Written by: Chad Lingard
You may have noticed the growing trend in support of the new Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill (also just known as the “hate speech bill”) and its ancillary, resounding lack of attention and condemnation in the media. It is almost a non-event or just mentioned in passing and not given the proper attentive dissection it deserves.
At least Max du Preez ventures a small opinion, egregious as it is: “My gut-feel is that it is appropriate to criminalise racism and hate speech, as is being planned right now.”
It is rather unfortunate that an intellectual and a journalist would so willingly confess that his thought process stems from his digestion (‘gut-feel’) instead of his brain. And as such, his opinion, along with his digestion, can be discarded without further contemplation.
Unfortunately, the other difficulty with his opinion is that it seems rather counter-intuitive given his personal history. Max du Preez knows better than you or me the cost associated with reporting under apartheid censorship but does not seem to know better than to support this new legislation. Perhaps he missed Section 4(1)(bb) of the new legislation because it has the capacity to affect his life and censor his career more powerfully than it does yours or mine.
Du Preez exempted, the more common silence on the part of our media is systemic of this countries preoccupation with group sensitivity. Except for alternate news sources, you will not easily find opinion that is dangerous or challenging. Our media, evident from their silence, is either too scared or too populist in nature to foster opinions that are generally not approved, which brings us to the point of creating free speech protections in the first place.
It is a complete waste of time to offer the protection of free speech for opinions that are generally conceded or generally accepted by society. By its nature, such a right would only need to be relied upon to protect the opinions not generally approved of.
In 1633, Galileo stood a trial of heresy for proposing that the Earth revolves around the Sun, and not the other way round. It is an idea that one can safely broadcast now, but in the Dark Ages, after the Catholic Church had banned Copernicus’s model of a heliocentric orbit, propagating this type of rhetoric was basically a form of suicide.
Galileo and the other great intellectuals of our human species make it easy to identify the inherent quality and benefit to society that stems from free inquiry and the freedom of expression. The unfortunate corresponding price society must pay for this right is that it must under the same protection allow people to make idiotic and vitriolic statements, as well.
In this country, with everybody’s obsession with the epidermis and how much pigmentation it contains, the result is that we have to listen, ad nauseam, to unscientific discourses and the stereotyping that surrounds it. And I am fine with that, because sometimes we get to hear the good stuff, too.
People can be converted to non-racialism by education alone, which is nothing more than the transmission of uttered or written words; and therein we find the underlying obstruction of the hate speech legislation. How will we, as a society, realise the intellectual and philosophical goal of non-racialism when our present socio-political agenda is to silence the discourse?
The hate speech legislation can only hope to diminish the physical manifestations of racism, but it cannot cure the underlying issue which is nothing more than a cognitive and philosophical error which requires debate; for people to make unscientific utterances and for clear thinking individuals to offer them better alternatives.
Sadly, the ongoing debate and narrative will cease to exist. The legislation’s punitive custodial sentences (three years for a first offense and ten years for the second) will ensure that the only rights we will be exercising as a society, will be the right to remain silent.
What clouds the issue further is our state-sanctioned level of political correctness which is misappropriated as liberal policy. It is, in fact, the gradient of that ‘slippery slope’ that leads to authoritarian measures like this new legislation. The word ‘liberal’ used to mean ‘to tolerate opinions and behavior which you, personally, may not agree with’. It has now come to mean: ‘tolerate and disseminate only that which does not offend’.
As a result, the only element that assumes prominence in our national discourse is offense-giving or -taking, to the detriment of truth. The media makes big bucks off Penny Sparrow and her ilk. We must realise, though, that it is the disease of those who are petty in their self esteem or intellectually ill-equipped who resort to the ‘offense’ trump card, as Stephen Fry so eloquently quips: “It is now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if it that gives them certain rights. It is actually nothing more than a whine (complaint). ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well so fucking what?”
Every human accomplishment in our branch of knowledge, every time a society dismantled a tyranny is owed to the intellectuals who have bravely resisted their gag orders (or were fortunate enough to find themselves living in a free society). The price we pay for all this good is that incidentally we have to allow the bad. We can take comfort in the debate or we can refuse to listen to it, but shame on us if we ever succeed in silencing it.