One of my favorite books ever is “Life and Death in Shanghai” by Nien Cheng. Cheng was a remarkable woman, someone I had the opportunity to spend some time with and meet in the 1990s, in Washington DC. The book describes a woman’s experiences with Communist Maoist China in the 1960s and 1970s, when totalitarian Communism was at its peak.
Near the end of the book, around 1980, Cheng described a situation where the government had moderated somewhat, at least when compared to the literal psychotic rage of the brutal, totalitarian Maoist regime. At that time, social workers were hired and dispensed by the government to spy on neighbors and report to the government whether their actions were politically correct, or not.
Keep in mind that the purpose of such spying was not to track down real criminals, such as thieves or rapists, but people who might say or do things in conflict with the goals of the still Communist government. It was political correctness brought into the home, with the force of law.
To Americans, this sounds preposterous. Most will chalk it up to the culture of the Chinese people; and this might be true.
However, if this does not sound like America, it probably does not sound like Great Britain, either. England is the mother country, after all. The English are the culture and government who gave us the Magna Carta and other foundations of Western law which paved the way for the Jeffersonian concept of individual rights yet to come.
Britain is a dysfunctional and flat broke welfare state, as most of us know. But it’s still basically a free country, where people can speak or think as they wish. Right?
Not according to this recent article from National Review:
Hate-speech laws, which are now ten a penny outside of the United States, rely heavily on the preposterous presumption that opprobrium and disdain are equal in severity to battery and bloodshed, and that the state is capable of sensitively superintending their use. Once, it was accepted as a staple of the Enlightenment that any government that attempted to closely supervise speech was destined for disaster, if not for tyranny. Now, even the home of John Stuart Mill has slid backwards into the mire. In Britain each year, as across Europe, tens of thousands of people are investigated by the police for nothing more than being awful in public. And the voters applaud like seals.
By way of sobering example, take the news that an E-list British celebrity named Ursula Presgrave was this week found guilty in London of “malicious communication.” Her crimes? To have written on Facebook that “anyone born with down [sic] syndrome should be put down” before they are subjected to the “pointless life of a vegetable,” and to have saved onto her smartphone a series of memes that mocked the disabled. When asked by prosecutors whether she accepted that she had committed a crime, Presgrave confirmed her liability without so much as a fight. Within the month she will be sentenced, and, depending on the judge’s mood, required to spend half a year in prison or to pay a £5,000 fine. Another hammer has been used to crack another nut.
Making fun of the disabled for a condition they did not cause, and cannot control, is unquestionably irrational, immature and even sick.
However, what makes it illegal?
I recognize that some will defend Presgrave’s comments as taken out of context. Perhaps she did not mean to be mean, and was simply trying to point out what a tragic problem Down’s Symdrome is. But the quality of her comments is not the point here; freedom of speech is. For the sake of argument, I will assume her comments were deliberately hateful and hostile. They still should be legal.
Think about what’s happening in Britain, and elsewhere throughout Europe and in Canada. When someone says or writes something you consider hateful, or otherwise improper or offensive, you now may call the police. It’s because of hate speech laws. The police respond the same way they would if you report a purse snatching, a burglary, an assault or an attempted rape. The person who allegedly said or wrote the hateful thing is investigated by the police, and is potentially arrested, prosecuted and jailed.
Does this sound like freedom of speech to you?
If not, then it’s fair to say that freedom of speech is dead in Great Britain, and just about everywhere else outside the United States.
This is not to say that it’s alive and well in the United States. But if we’re to keep our freedom of speech and even expand it in America, we have to defend it on principle. This means defending the equal right of the Nazis, the disabled mockers and the serious minded alike.
As horrible as the ideas of hateful people may be, there’s one thing more horrifying: The prospect of the government legislating and codifying the definition of “hateful.” It’s a catastrophe to give this kind of power to any government official. It’s a recipe for divisiveness, hostility, and ultimately civil war and/or dictatorship.
People think that you can have a welfare and regulatory state without any consequences for free speech and other more obvious individual rights.
However, Britain shows how the prevalence of a welfare state leads, ultimately, to other restrictions on freedom. Once a government becomes comfortable regulating, controlling and dispensing all of your medical care, all of your education, even all of your income (in the case of those permanently on welfare/disability, etc.) not to mention gigantic subsidies to private businesses, then it’s just a matter of time before government starts to put its nose into other areas.
He who pays the bill for virtually everything gets the say in virtually everything that happens. It logically follows.
For years, when counseling people, I have tried to help them understand that toxic people cannot hurt you, unless you let them. When I say this, I’m referring to the vast majority of toxic people – not the ones who murder, rape or steal from you, but the ones who engage in psychological or emotional warfare. They are the ones who seek to break your spirit, not your body or your property.
If you refuse to listen to toxic people, ignore them, or perhaps verbally stand up to them, they will usually go away. Even if they don’t stop being toxic, they will no longer matter in reality, because they no longer matter in your mind. Once they see you genuinely do not care, they will find someone else to put down.
The best way to disempower a bully is to laugh at or simply ignore what he or she said.
This woman putting down the disabled in England possibly has major issues. So what? Why is this the concern of the government?
“There ought to be a law.” Every time there is something you dislike or that offends you, you’re not entitled to have the police take care of it for you. Police are for crooks, violent criminals, and predators. Great Britain, the nation led by Winston Churchill and who survived relentless Nazi bombings on London in the 1940s, has reduced itself to a nation of kindergarteners who call “mommy” via the police when someone hurts their feelings or personally offends them. America is not far behind.
The government with the right to arrest and prosecute a woman for saying mean things about the disabled is the same government who can argue, “It’s a crime against the people to criticize the government.” By granting power to the government to legislate the first, we’re paving the way for the second.
I have been writing for years that “hate speech” laws are dangerous. In Great Britain and elsewhere, you can see how they work out in practice.
On our current course, I fully expect to see hate speech laws in America. People who support and pass them will congratulate themselves on their liberal-mindedness.
Just wait until the police start getting called for people saying the “wrong” thing. You think the police are dysfunctional and messed up now, on power trips of their own, because of all the power we have given government?
You have not seen anything yet.
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