Twenty years ago, I’d never heard the term “hate speech.” If you’d asked me back then, I probably would have said it sounded like something out of a George Orwell novel — which is actually pretty close to the truth.
Nowadays, I hear “hate speech” used constantly, almost always by leftists, to describe anything from support for traditional marriage to arguments against illegal immigration. In other words, “hate speech” has come to mean any position the left disagrees with.
As such, they delight in wielding the phrase as a blunt instrument against conservatives. I guess they figure that if they characterize every single thing we say as “hate speech,” then we’ll stop openly disagreeing with them. No one wants to be accused of “hate,” right? Well, we’re not falling for it anymore. It’s time to call their bluff—to expose their semantic emperor’s utter nakedness.
At worst, “hate speech” is a term invented by the ostensibly “tolerant” left to justify their intolerance. At best, it’s a gross miscarriage of grammar. “Hate” can be either a noun or a verb, but not an adjective. The correct term would be “hateful speech,” which is actually a real thing. Unfortunately for the speech police, the Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that even hateful speech is protected by the First Amendment.
One of the more recent cases, Matal v. Tam (2016), involved an Asian-American rock band, The Slants, who had been denied a trademark by the U.S. Patent Office because their name “disparages” Asians. Justice Alito, writing for the Court, said the government’s position “violates the First Amendment” because the name represents “private speech, not government speech.”
Well, yeah. This is the United States of America, not some socialist dystopia. Or one of those effete European countries where individual rights are basically an afterthought. Or Canada. In the U.S., as our Constitution specifically states, and as the Supremes thankfully re-affirmed, you can say pretty much whatever you want, even if it’s not very nice.
Another problem with the concept of “hate speech” is that it’s an ever-moving target. Even Leftists can’t keep up. College professors, media talking heads, and Democrat politicians are constantly finding themselves in hot water after saying something that not long ago was considered conventional wisdom but today is verboten. Like “hard work leads to success” or “two plus two equals four,” former facts now regarded as racist microaggressions.
And of course, the worst part about all this “hate speech” nonsense is that it’s so utterly ambiguous and completely subjective. What does “hate speech” even mean? Hateful of what? To whom? And who decides? It’s far too easy for people to silence others—that is, for leftists to silence conservatives—simply by labeling their words “hate speech,” even when those words are not rooted in hate and in fact are viewed as objectionable only by a tiny, self-absorbed minority.
No, it’s still not nice to say mean things about people, as my parents taught me when I was three. However, in order to qualify as genuinely hateful, speech must meet three basic criteria.
First, it must actually express hatred. Simply disagreeing with someone does not qualify, nor does disapproving of someone’s actions. That’s one of the left’s biggest lies: If you believe a person’s behavior is wrong, you must hate them. But that’s complete nonsense. Over the years I have disapproved of a lot of people’s behavior, including my own children’s at times. That doesn’t mean I love them any less.
Second, speech that is truly hateful must be aimed at an individual or group, not an idea. I confess: I hate socialism. It’s an evil, unjust, morally bankrupt ideology that has been responsible for much human pain and suffering. Yet I know several self-proclaimed socialists, and I don’t hate any of them. In fact, I consider some of them friends.
Finally, in order to qualify as hateful, speech must reflect an opinion, not state a fact. Opinions can indeed be mean-spirited, but facts are by definition neutral. Simply pointing out something undeniably true is not, in itself, an expression of hatred. Thus it’s not “hate speech” to say that, among humans, there are only two biological sexes: Either you have an X and a Y chromosome, or you have two X’s. That’s a well-established scientific fact.
If we get to the point where people can’t speak the simple truth for fear of being accused of hatred—and perhaps canceled as a result—then our society is doomed. But perhaps we’re already there.