I THINK this topic is one of the most relevant issues that face society in the modern day, particularly younger people. I am against Fascists, bigots, racists, supremacists, intolerance and bullies of every type.
I am not suggesting anyone to be any of these things, but these are my views on how to react against people who are.
Although, in America there is nothing in law that specifically defines hate speech, in England it is defined under the Public Order Act 1986. ‘A person who uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting’.
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” – Voltaire
The debate goes on how to confront those who spout hatred or intolerance against others.
There are many groups both in Great Britain and America who set out with the intention of confronting those who they perceive as fascists or preachers of intolerance. The actions of some of these groups have led to the disruption or shutting down of debates and political speeches of those who are deemed controversial by others.
In America; political commentator and former editor of Breitbart News Ben Shapiro, has been targeted on numerous occasions during his political speeches. Most famously in 2017 at the University of California, Berkeley where his event was targeted by a group known as ANTIFA who aimed to disrupt and shut down his speech.
When Mr Shapiro attempted to return to UC Berkeley his event required a security fee of an estimated $600,000 – $800,000. More recently in the UK in March of this year, the North East Somerset MP Jacob Rees Mogg was confronted by protesters during a debate hosted by the University of the West of England, Birmingham which resulted in a brief altercation which was also filmed and released onto the internet. I neither praise nor condemn either side of these incidents, but only wish to suggest better means of confronting those with whom you disagree.
To begin with confronting such ideas, it is important to view them as you would any other opposing view point that you disagree with. An idea that directs anger or aggression against anyone (to put it mildly, but correctly) is a bad idea. It is wrong. It is immoral.
Bad arguments can be easily put to rest as they cannot stand up against better arguments. So the first thing you should find out is what is good and what is bad about the argument you are against, because it is possible to find common ground with almost anyone. Even those we radically disagree with.
Do not only go off what others say, or speculate about anyone you have not heard speak. Listen to them first hand and form your own judgement. Bad ideas should be put on show for what they are.
“Never interfere with your enemy when he is making a mistake” – Napoleon Bonaparte
If someone wishes to spout bad ideas, then you should do everything in your power to get them somewhere they can heard by everyone. Allow their own negative thoughts to be heard by all, and give them enough rope to hang themselves by their own ideas. This can be done with hate speech very effectively, and quickly.
To shut down a political speech or debate may be done with the intention of halting hate speech, but in the process it tramples on free speech which is far more important than any one person or group. I do not believe any one person’s subjective view of what is offensive is more important than the entire population’s right to freedom of speech. Also, if a person is not permitted to speak then how can anyone determine if their ideas were good or bad?
To prolong the confrontation is to prolong the problem. An example I intend to use for this is an incident that occurred around the President of the National Policy Institute and White Nationalist, Richard Spencer. In November of 2017, Richard Spencer attended a speech at the University of Florida to discuss issues regarding the alt-right and race in America. On arrival he was met with protesters who over took the majority of the seating in the University auditorium. Only a handful of Spencer’s followers occupied the front row seating with the rest of the crowd behind them in protest.
There are two aspects of this incident which I believe are interesting. To begin with it highlights the importance of letting someone speak, as the name of the University of Florida would never be used by anyone as a byword for censorship as has been done with the name of UC Berkeley. Secondly, bringing a controversial speaker to your own campus gives you a home advantage, knowing your debate will not be interrupted by supporters from either side. They have come to your turf so they have nothing left to fight with other than their own words, and that levels the playing field. It has now come down to who has the better argument, and as I said before good ideas stand up against criticism all on their own. You have put the person with the bad ideas on to speak, so they will become the cause of their own downfall.
Whilst conducting an interview in January of 2017, Spencer was assaulted by a protester and this incident resulted in the creation of the hashtag #punchanazi. I think it is unwise to be quick to label people with such distinctive names such as Nazi, Fascist or racist as these terms are strictly defined. For example, Richard Spencer identifies himself as a White Nationalist although he behaves like a White Supremacist, so this is a title that he has earned. However, he holds no views equivalent to that of a nationalist socialist, nor does he specifically advocate violence which does not qualify him as a Nazi. He may be a person whose ideas are reprehensible however shouting names or slurs does not help to defeat him. It is important to stop using such words as casual comparisons on anyone, without a great deal of evidence and only under very specific circumstances. It is important to ensure such words do not lose their proper meanings. Calling people such names does not open debate, instead it stops the debate.
During the speech in question, the auditorium was predominantly filled with protesters and only a small minority of people there were supporting Spencer. A room filled to the brim with people listening to Spencer talk would advance his status and provide him with attention. However, what if none of the protesters had turned up or they simply left the room after a few minutes? The result would have been Richard Spencer talking to an almost empty auditorium with five or ten supporters instead of a packed building of people listening to him. Which of these images would go further in showing his ideas for what they are?
“In order to be able to think, you have to risk being offensive” – Jordan Peterson, Clinic Psychologist
A criticism I have of shutting down anyone from speaking is that it does not change anyone’s mind, nor does it end the debate. Silencing others treats the symptoms of bad ideas but not the causes of hate speech. It prolongs it and makes dialogue harder to achieve. Anyone who has been shut down or interrupted will not merely go away or never have the chance to speak again, so deal with the argument where it stands and listen to what they say. Tell someone they are wrong and why you think that, and explain a counter point of your own. Don’t be disrespectful to them because it will only hinder your own cause by allowing your opponent to frame you in a negative light. Also, speech that is deemed too controversial to be heard is more likely to sort after by those who wish to hear someone who has been silenced. Debate is the only way to defeat hate speech without harming free speech, because when someone says something hateful or outrageous you have the right to say why they are wrong.
I believe the cure to hate speech is more speech.
“If you’re in favour of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favour of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise” – Noam Chomsky, Philosopher