Hate speech ain’t free (Boycott Bill Maher)

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about the necessity of the universal right (or lack thereof) to free speech. Much of this has been due to the tiresome provocations of a couple of sad souls who are either clamoring for attention via a morally repugnant, dangerous path of self-promotion, or they’re truly advocating for a horrific future (possibly both). Of the two, one seems more aligned with self-promotion, while the other appears to truly aim to drive radical, hate-based change. Despite their apparent differences in aims, I find both’s hate speech dangerous

As I see it, the problem is not a question of whether all speech should be free, as I think it most certainly should. The question is whether those who would willingly spread hate deserve platforms and whether there are costs for providing them.

Platforming

Bill Maher just gave one of these people a chance to spread his message to a large audience. Jeremy Scahill, a founding editor of The Intercept, was scheduled to appear on Maher’s show that night, but he chose not to do so when he learned who would be on with him. Maher excused himself for bringing the guest on by saying that if the person in question “is indeed the monster Scahill claims – and he might be – nothing could serve the liberal cause better than having him exposed on Friday night.” This is thin justification for inviting a tiresome provocateur on the show in the wake of the riot around his recently canceled appearance in Berkeley, CA.

The appearance was scheduled  to draw attention around the hateful firebrand to grab headlines and increase viewership. There is nothing interesting or insightful around the rhetoric Maher’s guest spews. There is nothing redeeming in his words. The only things he brings to the table are banal hate speech and the potential to spark danger. Maher knows this; he specifically referred to it in the interview.

Normalizing

The latter of the two gained fame for leading Nazi-style salutes at a talk in the run up to the 2016 US election, and for getting punched in the head on election day. Since then he’s continued his “lecture” tour of US college campuses.

Cesar Subervi, a “liberty activist” from the Dominican attended one of the speaker’s recent events and shared his thoughts on the talk. In the interview, Cesar stated that the person in question was “a white identitarian, and most on the left and right are wholly opposed to that because it’s given a bad name,” (emphasis mine) before adding, “It’s understandable, but as a Dominican, (he) and I were able to have a discussion and even see eye-to-eye on certain things. I really enjoyed the dialogue we shared, and see no problem with (him) advocating on behalf of his own ethnicity.”

Here’s my problem with this. It seems likely that the author sought out Mr. Subervi for comment in the hopes of getting quotes along the lines of those he ended up with. Mr. Subervi is a non-white, non-US national, so his quotes could easily be seen to normalize the speaker’s words and outlook. They didn’t agree on everything, but they found some common ground and had a nice dialog. How lovely. It’s all fun and games until the speaker pulls together the movement he’s working towards…

What happened and what can we do?

I think this all goes back to the 2016 US presidential election in which a slew of norms were indiscriminately, if not intentionally, discarded. That the current president is in violation of the emoluments clause seems unquestionable (I’m not an attorney, but come on.), and the constitution that once seemed to many to be water-tight now appears to have holes to gaping for it to be used as a sieve.

The task at hand is clearly to protect the vulnerable among us as best we can as we weather the current storm, but we also need to keep an eye on the future in looking to find a better path forward.

Should people be punching neo-Nazis? I want to say no, but I can’t say so with full confidence. My tendency toward pacifism is mitigated by the fear of what happens should they grow in number, confidence, and virulence; especially at a time when norms are quickly falling by the wayside.

Should we be rioting in the streets when such speakers are invited to our campuses? I struggle to see where damaging property and running amuck directly serves the aims of muting hate speech, as it seems to give far more attention (and larger platforms) than would be brought by simply protesting (or possibly ignoring) the event.

But I don’t think that ignoring such is the answer either. Hate grows unrestrained in a vacuum, especially in times of significant economic challenges and fracturing social bonds. One possible way to deal with this is to deny platforms by way of boycotting the platform providers and putting pressure on those who fund them to join the cause.

Hate grows unrestrained in a vacuum, especially in times of econ challenges & waning social bonds. Click To Tweet
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Bill Maher’s show seems the obvious place to start with this, so I’m asking you to consider avoiding his show and join me in letting HBO know how you feel. I know it’s not likely that this post makes a dent in the problem, but that shouldn’t deter us from doing what we believe to be right. And I hope that those who do read this do see the potential of obviating platforms for hate speech and choose to work toward what I see as a worthy goal.

No hate mongers were named in this post. We all have the option to do the same when we write about them.