Hate speech. It’s a phrase you hear increasingly often.
I’ve used it myself as a label of journalistic convenience, but I’m not comfortable with it and never have been.
My first concern is that much of what is emotively described as hate speech isn’t hateful at all. Too often it simply means opinions and ideas that some people find distasteful or offensive. But merely being offended is no justification for stifling expressions of opinion in a liberal, open democracy that depends on the contest of ideas.
More worryingly, accusations of “hate speech” can be used to intimidate people into silence and put discussion of certain issues and ideas off-limits. In fact, I believe that’s the over-arching aim.
That is indeed the intent. It is used to shut down debate. If you want to debate whether or not separate Maori seats are a good idea, you get hit with the hate speech label. Against same sex marriage, and that’s also hate speech.
The mounting clamour for tougher laws against so-called hate speech is an outgrowth of identity politics, in which minority groups are encouraged to see themselves as oppressed or disadvantaged because of their colour, ethnicity, gender, religious belief or sexual orientation.
This has generated a demand for protection from comments that might be seen as critical or belittling – hence the frequency with which we hear people being accused of xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia and misogyny.
No-one likes to have these labels pinned on them, so people keep their heads down. Accusing someone of hate speech has the same effect. It’s a quick way to shut down debate.
He missed transphobia.
Other code words commonly used in an attempt to de-legitimise valid opinions include “far-Right” and “alt-Right”. These labels are likely to be attached to anyone whose opinions are to the Right of the political Centre. You can even be labelled far-Right for making statements that most people would regard as utterly unremarkable – for example, saying there are only two genders, as the Canadian commentator Lauren Southern did.
How often do you hear a speaker labelled as far-left? Does one of our many Marxist academics ever get labelled as far-left? Why not?
But the most illiberal pronouncement I have read on the supposed dangers of free speech came from a university vice-chancellor who clearly thought that ordinary New Zealanders can’t be trusted to form their own sensible conclusions about contentious issues.
This pompous academic thought we needed guidance to keep us on the right path. And where from? Why, from universities. We can infer from this that universities see themselves as having taken over the role once filled by churches. God help us all.
It was a terrible column by the Vice-Chancellor.