I have a saying: “words mean things.”
I say this because words have stopped meaning what rational people think they mean, so when one person calls for something reasonable, such as “ban hate speech,” they are really saying things the common public would find radically different.
Let’s look at a few words you probably think you know.
Something simple first — “harm”.
If someone harms you, a rational understanding of that might be the infliction of damage with lasting effects to the appearance or function of a thing, such bruising or wounds suffered from an assault, or damage was done to a vehicle after a car crash, maybe even the infliction of severe mental trauma discernable by reliable diagnostician. But what if “harm” only meant whatever a really convincing trial attorney could convince 12 strangers it meant, and punitive damages reaching the millions began to redefine what “harm” meant in a legal context, even if we still thought you needed something to show for it. Whether we agree or not, because the legal sense of the word evolved out from under us, we could still be liable for “harm” that no rational person would have seen coming.
This got worse following the Iraq War when movies and literature about returning veterans popularized PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). While these movies and literature were disastrous for how the public saw veterans as ticking time bombs, the general public now had this lovely new idea of “trauma” to conflate the idea of “harm”. Now, a disease which legitimately affects many people was being co-opted by many, many more to validate that they were or could be “harmed” with mental “trauma” in the same way doctors see an outbreak of self-diagnosed diseases… right after a medical drama featuring that disease airs on TV. Based on that argument, schools hard to start instituting warnings in their classes to ensure no one would be traumatized by their lectures. These were called “trigger warnings”. Note the direct link with PTSD, where legitimate victims of the disease will often be “triggered” by stimuli similar to what happened around the time of their traumatization. An example would be a dog barking before a bomb went off or a particular song before a car wreck. These sometimes involve a manic episode and can make mundane events very frightening. They are completely random and usually have nothing to do with the thing which caused you harm (real harm) but are just your brain’s defense system in overdrive trying to protect you from what it thinks will bring danger. Knowing that, how pissed off are you when some 19-year-old college kid raises their hand to say, “Professor, I feel I will be traumatized by this subject, so you shouldn’t teach it.”
“But this is the Federalist Papers. You’re in American History. You need to know this.”
You see? Right there, something really neat just happened. What you or I might regard as a rational defense to a stupid complaint… others would call violence.
I’m not kidding.
Many of us view violence as some form of directed harm toward a person. But what happens when “harm” no longer means what we thought it meant? When words don’t mean things, harm can simply mean words and ideas that you subjectively perceived as being potentially traumatizing… based on your definition of trauma. And someone who doesn’t follow through with your demands for protection from “harm”, someone who continues to say things you don’t like… well, they just directed harm towards you… “violence.”
Of course, this necessitated a call for “safety.” People who were offended by certain ideas are marginalized by places where those ideas are shared and are, therefore “unsafe,” necessitating a need for “safe spaces”. I’m just going to share with you what I think a safe space is.
When I was in Iraq, we had these little concrete bunkers all over the base where we would run to during mortar attacks. Our command was really nice and gave our safe spaces benches. I was the Rock, Paper, Scissors champion until the “All Clear” sounded. I really liked my safe space.
Growing up in Oklahoma, we also had neat safe spaces. Everywhere you go, here are cellars in backyards. You go there when things called tornados come around. My grandpa called them “frady holes,” and that’s cool because tornadoes are really scary. You feel really safe in a frady hole, though.
Those are freaking safe spaces.
But when colleges start demanding safe spaces for things that absolutely no one in the history of words was in danger of… then the word “safety” just doesn’t mean what it used to, either.
For context, this…
… wasn’t because some hateful misogynistic man came onto campus to demand all the women be kicked out and sent back to the kitchen. This safe space was created in response to this woman…
Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers, a feminist activist who has been campaigning for women for about twice as long as many of these kids have been alive. Why was she called “anti-feminist?” Because her research advocates that most of the inequities in the West are due mostly women’s choices, their freedoms, and that women in the West have won their most important battles for equality. She further argues that feminism today should be focused on places in the world where women have no rights, and face the potential of punitive gang rape, genital mutilation, or where they don’t have a right to participate in the democratic process.
People need “safety” from that?
Of course, some people don’t call for safe spaces in response to perceived violence. This one actually scares me, because when words became violence, some people decided that meant that they could fight violence with violence as a form of self-protection. Of course, when they have expanded the definition of violence to mean “words”, but kept the definition of violence that means “actual violence” they found themselves justified to literally beat peaceful protesters with signs saying “no hate” and no one thought this may signify an inconsistency in their logic. This is Antifa, the group which considers itself freedom fighters against “fascism”, yet another word which has completely lost meaning. This, however, is also why Antifa is now considered a terrorist group. Thank goodness that word still has meaning.
And finally, if you really want to know how terrifying this usurping of language is actually getting, look to Canada’s case of Lindsay Shepard from two months ago.
Lindsay is a teaching assistant at Wilfrid Laurier University, and was called in for a punitive meeting with her professor and the “Diversity and Equity Office”. There, she was accused of violating two laws, both provincial and federal by sharing a video by Professor Jordan Peterson, taken from a debate on Canada’s public access channel. They also declared he was a “key leader of the Alt-Right”, which is false and that sharing his video neutrally as she had done, instead of stating beforehand that she disagreed with him and what a horrible man he was and what the students should think, it was, “Like presenting a speech by Hitler neutrally.” She was told there were reports against her for forcing her “transphobic views” on students who claimed she created a hostile environment, jeopardizing the safety of students on campus.
The irony was that the video was over forced speech, and you can get the details on this affair here.
What later came out after this story blew up in an extremely public backlash against her treatment and the outright violation of free speech it was, an independent investigation turned up that there had been no student complaint in the first place. It was simply an inquisition and abuse of power by the school’s Diversity and Equity Office and it’s biased professors. It was such an embarrassment to the university that the University President was forced to publically exonerate Shepard, castigate the professor and staff, and completely rehaul the school’s rampant and abusive “Diversity and Equity Office.”
Having said all of this and returning to the topic that began this conversation, do you want to know what laws Ms. Shepard was accused of violating?
Laws against Hate Speech.
Other people are writing very good responses for slippery slope arguments about what could happen. I’m not. I’m saying we are already there. Hate Speech codes, laws, and attempts to prevent “violence” are already being used abusively by people to silence and marginalize dissenting views. This is because words no longer mean what we think they mean, to the point that two people can be speaking the exact same words, but mean radically different things. Literally, we are saying similar words, and we believe we understand each other, but we are cognitively speaking two different languages. In the worst cases, manipulators of justice play off the naivety of good people to push legislation that no rational person would tolerate in a society.
When someone says, “We must outlaw Hate Speech,” the vast majority of us agree, because we’re good people. But, when what actually happens is…
- A 20-year-old grad student gets bullied…
- By her own supervising professor and her school’s Ministry of Truth…
- for neutrally sharing a video in a college class from your country’s own public broadcasting channel…
- Of a speaker they have decided without evidence is part of hate group…
- For not conforming to their deranged ideology…
then nobody really fought hate speech — they made Hate Speech into law.
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