Hate Speech

I’m all for stopping people from spreading hateful messages that attack people for their race, religion, country of origin, etc. It’s foul and harmful. But when you support laws against hate speech, you’re essentially trusting the government to make a decision about what is and isn’t okay to communicate about.

Okay, you say, maybe that’s fine. I mean, that’s a pretty simple decision, maybe it will be made correctly. And you know what, I bet in many cases it will be.

But let’s look at this generally. Do you think the government is an efficient system which makes logical decisions always? Do you think that the legal system is totally workable and always results in fair justice?

See, the problem isn’t that hate speech is good, or hate speech is bad, or whatever. The problem is rationality. You’re trusting one group which has a history of behaving irrationally in many circumstances (the government) to regulate another set of people who are irrational (racists, bigots, etc). Basically, imagine the situation was reversed, and you trusted the racists and the bigots to regulate the government. Would that make sense? I mean, some people argue that some politicians are racists and bigots, but I don’t really have a stake in that argument. What I’m saying is, take a group of people that you think are crazy or harmful, and ask yourself, “Would you trust them to say what the government can and can’t communicate about?” Okay. So now reverse it. Maybe the government isn’t as crazy as that group of people you were thinking of. It’s probably not. But do you fully trust that the government will behave rationally?

I would have no problem giving the government the power to regulate certain aspects of communication if I expected the government to always use that power rationally. But, from my perspective, the reason that we have human rights encoded into laws is that the government does not always behave rationally. I do believe that many people who work in the government are good people who have good intentions. And some parts of the government do a good job. But, historically, governments do not do a good job in the area of choosing what speech is okay and what speech is not okay. They have certain restrictions even now in the USA, but those are very limited and usually very specifically defined so that it’s hard to behave irrationally with them. Mostly, the courts uphold free speech. But even so, sometimes irrational results come even from the narrow restrictions that we have now.

But look, even if you did think that the government was rational, remember that it could change completely tomorrow. Some of you thought the previous President of the USA was bad, crazy, etc. and some of you think the current President of the USA is bad, crazy, etc. So would you trust the government that you don’t like with the power to decide what speech is okay and what speech isn’t okay? Because when you pass a law, you are giving every possible future version of the government that power.

If I had my way, it would be a crime to engage in extensive verbal harassment of another person’s race, religion, etc. in a public setting. I would expel every Nazi, racist, etc. from America and make their groups illegal, or at least create a focused re-education program that slowly dissolves their groups. Those sorts of groups are a scourge against humanity.

In fact, there are many web sites and companies where spouting Nazi or racist rhetoric would get you banned or fired. I’m fine with that—I trust those web sites and companies to make that decision. But even if I didn’t trust them or they messed up really badly and censored me inappropriately, I could go somewhere else and not experience that injustice, because I have other options. But with the government, I don’t really have other options. I can’t just “go somewhere else.” And I don’t believe that they will always make good judgments or that the legal system will always result in a fair trial. So I would never support a law that made it illegal to communicate some belief or ideal—not because I think all communication is fine (I don’t), but because I simply can’t imagine a government of Earth that would always get that right.

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