Italian translation here.
It’s been a while since I last posted, and actually for all this time I’ve been wanting to write about something which I perceive as awful. But that’s not going to happen today, as my attention has been captured by the following article, popped up on my Facebook news feed:
OK so, as you can notice from my previous posts, and if it’s not clear enough I’ll state here again, I’m a feminist, anti-racism, anti-homophobia, egalitarian alien, and of course I prefer not to hear the voices of those bastards which instead are sexist/homophobic/racist. But this thing creeps me out.
If what the article says it’s true, a male human has been arrested in Scotland because he was being offensive on Facebook towards the Syrian refugees. Offensive; there’s not written he was threatening them, organizing violent actions and so on. So basically, he has been arrested because of his opinion, because it was considered offensive. And maybe it actually was, but do you think this can justify his arrest?
Once I used to think that, if one spread and incited hate, it was right to silence him. I thought it wasn’t a limitation of the freedom of expression, because freedom of expression shouldn’t involve hate towards certain groups of people and discrimination. Recently, I changed my mind. Beware that I don’t believe that inveighing towards groups of people not because of something they do but just because of the way they are born, or because they want to fight discrimination and improve their lives, is OK. I still consider the humans which do it as total assholes, and there’s no respect for them coming from me. But I now believe that they should be allowed to say what they think, even if it’s something very stupid, very offensive, very unfair, very evil. Of course they must not be allowed to put their ideas into practice, but they have to be allowed to express them.
The reason why I say this is that I truly believe it takes nothing to pass from banning hate speech to banning every type of speech which is potentially offensive, that is basically almost any type of speech. There will always be someone who disagrees with you, and who could also feel offended. And again, where do you draw the line between free speech and hate speech? Also hate speech is a speech, and should therefore be free, right?
Of course I’m not saying that now everyone should listen, accept and tolerate the shit of anyone. If someone is being an asshole, I truly believe in the right/duty of people to get angry at it, fight it, express their own opinion towards it, explain their points, with vehemence also. They might also decide to exclude that particular human from their company, I think that’s legitimate. But still, the asshole should be free to express its assholery.
What upsets me most here is that it has been an institution to stop it. It’s not that the single persons have said that they disagreed, that it wasn’t OK, no, an institution, a public institution, has decided what it was allowed to say and what it wasn’t. I do believe in the protection of minorities and of people who generally are discriminated, but this is silencing. I repeat, the article does not report of any actions undertaken by the man, he apparently was just being offensive. Enough for him to be arrested. So can institutions decide what we can say and what we cannot? Can they arrest people because of what they think? Not surveillance in case crimes (like terrorism, for example) are suspected to be planned, because that’s totally understandable; no, he has just being arrested because of his opinions.
And again, how is it decided what is offensive and what isn’t? Who is an asshole? Take a chauvinist: for him the freedom of women to, let’s say, walk the streets alone at night is offensive. A miniskirt could also be offensive, for example. Career women, women as prime minister, they all are offensive to him. While on the contrary, a feminist is certainly offended by his opinion, and that is sacrosanct, it’s OK to feel rage and offence. But how is it decided who is offended here? Who is spreading the hate speech? The sexist? He is certainly denying the right of women to be free. But he surely feel offended too, he feels he’s being deprived of his privileges, which he justifies with absurd reasons that to him are perfectly logic, and this drives him mad.
So how do we decide whom to silence? Do we silence both? Do we take a position and say that someone can be offended and someone cannot?
I perceive this as very dangerous. I might be very pessimistic, but I believe that beginning to silence whom I myself consider assholes could possibly lead to a restriction of my own rights, and also of yours of course. What I write could be considered offensive, right? I don’t use mild tones, that’s for sure, and I won’t begin to do it. I have the right to be harsh, sarcastic, caustic, cruel if I please.
Then again, to be honest I think there could be some reasonable criteria to decide what is OK to silence and what is not: every form of expression for me is fine as long as it doesn’t try to limit the freedom and the rights of someone else. It’s the old saying: your freedom ends where mine begins. But this criterion is not free from problems.
First of all, not all humans have the same concept of “limiting the freedom and rights of someone else”. Ask to someone which opposes to gay marriage: it is certainly not convinced to be limiting freedom and rights, it will provide you with justifications, explanations; if it believed to be discriminating someone, to be doing something wrong, it would probably not do it.
Second, some humans think it’s perfectly fine to limit freedom and rights of someone who hasn’t damaged them in any way: I’m against gay marriage because gays are inferior evil people, they go against nature/god/whatever and therefore we can consider them less than us.
Third: the art problem. Can something artistic being considered an attempt to limit freedom and rights? OK, this sentence sounds weird, so I’ll take this example, which can be found in … Do we need to do an effort to protect everyone’s feeling? (where I make a similar speech on the matter): if a song talks about a rape, from the point of view of the rapist, is it encouraging rape? Or is it just a form of expression? Maybe the artist wanted to show what a whore a rapist is. What about if it talks about a homicide? About war? For me the answer is no, no art should be censored, even if definitely some art contains elements of discrimination, prejudices, violence against certain groups of people, because we don’t know what’s going on in the mind of the artist and then, censoring art is a very dangerous step. You begin with some art, you end up with all.
All in all, what is missing is the will of humans to live together respecting each other. If there were that will, you wouldn’t even have these problems. Nobody would feel the need of making a hate speech, critical speech and harsh discussions wouldn’t be regarded as hateful, and art wouldn’t ever be considered offensive, however violent and expressing an unsettling message; all of this because offence and the attempt of destroying other people wouldn’t be a part of the everyday life. Nobody would see a threaten in the expression of others, because nobody would suspect others of really trying to destroy a certain group of people.
So at the end of it, for me freedom of speech and thought means also freedom of hating. I do hate humans, anyway, I hate almost all of you. So better for me to consider it allowed. Censoring a single person can potentially lead to an overall censorship, a censorship of everything which is considered not only dangerous, but even just simply unconventional. I know you humans, I know you better than you know yourselves.
But I do perceive this subject as very tricky and complicated, and often when I think about it I feel my thought is just screwing onto itself. So any contribution (… any intelligent contribution) is very welcomed.
Note added the 27.02.2016
I decided to add this because I feared I might have given the impression that I’m against rape themed and any-kind-of-violence themed songs, unless they express a condemnation towards the act. Well, that’s not the case. Actually, it’s exactly the contrary. It’s just that I love dark art and gruesome things. Alien DNA, you know.