Over the past two weeks, I have seen many people argue for bigots’ rights to freedom of speech. Many have said that liberal people in the United States believe in exclusion for the sake of inclusion. Let’s talk about this.
Presentation of bigoted arguments
Bigots have always presented marginalizing arguments in a seemingly neat and well-packed way. At first, the arguments seem rational, as they are written with scientific, “logical” words. Upon processing each point, however, readers begin to realize that the arguments are unreasonable (known to many as Gish galloping).
You may be wondering how we can decide what is considered reasonable versus unreasonable. Like the person who wrote that Google diversity memo (which some refer to as the “manifestbro”), I, too, can write lists. Below is my personal rubric for typifying arguments.
- Require introductory statements about the debater’s belief in equality
- Use outdated studies which have since been disproven
- Require proof from biased forms of media
- Diminish the capabilities of people from marginalized groups in order to make people currently in power seem superior
- Do not require introductory statements about the debater’s beliefs, as the rest of their words clearly present their values
- Use modern, less-biased studies
- Do not undermine marginalized groups
Many respond in anger when unreasonable, therefore irrational, arguments are presented. The purveyors of those beliefs then point out how irrational the responses are. To those who “do not choose sides”, the “conservative” arguments may look reasonable and rational. In this process, people who are harmed by unreasonable arguments continue to be silenced.
Free speech as a conduit for bigoted ideas
Once a bigoted argument is presented, many who agree are quick to defend the debater’s right to free speech. Those who “do not choose sides” suggest avoiding censorship by letting the bigot continue to share their ideas. Both sets of people reference the first amendment, which is an addition to the United States’ Constitution and one tenth of the Bill of Rights.
Cornell’s Legal Information Institute states that the first amendment “forbids Congress from both promoting one religion over others and also restricting an individual’s religious practices. It guarantees freedom of expression by prohibiting Congress from restricting the press or the rights of individuals to speak freely. It also guarantees the right of citizens to assemble peaceably and to petition their government.” In plain words, this means the government cannot and should not control its citizens’ speech, religion, or ability to protest.
Unlike the government, the first amendment does not refer to private companies. A private company has the right to do whatever it wants with its employees and its content within legal bounds. Therefore, Google can fire someone who torpedoes their employee productivity by violating their code of conduct. Additionally, an Uber driver can kick someone out of their car for saying something racist if it makes them uncomfortable. A private college can refuse to allow a racist person to speak.
The first amendment also does not refer to U.S. citizens. Someone can speak, but no one has to listen. This means U.S. citizens can tell bigoted people to stop talking when they present unreasonable and/or dangerous ideas. However, the argument that we must listen to and rationally consider hate speech has recently spread like wildfire. This is false.
When citizens give bigots a platform, they allow proven facts to be debated. These conspiracies usually undermine the people who are already constantly marginalized. How is that conducive to a safe work environment, let alone a safe country?
Refusing to permit bigotry
Tolerant people must learn to be intolerant of intolerance. Karl Popper’s paradox of tolerance describes this well:
Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.
Allowing the spread of claims backed by outdated, biased science puts marginalized people in danger. Conversely, curbing bigoted claims does not put those in power in the way of any harm. It instead ensures that we as a people stay relatively peaceful and unified.
Letting bigots speak publicly via privately owned companies such as Twitter or Fox News is divisive and dangerous. It is especially dangerous when the country has consistently failed to protect marginalized people in the same way as those in power. If you fail to understand the consequences of letting bigots appear on national TV in order to “hear both sides”, then you fail to understand why Neo-Nazis feel emboldened enough to march in the United States of America.
Dangerous ideas have been given a voice by private companies and U.S. citizens. We all have the ability to stand up and disavow them. Will you?