Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Beyond Free Speech

Have you ever wondered why suicide is, in some legislatures at least, illegal - in fact a criminal offense?

Also, have you ever wondered why when a murder occurs, the police will always file charges and proceed with an investigation, even if the victim's family don't want them to, and don't want the murderer to be prosecuted?

The reason for this is that some crimes are not simply committed against a person. They are crimes against society, offenses to all humanity. And humanity, through its authorized representatives in the law enforcement community, must deal with such offenders promptly and decisively.

I have talked before about freedom of speech. I do think it is important - vital, in fact. The spirit of freedom of speech laws is the protection of different, often diametrically opposed opinions, because we really have no way of finding out for sure which opinion is better, which is right, which is wrong and which is useless.

Except there is a case where we do. One case where every decent, civilized human being on Earth - any creature that can be called a human being to begin with - knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is evil. And not not only is it undeniably evil, but it is by its very definition incapable of producing anything non-evil.

The case is Nazism. And I have recently engaged in a massive flame session with a couple of people from a country where Nazism is legal. Where the spirit of free speech laws has been stomped into the mud by nearsighted lemmings convinced of the virtue of their letter.

I often make fun of America's cultural infancy. I've witnessed Californians marveling at the authenticity of an 1830s mining town outside Sacramento, whereas I've shat in toilets over half a millenium old. The nation of Small Country in its present shape traces its roots to the early 13th century. And yet, it has not been an independent state until the 20th, and then not for long. Our current Constitution was passed in 1992; and the spirit of freedom that pervaded postsoviet republics in those days resulted in Paragraph 12.
Everyone is equal before the law. No one shall be discriminated against on the basis of nationality, race, colour, sex, language, origin, religion, political or other opinion, property or social status, or on other grounds.

The incitement of national, racial, religious or political hatred, violence or discrimination shall, by law, be prohibited and punishable. The incitement of hatred, violence or discrimination between social strata shall, by law, also be prohibited and punishable.
At first glance, the second part may seem quite oppressive to an American, taught since early childhood how noble it was that his country allowed the Ku Klux Klan and did not prosecute anyone for burning the Stars and Stripes. And yet, this is a document written by people intimately acquainted with a lack of liberty, with prolongued oppression, and the desire for freedom.

One person's freedom only extends as far as the tip of another person's nose.

If an ideology is evil; if it is based on the concept of justified, even desirable mass murder of all people who do not belong to a certain race; if it is demonstrably and singularly designed to promote and eventually achieve this purpose; if you know for a fact that nothing good can come of it but a lot of bad can; then this ideology cannot be allowed to exist.

Nazism is banned in every state that has had to deal with it, first and foremost in the state that spawned it. Its zealots are prosecuted, and free speech laws give them no protection whatsoever. The exercise of Nazism is a crime against humanity - and this is an actual legal precedent, as established by the Nüremberg trials. Humanity must not allow it to exist.

Nobody really gets prosecuted for thinking positively of Nazism, and I'm not advocating this. But in every reasonable country on the planet, the person who does, is not allowed to excercise his right to speak freely. Rather he is allowed to excercise his right to shut the fuck up.

And as for America, well, you just keep telling yourself about the First Amendment and what a great country you are for your free speech. Dulce et Decorum.

4 comments:

tailotg said...

"The incitement of national, racial, religious or political hatred, violence or discrimination shall, by law, be prohibited and punishable. The incitement of hatred, violence or discrimination between social strata shall, by law, also be prohibited and punishable."

Technically speaking, can I make fun of the French? Can I decry affirmative action programs that aim to give certain racial groups a boost? Can I mock Scientology or Kabbalah? Can I label Bill O'Reilly as a schmuck? Can I oppose government-sponsored unemployment or welfare? Any or all of these things might be classified as inciting hatred or descrimination against the groups you mentioned. Forget any circular argument claiming "oh, well obviously those are exceptions to the strict wording of the text". Why do they get to be obvious, while someone who claims that Jews are an inferior race is unquestioningly evil?

You can believe in some of the tenets of Nazism without suggesting the violent acts usually associated with it. It just makes you a moron, but we've got bigger problems on our hands if we're trying to outlaw being a moron.

More importantly, who gets to decide what ideologies are "undeniably evil, incapable of non-evil"? Sure, you and I can both agree personally that Nazism qualifies. But what about when people try to expand the list? Does Islam qualify? What about being pro-choice? Communist? Capitalist? What makes your perspective so impeccable, your judgement so unclouded, that there's no chance you'll opress a belief system with any redeeming qualities?

tailotg said...

One other thing... you don't get any mileage pointing out that nations that have experienced fascism firsthand are eager to ban it. You can imply that our inexperience with Nazism makes us ill-equipped to recognize its evil. But I can just as easily imply that your familiarity with it is because you have cultural values that favored its spawning in the first place. Cultural values, in fact, which include banning speech which you find despicable.

Neither of our implications is logical. An argument is an argument, and if you can't defeat it without calling into question the qualifications of the arguer, then you can't defeat it, period.

Flasher T said...

"Any or all of these things might be classified as inciting hatred or descrimination against the groups you mentioned."

The Constitution is a legal document and as such is subject to legal interpretation by the Higher Court. And that interpretation is binding. Effectively, you can say that the French are cheese-eating surrender monkeys, but you cannot say that the French should be killed.

Inciting hatred (and this is a real issue in Small Country, at least it was after 1991) is exactly what Nazism does - promoting the superiority of one race and inferiority of another. You can promote the inferiority of a single person as much as you want (short of libel), as long as it's on personal merit.

"Why do they get to be obvious, while someone who claims that Jews are an inferior race is unquestioningly evil?"

They're not obvious and they're not exceptions; they are the rule of opinions protected under free speech. It is in fact Nazism that is the exception. Small Country doesn't have a major Neonazi problem, the few misguided wankers that don't straighten out after their early 20s are easily prosecuted under legislation derived from Paragraph 12. Countries that have specific anti-Nazi laws have them exactly because the group is an exception to the free speech laws, and the ideology is easily identified - in fact it flaunts the connection. This prevents things going in a slippery slope direction.

"More importantly, who gets to decide what ideologies are "undeniably evil, incapable of non-evil"?"

In this case, it was the judges of the Nuremberg trials, and the numerous historians and sociologists who studied the Third Reich, and ultimately, me and you. Nazism is exceptional because the evilness of its ideology is crystallized and flaunted - you cannot deny that.

"But what about when people try to expand the list? Does Islam qualify? What about being pro-choice? Communist? Capitalist?"

There is a world of difference between an ideology that says 'this is how everyone should live' and an ideology that says 'this is who deserves to live, and the rest need to be killed'.

"You can believe in some of the tenets of Nazism without suggesting the violent acts usually associated with it."

Um, no. You can believe that tall, white, blond blue-haired people are better than everyone else. That indeed makes you a moron and an asshole, but it's not Nazism. Nazism is when you believe that everyone else should be killed. When you believe that, and you align yourself with the Third Reich through the usage of fascist symbology, you are placing yourself under the authority of the Nuremberg rulings.

"An argument is an argument, and if you can't defeat it without calling into question the qualifications of the arguer, then you can't defeat it, period."

This isn't an argument, this is a rant. :)

tailotg said...

"the judges of the Nuremberg trials, and the numerous historians and sociologists who studied the Third Reich, and ultimately, me and you."

Okay, I think you missed my point. I'm not speaking in the abstract sense of "who holds the nazi ideology against their personal judgement". I was asking who makes the real decision to prosecute someone for their NON-VIOLENT claims, and why they have the authority, and more importantly the ability to flawlessly decide the merits of a belief system.

Oh, and as for what Nazism really is, here's "my" definition: "the body of political and economic doctrines held and put into effect by the National Socialist German Workers' party in the Third German Reich including the totalitarian principle of government, state control of all industry, predominance of groups assumed to be racially superior, and supremacy of the führer". Any subset of that list (which, other than the indirect reference to the actions of the Third Reich, did not include violent action) can be defined as "support for nazism". Despite its history, you simply cannot paint all of nazism with one brush of "it's all violent", any more than you can do so for Christianity or Football.

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