'Hate Speech Is the Secular Equivalent of Blasphemy' & Other Truths
As the EU tries to police offensive language, here's a better way to think about censorship: Screw off.
"The internet is a place for free speech," says the European Union's commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality, Vera Jourová, "not hate speech."
To which, I literally reply: "What the fuck is hate speech, exactly? Like another phony, malleable concept — obscenity — it is simply a political category that gives power to the powerful to pick and choose what lesser mortals are allowed to read, think, and discuss (in the US, obscenity law did keep Lady Chatterley's Lover from being published for decades, so it did have that going for it)."
The EU has released a new code of conduct for social media and the Internet and Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Microsoft have all signed up to help police "hate speech," with a particularly sharp eye on "racism and xenophobia." The great good people at Britain's Spiked are hosting a debate about this in London on June 15 (attend!) and they asked a bunch of folks, including me, to comment on the EU restrictions and whether any sort of speech should be restricted. It's a sharp group of commenters, many of whom—NYU psychologist Jonathan Haidt, FIRE's Greg Lukianoff, the ACLU's Nadine Strossen, Reason contributor Cathy Young—will be familiar to Reason readers. Go here to read the full exchange, but here are some highlights from other participants who are better known in the United Kingdom:
- "Hate speech is the secular equivalent of blasphemy."—Frank Furedi, sociologist
- "Everybody must be free to hate what or who they choose. That means being free to hate, not just fascists or Nigel Farage, but Muslims or Christians, transsexuals or Scousers, bankers or Bono."—Mick Hume, editor at large, Spiked
- "Writing off opponents as haters, so that you can then just ignore them, is usually a precursor to dishing out today's acceptable form of hate speech: labelling those you disagree with as bigots."—Claire Fox, director of the Institute of Ideas
There's many more provocative contributors and lines at the full forum. Speaking of hate, here are my thoughts on that:
Hate — like envy — is the planet's greatest renewable energy source, motivating humans to live better, richer, freer lives (my grandparents didn't leave Europe in the 1910s because they loved it). In the US, libel, which by definition is false, is already punishable by law. So are 'fighting words', and plots and actions to cause physical harm. Beyond that, let speech rip like Lear howling on the heath.
Spiked is edited by Brendan O'Neill, who contributes to Reason, and always brings his A game to arguments about free speech. Last December, he stopped by the Reason DC offices and told us that "the real threat to free speech now is conformism and cowardice."