on connecting speech to action
August 23, 2017
I still can’t get this press statement from Penn State about richard spencer not being welcome to speak. This paragraph in particular makes my mind boggle:
After critical assessment by campus police, in consultation with state and federal law enforcement officials, we have determined that Mr. Spencer is not welcome on our campus, as this event at this time presents a major security risk to students, faculty, staff and visitors to campus. It is the likelihood of disruption and violence, not the content, however odious, that drives our decision.
I’m unsure as to how the cognitive dissonance in this didn’t jump out and bite him, but whatever.
The problem: Penn State’s president appears unwilling to make a connection between the ‘odious’ content of Richard Spencer’s speech (and that of other blatant white supremacists) to ‘the likelihood of disruption and violence’.
Its a problem because this is pretty much literally the definition of hate speech. Even in the US where ‘free speech’ is a lot more broad than here in Canada, hate speech is distinguished by its likelihood to incite imminent violence. Doing a risk assessment and determining that a person can’t speak on camplus because of how likely ‘disruption and violence’ is the real and actual line between ‘free speech’ and hate speech. My god he even says so himself:
But the First Amendment does not require our University to risk imminent violence.
My main problem with this is that people on my twitter TL were acting as if Penn State was doing something good by not allowing Spencer to speak. Which, yeah, sure. But not really. Not if they aren’t courageous enough to connect that threat of imminent violence to Spencer’s (and his ilk’s) speech.
In other words, spending so much time talking about how you believe in free speech without explicitly identifying Spencer’s speech as hateful ends up being an empty gesture. The president states that he doesn’t agree with spencer but he never condemns it as being hateful.
Instead he talks that awful liberal stance of acting like this is just ‘opinions’ (the actual word he uses). So no, this isn’t hate speech because its simply an ‘opinion’ we don’t agree with. Just one opinion amongst many in the market place of ideas. It’s just that because of the imminent threat of violence Penn State can’t allow spencer to speak this one time. Maybe later, not so soon after charlotesville, spencer will be allowed to speak.
Because the problem isn’t (amazingly) that spencer’s speech incites violence but that…. well. I actually can’t say what the problem is based on this press release.