You might have heard this story. There was a poor benighted fool in Europe the other day, in one of those countries that’s only about half the size you think it is. He said something very wrong, criminally wrong, forbidden words for which he was arrested, tried, and convicted.
At the time he was giving a speech about the difficulties of integrating so many Muslims into their tiny patch of soil. Many of the immigrants, for historical reasons, are Moroccans.
Now this fellow’s crime started out quite prosaically. In the course of his speech he had asked an innocuous question: “Should we have more or fewer Moroccans in our country?”. And despite that commonplace beginning that you’d think would turn out well, from there he took a dark turn and went on to commit the crime for which he was arrested and convicted, the actionable offensive statement that he delivered right out there in public, which was …
… actually, bizarre as it sounds to American ears, that opening question was what he was arrested, tried and convicted for asking. Allow me to quote the exact words below, so I can partake in his heinous crime and support him in whatever poor way I can. Here’s what he said, and by repeating it I’m repeating his crime. At least it’s a crime if I have any readers in the Netherlands. Or are they the criminals for reading it in the Netherlands? In any case, here it is:
“Should we have more or fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands?”
When Geert Wilders’ listeners started chanting “Fewer! Fewer!” it seems the Dutch authorities lost the plot and began scheming on how they could bring him before the bar of justice to answer for his evil ways.
I gotta say … it is things like this that make me sooo glad for the American Revolution that separated us from the Old World, and for the First Amendment that lets people ask any dang question that they want to ask. I truly don’t understand why the Europeans put up with these cockamamie restrictions on what they call “hate speech”.
Hate speech? What the heck is that other than an excuse for the authorities to bust people they don’t like? You see, Wilders asking that question was ruled to be spreading hate of Moroccans … who decided that? How can I know if I’m over the line when the law is so vague that you can’t even ask questions? Here’s French law as an example:
Articles 32 and 33 prohibit anyone from publicly defaming or insulting a person or group for belonging or not belonging, in fact or in fancy, to an ethnicity, a nation, a race, a religion, a sex, or a sexual orientation, or for having a handicap. The penalty for defamation is up to a year of imprisonment and a fine of up to €45,000, or either one of those punishments. The penalty for insult is up to six months of imprisonment and a fine of up to €22,500, or either one of those punishments.
Insulting a group for not belonging in fancy to some other group? How would that even work?
Hang on, let me think about this … OK, I got it. Here’s a politically correct example. I say to three circus bears that I meet in a bar “You’re such animals that you couldn’t even join a circus!” I think that does it. I’m insulting these bears for not belonging in fancy to the group of circus bears. I fancy that they’re not circus bears and I insult them for that imaginary failing. I think that does it at least, although upon reflection I suppose my example is specist …
Man, that was hard to even think of …
… and when a law is that convoluted, it fails the first test of a law—a law has to have a bright line where OK turns to No Way. If you can’t tell if you’ve broken a law, it needs discarding. But there is a deeper problem with this law against insulting and defaming people.
One thing I’ve learned after writing something like six hundred posts published on the web, often with hundreds of comments on each one, is that somebody is always insulted, somebody is always offended, somebody always feels defamed.
For example, you should hear the way people talk about old white men like me these days. I tell you, it’s downright insulting, it’s defamation of our ancient white heritage! … wait a minute … maybe I could move to Holland and get the cops to arrest folks for saying things like “The company Board of Directors is a dinosaur, just a bunch of old white men, what would you expect them to know?”. In Holland I could get them thrown in jail for defaming me and the other clearly noble albeit somewhat elderly and pale-complected gentlemen …
I mean, I should get paid triple for someone calling me and my honky geezer bros something insulting like “old white men” … you know why?
In order it’s ageist, racist, and sexist …
Now, all sarcasm aside, I run my life in part by rules of thumb, short sayings that help me clarify complex situations. One of my rules of thumb that I do my best to keep in mind is this:
The fact that I am offended does NOT mean that your actions are offensive.
Truly, in this interconnected world, someone somewhere right now is offended by something somewhere in this post. Doesn’t mean I set out to offend people. I didn’t. They’re just offended. Doesn’t mean most people try to offend people. They don’t. What it means that you can’t write in such a way as to eliminate offense or insult, particularly with sensitive subjects—all you can do is minimize it.
A further problem is that the last few decades have seen the emergence of what I have humorously termed the “professionally offended class”. Curiously, these oft-offended folks frequently turn out to be experiencing something which is like breathing second-hand smoke, which I have termed “taking second-hand offense”. For example, white people who are terribly offended because of a logo that they think demeans American Indians … second-hand offense.
For me that’s the beauty of freedom of speech. It is that we are not required to trim our sails to keep from someone’s feelings from being insulted. We don’t have to worry that we’ll be hauled into court if what we write goes over some murky ill-defined line.
Conclusion? I think that forbidding ideas and claims and outlawing symbols and “hate speech” simply doesn’t work. I have a theory that the European laws restricting Nazi writings, symbols, and Holocaust denial have kept the Nazi movement alive in Europe. Is it illegal to say that in Europe? The world wonders …
I say this because disaffected youth of all nations always and ever look to do the forbidden, and what is more attractive than the symbols that cannot be painted and the book that cannot be read and the name that cannot be spoken? Making it all illegal guaranteed that it would not be exposed to the best disinfectant known, the bright sunlight of public examination and laughter.
Plus which, if swastikas are banned, it makes it harder to keep track of just where the lunatics have wandered to now. For example, Nazi flags are banned in several European countries … me, I’m happier with our way, where if any folks with those kinds of ideas want to they can put up a big flagpole by their house and fly the Nazi flag … lets me know who’s who, identifies the folks that I need to speak slowly to for best comprehension. What’s not to like?
Anyhow, I’m curious what my European friends, well, what all of my friends, think of these laws restricting freedom of speech and restricting symbols in 2016. I understand the historical revulsion after the war. I’m asking about the present time—are those restrictions past their use-by date?
Here it’s a lovely moonlit night, quarter to one, clear and cold between storms. When I just wandered outside, the muffled booms and murmur of the surf six miles away are muttering ceaselessly, almost inaudibly, far underneath the quiet moonglow. The tall redwood trees stand silvered against the velvet sky. A large ring around the moon foretells the oncoming front, the stars sparkle …
Ah, what a magnificent and mysterious universe we have the privilege to inhabit!
Best of that universe to all,
PLEASE: I can and am happy to defend my own words. I cannot defend some vague allusion to unknown words. Please quote the exact words you are talking about so we can all be clear what you are referring to.
83 thoughts on “Forbidden Words”
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Well written post
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“The fact that I am offended does NOT mean that your actions are offensive.” Indeed. Taking of offence is the self-harming act of the allegedly offended individual. It is always our own reaction which determines whether or not we suffer, not the words of another. If you don’t react, you can’t be harmed.
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