The great French thinker, Voltaire, is famously quoted as saying:
“I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
This has shaped a great deal of Western democracies, either directly or subtly, and it undoubtedly has its place.
But it’s time to revisit the notion that this is a representation of a static ideal, and start to have a long hard look at what it also enshrines: hate speech.
You see, I’m effectively told periodically that I’m a bigot. You might think this means that I hate a particular group of people, or I’m a misogynist, but no, it’s because I refuse to accept a place for hate speech.
In order to be truly enlightened, it seems, I must be happy to let people get away with poisoned words and attitudes.
In my particular instance, many in society seem to have this blinkered view that it’s OK to argue against GBLTI rights, because of tradition. Traditionally same-sex couples have not been allowed to marry since the 16th century, and therefore traditionally it’s still OK to argue against it.
That, quite frankly, is just one layer of abstraction away from “the bible says marriage is between a man and a woman”. Well, there’s a lot of things the bible says marriage is about, and most people who tout that argument don’t have a clue. But Betty Bowers does. In short, when we look at what the bible says a marriage should be about, it stands apart as an example of aberrant and immoral behaviour in a way few other documents do.
But returning to tradition. People want and cling to their traditions. But selectively. The traditional view, for instance, espoused by the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, is that marriage is between a man and a woman. Yet by those same traditions, she’s a whore, because she’s living in sin with her partner without having married him. What’s more, if we go back to that 16th century tradition, then she shouldn’t be in politics at all, because women had no rights to such lofty ambitions beyond motherhood, sewing, writing and the occasional writing of great novels. How traditional is she?
Want to bring those traditions forward a bit? Say to the 1970s? OK, well according to Pope Ratzinger, that’s when traditionally pedophilia was not seen as an issue:
“In the 1970s, pedophilia was theorised as something fully in conformity with man and even with children … It was maintained – even within the realm of Catholic theology – that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself. There is only a ‘better than’ and a ‘worse than’. Nothing is good or bad in itself.”
Are any of you traditionalists for the reinstitution of that tradition? I know I’m not. Tradition is a dangerous word. It has its place, but it should not be an excuse in and of itself.*
We’re told that because such beliefs are traditional we should accept that many people who hold them are just ignorant, and shouldn’t be lumped in with all the ‘haters’.
But what are they doing? Even if we accept for a moment that they are being ignorant, their ignorant mouthing of bad attitudes still constitutes hate speech. Sure, we have murder and manslaughter charges in society, but either way they still reflect that someone died. Does it really matter if its first degree hate speech or second degree hate speech when the net result is the same? Do people get off scott free when it can be proven they committed manslaughter instead of murder?
Coming out of a store about 9 months ago now, I was carrying a case of cider. A man was walking into the store with his son, who was under 10 years old. The son asked “Dad, what’s cider?” To which the father replied “It’s sort of like beer, but only girls and fags drink it.”
What logical reason should I have had to let that go? In one statement the father had deliberately conveyed his bigoted attitude to his son, which would undoubtedly have either started to or continued to set the behavioural pattern of inappropriate social behaviour. So I turned and said, “Excuse me, I prefer to be called gay“.
I don’t know whether he thought I was out of earshot, or whether he thought I’d find it amusing, but what he didn’t find amusing was having a 6 foot tall, large and angry guy with a mohawk and tattoos not only (a) come out as gay in front of him and his son, but (b) unashamedly do so.
We don’t fight bigotry by continuously turning the other cheek or accepting that people have a right to say what they want. We fight it by pushing back.
Australia does not have free speech laws, and while we have laws that are quite liberal and permissive of people saying what they want to say, they draw the line at hate speech.
And so do I.
A right to free speech is not a right to espouse bigoted views, regardless of they were developed.
* Apparently, nothing is good or bad in itself according to the catholic church, unless you’re talking about condoms or homosexuality. At that point though, you’re the spawn of satan and evil incarnate. It’s interesting that a church can have a notion of mortal sin – unforgivable acts – but then run around and say there’s no good or evil.