Shut up, they say

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.


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

Editorial on 07/17/2017


REV2018 says...

Brad Glitz, as usual, blaming "liberals".
Brad has blamed liberals for everything from the biblical Flood to trumps blind stupidity.

Are Brads columns becoming fake news???

Brads car was making a "funny" noise the other day - liberals.
Brads living room carpet is mussed - liberals.
Brads dog has fleas - liberals.
Brads column was printed slightly crooked(leaning just a smidge to the left) - liberals.
Brad spotted what appeared to be a UFO over Batesville the other day. Aliens? Nope, liberals.
Brad couldn't find a damn parking space at Walmart. You guessed it. Liberals.
Brad's computer crashed whilst he was blaming liberals. Huh-uh. Libs.
Indigestion? Liberals. Pimples? Libruls. Flat tire? Snowflakes. Solar flares? Libbys.
Keep up the good work Brad.
Brad Glitz - Empowering Liberals Daily.

Posted 17 July 2017, 3:02 p.m. Suggest removal

DoubleBlind says...

'Libruls'...hilarious; love it, Rev..thank you. Gitz: 'Git off my lawn, you dam libruls!'

Posted 17 July 2017, 11:56 p.m. Suggest removal

WhododueDiligence says...

"It is not difficult to see where all this leads, and why American colleges are becoming perhaps the most totalitarian places on earth outside of Pyongyang."
Pyongyang? With its torture of political prisoners? Not to mention other places of totalitarian political torture?
Evidently, Gitz loves to wildly exaggerate or he really, really hates American colleges. Or both.

Posted 18 July 2017, 7:46 a.m. Suggest removal

WhododueDiligence says...

Quote correction: "... American college campuses are becoming ..."

Posted 18 July 2017, 7:52 a.m. Suggest removal

WhododueDiligence says...

Maybe it's just the campuses which Gitz finds so awfully detestable, and maybe the ivory tower is still a mighty fine place.

Posted 18 July 2017, 7:59 a.m. Suggest removal

libertas2u says...

Colleges clearly have stopped teaching what fascism truly is. A fascist shuts down opposing thought and speech, take a look at the Brown Shirts of the German National Socialist Party as an example and corollary to the hooded thugs raging on our college campuses today..it's chilling.

Posted 18 July 2017, 8:37 a.m. Suggest removal

Delta123 says...

Dr. Gitz is spot on. And so far I don't read any actual cogent rebuttals to what the man wrote.

Posted 18 July 2017, 8:45 a.m. Suggest removal

WhododueDiligence says...

Delta, we'll have to agree to disagree. You believe Gitz is spot-on in his claim that college campuses are becoming more totalitarian than any places other than Pyongyang. I believe that's wildly inaccurate. I believe places controlled by ISIS and other terrorist organizations are a whole lot more totalitarian than any college campus. I believe authoritarian countries like Russia and China and Saudi Arabia and many others are more totalitarian and more controlling of speech through intimidation and harsh punishments than any college campus.

Posted 19 July 2017, 10:26 a.m. Suggest removal

WhododueDiligence says...

I believe it's a classic slippery-slope argument that American college campuses are sliding downhill toward the pits of Pyongyang at the bottom. I believe slippery-slope arguments are wrong because societies--especially free societies--find ways to avoid sliding into the hellish conditions typically portrayed in slippery-slope narratives . . . like Pyongyang, for crying out loud. I believe that the logical moderate choices available to societies to avoid sliding down the slippery slope are the reasons that slippery-slope arguments have been recognized as slippery-slope fallacies for many centuries.

Posted 19 July 2017, 10:48 a.m. Suggest removal

WhododueDiligence says...

On the other hand, it is undesirable and even dangerous for a society to prohibit hate speech. Gitz is correct about that. The ACLU has operated in large part on that principle since it originated in 1920. The Supreme Court has also largely agreed with that principle, at least in the post-war era of the last 70 years. It's important for hate speech and other forms of speech deemed undesirable to be freely debated in society and not pushed underground by prohibition to fester out of the national spotlight.
The problem is Gitz's tendency to grossly exaggerate and to blame liberals for anything and everything he doesn't like, a tendency which was amusingly illustrated by REV2018. The ACLU--which is generally considered a liberal organization--has an article "Speech on campus" on its website, explaining why hate speech is and should be allowed with certain narrow limitations. Its article "Freedom of Expression: ACLU Position Paper" more broadly discusses its support for First Amendment rights and related Supreme Court decisions. NPR--also considered a liberal organization--has an article "The ACLU Explains Why They're Supporting the Rights of Milo Yiannopoulos" on its website.
I don't doubt that there are some extreme leftists on college campuses and that Gitz and many others would find them objectionable. I would too if they're advocating extreme methods like censorship in prohibiting certain forms of speech they don't like. But that doesn't mean Gitz and other right-wing opinion columnists should go unchallenged in their tendency to see each and every one of America's societal problems as a wonderful opportunity to cast all the blame on liberals.

Posted 19 July 2017, 12:01 p.m. Suggest removal

Log in to comment