Hanna Crowley / Mustang News

Brandon Bartlett is a philosophy junior and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints and editorial coverage of Mustang News.

Most people defend freedom of speech because they believe in the wisdom of the common man. They believe each of us is worthy of the responsibility of thinking for ourselves. They are wrong.

I believe in freedom of speech for the opposite reason. I believe in freedom of speech because no one can bear the weight of separating truth from falsity, nor fact from fiction. It is exactly because we are too foolish and ignorant to handle the responsibility of speech, that I know we are far too foolish and ignorant to handle the responsibility of censoring speech.

It is the same as the right to parent one’s own child. None of us are blind enough to believe that every parent is a good parent — in fact, once safely out of earshot, we often admit to each other that we might be better off if the woman screaming at her three unruly children at the grocery store simply never reproduced.

And yet, we accept that no one ever has — nor ever will — raise a child perfectly, as it is simply too complicated. It is for this very reason that we do not put some bureaucratic committee in charge of raising millions, because they would be as inept as we are.

Likewise, you and I may be able to agree that we would all be better off if some crazy person didn’t speak his or her opinions. But that does not mean that we should be able to curtail their speech as we see fit just as we should not be able to force parents to raise their children as we
see fit.

This leads us to the tricky subject most talked about today: hate speech. For while it may be well and good to defend the right of your opponents to express their opinions, it seems as though we can (and should) still draw a line at the point that those opinions become simple bigoted hatred; but that is not the case.

It was once true that we judged whether someone was hateful merely by assessing whether or not they admitted to hate. But we were awoken from this delusion of clarity at the discovery of the unconscious.

Freud declared that even I do not know what I intend, that I could secretly harbor hate for those whom I seem to love most in the world. And he was right.

Since then, we learned not to merely look to the words being said, but to also take into account their intent and their results. For instance, we know that most sentences starting with the words “I’m not a racist, but…” are going to end up being racist despite their claiming otherwise. Or that political actions such as the War on Drugs can actually be a covert way to hurt the exact people that they claim to help.

Thus, we use the hidden intention and results of a given speech to determine whether or not it is hateful. This is why in the last several decades we have become decreasingly interested with the professed intentions of speaker, and increasingly interested in the result of their speech. We no longer police hate speech, but rather harmful speech.

And given the discovery of the unconscious, it makes sense to do so. However, it also raises a problem.

Seemingly now more than ever, there is little to no agreement about the future that an idea will create. That is why there is no agreement on what constitutes hate speech.

For example, it seems very likely to me that Trump’s “America First” policy will actually benefit all countries (all things considered). Yet, reasonable people disagree with me. In fact, many disagree so strongly that they would label my words as hateful, as the ideas contained in those words, according to their analysis, are destined to only harm others.

In this lies the problem. For in marking hateful ideas by their results, we end up losing any distinction between hate speech and merely incorrect speech — if I am wrong, then it would be true that my speech is harmful, and thus hateful, as it would hurt people all around the globe.

Now, if we could know for a fact that I am wrong, then maybe I should be silenced; but the entire problem is that we do not and cannot know. The world is a very complicated place, and freedom of speech is merely an admission of that fact.

Freedom of speech is telling those with whom you are conversing with that, while you may not agree with them, you know that you do not have all the answers, and that maybe, if you are really lucky, you could both learn something from each other. And as soon as we lose that humility, we
lose everything.

So why do I defend hate speech? Because just as I do not have the moral authority to determine what should be said, I do not the moral authority to determine what can be said.

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