Hate Speech?

September 16, 2018



SO, WHAT IS 'hate speech'?  I have been asked to define this term by people who objected to my last blog about Tommy Robinson; people who suggested that posting that blog was tantamount to supporting the airing of 'hate speech' and therefore also supporting the growth of fascism. Some said that they were saddened by the fact that I seemed to be sliding down the slippery slope of Far Right extremism... that this was not brave, but dumb... that I should not cross this line... that this form of 'hate speech' needed to be silenced. The irony of their concerns and ensuing enquiry is blatant.



So, here's my carefully thought through response, because I do believe we have to be very, very careful when talking about these things.


I do not deny that 'hate speech' exists.  Accusatory, verbal anger sounds horrid and when this is delivered with a malevolent desire to hurt you, it can have life-long damaging consequences. Anyone who has been in a bad argument knows how destructive this can be. Over the years, in this context, I have had to learn how to rebuild my trust in other humans ... and ultimately my trust in myself. For without trust in myself I have nothing.


Simply said, my opinion is that 'hate speech' is defined by the listener, not the speaker. But nothing is ever this simple. It is much more complex, as I will try to explain. Yes, there is malevolence in the world. We would be naive to think this is not the case. But we have to be very careful when considering the motivations behind someone's anger, or indeed their kindness and their concerns. Malevolence can or could be found lurking anywhere. Certainly where 'grooming' is concerned, in the face of naivety, malevolence might be undetectable. Grooming and gang rapes are malevolent and evil. Full stop. The groomer's initial tactics of 'sweet talk', 'understanding' and 'support' could also be labelled as 'hate speech'. 


It is the listener, not just the speaker, that has to be educated. In the case of angry rhetoric in the public arena, as well as in the privacy of our homes, the listener has to discern between words that are delivered out of pure frustration and anger that no-one is listening ... and words that are cleverly delivered to create an effect e.g. to silence the 'other' or to incite violence against an 'other', to oppress, to wound and to gain power over the 'other'. The latter is 'hate speech'. Paradoxically, yes, even silencing someone could be called a form of 'hate speech'.


If a child is not heard when it is complaining about an injustice... if we silence this child's anger and ban him/her to isolation in a room, where they can ruminate about this injustice... if we repeatedly do this and think we are solving the problem in this way, then we are complicit in creating the violence that occurs as a backlash against its silencing. When does 'hate speech' start and when does it end? 


There are already laws against 'hate speech' in place. You cannot disseminate hateful propaganda that incites people to take up arms and to engage in violence against any 'other'. You cannot shout 'fire' in a public space, when there is no fire. Similarly, you should not be able to accuse someone of 'hate speech' when no 'hate speech' is intended.


Ultimately, the biggest problem of all is WHO defines what 'hate speech' is and WHY? Who do we give permission to be the arbiter of this type of judgement? And for what reasons? What are our unspoken intentions? What is the sub-text to anything we say? Who does not want power over an 'other' - especially nowadays, where there are so many new minority groups, whose group identity is precisely their claim to justice over a targeted oppressor ... the greatest accused oppressor of all now being white, male heterosexuals? 


The very labelling of any group of people in an accusatory and detrimental way could be described as a form of 'hate speech'. This is happening more and more often these days. Are we wise to take the definition of 'hate speech' this far? Do we want to do this? I don't. 


Like Jordan Peterson, I am not saying that 'hate speech' doesn't exist, but who do we trust to legislate what qualifies as 'hate speech'? Everyone is offended by something - even quite petty and irrelevant things, in my opinion. But then again, this is only my opinion. If we ban all things that are offensive, eventually we won't be able to talk at all. We won't even be able to think.


I personally think that educating ourselves in the skills of listening, learning to carefully articulate our thoughts, allowing people to speak (even angrily) in open conversations and debates.... learning to communicate well, is a far better way forward than silencing what we don't think should be heard or we what we don't want to hear.


"The question is [regarding 'hate speech']: What do you do about it? And the devil is in the details and, as I said already, I am not an admirer of hate speech laws, even though there is plenty of hateful speech, because I think the best thing is to leave free speech alone as much as you possibly can, not because that will result in the perfect conditions for free speech, but because anything else that you're likely to do is going to make it worse rather than better."  Jordan Peterson - excerpt transcribed from his Oxford Union main speech.


And to finish ... a little bit of humour from Rowen Attkinson talking bout Freedom of Speech.



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 Josephine Larsen