Thursday, 22 May 2014

"Hate Speech" Is The Wrong Answer

My comment on J.M. Cole's article "Yes Homophobia Kills", concerning the suicide of a young homosexual man in Taichung, published at "Thinking Taiwan"...


It is easy to say this with hindsight of course, but the University could have saved themselves a lot of bother by just giving Chang his money back.

However, I disagree with the headline of this article for two reasons. First, it would appear to contradict the meaning of "suicide", and second what the term "homophobia" is employed to refer to appears to have been a disdain for (or perhaps even hatred of) homosexuality, rather than a fear of homosexuality - which is what the term "phobia" means.

To take the second point first: it may at first glance seem trivial, but it goes to the integrity of the connection between language and thought. The term "phobia" means "fear" not a dislike, or hatred that is regarded as immoral. The fact that the term "homophobia" has been popularized does not mean that it should be accepted, nor that Latin is somehow preferable to plain English. This article could have replaced the term "homophobia" with the more accurate "hatred of homosexuality" at the expense of only some more letters and an additional preposition.

Returning to the first point: the University lecturer may be guilty of disliking homosexuals but to imply that he is guilty of "killing" (viz murder or manslaughter) Chang relies on an unprovable claim of causal determinism. As Chi Hsu states above: what about all the other homosexuals who manage to successfully cope with such encounters? I say this not to condone hatred of homosexuals, but because there are two larger principles under threat here: freedom of speech, and freedom of association - both of which presuppose freedom of choice to say what you want (or to hold your tongue) and to associate (or disassociate) with whomever you want. That underlying freedom of choice is the functional meaning of "discrimination" - without discrimination, there can be no such thing as a free society since we will all be forced into accepting things without our having any choice in the matter.

I think the rising notion of "hate speech" is problematic on two counts. My first objection is epistemological: it either refers to all expressions of hatred, or only a select few that are politically determined by pressure groups - and where is the limit to such politicization? My second objection is that, either way, the notion of "hate speech", whilst it may appear to be an aid to those who suffer from social rejection for no good reason, is nevertheless a standing threat to the principle of freedom of speech.

There are other ways to help homosexuals, in particular discrimination itself: those who discriminate in certain ways against homosexuals can in turn be discriminated against. That approach has the advantage of not requiring the coercive apparatus of the State, via the courts, to be enforced.


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