Hearing someone espousing racist or bigoted ideas is a horrible experience. It makes us cringe and want to “educate” that person and I sympathise with people who would ban this type of speech under the banner of “hate speech”. The problem I have is that I want to know who holds these ideas so that I may avoid associating with them. I think anybody would want to know who holds horrible views so that they may also avoid them and, if possible, publicly call them out for those views. But if we ban this kind of speech as hate speech then the racist people who say racist things no longer say those things publicly; now we don’t know who is racist and who is not. If a friend of mine holds horrible or extreme views then I want to know, but if the government bans them from saying these things then I will never know that my friend is secretly harbouring racist or extremist views. How can we know whom to avoid if the people we should avoid never let us know to avoid them? And what’s worse, to be offended by someone but have learnt that they should be avoided, or constantly being around people who hold racist and possibly dangerous views and never knowing so?
Bad ideas don’t go away when we ban them; they go underground. We used to be able to easily see what crazy views Alex Jones held and we could easily criticise his views. Since his almost entire social media ban he has gone underground. Now he is surrounded almost entirely by people who agree with him and it’s also hard to criticise his bad ideas because most of his ideas are now exclusively on his website. So if you disagree with him then you can be banned from his website because it’s his rules. Whereas on Twitter you could openly disagree with him without the risk of being banned. When bad ideas are forced to hide in dark corners, do they increase or decrease in strength?
In an open and public forum bad ideas face the possibility of being proven to be bad ideas in real time. If someone is sympathetic to certain bad ideas, and they are only surrounded by people who support those ideas, then who is there to prove them wrong? Who can show them the way away from these ideas if everyone they are around supports said ideas? As you know, the answer is no one. And this is the situation we create for ourselves when we ban certain types of words or speech; pockets of people who have extreme or dangerous views will surround us and we will not even be allowed to know it.
Hate speech is often also conflated with differences in opinion and, in some cases, statistical truths or legitimate criticism that is either uncomfortable to hear or what people just wish wasn’t true, because it would be a better world that way. Unfortunately what is true and what people want to be true are often different things. For example, we know that certain religious books blatantly condemn homosexuality with the punishment of death. These books inspire religions with hundreds of millions, and in some cases over a billion followers. In some countries to criticise the ideas in these books that we know are objectively bad, such as, killing homosexuals, killing people who stop following the religion, treating women as less than men and encouraging slavery is to be considered hate speech because it offends the followers of the religion inspired by the book that supports these bad ideas. We mustn’t confuse criticising ideas and opinions with criticising people. If we know that a statistically large percentage of a religion would punish homosexuality with death then we should be able to use our own reason, evidence and humanity to publicly criticise these ideas without being labelled a bigot, religious-phobic or preacher of hate speech. And we should also be allowed to share these bad ideas, and worse, in a public forum and face the public criticism.
We will not make people safer or happier by banning ideas, speech or books and we do not make people happier by warning them about bad ideas instead of letting them deal with those ideas. History has shown us this and so does modern psychology. If we are emotional every time we hear “hate speech” then we can not think critically about how to best combat that speech or the contents of it. The more we are exposed to things we do not like the better we get at dealing with them. So if we ban everything horrible or everything that offends people then we can assume that when they inevitably do hear these things they will catastrophise those “horrible things” and be unable to deal with them.
Banning someone from saying racist or extremist things doesn’t suddenly make them not racist or not extremist anymore. They are still racist and still extremist, only now we have no way of telling that they are.
Video version: http://bit.ly/on-why-we-shouldnt-ban-hate-speech-yt