Wednesday, 8 August 2018

And this is why the anti-concept of "hate speech" was invented

"AN ANTI-CONCEPT IS AN an artificial, unnecessary and rationally unusable term designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concept." Indeed, that's generally why the anti-concept was witch-doctored up in the first place -- to dismiss ideas without even allowing them a hearing.

So-called "hate speech" is an anti-concept witch-doctored up to obliterate free speech. The process is working.

It is doubtful even today that someone could declare that all arguments have been settled and all debate prohibited. It is enough to achieve that aim today, however, simply by declaring that someone or other is "offended." On that basis alone, every would-be speaker can be silenced, and every debate declared "settled" before it even starts. So it is today at Massey University.

So-called "hate speech" is said to be free speech that is "offensive" to some party. Yet free speech that is inoffensive hardly needs the protection of law at all: it is only speech that does offend that even needs the law's protection. The right to speak freely is so important because it is often speech that does offend some parties that society most urgently needs to hear.

Where would we be if Thomas Paine had never dared to offend, or the Williams Garrison and Wilberforce?  If MLKMalcolm X, or the Four Horsemen of Atheism had all been legally silenced?

Ideas are dangerous, and may often offend; but without some offence there is rarely if ever change, and without full and open debate of dangerous ideas then instead of disinfection and even the insulting of bad ideas, they are instead allowed to go underground and incubate or -- worse - to acquire a kind of "rebel chic" that exists to exploit the Streisand Effect. So it is today with the alt-right and their fellow travellers.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN free speech and censorship is the difference between persuasion and force. Bring down the power of the state to enforce somebody's silence, and the suspicion will always linger that you had too little with which to persuade.

Of course, the right to free speech does not oblige anybody to supply a free microphone. This, as I've argued before, is precisely why private property is so important -- why free speech rights and property rights cannot be disentangled. And, as I've also pointed out before, it is precisely for this reason that managers of so-called "public property" are the first to be targeted by zealots  -- because there is literally no objective legal standard by which managers of "public property" can legitimately deny anybody access to their publicly-funded platforms (and so they desperately grasp for some illegitimate subjective one). And so, we see, that the swinging sword of "hate speech" is brought out instead to cut off the heads of dissenters, and to obliterate any speech any manager (or any thug) cares to deem "offensive" -- "hate speech" becoming the ill-defined subjective criterion by which any manager anywhere can say "Nah, not here mate."

Absent the illegitimate idea of "public property," there would be no need for the anti-concept of "hate speech."

IT IS SCARCELY AN accident that the Massey University vice-Chancellor who bans a politician from speaking at her (publicly-funded) campus had recently boasted that while she was, she said, an advocate of free speech (just as all vice-Chancellors should be), she is however violently opposed to so-called "hate speech." We can see now, as we suspected then, that we were all being set up. "Freedom of expression is one thing," the vice-Chancellor had sniffed, "but hate speech is another. As a concept that has now entered common parlance," she continued, "hate speech refers to attacks based on race, ethnicity, religion, and increasingly, on sexual orientation or preference... Hate speech is repugnant ... 'a rape of human dignity'."

In other words, "hate speech" is speech that offends. Such as an academic arguing equating being raped with being insulted.

Observe that the vice-Chancellor's very next observation begins: "While hate speech is not a specific offence in New Zealand..." It is clear enough what she, and many others, think the very next step should be. The only word missing in her phrase is "yet."

And when that happens, when good people do nothing and people like that vice-Chancellor do successfully make hate speech a specific offence in New Zealand, then be very sure that such an offence would apply not just to so-called public property, but would obliterate the rights of every private property owner in the country

That, I suggest, is its aim.
"What does this amount to in practice? It means that whenever a member of some group finds an idea 'offensive' or feels that it will produce hatred against his collective, the government has the power to ban the idea. This is the death of free speech. By the non-objective standard of 'hate speech,' any idea can be banned... The entire sphere of thought, in other words, becomes politicised."
IT IS SAID THAT there are some legitimate limits to free speech, and so-called hate speech goes some way towards prescribing those limits. Observe, like every anti-concept, how the illegitimate is used to obliterate the legitimate. 

Contrary to the flatulence of Golriz Ghahraman (just to pick a "former human rights lawyer" at random) rights correctly defined do not have limits; like all rights, they have boundariesRights protect the moral space in which each of us is free to act by right -- my right to free speech ending at the precise point where your nose begins. Those are my boundaries. And that point is meant very specifically: cry fire in a crowded private theatre, for example (or make an ill-considered bomb threat), and I violate the property rights of theatre owners and ticket-holders. (And we see again why crowded public and university lecture halls are instead the venues about which these "conversations" begin to take place.)

The only legitimate boundary to free speech then is not the giving of offence (which can never be any more than a subjective whine) but the use or objective threat of force, i.e., either actual physical force (or its derivative, fraud), or the promotion thereofYou may not legitimately incite or organise actual violence (because that would violate the rights of individuals about to be violated); you may not promote paedophilia (the paedophile's right to speech ends where the nose of parent's begins); but you may, as many of us do at dinner parties, intentionally or inadvertently offend our hosts -- and in all these cases there are legitimate remedies based on our actual rights. The anti-concept of hate speech need never ever apply.

Like all principles the principle of rights is a contextual principle, the context itself defining where the nose of another party begins.
So this is neither a prescription for limits nor an argument for "free-speech purism" (yet another anti-concept thrown about in recent weeks), but the recognition of legitimate boundaries based upon the actual rights of those involved. And this, in fact, is how all real rights work in practice, and are intended to.

It is precisely this process, and this understanding, that the anti-concept of "hate speech" is intended to subvert, and why it was dreamed up in the first place: it was intended to give legal control to some over the property and the legitimate speech of others.

We should not let that happen. Ever.


  1. “So it is today with the alt-right and their fellow travellers.”

    I question why the anti-conceptual “alt-right” term appears here, as opposed to “Marxist,” “Maoist,” or “neo-Marxist” or similar. The author could be accused of reflexive bias against what is conventionally called the political right. Not so long ago Thomas Piketty was benefitting from Streisand selling “rebel chic” economic fallacies of the left with almost universal appeal. The “alt-right” term has been drafted to “obliterate the legitimate” albeit conventional political spectrum positioning.

    In reality the placement of policies of the left and right must be decided by the degrees of freedom preserved. Force is illegitimate from either swing of the pendulum. “The basic and crucial political issue of our age is: capitalism versus socialism, or freedom versus statism.”

    It was bad enough decades ago when “undefined rubber-terms of “conservatism” and “liberalism” which had lost their original meaning and could be stretched to mean all things to all men.

    “Alt-right,” the anti-concept, is designed to shut down debate and discredit what in fact may be legitimate and realistic political positions held by rational individuals. Some, not all.

    1. You said: "I question why the ... 'alt-right' term appears here."

      Yes. You would.

  2. Excellent piece, the chief argument I get from those on the centre-left is that they want to ban mean people shouting out racist terms of abuse. This means that although insults are legal, some are not, which is a slippery slope. Of course it's not about that really, it's about sustaining the identity politics hierarchy of "dominant, oppressor" over "oppressed".

    The hypocrisy is that it's just FINE, for those on the left to hate all of the categories of people they deem to be dominant, or oppressors. So it isn't really about protecting anyone from hate, although some well meaning people certainly think that, it is more about constraining the scope of speech and extending such constraints (e.g. the talk about "climate change deniers" is casting language about political debate in the same light as Holocaust denial, which is banned in many countries).


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