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Friday, May 19, 2017

Hate Speech Is Not Free Speech

This past December in Milwaukee, white supremacist Milo Yiannopolous used a picture of a transgender UWM student in his speech, intentionally using the wrong pronouns and using phrases such as, excuse me, “trannie” and “man in a dress”.  That student subsequently left the school in rage, humiliation, and fear.

In January, a UW-Madison student attempted to start organizing for the “American Freedom Party”, a white supremacist organization based in "Third Positionism", antisemitic ultranationalism.

Early in March, Charles Murray, the author of the book “The Bell Curve” was prevented from speaking at a college in Vermont.  “The Bell Curve” argues that black people are inherently less intelligent based on average standardized test scores, even though IQ correlates more to poverty than to race (and, of course, black people are more likely to be impoverished, due to racism rather than any kind of inherent capability).

Also in March, a white supremacist flyer from the neo-nazi website “American Renaissance” appeared at UW-Superior, imploring readers to ‘be proud to be white’.  Other flyers were found at a university in Chicago calling for an end to “Jewish privilege”.

In April, a so-called “Free Speech Rally” in Berkeley was organized by explicitly white nationalist and antisemitic groups such as the “Traditionalist Workers Party” and “Identity Europa”.  A few days later, leader of the “Alt-Right” Richard Spencer spoke at Auburn University, where he called for making America an all-white “ethnic homeland”.

In his May 1st column, syndicated "writer" Rich Lowry twisted reality in order to present anti-humanist demagoguery as somehow within the realm of reason. As with Charles Murray, who Lowry defended several months ago, Ann Coulter, whose columns can be found on the aforementioned white supremacist website "American Renaissance" does not engage in what Lowry laughably calls "reason", nor is she "an intellectual threat", with "a dissenting viewpoint". No. Coulter openly calls for mass killing of Muslims and spreads other blatantly racist drivel.

It's a complete joke to hear the right-wing whining about "free speech".  This is the first time in history that right-wing "ideas", namely racism and sexism, are being targeted.  The historical targets of restrictions on speech, other than the Sedition Act, have been advocates of abolition, labor unions, birth control, and communism- hardly right-wing causes.  These open-throated screaming right-wing defenses of freedom of speech are completely farcical.

Democrats and liberals say that the bill ordering universities to punish students who disrupt speeches would itself be against free speech, but they are completely wrong.  Disrupting a speech is not an act of expression of free speech.  No, the real reason to be against this bill is that its purpose is to make campuses safe for white supremacists.  For the last several months, there has been a push by right-wing activists and white supremacists to try to make campuses safe spaces for hate speech, claiming that they are acting in defense of "free speech".  This push seems far too coordinated to be a coincidence, and if it is coordinated then we need to understand that this is coordination between conservative fools and outright neo-Nazis.

We must be steadfast in ensuring that hate has no place on university campuses.  This attempt to cry “free speech” has been used across the country by the right-wing, upset about not being allowed to preach hatred.  When they say that they are “silenced” for views that people “disagree” with, they are attempting to say that racism and sexism, for example, might have some kind of intellectual merit.  But free speech only works if the participants are abiding by certain basic principles, such as that they are honestly pursuing truth. Hate speech does not meet that criteria.

To quote from the University of Wisconsin System mission statement:
“The mission of the University of Wisconsin System is ... to discover and disseminate knowledge … Basic to every purpose of the UW System is the search for truth.”

Just because your mouth is open and noises are coming out does not mean that what you’re saying is worthwhile or protected speech.  Libel and slander are not speech.  Fraud is not speech.  They are not speech because they are lies, and to spread lies, particularly on a university campus, is to sabotage the search for knowledge.  If someone were to come and argue in favor of phlogiston or the luminiferous aether, we would not debate their theories but wonder about their motivation or sanity; if they attempt to use lies to fool people into agreement, we would be right to refuse them a platform to engage in this fraud, because they have crossed the line from “wrong” to “malicious”.

The UW system is a bastion of free speech under the idea of “sifting and winnowing”.  But the literal meaning of “sifting and winnowing” is that you throw away the chaff.  The only purpose of hate speech is to delegitimize human beings.  It is chaff.  We must continue to take a strong stand against it, and allow hate no foothold on campuses.  At his "Free Speech" talk late April, Republican M.D. Kittle, when asked about derogatory language, said, and this is an exact quote, "Protecting racial slurs is idiocy". Let's uphold that idea by rejecting hate speech, which amounts to nothing more than long-winded slurs, and not allow it a platform in any form.

The humanity of black, Muslim, and LGBT people, and other targets of hate "speech", is not up for debate. By attempting to cast hate in the light of 'intellectual dissent', people like Lowry are smearing mud on real intellectual discourse.  We have seen enough of the uselessness and falsehood of racism, sexism, homophobia, and transmisogyny.  To disallow and dismantle hate and the intentional spreading of ignorance is to act in defense of true free speech and intellectual discovery, like white blood cells removing pathogens and dead tissue.

When the right-wing whines about "free speech", they are trying to make the universities a safe space for hate, and that must not be allowed.

1 comment:

cathy said...

This is great. Thanks, Kevin! This should be a letter to the editor in the Cap Times or Milwaukee J/S.