Worryingly, there is increasing talk within the media and from within government about introducing “hate speech” legislation. I believe firmly that our democratic systems are built on a foundation of free speech and that we do no grow and develop, as individuals or as a society, when we restrict what can or cannot be said.
It is somewhat ironic that in recent weeks we abolished an old law around blasphemy. I noted at the time that while this old restriction on speech was being removed, the ‘progressives’ in Parliament were seeking to introduce their own new blasphemy – that is, enforce their particular political and moral views on society and try to ban others expressing an opinion contrary to theirs. Such duplicity must be called out whenever possible.
What is critical in this discussion is to understand the difference between ‘hate speech’ and ‘speech we hate or don’t like’. I would suggest that when you hear the likes of Labour or Green MPs speaking, they are talking mostly about the latter. While they will use extreme examples which we could all agree is about inciting violence, they are more interested in limiting speech on topics such as Maori rights, social rights, or views around life and death. We need only think of how the progressive left reacted to the likes of Dr Don Brash having an opinion or, more recently, Canadian psychologist Dr Jordan Peterson. The latter came to suggest that people need to take responsibility in their lives, accept that life can be hard, and work to improve things in their own lives and then for those around them. It is staggering to think that many on the progressive left view this has ‘hate speech’. I have been concerned about this issue for some time and I worry that an effort will be made soon. Calls for ‘hate speech’ legislation are aimed at silencing those the left disagree with. Not just international public figures, but people like me and you as well.
This is not to say that we should ignore the dangers of speech which clearly intends to incite violence. However, I would suggest our laws already cover this adequately. What is being called for now, is a means to stop opinions that media and the progressive left don’t like. You will often hear of ‘a right to not be offended’ (which is utter nonsense), or that we need to be ‘safe’ from certain opinions (as if an echo chamber is conducive to good thought). Calls to be intolerant of the intolerant (again, nonsensical if not downright hypocritical) or to ‘de-platform’ people which is academic jargon for suppressing unpopular ideas. Those calling for hate speech legislation want to make all of these dynamics perfectly legal and acceptable. Personally, I think it shows great weakness. It demonstrates that they feel silencing their opponents is easier than rationally defending their own position.
We also have the issue of what qualifies as ‘hate’. It is a rather amorphous concept and a cursory review of the country’s media demonstrates their eagerness to apply that to any opinion they do not like. Those who value free speech subscribe to Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s maxim, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” I believe we only develop further as a society if we engage diverging views, discuss rationally and scientifically, challenge those ideas firmly when needed, demonstrate folly in thinking when warranted, and learn from one another. These traits are the cornerstones of a truly democratic and tolerant society. In contrast, those calling for hate speech want a tyranny of their beliefs alone.