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Soft Student Brains (2)

Fear and Hate

In a post on Tufts University’s Islamic Awareness Week and the censorship surrounding it, I wrote: 

So, a panel of faculty and students will not permit “attitudes or opinions” that are deemed, tendentiously, to constitute “harassment” and to create a “hostile environment.” Even when that “harassment” takes the form of factual statements which those complaining have yet to refute. One therefore has to wonder what kind of “awareness” Islamic Awareness Week was intended to cultivate. Evidently, a free and frank discussion wasn’t - and isn’t - a welcome outcome. And one has to wonder exactly when students became so delicate and so allergic to dissent, even to matters of historical fact.

It should, I think, be unnecessary to point out that claims of being offended don’t, in themselves, entitle one to anything in particular, and certainly not rights of unilateral censorship. But we live in strange times and some repetition may be in order. As I wrote back in May 2005:

In this fashionable rush to condemn those who cause offence, we are in danger of overlooking something important. All grievances are not of equal merit. Nor are they deserving of equal sensitivity or accommodation. Whether or not a person is offended may not depend on what is actually said or written, which may be perfectly coherent, measured in tone and serious in intent. The perceived offence may depend on the dishonesty and hypocrisy of the supposedly aggrieved party... Very civil and inarguable comments can, for instance, cause “offence” to someone who is determined to be offended for political gain and determined to exploit the pretence of being hurt. Indeed, the pantomime of being conspicuously aggrieved can be a form of passive-aggressivism - a way to express hostility or dominance while hiding being the role of victim. This tactic is widely employed by the morally incontinent and by bullies of all kinds.

In light of those comments, the following may be of interest. Mike Adams has developed a similar line of thinking and arrived at an interesting, and quite helpful, definition of “hate speech”: 

Hate speech is verbal communication that induces anger due to the listener’s inability to offer an intelligent response. Because this inability to offer an intelligent response is due to one of two reasons, there are really two different types of hate speech: (1) Speech that is too dumb to merit an intelligent response, and (2) Speech for which the listener is too dumb to offer an intelligent response.

Instances of the former are numerous in the society-at-large. For example, when a member of the KKK says “I may not be much, but at least I’m not a nigger” there is really no way to respond intelligently. Nor is there much hope that any response will be understood and appreciated by someone ignorant enough to make such a remark. So the speech can be properly characterized as hate speech.

Instances of the latter are numerous in academia. For example, three years ago this week, I wrote a piece explaining how speech codes produce a form of reverse Darwinism. I argued that only those who are emotionally unfit are likely to become uncomfortable simply by hearing a contrary point of view. I argued further that they are indeed quite emotionally unfit if they actually remain upset long enough to file a complaint aimed at enforcing a speech code…

The similarity between the two principal forms of hate speech is obvious: They both induce anger in the listener, regardless of whether the speaker expressed his view with any feeling of hatred or animosity. And this leads to an understanding of the apparent hypocrisy of gays and feminists who (a) cry “hate speech” against conservatives who do not wish to kill gays and feminists, and (b) tolerate “hate speech” by Islamic fascists who really do wish to kill gays and feminists. Islamic advocacy of violence is not classified as “hate speech” because it induces fear, not anger. This, of course, explains the failure of speech codes. Since the enforcement of the codes relies largely on the emotional reaction of the listener rather than the content of the speech.

Adams’ Darwinian reference is not an entirely unserious one. Progress depends on the vigorous testing of ideas and this process can involve unflattering collisions and breakage. Poor arguments and unsupportable beliefs are often damaged in free debate, sometimes beyond repair, and disrepute and embarrassment may prove difficult to avoid. That’s the nature of progress. Moves to spare the feelings and prejudices of designated victim groups inhibit that testing process and give undue immunity to those with the poorer argument, or no argument at all. If, as Adams suggests, “hate speech” is defined by the listener’s inability to tolerate dissent or formulate an intelligent response, then advantage is given to those who least deserve it. Those who resort to threats and howls of impropriety gain leverage over people who are prepared to listen and rebut with argument and evidence. Thus, moral incontinence, idiocy and bullying prevail. 

Related, on unrealistic dialogue. And. Also. Plus.

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