When, in class one day, a student said that “hate speech” was not free speech, I asked him the following: “Can you even define hate speech?” After a long silence, I assured him that I, too, was unable to define hate speech. But, since then, I think I have come up with a suitable definition that helps me understand both the failure of speech codes and the success of Islamic terrorism.
My new understanding of hate speech comes from a recent speech given by my boss Chancellor Rosemary DePaolo. As usual, Rosemary was trying to do damage control as a result of her most recent administrative blunder. The current controversy intensified when the President of the Faculty Senate fired off a couple of nasty emails to the Provost copying the entire faculty in the process. The angry missives correctly criticized the upper administration for making major decisions affecting the faculty without properly consulting them through the Faculty Senate.
At our next university-wide faculty meeting, the Chancellor addressed the controversy without any reference to the substance of the charges against her administration. Instead, she responded to the criticism by talking about the need to maintain “civility” and a “collegial environment,” which, she said, could not be appreciated fully until it was lost. Many, including myself, thought that a lecture by our chancellor on the topic of civility carried as much weight as a lecture by Al Gore, Jr. on the topic of obesity – or perhaps a lecture on good puns by Mike Adams.
Everything was put in proper perspective when a liberal sociologist properly characterized references to “civility” in higher education as intentional efforts to avoid substantive discussions. In other words, he seemed to be generalizing beyond DePaolo to all of those who play the “civility card.” I resisted the temptation to talk about sociologists who play the racism card and feminists who play the sexism card.
But I recognized immediately the connection between the sociologist’s observation and the campus speech code movement, which seeks to ban “hate speech.” And, after letting his words sink in, I formed this new definition of hate speech:
Hate speech is verbal communication that induces anger due to the listener’s inability to offer an intelligent response.
Because this inability to offer an intelligent response is due to one of two reasons, there are really two different types of hate speech: 1) Speech that is too dumb to merit an intelligent response, and 2) Speech for which the listener is too dumb to offer an intelligent response.