Discretion Is The Better Part of Censorship
People willing to empower the state to punish a wide and ambiguous range of conduct — say, "offensive speech" — generally try to address concerns about abuse with pragmatic arguments. "There's no way the government will have the time or resources to punish all offensive speech," they say, "so they'll only go after the worst of the worst."
The problem, of course, is that the people exercising this discretion are (1) human and (2) bureaucrats, and therefore can be expected to exercise their discretion not to punish some objective Platonic ideal of the "worst of the worst" conduct, but to pick and choose battles based on their personal, cultural, irrational prejudices, informed strongly by which political and social groups hold the most power in their sphere of influence at the moment.
Hence under Canada's entirely thuggish and loathsome Human Rights Commission system, bureaucrats — who previously vigorously prosecuted a Christian preacher for spouting nasty Biblically-derived anti-gay rhetoric, culminating in an order that the preacher can never again "disparage" gays — can now decline to pursue Muslim publications saying that gays ought to be killed, infidels are inferior, Jews are evil, etc. The HRC's rationale is transparently bogus; it claims that the Muslim publication singles out groups like women and gays and "infidels", not individuals — yet the preacher's screed was just as vague.
The truth is that the HRC, like any body empowered by the people to pursue "offensive speech," is guided by its own particular constellation of beliefs. One of those beliefs is that Christian "hate speech" is scary and dangerous and Muslim "hate speech" is not. (This is closely related to the belief, deeply cherished in academia and by people who act as if they are in academia, that only white conduct towards non-whites can be racist.) It would be just as easy to imagine a new pack of bureaucrats who believed the opposite. How to govern such discretion? Don't give it to them in the first place. Duh!
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- Follow-Up: U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks Gets Free Speech Right This Time - September 12th, 2014
- The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strained, But It May Have A Litmus Test - September 11th, 2014
- [Rerun from 2011] Ten Things I Want My Kids To Learn From 9/11 - September 11th, 2014
- Yale Might Want To Look Into Some Sort of Basic Civic Literacy Course - September 10th, 2014
- U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks Gets Free Speech Very Wrong - September 6th, 2014