In another demonstration of how your freedom of speech extends only as far as the State allows it, a 21 year old man has been arrested for alleged racist remarks on Twitter. Story. It’s incredible the depths we’ve sunk to when this is just reported as being perfectly acceptable, with Swansea University and Treorchy RFC distancing themselves from the man, as if this were just an everyday regular police investigation of a crime. Everyone is quick to play the “me too” card, as if not expressly declaring “I’m not a racist!” might make you a suspect.
Racism is not a crime. A crime requires the violation of an individual’s Rights by another. Having a racist opinion doesn’t make you a criminal. Vocalising a racist opinion doesn’t make you a criminal. Initiating violence against someone does make you a criminal, whether you do it because your victim is black, white, yellow, fat, thin, tall or short.
Yes, racism is anti-human and as well as that is just plain stupid. But you could say that about any irrational ideas that people hold. Some fundamentalist Christians and Muslims hold extremely offensive and evil beliefs related to race, gender and sexual orientation. Astrology might not be as viciously anti-human but is still irrational. Those who claim to be psychics and talk to the dead are frauds, duping the gullible or emotionally-vulnerable to make money. I find that offensive. I also find socialism and communism offensive: two variations on the same theme that the individual must defer to the State and sacrifice his interests to the “greater good”. For that matter, I find modern “art” and postmodernism offensive. I also don’t like R&B music and would rather listen to nails down a blackboard than hip-hop.
But, I can accept that other people don’t agree with me and I’m fine with that, because no one is putting a gun to my head and telling me to hold a particular opinion, or not hold the one that I do. The idea of individual freedom is that you can like whatever you want, choose whatever you want, do whatever you want, as long as you don’t infringe on the freedom of others to do the same. In fact, it’s inevitable that human beings won’t always agree – which is precisely why individual rights enshrine this principle of freedom! Some will believe this, some will believe that, some will be right, some will be wrong, some will be moral and some will be evil – but that’s the point! You can’t pick and choose what opinions to allow in society because then nothing would ever change; whatever the status quo or popular opinion of the time was, that would be the unchangeable “truth”, and heresy against the Accepted and Allowed would be a crime. Ironically, that’s exactly the case in other parts of the world like Iran, a totalitarian religious dictatorship where freedom of speech is a concept as foreign as sexual preference. But isn’t that what makes us better than them?
You can’t pick and choose politically acceptable speech because no one has the right to make that decision. Sure, you can give it to the government and leave the State as moral arbiter of acceptable speech (and behaviour), if you’re a fascist. But the idea of freedom of speech is that…you might not always agree with it! It’s not freedom to speak…unless you don’t like or agree with it. It’s not freedom to speak…unless it’s wrong. It’s not freedom to speak…unless it’s socially frowned upon. It’s not freedom to speak…unless it’s evil. In fact, the principle of free speech exists precisely to protect the unpopular and marginal viewpoints from being banned by the majority. Saying “ah, but racism really is evil and we as a society have decided to outlaw the expressing of such opinions by force”, is defeating the very principle upon which anyone is allowed to voice any opinion anyway! Tomorrow, it could be your opinion that clashes with that of the majority of society, and should you be silenced? So then, the only way to never have a clash of opinions and find yourself on the “wrong” side of the State is to conform to whatever the collective opinion is at the time. In the words of Bill Hicks: “you are FREE…to do as we tell you.” But since the collective opinions of a society at varying points in recent history have been xenophobic, homophobic, sexist and more – you’d be taking your chances even by being a sheep.
Look, this isn’t about racism. The issue is not whether racism is acceptable or not, or what “we” do about it – as if the State were a true reflection of the will of the people – as if such a collective entity existed in the first place. The matter at hand is: do we want a society with freedom of speech, or not? There are no half-measures. You can’t have it both ways. If speech should not be politically endorsed or condemned, and if force shouldn’t be used by the government against civilians for holding an unpopular opinion (whatever it is), then it is unconscionable to arrest someone for a racist remark. And yet here we are in the United Kingdom, where saying something offensive is a crime. But not just anything offensive: only particular speech is a crime (you can insult someone for being fat, but not of a different colour), which means the government makes a decision about what is acceptable speech (and conduct) and what isn’t. You might say “well I’m ok with that”, which is honest at least – but you’re a fascist.
Speech is a natural form of human expression. Human expression is a result of individual choices and motives. Choices are a product of thinking or believing. Thinking and believing are mental activities inextricable to human nature. Banning speech is like banning thought. That is why the State restricting speech is anti-human.
There is a great hypocrisy going on here though: an ounce of rationality will tell you that banning unpopular opinions (even morally reprehensible ones) doesn’t eliminate anything. All it does is leave the belief to fester, unspoken. People who are truly racist won’t be “cured” by being treated like criminals, they will just feel aggrieved and even more hostile. But the fascists who support banning “hate speech” don’t care about curing irrational ideas, they just care about not offending people – and that’s the critical issue. There are countless ways to offend someone and the people in charge of deciding what is acceptable or not are the same ones whose sole purpose in life is to curry favour by winning votes and appealing to the masses. Hardly a great combination.
The way to defeat an opinion is intellectually. Truly false beliefs of years past didn’t disappear because the government banned them, but because they were shown to be simply wrong. Racism should not be treated like a taboo, as something hush, hush “we don’t talk about”. It needs to be discussed openly and objectively to lay it to rest once and for all. Let the racist have his opinion…and then destroy it. If he continues to hold it, he’s declared himself to be foolish and irrational in front of the world, along with his opinions. If he changes his mind, the world has one fewer cretin and the case for the truth is made all the stronger.
I’ll give you another illustration based on a true story: someone I know is homophobic (actually due to their religion a lot of people I know are). Some of the opinions this person has stated have been anything from “it’s unnatural” to “it’s disgusting” to “I think they get bored with the opposite sex and go after the same sex” to “it’s a perversion” to “it’s a conscious choice.” Now, I know if people like this were put in a room with others and voiced these opinions they’d probably be shouted down. They might fall silent or feel oppressed. Imagine if they were imprisoned for their opinions! But they’d still hold them. But this could be an otherwise kind well-intentioned person labouring under a false belief (God knows there are plenty of them in the world). Similarly, in the past as well as today, there are those who genuinely believe that race is a factor with human intelligence, ability and morality. The Hitler Youth were shown “scientific proof” that blacks were inferior; what were they to believe? If you want to get rid of irrational and immoral ideas, do you merely silence them with a gun, or do you prove in front of the world exactly how and why they are wrong?
Where does curtailing free speech end? If the government gets to decide what is offensive “enough” to be banned, how long before any potential opinion or speech of yours crosses the line? Will you be able to insult anyone, for anything? What is an acceptable topic for humour? What about “racist” friendly banter? What if you voice an opinion about say, the Euro or inflation or taxation, and it’s deemed harmful to the common good? Some British citizens have already been told what flags they can or cannot display (on their own property!) in case it offends others. These issues aren’t new; they are as old as dirt: a government with the power to dictate lifestyles to its people will inevitably use that power to do just that. And it happens because the people let it, because they believe it’s well-intentioned.
Fascism is different in approach today than it was in the dictatorships of the 20th century. Fascism doesn’t come to you and say “don’t you think your speech and behaviour should be sacrificed to the collective good of society, with politicians deciding what is acceptable for you to say, or what food and drink you’re allowed to consume?” No, modern fascism, nicey-nice Left-wing fascism today says “don’t you hate racism? Isn’t it just bad? Don’t you think we as a society should take steps to get rid of it? Don’t you think the rightfully elected ruling body of a society should outlaw such behaviour?” It also says “isn’t alcohol bad for you? Don’t you hate the number of alcohol-related violent crimes? Aren’t saturated fats bad for you? Wouldn’t it be easier and safer if certain foods were just banned to save you having to decide for yourself? Don’t you think it’s only fair to tax the naughty food and drink more than the stuff we decide is ok?”
Forget the content of the words, look at it like this: a private citizen, using his own computer, to post his comments on another privately-owned website (however visible) to make bad words appear on the screens of other people – is officially a criminal, an enemy of the State. Now consider on principle: if the State can pass judgement on what’s acceptable or not on any private property but simply because it’s visible (popular with free admission doesn’t make it “public”), then where does the future of Facebook, Twitter, blogs and the entire internet lie? You don’t need to try hard to imagine, there is already a place today where freedom to say whatever we want with whomever we want is forbidden by law: Communist China.