Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Sticks and Stones

Picture is Credited to the "Enough is Enough" facebook page (

Censorship occurs when an individual is prevented from speaking or expressing themselves verbally or through writing. Naturally, we could consider such a thing to be abominable, for is it not true that all people should be allowed to express their views and opinions, that all people should be given the right to use words as they wish to convey how they feel? I am inclined to say that this depends very much on what an individual plans to say, for words are a very powerful tool, at least in my eyes, and therefore we should respect them and use them in the correct way. What I am not advocating is suppression of people’s rights to speak on the basis that what they are saying simply conflicts with another’s personal opinion. No, there is another “category of speech” which I am specifically referencing when I say that free speech should not be universally permitted: Hate Speech.

We can say that Hate Speech is a form of verbal or written usage of language with expresses negativity aimed at another person or group of people. Essentially, Hate Speech is the weaponisation of language, using words with the intention being to wound another person on an emotional level. As the image suggests, we could describe Hate Speech as attacking the soul, just as more conventional weapons attack the physical body. We would never consider sanctioning an individual to use a weapon on another person based on race, culture, religion or sexuality (four of the most common “reasons” or “targets” of Hate Speech), so why would we consider letting someone “discharge” hateful comments at another person based off these same reasons?

The main defence of Hate Speech is that to prevent it or somehow introduce sanctions to punish those who performs it would be to restrict the freedom of expression of the individual who wishes to make the hateful comments. Basically, they should hold the right to their opinion and have the right to express it as they wish. Now, I am definitely an advocate for saying that people should have the right to hold their own opinion, taking a little advice from Voltaire:
“Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too.”
However, whereas holding opinions is absolutely fine, acting on them or sharing them with others is a whole different scenario. Words are not simple text, for we are able to emotionally respond to any form of communication we receive and, since emotion comprises a huge amount of our subjective realities, it is not that big a leap to say that words have the potential to quite literally change our worlds. When someone received Hate Speech, it is not just somebody expressing their opinion and nor do they feel that it is simply someone expressing their opinion. Instead, they will respond to it emotionally, nearly always negatively and it can seriously impact their personal happiness and general quality of life.

Sure, we could argue that Hate Speech does not harm the body and only hurts peoples feelings, which is not a form of real damage, so therefore we should not have the right to restrict it. This could not be further from the truth as emotional harm can often be more devastating that physical harm and its impacts can be far more widespread. Not only that, but one can lead to the other. Depression and melancholia can lead people down the dark roads of self-harm, which could possibly elevate to suicide. If somebody’s Hate Speech pushes someone else into taking their own life, then they have caused that person’s death and should be punished in a similar way to a murderer. In fact, when you think about it, forcing someone into suicide with relentlessly hateful remarks could be considered WORSE than murdering them.

Another reason that Hate Speech is not the same as self-expression invites discussion perhaps a debate about the facts of a situation or something similar, whereas Hate Speech is always pure opinion, most of which is completely removed from any degree of basis in fact. It is not a dialogue or a conflict amongst equals in which either side can have a fair chance against one another. No, Hate Speech is always unbalanced, with one side dealing out hate and the other being forced to endure it, or reacting to it in such a way that they only make things worse for themselves in the end.

Therefore, I say that Hate Speech should be forbidden and is not protected under freedom of expression. Carrying on the analogy of weaponry, whilst it can be legal to own a firearm, it is certainly illegal to fire it at whoever you please. You are free to harbour all the hateful opinions you desire, you are even free to collect as many as you can, if you so wish. However, the moment you share such a view or act on such a view, it is the same thing as using a weapon on another person, it leaves scars which might never heal and will takes years to heal if they ever do. Hence, we should not simply endure Hate Speech out of the fear that acting against it is an infringement of the rights of other people.

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