The Human Right to Freedom of Speech
The Auckland event of Posie Parker has shown why we need to understand free speech now, more than ever.
Defending free speech is difficult. The worst sorts of people come out of their basements to say the most awful things imaginable and I'm expected to defend their right to say it?
Free speech is a human right, and rights are not to be infringed upon. No one should be intimidated into silence, nor assaulted for expressing their thoughts. Despite how unpopular their opinion is.
Ten years ago I had never heard the term hate speech, now I hear it ad nauseam. Labelling things as hate speech has utility, however, I have found the term 'hate speech' is often misused, making me sceptical about such accusations. As a result, I tend to see these claims as either unfounded or imaginary.
This isn't to say hateful speech doesn't exist. There is rhetoric that cannot be disguised as anything except hateful. But alongside its inapt overuse comes a myriad of other problems.
The Problem with Labelling Things as Hate Speech
When asked to define hate speech on television, then-Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern said “You know it when you see it.” It's easy to identify blatant hate speech and take appropriate action; however, cases of vagueness or ambiguity require a different approach that may be counter-productive. Defining things as hate speech can be difficult. What is hateful to one, may not be to another because what is considered hateful is subjective. An opinion.
"You know it when you see it" is a disastrous way to define something. Especially when the accusation of hate speech is so severe. People see different things - what happens when some see it and some don't?
Here's a good example: "Jews are overwhelmingly represented in media and banks" - is this considered hateful, or a fact? It's context-dependent and relies heavily on the intention of the person saying it. Either way, it can be interpreted as a pejorative.
There is no universal agreement on what classifies a slur, and it is also difficult to determine whether all slurs constitute hate speech. This raises significant questions about how slurs should be addressed. Does ‘Karen’ or ‘cracker’ meet the requirements to be a slur or hate speech? According to Google, a slur is "a derogatory or insulting term applied to particular group of people.”
At least according to Google, it seems Karen and cracker meet the definition of a slur, but are the terms hate speech? I genuinely believe they can be used in a hateful manner. But, once again, it all comes down to opinion - some agree with me, and others don’t.
Where do we draw the line in delineating between hate speech and insults? Well, there is no "we". Everyone has their own boundaries and perspective on what they consider acceptable. There can never be full agreement on hate speech because it is one's own opinion if something is hateful or not. And the law cannot be based on someone's opinion, which is why we have the legal terminology of free speech.
What is Free Speech
Misunderstandings of free speech occur because some think it covers any sentence that is physically able to be uttered. This is wrong. Free speech, by definition, is already limited, albeit scarcely. A few examples of things that do not fall under free speech are specific calls for violence, lying under oath, and revealing classified documents.
Free speech advocates do not condone any of the aforementioned examples. However, they will defend anyone's right to say anything within specified parameters. Doing so does not mean agreeing with what was said, it means believing they are within their rights to say it, even if it is hateful.
The Misconception Between the two
The conversation should not be 'free speech vs hate speech', it's 'free speech vs illegal speech'. Anything that is not free speech, is illegal speech - and hate speech falls under either category.
Hate speech is thus, legally meaningless, the law does not determine what is hateful, only individuals do, which leaves room for disagreement. Regardless of what you find hateful, we do not lock people up for being racist. This is considered - legally - free speech, much to many’s displeasure.
This post was inspired by the Posie Parker incident in Auckland on 25th March 2023. Posie Parker hosted an event called Let Women Speak, she was met with violence, intimidation and tomato juice. Unable to speak her mind - she was forced to cancel the rest of her NZ tour.
Detractors labelled this as a hateful anti-trans rally, while others saw it as a celebratory pro-women event (see how "You know it when you see it" is inadequate?) Whatever the truth, clips from this day went viral around the world and brought great shame to our country.
There were people there who turned up with the intention of shutting down another's right to speak through the use of intimidation and violence, and this I cannot ignore. Neither should the rest of the peaceful protesters. The vile actions by the minority should have gathered widespread condemnation from the peaceful majority. But this has not been the case. Not only is there a lack of condemnation, but there seems to be a gleeful celebration that it happened. This is deeply concerning.
Some saw it as a win for society, but I saw it as a win for mob rule. A mob that controls what I can and cannot hear. A mob that attacks and silences those it disagrees with. A mob that does away with due process, and is authoritarianism camouflaged as love.
I've looked into what Posie Parker has said, and she's clearly not the person the mob and their media cohort have made her out to be. I could be wrong, but no matter how bad she may be, my opinion on her right to free speech remains unchanged.
Using Free Speech as Counter-Protest
Counter-protesting is a form of free speech, I wouldn't dare ask the government to clamp down on this - it removes the safety barriers against authoritarianism and sets a dangerous precedent. However, like with free speech, counter-protesting also has limits.
Firstly, violence is not an acceptable form of protest, no matter whom it is against. We live in a civil society and we do not tolerate people who use physical violence against words. This is non-negotiable.
Secondly, free speech for counter-protest extends up until the point it infringes on someone else’s free speech. Your rights cannot be stamped out by the government or by other individuals. What's the point in having rights if they can be taken away by others?
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Were Posie Parker's rights violated? Absolutely. She was intimidated and assaulted (throwing juice over someone is considered assault, hence why the thrower has been charged) which prevented her from speaking. Thus, her right to free speech was infringed upon. These actions by the vindictive mob have a chilling short-sightedness they cannot comprehend.
If you resort to violent counter-protesting, you are essentially telling your political opponents this type of behaviour is acceptable. Be very careful.
What if They're a Nazi?
For the sake of argument, I will grant she is as bad as these people think she is. Let's say she is a literal Nazi, right up there with Himmler and Goebbels. I would still defend her right to speak.
If Posie Parker had called for violence against people, that’s fine. She would be arrested and slapped in the face by our justice system, telling the world we have a robust judicial system, one that respects free speech, but also will not allow people to go far beyond that.
Nazis, Despite their lifelong goal to remove the rights of others, still have the same rights bestowed upon them as you or I. Rights which must be defended. If they decide to push the envelope into some illicit territory, it is the judicial system's job to sort that out, not the mob's.
Free speech laws are specifically designed for people with dissenting opinions. We don't need laws to protect those who say they love puppies because no one is trying to silence that opinion. We need protections for the people whose speech is contentious enough that risk having their rights stripped away.
"Whether a society is free is determined not by the treatment of its complacent, acquiescent citizens – such people are always unmolested by authority – but rather by the treatment of its dissidents and its marginalized minorities.” - Glenn Greenwald
It's Tough Defending Free Speech
It seriously is. Do you know how easy it would be for me to say bad people shouldn't be allowed to speak? It would save me so much energy and pain. But even the most abhorrent people still have rights
Mass murderers have the right to a lawyer.
Baby killers have the right to a fair trial.
And Nazis have the right to free speech.
Let it be clear, I'm not defending their speech because I agree with them, I'm supporting their right to speak because I believe in rights for everyone, not just some.
“If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all.”
― Noam Chomsky
If the Sides Were Flipped
A critical exercise to ensure you are holding yourself to a standard rather than playing an ideological game is to flip the characters in the story and see what your reaction is.
Would the ultra-progressive trans community be okay if a few violent men intimidated a trans speaker and threw juice over them? Absolutely not. The trans community seem delighted about what happened to Posie Parker but would be calling for executions if the tables were turned.
Hypocrisy and ideology go hand in hand.
These people don't care for individual freedoms. Given the chance, they'd use the state to enforce their speech standards on others. They're power-hungry cretins and dangerous ones at that.
The unfortunate consequence of this, and the reason why I've said they are short-sighted, is they have told their opponents that violence and intimidating tactics are okay when it comes to speech they don't like.
These are the rules that have been set by the ultra-progressives for everyone to play by. And if it were me, I wouldn't want to give Nazis a justification for using violence.
Hate speech exists, but is subjective.
It is not free speech vs hate speech, it is free speech vs illegal speech.
Hate speech usually falls under the former category.
If your free speech infringes on someone else's free speech, you have gone beyond what is acceptable.
Nazis have free speech and it sucks to be one of the few to defend their rights.
Flip the script to see if you have any principles.
Have an awesome day.