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It has been over fourteen-year since David Reimer, the victim of an insane and evil scientific experiment, committed suicide. After his penis had been burnt off in a botched circumcision, David’s parents had turned to the infamous sexologist and social constructionist, Dr. John Money for help. Following Dr. Money’s advice, David’s parents agreed to allow a sex change operation to be performed on their young son and raised him as a girl.
Despite Dr. Money’s boasting that his experiment had been a success, however, David Reimer did not settle comfortably into his female identity. David tore up his dresses at three, asked if he could have his head shaved like his father, and engaged in all manner of boyish behaviour. David was bullied at school and, upon hitting puberty, decided that he was a homosexual (in reality, of course, he was heterosexual).
Finally, when he was fourteen David’s parents revealed the truth about his gender identity. David reverted to his masculine identity, broke off contact with Dr. Money whom he described as an abusive brainwasher, and received a non-functioning penis through phalloplasty. Unable to handle the immense psychological damage that had been inflicted upon him, David Reimer blew his brains out with a shotgun at the age of thirty-eight.
For all of human history, boy has meant boy and girl has meant girl. Traditionally, sex was used to refer to the biological markers of gender. If you were born with a penis and an XY chromosome, you were a man. If you were born with a vagina and an XX chromosome, you were a woman. One’s gender expression was thought to compliment one’s biological sex. A biological man would have masculine personality traits and a biological female would have feminine personality traits. These complimentary characteristics, among them body shape, dress, mannerisms, and personality, were thought to be produced by a mixture of natural and environmental forces.
Recently, however, gender theorists have begun to question the relationship between biological sex and gender identity. They argue that gender, which they see as distinctive from sex, is a social construct. Since gender refers to the expression of masculinity and femininity, gender is something that a person acquires. (Needless to say, this movement is driven by a pernicious post-modern, Neo-Marxist worldview). Under this philosophy, gender expression is the manner in which a person expresses their gender identity. Gender identity is expressed through dress, behaviour, speech, and nothing else besides.
Neuroplasticity provides the gender theorist with perhaps his greatest argument. If underlying brain processes are theoretically strengthened through repetitive use, it follows that gender identity comes from a narrowing down of potential gender categories through the repetitive use of certain brain processes. However, it also reveals a fatal flaw in the gender theorist’s (and social constructionist’s) philosophy. If the human brain is so malleable that an individual’s gender identity is constructed, then why can’t the brain of a transgender person be adapted out of its transgenderism?
The primary problem with gender theory is that it just plain wrong. The idea that gender is distinct from sex has absolutely no basis in science whatsoever. As Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychology/philosopher, has stated: “the idea that gender identity is independent of biological sex is insane. It’s wrong. The scientific data is clear beyond dispute. It’s as bad as claiming that the world is flat.” Men and women differ both at the cellular and the temperamental level. Unlike men, for example, women menstruate, they can have babies, and they show a slew of personality characteristics that mark them as different from men. David C. Page, the Director of the Whitehead Institution at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has even claimed that genetic differences exist at the cellular level asserting that “throughout human bodies, the cells of males and females are biochemically different.” These differences even affect how men and women contract and fight diseases.
The philosopher Alain de Benoist has also strongly criticised gender theory. De Benoist argued against the scientific errors and philosophical absurdities in his work Non à la théorie de genre (No to Gender Theory).
First, De Benoist points out that the gender theorists have used the fact that some gender characteristics are socially constructed to argue that all characteristics are socially constructed.
Second, De Benoist argued that the “hormonal impregnation of the foetus” (as De Benoist puts it) causes the brain to become genderised because it has a “direct effect on the organisation of neural circuits, creating a masculine brain and a feminine brain, which can be distinguished by a variety of anatomical, physiological, and biochemical markers.”
Third, De Benoist argued that biological sex has a profound effect on the way people think, act, and feel. In order to support their theory, gender theorists are forced to deny the natural differences between men and women. De Benoist wrote:
“From the first days of life, boys look primarily at mechanized objects or objects in movement while girls most often search for visual contact with human faces. Only a few hours after birth, a girl responds to the cries of other infants while a boy shows no interest. The tendency to show empathy is stronger in girls than in boys long before any external influence (or “social expectations”) have been able to assert themselves. At all ages and stages of development, girls are more sensitive to their emotional states and to those of others than boys … From a young age, boys resort to physical strategies where girls turn to verbal ones … From the age of two, boys are more aggressive and take more risks than girls.”
Furthermore, gender theory cheapens what it means to be a man or a woman. And, by extension, it denigrates the contributions that each gender has to make to civil society. Gender values give people ideals to strive for and helps them determine the rules that govern human interactions. The idea that men and women ought to be treated the same is ludicrous beyond belief. No parent would like to see their son treat a woman the same way they treat their male friends. Men have been taught to be gentlemen and women have been taught to be ladies for a reason.
All of this is not to say, however, that those pushing transgender rights do not have a case. They are right when they claim that the transgender peoples of the world face discrimination, prejudice, and violence. Some countries treat transgenderism as a crime, and it is certainly true that transgender people are more likely to be victims of violence, including murder. A reasonable transgender rights argument would be that transgender people cannot help their affliction and that society ought to treat them with kindness, tolerance, and compassion.
Unfortunately, that is not the argument that gender activists like to make. Rather than focusing on promoting tolerance, gender activists have instead sought to do away with gender distinctions altogether (which is, more likely than not, their actual aim). Using a very tiny minority of the population as their moral basis, the gender activists are attempting to force society to sacrifice its traditional classifications of male and female.
Transgenderism is clearly a mental health disorder. In the past, it was referred to as “gender dysphoria”, considered a mental illness, and treated as such. To assert the fact that transgenderism is a mental health disorder is not a denial of an individual’s integral worth as a human being. It is merely the acknowledgement of the existence of an objective reality in which gender is both binary and distinct. Unfortunately, this is not the attitude of those who influence public opinion. Consequently, programs for LGBTQ youth have seen an increase in youth who identify as transgender. The transgender journalist, Libby Down Under, has blamed instances of rapid-onset gender dysphoria on the normalisation of transgenderism in the culture. With a slew of celebrities coming out as transgender (former Olympian Bruce Jenner being a primary example), and with transgender characters being featured on numerous television shows, many teens and tweens have suddenly decided that they are transgender despite having no prior history of gender confusion.
Transgender youth increasingly feel that it is their right to express themselves however they please. And they feel that it is their right to silence all who dare to criticise or disagree with that expression. Cross-living, hormone therapy, and sex reassignment surgery are seen as part of this self-expression. Alarmingly, the mainstream response of psychotherapists to these children and adolescents is the “immediate affirmation of [their] self-diagnosis, which often leads to support for social and even medical transition.”
It is a classic case of political posturing overshadowing the pursuit of truth. Most youth suffering from gender dysphoria grow out of their predilection. Dr. James Cantor of the University of Toronto has cited three large-scale studies, along with other smaller studies, to show that transgender children eventually grow out of their gender dysphoria. The Diagnostic and Statistics Manual 5th Edition claims that desistance rates for gender dysphoria is seventy to ninety percent in “natal males” and fifty to eighty-eight percent in “natal females.” Similarly, the American Psychological Association’s Handbook of Sexuality and Psychology concludes that the vast majority of gender dysphoria-afflicted children learn to accept their gender by the time they have reached adolescence or adulthood.
It is not a secret that transgenderism lends itself to other mental health problems. Forty-one percent of transgender people have either self-harmed or experienced suicidal ideation (this percentage, of course, does not reveal at what stage of transition suicidal ideation or attempts occur). The postmodern, neo-Marxist answer to this problem is that transgender people are an oppressed minority and that they are driven to mental illness as a result of transphobia, social exclusion, bullying, and discrimination.
It is typical of the left to presume that society is to blame for an individual’s suffering. And to a certain extent, they are right. Transgender people are the victims of discrimination, prejudice, and violence. But it is more than likely that these abuses exacerbate their problems rather than causing them. One in eight transgender people, for example, rely on sex and drug work to survive. Is that the fault of society or the fault of the individual? The National Center for Transgender Equality claims that it is common for transgender people to have their privacy violated, to experience harassment, physical and sexuality violence, and to face discrimination when it comes to employment. They claim that a quarter of all transgender people have lost their jobs and three-quarters have faced workplace discrimination because of their transgender status.
In Australia, there has been a move to allow transgender children access to hormone-blocking drugs and sex-change surgeries. Australian gender activists – surprise, surprise – support the idea of as a way to reduce the rates of suicide among transgender people. The Medical Journal of Australia has approved the use of hormone therapy on thirteen-year-olds despite the fact that the scientific community remains, as of 2018, undecided on whether or not puberty-blocking drugs are either safe or reversible.
In the United States, a great deal of debate has occurred over transgender rights. In particular, there have been debates over what bathroom they should be allowed to use, how they should be recognised on official documents, and whether they should be allowed to serve in the military. In 2016, former President Barack Obama ordered state schools to allow transgender students to use whatever bathroom they desire. Similar ordinances have been passed in hundreds of cities and counties across the United States. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia are subject to ‘non-discrimination’ laws which include gender identity and gender expression. These include restrooms, locker rooms, and change rooms.
In March of 2016, North Carolina passed a law which required people in government buildings to use the bathroom appropriate to their biological gender. The US Federal Government decried the decision as bigotry and accused the government of North Carolina of violating the Civil Rights Act. The Federal Government threatened to withhold over US$4 billion in education funding. The government of North Carolina responded by filing suit against the government of the United States. The US government responded by filing suit against North Carolina. North Carolina received support from Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas whilst Washington received support from most of the northern states.
Pro-transgender bathroom policies are not limited to government, however. Many businesses in the United States have similar bathroom policies. Many large corporations, among them Target, allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice. And they are perfectly prepared to enforce these policies, as well. A Macy’s employee in Texas was fired after he refused to allow a man dressed as a woman to use the female change rooms. Similarly, Planet Fitness revoked the membership of a woman who complained that a transgender man was in the female change rooms.
The most alarming trend of the gender theory movement is the attempt to indoctrinate children through changes to the education system. In 2013, France unleashed the ABCD de l’égalité (the ABCs of Equality) on six hundred elementary schools. In their own words, the program was designed to teach students that gender was a social construct:
“Gender is a sociological concept that is based on the fact that relations between men and women are socially and culturally constructed. The theory of gender holds that there is a socially constructed sex based on differentiated social roles and stereotypes in addition to anatomical, biological sex, which is innate.”
The creators of the program are smart enough to include the disclaimer: “biological differences should not be denied, of course, but those differences should not be fate.”
Fortunately, it would seem that many people are not taken in by this race to fantasyland. They are not taken in by the idea that the program merely exists to combat gender stereotypes and teach respect, and have protested. The French Minister of Education dismissed the protestors by saying that they “have allowed themselves to be fooled by a completely false rumour… at school we are teaching little boys to become little girls. That is absolutely false, and it needs to stop.” In America, The Boston Globe dismissed the protests against the program as being motivated by fear. Judith Butler event went as far as to say that France’s financial instability was the true cause of the protests.
And such a profound misuse of the education system isn’t limited to France, either. In Scotland, teachers are given guidance by LGBT Youth Scotland, children are expected to demonstrate “understanding of diversity in sexuality and gender identity”, and children are allowed to identify as either a girl or boy, or neither. The government of the United Kingdom has mandated that transgender issues be taught as part of the sex and relationships curriculum in primary and secondary school. Justine Greening, the education secretary, said: “it is unacceptable that relationships and sex education guidance has not been updated for almost twenty years especially given the online risks, such as sexting and cyberbullying, our children and young people face.”
It is in Australia, however, that there is the most shocking case of gender theory indoctrination. A great deal of controversy has been generated over the Safe Schools program. The program, which was established by the Victorian government in 2010, is supposedly designed to provide a safe, supportive, and inclusive environment for LGBTI students. It states that schools have the responsibility to challenge “all forms of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, intersexism to prevent discrimination and bullying.”
The Safe Schools program promotes itself as an anti-bullying resource supporting “sexual diversity, intersex and gender diversity in schools.” It requires Victorian schools to eliminate discrimination based on gender identity, intersex, and sexual orientation, including in terms of an inclusive school environment.
The program addresses the issues of sleeping and bathroom arrangements and dress code. In terms of dress code, the program states:
“An inflexible dress code policy that requires a person to wear a uniform (or assume characteristics) of the sex that they do not identify with is likely to be in breach of anti-discrimination legislation including under the Equal Opportunity Act (1984) SA”
Likewise, the program states on the issue of bathrooms and change rooms that “transgender and diverse students should have the choice of accessing a toilet/changeroom that matches their gender identity.” In addition, the program states:
“Schools may also have unisex/gender neutral facilities. While this is a helpful strategy for creating an inclusive school environment for gender diverse students broadly, it is not appropriate to insist that any student, including a transgender student, use this toilet if they are not comfortable doing so.”
The idea that a transgender boy or girl should be allowed to sleep, shower, and defecate in the same place as a group of boys or girls ought to ring alarm bells for everyone. It increases the risk of sexual activity, sexual assault, pregnancy, and the transmission of sexually-transmitted-diseases. There is a reason why schools segregate changerooms, toilets, and dormitories.
The tragedy of David Reimer reveals just how dangerous it is to ignore the truth in favour of a false and malevolent social philosophy. It is one thing to seek tolerance and compassion for those in the community who may be struggling with their identity. It is something else entirely to use the plight of transgender peoples as a means of cording society to change the way it categorises gender. And it is completely insane to allow a false philosophy like gender theory to be used as the basis of public policy. If we don’t want more tragedies like David Reimer’s, we should put gender theory out in the trash where it belongs.
In March of this year, the vlogger Mark Meechan was convicted in a Scottish Court of violating the Communications Act 2003 for a video he had uploaded to YouTube in April 2016. The video, which Meechan claimed had been produced for comedic purpose (he claimed he wanted to annoy his girlfriend), featured a pug dog making Hitler salutes with its paw, responding to the command “gas the Jews” by tilting its head, and watching a Nazi rally at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
The Scottish Court that convicted Meechan (who is much better known as ‘Count Dankula’) concluded that he had been motivated to produce the video by religious prejudice. Perhaps without realising it, by convicting Meechan, the Scottish legal system has illustrated the importance of free speech and the threat that political correctness poses to it.
Unfortunately, legally and politically incited attacks against both free speech and comedy are not limited to the United Kingdom. In Canada, politically correct inspired attempts to silence comedians have been instantiated into law. In one alarming case, the Quebec Human Rights Commission awarded Jeremy Gabriel, a disabled former child star, $35,000 in damages after he was ridiculed in a comedy routine by Mike Ward.
It is little wonder, then, that some comedians have seen cause for alarm. Some, like Chris Rock, now refuse to perform on college campuses because of the oversensitivity of some of the students. Others, like legendary Monty Python star John Cleese, have warned that comedians face an “Orwellian nightmare.”
Political correctness is the antithesis of comedy. It is not that comedians have been prevented from practising their craft, but that the pressures political correctness place on them makes it difficult to do so. The comedian feels himself pressured to self-censor himself because of the way words are categorised by their supposed offensive or inoffensiveness. And he finds himself fearful of having his words twisted and misinterpreted to mean something other than what he meant it to mean.
Much of the problem arises from a culture that has elevated politics to something approximating religion. And, like all zealots, the fanatics of this new religion have attempted to conform every aspect of society to their new faith. It is the job of the comedian to make me laugh. It is not his job, as some would have you believe, to play the role of political activist.
Unfortunately, that view is not one held by many on the radical left. In an article for the Sydney Morning Herald, Judith Lucy opined that people wanted to “hear people talk about politics or race.” And it seems that there are people who agree with Lucy. Comedy is not to be used to bring joy to people, but as a platform to espouse politics. Comedy has become a form of propaganda. And it is the liberal agenda that determines what is considered funny and what isn’t.
What the politically correct offer instead of genuinely funny comedy is comedy as a form of political activism. Comedy is to be used to spread progressive ideas and political correctness is to be used to silence that which opposes those ideas. Take, for example, Tim Allen’s sitcom Last Man Standing, which revolved around a conservative protagonist, which was cancelled by the American Broadcasting Company despite its popularity.
And nowhere can this trend of comedy as political activism can be seen more readily than in the current incarnations of late-night television. Legendary comics like Johnny Carson and David Letterman established late-night television as a form of entertainment that provided light-hearted entertainment before sending its audience off to bed. It was not afraid of offending people in order to do so, either. Today, however, this willingness to offend others seems only to be targeted towards those on the right of the political spectrum. It is as though the late-night comedian has decided to use his position to preach progressive politics to its audience rather than using their talent to make insightful and hilarious observations about the world around us. The result is that late-night host places commenting on political or social matters above entertaining his audience.
It is as though the late-night host has replaced humour for indignation. The “jokes” (in reality they are tirades) contain more than a modicum of vitriol and resentment. Samantha Bee referred to Ivanka Trump as a “feckless cunt”, Stephen Colbert accused President Trump of being Vladimir Putin’s “cock holster”, so on and so forth.
While it may seem alarming, it is precisely what happens when comedians see themselves as activists rather than entertainers. As Danna Young, Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Delaware, commented:
“When comics abandon humour and go with anger instead, they come just another ‘outrage’ host. Now, if that’s cool with them, great. But if they are looking to capitalise on the special sauce of humour, then they’ll need to take their anger and use it to inform their craft, but not have it become their craft.”
Fortunately, there is a litany of comedians who refuse to conform their comedy to the morays of political correctness and progressive politics. Numerous comedians have denigrated political correctness as the “elevation of sensitivity over truth” (Bill Maher) and “America’s newest form of intolerance” (George Carlin). Jerry Seinfeld, a man whose comedy routines are considered among the least offensive in comedy, referred to political correctness as “creepy” on Late Night with Seth Meyers. Bill Burr accused social justice warriors of being bullies. Likewise, Ricky Gervais has tweeted “if you don’t believe in a person’s right to say things you find ‘grossly offensive’, you don’t believe in free speech.”
And all of this is not to say that political correctness has destroyed genuinely funny comedy, either. Netflix has spent a great deal of money producing comedy specials that are, in many cases, far for inoffensive. Ricky Gervais comedy special Humanity has featured jokes about rape, cancer, transgenderism, AIDS, and the Holocaust.
Comedy has been threatened by both progressive politics and political correctness. Mark Meechan may have found himself running afoul of the politically correct left, but as long as their people who stand committed to free speech and comedians prepared to make offensive jokes, the laughter will continue.
Knowles asks the viewer to consider the difference between an illegal immigrant and an undocumented immigrant, or the difference between a Christmas tree and a holiday tree. The answer, he tells us, lies in semantics. It is not the objects in themselves that are different, but the words used to define and describe them.
The manner in which we define and describe different things has a powerful effect on the way we view them. Our thoughts are processed and articulated through words. And it is through this articulation that our worldview is formed.
Language, therefore, is a vital cornerstone of civilisation. When it is used properly, it leads people towards truth and reason. But when it is abused, it leads people towards lies and irrationality.
The Judeo-Christian tradition is based upon written and verbal articulation. God’s first act of creation is the verbal commandment “let there be light.” Moses is commanded to write down the Ten Commandments. And Jesus Christ, the Messiah, is described as “the word of God made flesh.”
The left has come to realise that they can use language to manipulate the way people think. Through their domination of academia, culture, and media has ensured that it is their definitions and descriptors are the ones accepted within the larger culture.
The left controls language by using euphemisms to distort and obscure facts. These euphemisms make it easier for lies to be accepted by the larger populace.
Through their perversion of language, the left has all-ready been able to engineer significant social change. Would society have accepted gay marriage had it not been deviated from its original definition of the union of husband – man – and wife – woman? And would society have been so ready to accept abortion if those being killed were referred to as unborn babies and not as foetuses?
And the left continues to use language as a means to engineer social change. They refer to policies that favour groups based upon arbitrary factors such as race, gender, or sexuality as “social justice.” But to be just means to have “the quality of being fair and reasonable.” In reality, there is nothing just about the policies that comprise “social justice.”
Likewise, policies that unfairly favour non-white, non-male, and non-heterosexual individuals in academia and the workforce is referred to as, alternatively, positive discrimination and affirmative action. In reality, such practices are discrimination.
Intellectual conformity is enforced in the name of “diversity”, opposing points of views are censored in the name of “tolerance”, and voices of dissent are silenced because they are dismissed as “hate speech.”
When you control the words, you control the culture. And when you control the culture, you control the future of a civilisation.
In 2015, the then-Presidential candidate, Donald Trump (1946 – ) called for a boycott of Starbucks after the famous coffee shop chain failed to include the words “Merry Christmas” on their annual Christmas cups. “Did you read about Starbucks?”, Trump asked a rally in Springfield, Illinois. “No more ‘Merry Christmas’ on Starbucks. Maybe we should boycott Starbucks.”
Two years later, Donald Trump, now President of the United States, doubled down on his pro-Christmas message. Speaking at a Christian Public Policy conference, the President stated:
“We’re getting near that beautiful Christmas season that people don’t talk about anymore. They don’t use the word ‘Christmas’ because it’s not politically correct.”
“You got to department stores and they’ll say, ‘Happy New Year’, or they’ll say other things and it’ll be red, they’ll have it painted. But they don’t say it. Well, guess what? We’re saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.”
The sentiment that there is a War on Christmas designed to push the religious holiday out of public consciousness carries a great deal of validity. Since 2000, the Becket Institute has listed the biggest Christmas scrooges in American public life, giving the worst offenders an ‘Ebenezer award.’
In 2000, city manager of Eugene, Oregon, Jim Johnson was given the Ebenezer Award after he issued a five-page memo banning Christmas trees from any “public space” in the city.
In 2011, the Ebenezer Award was given to the United States Post Office after they enforced a policy preventing people from singing Christmas carols on Government property. This decision stands in direct contradiction to Benjamin Franklin’s (1706 – 1790) (their founder) commandment to “always live jollily; for a good conscience is a continual Christmas.”
In 2014, the City of Sioux Falls was given the Ebenezer Award after they threatened to repaint and censor snowploughs that featured artwork celebrating the religious nature of Christmas.
In 2015, the Ebenezer Award was given to the Department of Veteran Affairs after they banned their employees at their Salem, Virginia facility from saying ‘Merry Christmas.’
The problem is not unique to the United States, either. During an interview with 2GB Radio, Peter Dutton (1970 – ), Australia’s minister for immigration and border protection, became incensed after a caller informed him that there had not been any Christmas carols in a performance at his grandchild’s school. The caller informed Dutton that the school in question, Kerdon State High School, had replaced the lyric “we wish you a Merry Christmas” with “we wish you a happy holiday.” Dutton replied: “You make my blood boil with these stories. It is political correctness gone mad and I think people have just had enough of it.”
I believe that the drive to remove the more traditional and religious aspects from holidays like Christmas and Easter is indicative of a larger attempt to abolish the influence of Christianity on society and culture.
The problem with this, needless to say, is that it is akin to chopping down a tree and still wishing to enjoy its fruits. It is not possible to enjoy the fruits of Western culture and civilisation when its ideological origins and overarching philosophical-cum-theological structures have been removed. Christianity and Western civilisation are inextricably linked. The poet, T.S. Eliot (1888 – 1965) wrote in Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1943) that “to our Christian heritage we owe many things besides religious faith. Through it we trace the evolution of our arts, through it we have a conception of Roman Law which has done so much to shape the Western world, through it we have our conception of private and public morality.”
The War on Christmas is an attack on the very fabric of Western Civilisation. Christmas symbolises the central axiom our culture was built on: that the Universe was constructed to have a natural and moral order. The War on Christmas is not merely an attack of Judeo-Christian belief, nor is it merely an attack on Western culture, it is an attack upon truth itself. And the truth cannot prosper while those who believe it are unwilling to defend it.
There has been an alarming trend in modern culture: numerous political and social activist groups have been attempting to use the pernicious and false doctrines of political correctness, tolerance, and diversity to silence those they disagree with. Many of these groups have sought the passage of so-called “hate speech” laws designed to silence voices of dissent.
At public colleges and universities, places where free speech and open debate should be actively encouraged, measures – including protests, disruption, and, in some cases, outright violence – taken to suppress voices of dissent has become tantamount to Government censorship. This censorship prevents students from inviting the speakers they wish to hear and debate speech they disagree with. Eva Fourakis, the editor-in-chief of The Williams Record (the student newspaper of Williams College) wrote an editorial, later recanted, commenting that “some speech is too harmful to invite to campus.” The editorial went on to say: “students should not face restrictions in terms of the speakers they bring to campus, provided of course that these speakers do not participate in legally recognised forms of hate speech.”
The University of California, Berkeley, is famous for sparking the free speech movement of the 1960s. Today, however, it has become a haven for radical, anti-free speech Neo-Marxists and social justice warriors. Not only have many Republican students had their personal property destroyed, but numerous conservative speakers have had their talks disturbed, and, in some cases, halted altogether. In February, Antifa – so-called anti-fascists – set fires and vandalised building during a speech by the controversial journalist, Milo Yiannopoulos (1984 – ). In April, threats of violence aimed at members of the Young Americas Foundation forced political commentator, Ann Coulter (1961 – ), to cancel her speech. A speech by David Horowitz (1939 – ), founder and president of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, was cancelled after organisers discovered that the event would take place during normal class times (for safety, or so they claimed). Finally, the conservative journalist, Ben Shapiro (1984 – ), was forced to spend US$600,000 on security for his speech at UC Berkeley. These events show that those who wish to use disruption, vilification, threats, and outright violence to silence others can be, and often are, successful in doing so.
Like most the principles of classical liberalism, free speech developed through centuries of political, legal, and philosophical progress. And like many Western ideas, its development can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks. During his trial in Athens in 399BC, Socrates (470BC – 399BC) expressed the belief that the ability to speak was man’s most divine gift. “If you offered to let me off this time on condition I am not any longer to speak my mind”, Socrates stated, “I should say to you, ‘Men of Athens, I shall obey the Gods rather than you.”
Sixteen hundred years later, in 1215, the Magna Carta became the founding document of English liberty. In 1516, Desiderius Erasmus (1466 – 1536) wrote in the Education of a Christian Prince that “in a free state, tongues too should be free.” In 1633, the astronomist Galileo Galilei was put on trial by the Catholic Church for refusing to retract his claim of a heliocentric solar system. In 1644, the poet, John Milton (1608 – 1674), author of Paradise Lost, warned in Areopagictica that “he who destroys a good book kills reason itself.” Following the usurpation of King James II (1633 – 1701) by William III (1650 – 1702) and Mary II (1662 – 1694) in 1688, the English Parliament passed the English Bill of Rights which guaranteed free elections, regular parliaments, and freedom of speech in Parliament.
In 1789, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, an important document of the French revolution, provided for freedom of speech (needless to say, Robespierre and company were not very good at actually promoting this ideal). That same year, the philosopher Voltaire (1694 – 1778) famously wrote: “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.” Over in the United States, in 1791, the first amendment of the US Bill of Rights guaranteed freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to assemble:
ARTICLE [I] (AMENDMENT 1 – FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND RELIGION)
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
During the 19th century, the British philosopher, John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873) argued for toleration and individuality in his 1859 essay, On Liberty. “If any opinion is compelled to silence”, Mill warned, “that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to presume our own infallibility.” Mill believed that all doctrines, no matter how immoral or offensive, ought to be given public exposure. He stated in On Liberty:
“If the argument of the present chapter are of any validity, there ought to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it may be considered.”
Elsewhere in On Liberty, Mill warned that the suppression of one voice was as immoral as the suppression of all voices:
“If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”
Centuries later, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, accepted unilaterally by the United Nations, urged member states to promote civil, human, economic, social, and political rights – including freedom of expression and religion.
Within the American Justice System, numerous Supreme Court cases have created judicial protections for freedom of speech. In the case of the Nationalist Socialist Party of America v. Village of Stoke (1977), the Supreme Court upheld the right of neo-Nazis to march through a village with a large Jewish population and wear Nazi insignia. The Justices found that the promotion of religious hatred was not a sufficient reason to restrict free speech.
In the city of St. Paul during the early 1990s, a white teenager was arrested under the “Bias-Motivated Crime Ordinance” after he burnt a cross made of a broken chair (cross-burning is commonly used by the Ku Klux Klan to intimidate African Americans) in the front yard of an African American family. The Court ruled that the city’s Ordinance was unconstitutional. Justice Antonin Scalia (1936 – 2016), noted that the purpose of restricting fighting words was to prevent civil unrest, not to ban the content or message of the speaker’s words. Scalia wrote in the case of R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul (1992):
“The ordinance applies only to ‘fighting words’ that insult, or provoke violence, ‘on the basis of race, colour, creed, religion or gender.’ Displays containing abusive invective, no matter how vicious or severe, are permissible unless they are addressed to one of the specified disfavored topics. Those who wish to use ‘fighting words’ in connection with other ideas—to express hostility, for example, on the basis of political affiliation, union membership, or homosexuality—are not covered. The First Amendment does not permit St. Paul to impose special prohibitions on those speakers who express views on disfavored subjects.”
In the Matal v. Tam case (2017), the Supreme Court found that a provision within the Lanham Act prohibiting the registration of trademarks that disparaged persons, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols violated the First Amendment. Justice Samuel Alito (1950 – ) opined:
“[The idea that the government may restrict] speech expressing ideas that offend … strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate’.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy (1936 – ) opined:
“A law found to discriminate based on viewpoint is an “egregious form of content discrimination,” which is “presumptively unconstitutional.” … A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society.”
In recent years, numerous calls to ban speech have been justified on the basis that it is “hateful.” Much of this has come from the political left who (in what one may cynically regard as having more to do with silencing voices of dissent than with protecting vulnerable groups) argue that restrictions on hate speech must occur if minorities are to be given equal status with everyone else.
That certain types of speech can be offensive, and that some of that speech may be aimed at certain groups of people, is undeniable. Hate speech has even been criticised for undermining democracy! In an article, Alexander Tsesis, Professor of Law at Loyola University, wrote: “hate speech is a threatening form of communication that is contrary to democratic principles.” Some have even argued that hate speech violates the fourteenth amendment to the US Constitution which guarantees equal protection under the law:
Article XIV (AMENDMENT 14 – RIGHTS GUARANTEED: PRIVILEGES AND IMMUNITIES OF CITIZENSHIP, DUE PROCESS, AND EQUAL PROTECTION)
1: All persons born or naturalised in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
That there is a historical basis for restricting hate speech is undeniable. Slavery, Jim Crow, and the Holocaust, among other atrocities, were all proceeded by violent and hateful rhetoric. (Indeed, incitement to genocide is considered a serious war crime and a serious crime against humanity under international law.) Genocide is almost always preceded by hate speech. However, what proponents of hate speech laws fail to realise is that the countries that perpetrated these atrocities did not extend the freedom to speak to the groups that they were targeting. Joseph Goebbels (1897 – 1945), the Nazi minister for public enlightenment and propaganda, for example, had such an iron grip on Germany’s media that any voice contradicting the Nazi’s anti-Semitic propaganda had no opportunity to be heard.
But who, exactly, supports hate speech laws? Analysis of survey data taken from Pew Research Center and YouGov reveals that it is primarily non-white, millennial democrats. In terms of age, the Pew Research Centre found that forty-percent of millennials supported Government censorship of hate speech, compared to twenty-seven percent of gen x-ers, twenty-four percent of baby-boomers, and only twelve percent of the silent generation.
In terms of race, research by YouGov reveals that sixty-two percent of African Americans support Government censorship of hate speech, followed by fifty percent of Hispanics, and thirty-six percent of White Americans.
In terms of political affiliation, research from YouGov taken in 2015 found that fifty-one percent of Democrats supported restrictions on hate speech, compared to thirty-seven percent of Republicans, and only thirty-five percent of independents.
The primary issue with hate speech is that determining what it does and does not constitute is very difficult. (The cynic may argue, fairly, that hate speech begins when the speaker expresses a view or states a fact or expresses an opinion that another person does not want others to hear.) As Christopher Hitchens (1949 – 2011) pointed out, the central problem with hate speech is that someone has to decide what it does and does not constitute.
The second issue with hate speech laws is that they can easily be used by one group to silence another. Often this kind of censorship is aimed at particular groups of individuals purely for ideological and/or political purposes, often with the justification that such actions increase the freedom and equality of the people the advocates claim to represent.
In Canada, Bill C-16 has sought to outlaw “hate propaganda” aimed at members of the community distinguishable by their gender identity or expression. The Bill originated with a policy paper by the Ontario Human Rights Commission which sought to determine what constituted discrimination against gender identity and expression. This included “refusing to refer to a person by their self-identified name and proper personal pronoun.” Supporters of Bill C-16 see it as an important step towards the creation of legal protections for historically marginalised groups. Detractors, however, have expressed concern that the Bill creates a precedence for Government mandated speech.
The Canadian clinical psychologist and cultural critic, Professor Jordan Peterson (1962 – ), first came to public attention when he posted a series of YouTube videos warning of the dangers of political correctness and criticising Bill C-16. In his videos, Professor Peterson warned that the law could be used to police speech and compel individuals to use ‘transgender pronouns’ (these are terms like ‘ze’ and ‘zer’, among others). For his trouble, Peterson has been accused of violence by a fellow panellist on the Agenda with Steve Palkin, received two warning letters from the University of Toronto in 2016, and was denied a social research grant from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
Europe has been experiencing similar attempts to silence speech. A law passed in the Bundestag this year will force social media companies operating in Germany to delete racist or slanderous comments and posts within twenty-four hours or face a fine of up to €50 million if they fail to do so. Additionally, numerous public figures have found themselves charged with hate speech crimes for merely pointing out the relationship between the large influx of non-European migrants and high crime rates, particularly in terms of rape and terrorism. One politician in Sweden was prosecuted for daring to post immigrant crime statistics on Facebook.
In Great Britain, British Freedom of Information documents reveal that around twenty-thousand adults and two-thousand children had been investigated by the police for comments that made online. In politics, British MP, Paul Weston (1965 – ), found himself arrested after he quoted a passage on Islam written by Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965). In Scotland, a man was charged under the 2003 Communication’s Act with the improper use of electronic communications after he filmed his dog making a Hitler salute.
In Australia, Herald Sun columnist, Andrew Bolt (1959 – ), was found to have contravened section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act after he published articles accusing fair-skinned Aborigines of using their racial status for personal advantages. The law firm, Holding Redlich, speaking for a group of Aboriginal persons, demanded that the Herald Sun retract two Andrew Bolt articles, written in April and August of 2009, and restrain Bolt from writing similar articles in the future. Joel Zyngier, who acted for the group pro-bono, told Melbourne’s The Age:
“We see it as clarifying the issue of identity—who gets to say who is and who is not Aboriginal. Essentially, the articles by Bolt have challenged people’s identity. He’s basically arguing that the people he identified are white people pretending they’re black so they can access public benefits.”
Judge Morcedai Bromberg (1959 – ) found that the people targeted by Bolt’s articles were reasonably likely to have been “offended, insulted, humiliated, or intimidated.”
We need speech to be as free as possible because it is that which allows us to exchange and critique information. It through free speech that we are able to keep our politicians and public officials in check, that we are able to critique public policy, and that we are able to disseminate information. As the Canadian cognitive psychologist, Stephen Pinker (1954 – ), observed: “free speech is the only way to acquire knowledge about the world.” Measures taken to restrict free speech, whether it be the criminalization of hate speech or any other, is a complete contradiction of the principles that free Western democracies are founded upon.