I was recently browsing my WordPress Reader for anime blogs when a post regarding the censoring of anime triggered my train of thought on the basis of free speech.
It may have been a very nerdy way to recall things, but it just made me think again about an article I’d read in The New Yorker way back in August 2015, in which the author was saying how much he hated Americans’ pretentious attitude of, “I hate what you’re saying, but I’ll fight to the death your right to say it.” And to this, I remember thinking, “What a narrow-minded asshole.” Because I’m American, and I do feel that you should give everyone the chance to speak their mind if you want your own voice to be heard. So needless to say, the author’s way of putting my ideal in such a way pricked my pride more than just a little bit.
But after some more thought, it struck me–the author wasn’t trying to discourage people’s right to voice their opinion, but rather their right to voice their hate, and that’s a profound distinction that totally made me think about free speech in a different way.
Once, I used to think that free speech meant that anything goes–and I still do to a certain extent. I mean, after all, who’s the impartial judge when it comes to a difference of opinion? A a gun, a knife, a duel to the death? There can never be a wholly impartial judge when it comes down to opinion, so people should theoretically be allowed to voice whatever shitty or misconceived opinion they feel is correct. That’s what free speech should defend–your right to voice your opinion.
But then…not really.
In many respects, “opinion” and “free speech” can be synonymous, but under the umbrella of free speech, an opinion fueled by hatred can grow into a snarling rabid dog that is used to intimidate and bully others, and that is not free speech. Because here’s the thing: hatred is LOUD. It drains energy, suppresses quieter and more impartial voices, and seeks to bring an individual or a select group of people down, and I don’t think that such malignance should be defended at all as a “right.”
Because under such a pretense of promoting free speech, the purpose of the 1st amendment as equalizer would all but dissipate. After all, who’s going to be able to make themselves heard over the angry, screaming hordes of people? It wouldn’t serve to give voice to the people, but rather to take away their voices, and that’s a contradiction that the 1st Amendment tends to overlook.
So the big question is, how do we filter free speech? What constitutes free speech, and what doesn’t?
Free speech still pretty much means that anything goes, and people can say whatever shit they want because that’s their opinion. HOWEVER. Free speech should not mean the right to hate, and I think that an opinion imbued with hate or extreme negativity should be stifled.
For example, you might be a homophobic person who hates gays, a pastor who hates atheists, a Nazi who hates Jews, OR you could be a gay who hates homophobic people, an atheist who hates Christians, a Jew who hates Germans. No matter what your intent, good or bad, selfless or selfish, the right to voice your hate is the one thing that free speech should not defend, and anyone who brings that hate to a fever pitch should be censured.
Having an opinion is fine! No one can or should take away your right to your opinion. Therefore, I will respect your right to say that Christianity is the only religion that matters, that homosexuality is not the right way of living, that Caucasians are the superior race.
But what I will not respect is your right to say that people of other religions should be shot and killed and sent to hell. I will not respect your right to carry signs that say, “God hates fags!” I will not respect your right to bully, intimidate, or deprecate other races. In other words, I will not respect your right to hate–because free speech is meant to be an equalizer in which no one bullies or intimidates the other. Thus, all ideas are given a fair chance to sink in and whatever ideal takes hold in that neutral playing field will likely be the right one.
But stain that playing field with hate and negativity? It will only allow for a select group of people to step on others to get what they want, and the purpose of free speech becomes all but nonexistent.
So should there be limitations to free speech? Should we allow negativity and hate to run rampant on the basis of the 1st amendment?
There’s a lot of issues I have with speech and language, but I personally detest, absolutely DETEST the kind of people who “win” arguments by raising voices, shouting, or screaming in order to drown out the voices of the people around them. Of such people, I just have stare and wonder in dumb amazement, “What the devil has gotten into them to make them so angry?”
Truly, angry people look like devils. With spittle flying out of their mouths or the blood rushing to their heads, I’m sure such people can’t have their heads screwed on right.
Therefore, I think that putting a distinction between a “right to voice opinion” and a “right to voice hate” can filter out a lot of violent or harmful attitudes. If we limit free speech by eliminating the “right to hate,” I think that many more voices that were suppressed before can finally become heard. Which may sound paradoxical, but I think this case of limiting free speech in order to liberate it is something that could be only for the better. Food for thought.
***Edit: By the way, policing cyberbullying is a spot-on example of what I’m trying to convey in this post. People are empowered to rally hate towards others simply because they are devoid of a face or name on the Internet, but bullies have already been tracked down and arrested for doing this. Therefore, I don’t think re-defining our first amendment is such an impossibility nor a ridiculous idea to consider.