Sooooo if you’ve been paying attention to the news lately you’ve probably noticed that in the last year or so there’s been a big resurgence of the white nationalist movement in North America and Western Europe, most notably in response to Britain exiting the EU and the election of the tiny-handed sexual predator currently serving as President of the US. Naturally, such an outpouring of open hatred and bigotry has elicited counter-protests from those of us interested in living in an actual society, spearheaded by the Anti-fascist Action movement, dubbed “Antifa”.
“But I have freedom of speech! I can say whatever I want! Why are you trying so hard to be so politically correct?! Antifa are the real fascists!” says the alt-right sock-puppet reactionary I created as a straw-man for this rhetorical device. “Actually, you’ll find it’s more complicated than that.” reply I, a shameless ‘feminazi commie sjw cuck’. On the most basic superficial level, yes, everyone is afforded protections granted by the government which upholds freedom of speech as an inalienable right – however, there are certain very explicit and thoroughly outlined restrictions to this right that have never really been up for debate, legally or constitutionally speaking. These restrictions can basically be summed up as follows: 1) don’t say/print things that are openly slanderous/libelous; 2) don’t be a complete asshole in public, and 3) don’t say things that would make any reasonable person want to punch you in the face.
The first point is rather obvious, and there are many volumes of legal literature for you to peruse on the matter at your leisure if you’re interested in further reading on the subject – in brief, it basically means you can’t say obviously false things in public just to disparage the character of someone you don’t like. For example, I’ve been explicitly told by the Muse that I can’t (mockingly) refer to Donald Trump as a “hobgoblin”, even though he clearly has orange skin and the argument could be made that he has an appearance and charisma score similar to the classic Dungeons and Dragons monster. However, calling him a “tiny-handed sexual predator” like I did in the first paragraph got the go-ahead because those are verifiable facts which are a matter of public record (the man has smaller-than-average hands, and has admitted on multiple occasions to using his wealth and power to prey on women sexually – see the infamous “grab em by the you-know-where” tape, among many other instances).
The second two points are more related. The most succinct summation I’ve come across on the matter is this: “if a person replaces all instances of ‘political correctness’ with ‘trying not to be a fucking asshole all the time’, you get a lot clearer picture of the sort of folks who have a problem with the concept”. Here’s the caveat though: a person doesn’t get to decide when they’re being an asshole – that’s the job of everyone else around you!
Think about it – if you’re having an argument with someone, and they tell you that something you said made them feel offended for whatever reason, it’s at least incumbent upon you to consider the possibility that you were in the wrong and should apologize for what was said. Yes, just because someone is offended doesn’t automatically mean that they’re right, but as a fellow human being, you should at least try to empathize with them and take their feelings on the matter into account. This is a principle so basic and simplistic that kindergarten-aged children are expected to understand and internalize it in order to become full members of polite society.
It’s important to reiterate this point – “freedom of speech” means that the government can’t censor you or put you in jail for saying things that the powers-that-be don’t want being talked about or that might be controversial (but still within the legally defined provisions I’m in the process of outlining) – it does NOT mean that you can say whatever you want and expect to get away with it without having to deal with the social repercussions that inevitably result when all of your friends and acquaintances suddenly realize you’re a complete piece of shit for spouting off about your white supremacist ideas in a public forum just because you have the right to do so! Just because you CAN say something doesn’t necessarily mean that you SHOULD, and it by no means makes it right or protects you from criticism and public shaming.
This brings me to point number 3. There’s a concept called “fighting words” that are used by lawyers when talking about this sort of thing – in the defining U.S. Supreme Court case on the matter (Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire), it was ruled that “insulting or ‘fighting words’, those that by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace” are among the well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech which can be prevented and punished by law. In Canada, this concept is covered under Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, section 319 of which says the following: “Public incitement of hatred: Every one who, by communicating statements in a public place, incites hatred against any identifiable group where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace is guilty of [a crime].”
The reason I bring all this up is to demonstrate that this isn’t an argument about “freedom of speech”, nor is it a legitimate ideological debate where everyone “gets to have their own opinion on the matter” – this isn’t about your favorite ice cream flavor (chocolate chip cookie dough [EDITOR’S NOTE: he means moose tracks] no I didn’t dammit!) or whether or not pineapple belongs on pizza (it does not). This is about literal fascists and neo-nazis shouting “blood and soil” (a KKK slogan) and “Jews will not replace us” in the streets, and those who are opposed to that bullshit and occasionally feel the need to mask up and destroy some property or punch a neo-nazi in the face in order to make their voices heard over the former group of dipshits.
There’s just absolutely no moral equivocation and there’s no “both sides are violent” here – one group protests hateful speech and ignorance and says that those people shouldn’t get to spout off racist garbage in a polite society without consequence, and the other lauds terrorists who drive their cars into crowds the former group of innocent people with the premeditated intent to harm and kill as many of them as possible.
The point of all this is that this isn’t an argument about free speech, and the sort of people that claim it is aren’t being genuine. Next time you hear someone talk about freedom of speech with regards to alt-right groups, ask them what they think about Chelsea Manning losing her fellowship at Harvard because conservative groups didn’t like what she revealed about the government. Anyone who claims otherwise is either ignorant of the facts of the situation (in which case show them this article) or are deliberately mischaracterizing what’s going on in the world in order to make the facts fit their own preconceived notions of reality.