Michael Shermer: The Problem With Hate Speech Legislation


4 years ago



Michael Shermer

7 appearances

Dr. Michael Shermer is the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, host of the podcast "The Michael Shermer Show," and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University. He is the author of several books, the most recent of which is "Conspiracy: Why the Rational Believe the Irrational." https://michaelshermer.com/


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My friend and colleague Roy Baumeister wrote that great book on evil in which he actually went and interviewed serial killers and rapists in prison and said, you know, why'd you do it? And, you know, he discovered that they all had this perspective like, well, this is why I did it. You know, I had a crappy childhood or, you know, I felt that, you know, that it was totally justified that guy dissed me or she cheated on me or they all had justifications. And it was kind of interesting to see the rationalizations behind their arguments. Now, from the victim's perspective, the perpetrator is just pure evil. He did it because he enjoys suffering, the suffering of other people. Now, there are some psychopaths or sadists that do that, but they're very small in number, very tiny percentage of the population. Most people in prison that are killers, they did it for moralistic reasons. You know, he took my parking spot. So I, you know, we got in a fight and then I killed him. Or, you know, this guy slept with my girlfriend and so I had to do something and defend my honor and one thing led to another and here I am in prison. They almost all have good moralistic reasoning. So the problem is not that we don't have enough morality. Actually, we have too much morality, too much moralizing about other people that are harming us. So, you know, back to the free speech issue, the moment you say we're going to create a category called hate speech. Okay, what goes in that bin? Right. You know, so I document in the opening page that this really begins the United States with in 1919 with the Schenk versus the United States decision by the United States Supreme Court to uphold this conviction of this guy named Schenk who was head of the Socialist Party in Philadelphia in 1918. He was distributing flyers to draft age men, telling them that the conscription is equivalent of slavery because the 14th Amendment protects your right to bodily autonomy and when the government says we're drafting you into the military and we're sending you to Europe, in this case for the European Great War, you know, we now own your body for the next four years. Okay, so this is what and so here's the famous lines from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Schenk versus the United States that we're all familiar with. Engine protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. It is a question of proximity and degree. So clear and present danger, okay, so you might say, okay, so somebody incites a group to riot and cause violence or something like that, so that's going to be called hate speech. But note what he considered at the time a clear and present danger. Protesters of the draft and their argument is pretty reasonable. You know, you can disagree with it and say, no, I think in times of national crisis we have to set aside the 14th Amendment and conscript young men into the Army and send them off to war to potentially die. That's our right to do it to protect our nation. But we should be able to debate that. But the moment that happened in 1919, then category creep or category expansion happened where more and more things got put into the bin of clear and present danger. So you're now doing something that I consider to be a clear and present danger, a threat to our nation, our state, or our community or whatever. So that category just got bigger and bigger. And then, so back to why liberals used to defend free speech and now it's more conservatives doing it and liberals in favor of censorship begins with this idea of something like in the 60s where we began to become sensitive to the words we use to describe other people. So the N word to describe African Americans, obviously the one we'd all agree with, yeah, that's bad, we shouldn't do that. Okay, what about the C word to describe women or called Jews, kikes, or Vietnamese, call them gooks or whatever? Yeah, yeah, those are all hate speech. The bin starts getting larger and larger. And then all of a sudden you end up with these lists of microaggressions. I reprint one in the book from UCLA, the entire University of California system in 2014 issued this long list of things you can't say like, where are you from? Or wow, you're good at math to someone who's not Asian. Or wow, you speak English so well. These are now considered hate speech that they could trigger people's feelings of being hurt. And that is a form of clear and present danger to the sort of serenity of our community. And all of a sudden, this category is now huge. Is where are you from really on that list? Yeah, it is. Yeah. Wow. Yeah. My wife gets this all the time because she's from Germany and she speaks perfect English. She has no accent. And people go, wow, I can't believe you speak English so well. Or wow, I can't believe you're not from America or something like that. And she instead of being offended, she just says, thank you. But I paid attention in school.