A Free Society Isn’t Defined by its Assholes
I got into a debate online with this guy not too long ago because he’d shared a post about a man being arrested in Germany for performing the Nazi salute. He congratulated the government of Germany for its commitment to stamping out hatred. I argued, however, that stifling free expression was a dangerous precedent and I didn’t support it.
I understand Germany’s history and why they would be extra sensitive to such things, but trying to arbitrarily define what is “too offensive” to be legal is a scary slippery slope that could lead to censorship of actually useful ideas. To some people it seems like the distinction over what is obviously “hate speech” and what isn’t is clear, but we have to understand that most of our convictions about what is “offensive” is based on our own emotional reactions and not any objective data. It is tantamount to tyranny to try and legislate morality, even if it seems like a good idea at first. This the danger that so many dystopian novels continue to warn us to avoid.
The issue is that in a free society that values free expression, we inevitably have to deal with a whole lot of horrible nonsense (like people sympathizing with Nazis). Unfortunately this comes with the deal, we can’t have our cake and eat it too. But as we all know, freedom of expression does not include freedom from criticism. So just because the rules tolerate trolls and hate-mongers doesn’t mean we are forced to sit back and give them a pass. We are free to do our best to make them feel ostracized and silly for being assholes, and I think we should.