Musical Accompaniment: Should I See by Frozen Ghost

Free speech is nothing without the right to offend. That is the only version of free speech that is actually free and it’s the only version of free speech that does not lead to oppression.

And yet, all over the Western world, we are eroding our free speech in the name of being nice. Or rather, in our desire to legislate our world into being nice by using the carefully named hate speech laws.

Recently, on Twitter, J.K. Rowling (author of the Harry Potter series, for anyone who has been living under a rock for the last two decades) appears to have come down on the side of accepting hate speech laws. This, to me, is completely unbelievable. Not only is she an author, someone who makes her living (and has make a very good living) on being allowed to say the words she wants, but her own work has faced attack for it’s content. There have been bannings of the Harry Potter series by devout Christians and Muslims because they believe it promotes witchcraft and Satanism. A good summary can be found on Wikipedia:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_debates_over_the_Harry_Potter_series#Wicca

Unless she’s completely ignored the issue and let her agents deal with it, she is someone who has first hand experience with censorship. And yet, still she advocates government censorship of speech in the guise of hate speech. I find this unbelievable at best and hypocritical at worst. And yet, she’s not alone. A few years ago (2013), the SFWA (Science Fiction Writers Association) erupted in conflict over the cover of an issue of their magazine. It depicted the Conan character Red Sonja besting a beast in a mountainside scene while wearing her iconic chainmail bikini. Claims of sexism and mysogeny were thrown around, despite similar pictures of male characters adorning previous issues. Eventually, many people resigned from the SFWA leadership and steering committees, and many people left the organization altogether. The argument continued for over a year.

I will admit, to someone who wants all peoples to get along and treat each other well, as I do, a hate speech law can, initially, sound appealing. However, what’s important to consider is what happens when the political wind changes direction. When our side is no longer pulling the strings. Suddenly, that well-meaning hate speech law designed to protect the marginalized group of the moment, is being used to oppress anyone the state doesn’t like, and the truth of said law becomes blatently apparent. Your anti-Islamophobia law is now used to attack anti-Christians. Your gender-identity hate-speech law is now used to attack trans-people. Etc.

Hate speech laws, and indeed any laws made by the state against our freedom to speak or express our thoughts and feelings in non-physically violent ways, are tools of force by the state to control the individual. If you take away the ability to criticize, if you take away the right to offend, then you take away the right to independent thought.

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Voltaire.

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