The Paradox of Intolerance

Events of the past week have made this an even more topical subject.

The Paradox of Intolerance
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

So, for the past week or so everybody has been talking about that interview.

You know. That interview.

So…okay. I get it. Free speech and freedom of the press are very important ideals, and I do agree with the CEO that these things need to be protected. But what he’s doing here is making a false equivalency.

He’s conflating hate speech with free speech. That is not the same thing.

Going past the legal arguments behind free speech- because every country has its own laws and specific regulations- we have to look at the impact that hate speech actually has.

It doesn’t fall under the umbrella of free speech because it actually stifles freedom of speech.

If you tolerate bigotry and hate speech, you signal to the targets of that vitriol that it isn’t a safe place for them. That the people who wish them harm can act with impunity.

It leaves them unwilling to engage in your community.

You don’t wind up with a free exchange of ideas, you wind up with the targets of harassment taking their audiences elsewhere.

You wind up with the fringe hateful jerks completely taking over and building an echo chamber.

A difference of opinion is fine; debate and discussion across the political spectrum is healthy and good. But that’s not what the interviewer was asking about.

The interviewer was asking if overt racism, that is hateful rhetoric with no other reason for hate, would be tolerated.

The answer is no. Obviously not. That’s the answer that every single rational person ought to be able to give, right away, with no hesitation.

That is not the answer that the CEO of Substack gave.

The Social Contract

In order to operate in a fair and just society, we all have to agree to certain unspoken rules.

We all agree that being a jerk is generally not good for making friends…or at least, that used to be something we all believed.

Lately there has been a rise in bigotry and prejudice. People who operate out of ignorance and disgust, people who spread fearmongering misinformation, and people who outright attack others have become disturbingly popular.

Somehow it has become a sign of virtue and bravery to stand up in front of the world and display your intolerance for the world to see. Somehow, that has become the kind of behavior that gets you elected to public office.

Unfortunately, when something becomes popular for the people in high offices, it leeches down to the private sector too. Or, rather, they infect each other. See my article on the Overton Window to understand how this works.

Understanding the Overton Window
I’m one of those people that gets into a lot of political chatter and debate. I have my opinions, and I’m easily goaded into setting my feet and putting up my proverbial dukes about them when the situation calls for it. As a result, I wind up getting into arguments. Like…a lot. And they tend to get very heated.

It’s important for us to not ignore things like this. It’s important for us to be willing to stand up and make noise about it, and to put our feet down collectively to demand change.

Ignoring racism and just pretending it isn’t there doesn’t solve anything. It just lets that mold keep growing in the cracks down between the planks. Sometimes, you have to take the deck apart to make sure that the foundation isn’t too rotten to tread on safely.

Otherwise, any one of us could be the one that falls through and gets hurt. More than likely it will be the ones that society has historically allowed to fall behind.

If we want to call ourselves good people, we need to stop letting this happen.

If you need to belong to a targeted demographic in order to care about the people being harmed, you’re part of the problem. If you assume that anyone who cares about transphobia must be transgender, you are part of the problem.

If you think “Well it doesn’t hurt me, therefore it isn’t my problem”, you are part of the problem. You are the whole damn problem.

We cannot allow hatred to flourish. We cannot allow this to become the norm in our society, in our discourse, and absolutely not in our laws.

We cannot allow the definition of “Free Speech” to be redefined as “The Freedom to Be Hateful.”

Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequence. If someone wants to use their free speech to spout hate, they need to be ready for the backlash. Because it will hit them like a runaway freight train, and that’s the way it should be.