Banning so-called “hate speech” is a grave, irresponsible, and serious mistake for at least three reasons. Such restrictions of free speech, while looking like an easy way out from an inconvenient situation, are horribly counterproductive even from a pragmatic standpoint. Besides, there is no such thing as “restrictions of free speech” – there is free speech, or there is not.
Several countries – even those who consider themselves first-world, free-world – have restrictions on what political opinions you may utter in public. This is the textbook case of not having free speech, and despite this, those countries tend to keep pretending they have freedom of speech – even to the point where it is written into the Constitution under ceremonious proceedings, then promptly ignored under a number of exception clauses.
One of the easiest such targets for irresponsible populist politicians is so-called hate speech, where somebody expresses rage, hatred, or other forms of prejudice toward a group of people. In such countries, irresponsible politicians have tended to ban this “hate speech”, harshly punishing such expressions of political opinion with jail sentences up to five years in the so-called free world.
This is counterproductive populism for three reasons.
1. The principle:
You are either in favor of free speech, or you are not. There is no free speech at all – zero – if you only allow “acceptable” expressions.
Free speech exists to protect the most despicable of expressions, the most vile utterances. That is for very good reason: every now and then, disruption proves that the despised people were the ones in the moral right. This has happened many times in recent history – human rights for homosexuals would be a recent lifetime example. (Who could have imagined 50 years ago that homosexual humans were humans too, and deserved human rights?)
Free speech exists specifically to allow and protect opinions that offend and repulse other people.
If you only allow speech and opinions that you like, then the next day, somebody else will allow only speech and opinions that they like. Those opinions may include a ban on regarding you as a human being in any way, shape, or form. (Don’t laugh. This is reality in Russia and some other countries for homosexual human beings.) Such a naïve populism can come back to bite you quickly, would there be a change of regime.
Consititutional protection was never necessary to protect somebody stating an uncontroversial opinion that everybody agrees with, and which is the equivalent of “kittens are cute”, “apple pie is good”, or “we have always been at war with Eurasia”.
Never poke fun at a Nigger
A Spic, or a Wop, or a KrautMonty Python – “Never Be Rude To An Arab“
2. The pragmatic:
Hate speech is an important safety valve before hate violence.
If you prevent hate speech, people inclined to hatred will go directly from hate thought to the third step, which is hate violence. You want to prevent that.
Somebody who carries resentment can not be detected at the hate thought stage – the hate speech stage is the first stage detectable to society, which is why you want this, you want to see as much of it as possible. This is when somebody can be addressed by the community through informal and formal means – why are they full of hatred? Are they feeling well? Are they just stupid bigots, and if so, can they be talked out of it? Or have they possibly pinpointed a very real injustice in society? (Don’t neglect that last possibility.)
In all three cases, you want this hate speech to appear, so that the problem can be peacefully addressed. If it is not allowed to appear, it will proceed to the next stage, which is hate violence.
Banning hate speech does not get rid of the underlying problem. It does, however, destroy the crucial safety valve in society before violence appears.
Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics,
And the Catholics hate the Protestants,
And the Hindus hate the Muslims,
And everybody hates the Jews.Tom Lehrer – “National Brotherhood Week“
3. The human:
Banning hate speech codifies that people are of unequal worth.
In some countries, you are prohibited from expressing that people born into a certain culture or skin color are of less worth. While I agree with this factually – that nobody is worth less because of how they were born – such a law codifies exactly that.
Ponder the fact that no law anywhere in such countries prohibit hate expressions against me, a middle-aged light-skinned male. Yet, there are several laws that prohibit hate expressions against other people that are, as the law says, “worthy of protection”.
This means that a law against hate speech of only certain groups codifies that people are of unequal worth because of conditions they were born into and had no say over. Such a law cannot possibly be just.
In conclusion, there are very good reasons to defend hate speech, and the politicians who take the easy way out and ban such speech and opinions (or defend an existing ban) are neglectful at best and irresponsible at worst.