his stance on the Chick-Fil-A saga that the column more directly concerns. In fact, I think Greenwald’s stance on the latter is spot on. But there is, I believe, a large step between defending the right of a corporation’s chief to publicly oppose same sex marriage and supporting the right of racists to manufacture the most overtly hostile of social environments.

And it’s not that I think the correct stance to take on this issue is obvious. Far from it. I am deeply torn and undecided myself. But what I objected to was the cocksure attitude of Greenwald; the alleged certainty that free speech means banning nothing, and anyone sensitive to concerns about the impact of hate speech is necessarily in bed with Stalin. That sort of attitude, it seems to me, reflects precisely the lack of intellectual openness and sympathy that Greenwald so often in other contexts rightly attacks.

Whether as a society, in the name of liberty, we should allow bigots to distribute literature leaving victimised groups feeling inferior, is a dilemma begging for humility. It’s easy to caricature it as an example of imprisoning people for saying things some people trivially ‘dislike’. But when we know speech has historically been used to systematically force upon people the perception that they constitute a subhuman underclass, the debate feels somewhat deeper than that.

But not according to Greenwald. As I live in a country that criminalises hate speech, I definitely suffer an injustice and sit under a semi-tyrannical state. To question that is to invite insult. The case should be cut and closed.

In which case, as I wrote initially, I want him and all the other devout First Amendment lovers to write the words: “I believe the government has no role in stopping people putting signs outside their shops saying ‘We hate Jews’, and I believe sports fans should be allowed to shout racist chants at black players throughout games.” That is a difficult but defensible conclusion following from some basic and reasonable philosophical premises. But if you think that bullet should ultimately be bitten then you should bite it openly, uncloaked, certainly not hidden between your lines.


5 thoughts on “Free speech and hate speech.

  1. I will unabashedly advocate the entirely justifiable first half of the “defensible conclusion” to which you allude at the end of your thinking-out-loud rant about a subject for which you admittedly have no firm grasp: “I believe the government has no role in stopping people putting signs outside their shops.”

    As to the other half (“I believe sports fans should be allowed to shout racist chants at black players throughout games”), this strays from the philosophical and logical underpinnings that make the first half of the statement- as you correctly describe it- a “defensible conclusion.”

    To see why the first half is indeed the “defensible conclusion” you rightly claim it is, and to understand the distinction from the 2nd half- which is not- I won’t attempt to reinvent the wheel; I think it is explained quite succinctly and effectively here:

    And as an aside, I gather (quite evidently) that your educational background in philosophy did not include a study of the Ethics of Liberty to which I have directed you for further explication on this particular subject.

    I trust you will find it highly relevant and stimulating at a minimum, if not agreeable to your visceral instinct…

    … should you choose to consider it in its entirety.

  2. Also, in fairness, I’ve responded to GG on twitter to ask him to clarify his position as well. At once he states: “I don’t agree that people can want the state to criminalize views they dislike without being authoritarian nuts”; to which I replied:

    “but GG you cite laws in defense of your pstn that criminalize views that ‘auth nuts’ obviously disliked. pls clarify.”

    The inherent hypocrisy of his position is self-evident and can’t be reconciled without contradiction at a philosophical level.

    • Glenn’s not speaking to power if he uses the word, “nut”. If you care to register a philosophy grade IQ, I’m sure he’d make it rigorous.

  3. Pingback: Speech and Liberty « Jon Robinson

  4. “But when we know speech has historically been used to systematically force upon people the perception that they constitute a subhuman underclass, the debate feels somewhat deeper than that.”

    I don’t think anyone honestly objects to this fact; it is positively unassailable that speech has been used to that effect in the past. But the question is, as it has always been: does that mean it is wise for the government to restrict such hate speech (however that is defined)? Two general objections are made in saying no:

    (1) Regardless of some elusive ideal, in practice, such laws frequently lead to a slippery slope of what is considered “hate speech,” restricting speech further and further. Although proponents of hate speech laws are well-intentioned, such laws gradually (and perhaps even inevitably) lead to harmful censorship of ideas which are “politically incorrect.” For many, the threat of this harm outweighs the harm done by hate speech, and justifiably so.

    (2) In the West (or, at least, in the United States), “the marketplace of ideas” has already been incredibly successful in marginalizing hate speech. Someone who distributes pamphlets saying “I hate Jews” will get far more social disapproval today than they would have 50 years ago. Rather than criminalizing that person’s speech, American society has evolved to socially disapprove that speech, negating the need for relevant legislation.

    To me, it say a lot about America that various kinds of hate speech has been increasingly marginalized, creating a more inclusive society, all without the need for hate speech laws. A KKK member’s rhetoric is no longer considered mainstream, and unlike in the past, is pretty much ignored. There is no reason to believe that this process of hate speech-marginalization won’t continue, further undermining the pressing need for such laws.

    So, even though I do not disagree that hate speech has been used in the past in the way you describe, I nonetheless have no problem “biting the bullet” that you mention. I also have no problem being a “devout First Amendment lover,” even though I am opposed hate speech; I simply do not think it is wise to criminalize such speech.

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