In 2017 and 2018 we have seen increasingly vile abuses of the policy of free speech. Nazis, racists, and toxic internet commenters spew their poison everywhere, and when confronted they cry “free speech”. In the abstract it sounds noble to assert that everyone should have the freedom to offend, but we see people who abuse that right causing tangibly real, possibly permanent damage to our society, and frankly they encourage terrorism and the threat of war on our own land.
On the other hand, censorship is a slippery slope, and naturally the idea of it bothers free thinkers like us. Who decides what everyone has permission to say, and what is offensive? What about the right of a subjugated person to curse their oppressor? The line “so much for the tolerant left” has gotten popular this year, referring to how the “left” insists on universal tolerance for minority identities and rights, but then demonstrates intolerance against fascists, racists, and religious fanatics. Read here about the paradox of intolerance, which essentially states that an ideally tolerant society must not tolerate intolerance, or the intolerant side will destroy them — as we in fact see happening in real time all around us today.
It comes down to the adage that you have a right to swing your fist around freely, but that right stops just before my nose begins. Your rights do not include calling for racial attacks, inciting paranoid fear about “those people”, or dehumanizing them such that their lives don’t matter. If we can see that someone’s hostile speech aims to drive physical threats or social subjugation, we must act to reduce that harm by ensuring that venues and the public know what sort of violence the speaker means to instigate, and that we do not accept it.
Notice though that when we speak up for the rights of people oppressed by religious zealots and bigots, the bigots will claim that doing so oppresses them. They clutch their pearls and cry about “left wing fascism” and how it attacks them and their religion. So we have to clearly call out the difference between real injury and imaginary injury. Abusive language toward a vulnerable group like women or trans people builds a culture in which others may feel justified in assaulting or killing them; whereas if a religious zealot feels “hurt” by hearing or seeing something gay, that harm exists entirely in their imagination. Likewise when they get upset by the “terrorism” of asserting that Black lives matter, their internal fantasy narrative makes them think they are the ones under attack, in a complete inversion of reality.
Almost always they use this reactionary political or religious ranting to intentionally mask their true underlying agenda: racism and economic subjugation. All of their other claims serve only as absurd distractions meant to make it seem like they have some legitimate non-racist grievance. Remember this whenever you see the response “what about BLM” or “what about Antifa”, calling them terrorists. In almost every case the people posting these responses are agents of racism, agents of fascism, actively attempting to undermine normal peoples’ discussion of what to do about hate groups and hate speech. A few “benign” centrists may also make those claims, but mainly just because they have read and believed the disinformation campaign of the malignant agents.
In the United States we have the First Amendment of the Constitution, but it only protects against censorship by the government — it does not say anything about non-governmental persons or groups shutting down toxic propaganda. The neo-Nazi troll faction shows their failure to understand the actual laws of the land when they whine that somebody has violated their “free speech” rights.
Demonkind celebrates freedom of expression generally, giving a boost to messages of self empowerment and inclusion, but anyone whose rhetoric serves only to widen class and race divisions will find themselves at the wrong end of our will.