All over the Western world, we are eroding our free speech in the name of being kind. Or rather, in our desire to legislate our world into being kind by using the carefully named and conceived hate speech laws. Such laws intend to forcibly prevent us from insulting — intentionally or otherwise — Western minorities, sexual minorities, gender minorities, religions, and women.
A short time ago, 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) became the latest author to defend hate speech laws. This stance is difficult to believe of any author, but especially someone of J.K. Rowling’s history. Not only is she 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 its content. Devout Christians and Muslims alike attempted banning the Harry Potter series 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 Rowling has ignored the issue and let her agents deal with it, she is someone who has had firsthand experience with censorship. And yet, still she advocates government censorship of speech in the guise of hate speech. And, among authors, 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 misogyny were levelled, despite pictures of male characters wearing loin clothes in similar situation adorning the covers of 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 people to get along and treat each other well, as I do, a hate speech law can, initially, sound appealing. However, if the removal of freedom doesn’t bother you, then consider what happens when the political wind changes direction, when your preferred 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 blatantly apparent. Suddenly, anti-Islamophobia law is used to curtail all religious critique; laws meant to protect the feelings of minorities and women are used to prevent criticism of new policies; anti-transphobia laws are used to force us to say certain words. If this sounds like fiction to you, you haven’t been paying attention to North American universities. Or the current Canadian government.
Hate speech laws, and indeed any laws made by the state or an authoritarian body, against our freedom to speak or express our thoughts and feelings in non-physically violent ways, are tools of force used to control the individual. If the ability to criticize is removed, if the right to offend is removed, then the right to independent thought is removed.
Free speech does not exist without the right to offend. Any limits on this freedom only lead to oppression. But don’t take my word for it. The next time you think otherwise, consider what might happen if the law is made by the political side you most dislike and how it might be abused.
There are many examples of abuses of freedom in our modern society, do you have a story of one that has directly impact you? Feel free to share it in the comments.
You take away freedom of choice. You take away my right to voice, my beliefs and all my views. You take away my right to choose.
Should I See — Frozen Ghost, 1987