Friday, April 03, 2015

Why Offensive Speech Is Valuable

Offensive speech contributes to the marketplace of ideas by expanding its borders. If the marketplace of ideas is the area where “acceptable” ideas are freely exchanged, then outside is the “black” marketplace of ideas. There, people talk about things that are not allowed in the “official” marketplace. That sometimes includes conspiracy theories, racial hatemongering, and other pure lunacy, but it also includes things desperately needing a public airing.

For years, if not centuries, the field of sex research was hindered by taboo and puritanical censorship. Bigotry and prejudice towards homosexuality, divergent sexual desires of any sort, women’s sexual health, and sexual dysfunction caused researchers to be relegated to the black marketplace of ideas. In order to get out of the black market, they needed to offend.

By being offensive, comedians, authors, and artists helped bring sex research out of the darkness. By saying forbidden words in jokes and skits, by looking censors in the eyes and saying “cocksucker”—one of the words that famed comic Lenny Bruce was arrested for in 1961 in a San Francisco nightclub—the crass and the boorish opened up avenues of thought and discussion that were previously forbidden. Bruce said, “you break it down by talking about it.” Slowly, conversations about sex were freed from puritanical oversight, sex researchers illuminated a crucial part of human existence, and couples had more fun.

Those comics from the 60s who were “edgy” now seem quaint to our modern sensibilities. But there are always new innovators in the world of offensive speech, and no amount of government regulation will stop that.

People define themselves by being offensive. They express themselves through their willingness to stomp on prevailing sensitivities and, yes, even other’s feelings. Fostering self-expression and self-development is another important reason we have a strong and uncompromising First Amendment. As homosexuals who have “come out” know all too well, expressing something publicly is crucial to defining oneself.

Does this apply to those who hate other races, religions, and ethnicities? Yes. They have as much right to define themselves through speech as anyone. And those who abhor the hateful have a right to shun them, expose them, and call them out. Government prohibitions on hate speech drive the hateful underground, where they can proliferate freely and without pushback from those who dare not enter. Sunlight, not government, is the best disinfectant. I, for one, would like racists and bigots to speak freely. I want to know who not to invite to my parties.

Government is not as effective as civil society in properly squelching and shaming hateful speech. If the government defines the parameters of acceptable speech, then many people will break those boundaries just because the government told them not to do it. They will explore the hidden, underground world of hate speech just because it is a forbidden fruit. There they will find whole new ways to offend people because offensive people, like water, will always find a way.

In fact, there is no correlation between the strength of a country’s hate speech laws and the eradication of hateful views. Greece, for example, has passed laws that try to combat “certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law.” Yet according to the Anti-Defamation League, 69 percent of Greeks hold anti-semitic views, compared to just 9 percent of Americans. Just like drug laws, driving hate speech underground will do little to eliminate the habit, and could make the situation worse.

So go forth and offend and be offended. Do it for Lenny Bruce.



Anonymous said...

The use of vulgarities, obscenities, and other offensive speech has degraded not improved social interrelations.

Use the Name, Luke said...

Being offensive merely to be offensive only degrades, it does not improve anything.

"Anything goes" speech—when disconnected from virtues such as truth and logic—destroys.

People are often offended by true statements. That is why "offensive" cannot be a valid measure of appropriate speech.

The sad thing about our society today is that claims which are fully disconnected from truth and logic are celebrated and amplified while virtuous speech is shouted down using the heckler's veto. No society can survive such a state of affairs any more than it can survive a "thought police" government. There needs to be some sort of balance.

Bird of Paradise said...

Say no to speech codes and yes to Freedom of Speech and if whinny liberal don't like it then they can go pound sand

Anonymous said...

The biggest problem is the progressive left press who suppress or corrupt the speech of conservatives in order to push their agenda. Until conservatives resort to the same tactics they will always be the downtrodden in western society.

Flu-Bird said...

Anon 7:13 The Progresivists(Socialists,Communist etc)oppose free speech just like all tyrants and commie scum want to do its what Karl Marx,Joe Stalin and Hitler wanted

Larry-Bird said...

Truth and logic. Two topics Luke knows nothing about.

Use the Name, Luke said...

Somewhere in the world, a village bridge is missing its troll.

Anonymous said...

Somewhere in the world, a village bridge is missing its troll.

Very good !!!

Kee Bird said...

Larry Bird.Truth and Logic are subjects liberals avoid at all times