Why I Disagree with Mill
John Mill suggests that limiting freedom of expression is tyranny. He argues that by putting limits on expression, the government would be robbing the people of the right to obtain knowledge from different opinions. While I agree that all people should have the right to speak their mind, I believe there should be limits on some kinds of expression.
Freedom of expression includes things like voicing your favorite presidential candidate, or taking a position on abortion. But, it also includes Hate Speech and Offensive Falsehoods. Mill would argue that these kinds of speech should be allowed.
I would disagree. The concept of “The Marketplace of Ideas” came up in class today. The idea is that all expression is a marketplace in which people sift through. The opinions and expressions that hold value will sell more, like a good batch of corn. The opinions that are not as important, like a rotten heap of potatoes, will be left unsold. With this logic, Mill can argue that things like hate speech should be permitted, like a new item of food. People can come into the market and decide whether or not to accept this type of expression, or leave it “unsold.” My argument is that, even if these ideas are left untouched by the majority, they are still lingering in the market, offending and hurting people as they walk by.
Some freedom of expression should be limited, like hate speech. Hate speech is uncalled for. There is a difference between voicing your opinion against someone, and purposely wanting to hurt them. Hate speech can have lasting emotional and psychological effects on someone. Hate speech is not free speech. I don’t think anyone should have the freedom to hurt another person in such a dramatic way. Just like punching someone can break a nose, hate speech can break someone’s emotional esteem and effect them for the rest of their life. Mill may think this is ok, but I refuse to.
In the mid-20th century, certain words were used against African Americans to degrade their race. Hate speech like this formed lasting dents in the African American psyche. People were spit on, yelled at, and protested against simply for the color of their skin. I can’t see any value in this kind of expression. Children that grew up in this era, had to endure sickening words, and violent actions against them. Imagine enduring such pain from such a small age. It would be amazing to come out of such a childhood unscarred by those remarks. Psychological trauma is lasting, and affects who we become as adults. Hate speech cannot be acceptable against any human. It is physically harmful, and completely valueless. There is not a single person who can benefit from it. If it has no purpose other than to bring harm upon another, why is it allowed? Mill would argue that it is allowed because it can be a means of obtaining knowledge, the theory of epistemology. What kind of knowledge can be gained by hearing someone call you a “negro” or a “fag?” Any knowledge gained through this type of speech is not anywhere near enough to justify it. And while others may be “learning” from hate speech, those receiving it are suffering. Knowledge is not a good enough answer.
Westboro Baptist Church exercises its right to hate speech at military funerals. Signs that read “God hates fags” and “Pray for More Dead Soldiers” are carried by small children under the age of ten. Some would argue that these people are exercising their right to opinion and speech. I think this is an abuse of such a right. Signs such as this are degrading and obscene. Not only is it grossly unethical to put this kind of obscenity in the hands of small children, the fact that these hateful words are being brought to private funerals is unacceptable. The families of soldiers who have passed away are in mourning. They have the right to hold a funeral without being bombarded with hatred. I cannot imagine the pain that these signs cause for the distraught families. The emotional and psychological stress that these people are going through already is magnified by the posters of the Westboro Church. There is no value in bringing this kind of hatred into the world.
Homosexual people are targeted by hate speech everyday, not only by the Westboro Baptist Church, but by common people as well. Hate speech can easily turn into violence. I believe that any kind of speech that triggers violence should be prohibited. Hate crimes against homosexuals are widespread, and many times start out with speech. Not only does it produce a violent atmosphere for those involved, it also causes an unsafe environment for all people. If minorities are constantly the target of hatred, what kind of effect does that have on their self esteem? I cannot imagine a person being able to function as a part of society when that same society is permitting hate speech to target him. Increased suicides and murders should signify that speech aimed at harming another does not belong in modern society. It causes suffering to the victim, and the people around him.
Another instance of increased suicide is that of young school-aged kids. Bullies can take a deep impact on kids from elementary through high school. Longterm exposure to bullying and hate speech can build up inside a person and cause them to take their own life. Hate is not free. You have to pay the price of pain and violence, and the lives of those affected by it. Would Mill be willing to pay those prices in order to allow hate speech to happen?