Should One be Allowed to Share a Hateful Idea/Belief at a University?

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Truett's picture
Free and open enquiry takes

Free and open enquiry takes priority, so that objectionable person should have been allowed to speak. If an organization such as Berkeley or a student organization has secured a venue for a speech by Milo, Ann Coulter, Ayatolla Khamanei or the Pope, the proper response is speech. We may not interfere with the rights and priveleges of others to speak. The best course is to petition and pressure the University and the Republican student organization to disinvite the speaker, along with advertise against the speaker, protest and hold competing events, respond with printed, broadcast and live responses, and any number of other strategies and tactics. But there is no room for physically preventing someone from speaking in such a context.

The concern expressed about dangerous speech misses a core concern: Who will we appoint to decide what speech we should be exposed to and what speech we should never hear? Who should we trust with the job of censoring speakers? Am I to trust that my fellow Berkeley students are qualified to decide what thoughts I can safely listen to and what thoughts I should be protected from?

Bad ideas are subject to the same criteria as good ideas. Socratic dialogue and intellectual analysis are our best tools for weighing ideas. Physical prevention of the expression of ideas is not in our individual and societal best interests. We might stop a bad idea, but we will rob ourselves of the range of ideas that are available for consideration.

We atheists should be hyper-aware of the need for free and open inquiry. I urge everyone to recognize that physically preventing a speaker is not acceptable when others do it to us or when we do it to others.

AlphaLogica157's picture
Very well said Truett.

Very well said Truett.

Breeon's picture


I don't find my statements hateful in that I described (in my opinion) what I thought about your position. I don't hate you because I don't know you. I'm not judging you based on the color of your skin or what your sexual orientation may be. In my opinion, it's idiotic to think that someone who spews hatred deserves a platform or has a right to speak in a public forum just because of free speech. I understand the country wanting to be in a situation where there is equal rights for all and we can agree to disagree. I'm all for that. The problem comes in the equation when harm can be inflicted on others by random acts of pointless hatred. Hate speech can cause someone their life where as my calling you an idiot for your statement does not threaten your life one bit. It might have been wrong or rude of me to say that, but it certainly isn't hate where I'm attacking you out of the blue just because and that my attacks could possibly result in your death or bodily harm. Neither am I suggesting that hateful speeches are the same as rape, but they both can be similar in that harm can be brought on others and that's what I'm against. It doesn't have to be more complicated than that.
My intentions are in no way to deceive with my statements because I believe people have the right to believe what they want. I don't force anyone to an opinion. People with your position want to protect people who abuse the privilege of free speech and then in another forum wonder why the world is so messed up. This doesn't make any sense to me. You want to defend someone spewing hate in the name of free speech to try and prove some kind of a point, then you want to bring up the problem you have about Ali getting dis-platformed because of humanism? Who cares about humanism when it comes to your position because you are defending someone who spews hatred on the account of free speech. I love Ali and understand that it's important that we solve problems as humanly as possible, but in your point of view why should that matter if we allow people to be allowed to counteract with hate speeches? It's easy to stand in the middle and not choose a side. I understand that my view maybe misunderstood, but at least I believe I'm standing for something and it definitely won't be hate.
Furthermore, if I so desire to read a text from someone who lived long ago then I will at my choosing. Just because someone wrote something long ago and it would somehow shed light on the problems of today is more often times subjective. I have experienced enough of the world to have a particular base on how I feel about society in general. Just because you find those texts interesting and important doesn't mean that I will as we are all different obviously.
The bible is important to a lot of people, but I don't feel I need to read it to understand morality and my place in life just because they say so. However, there are others that believe you must read it to understand those things. I just think differently.
So, understand that I'm not really calling you an idiot because you're obviously educated, but regardless of that...if you make a statement that I believe is idiotic then you are not exempt from an opinion that I have.

AlphaLogica157's picture
@Incredible Focus

@Incredible Focus

Lets take a second and break down your response, I am sure we can find some consensus between us. Overall the argument you have put forth is what I call the argument for moral authoritarianism. That is to say that an authoritarian act is justified, so long as it is for the good for the moral majority. In your response where you mentioned Algebe, you largely engaged in character assassination. Saying, to paraphrase, anyone who would defend hate is not human, while failing to see the contradiction, where you decry hate in one hand, and dehumanize a person in the other.

When I asked you if you can be sure what you said is not hateful, I was trying to get across the point that hate is a subjective concept, so what you define as hate, may not be what I define as hate, and since hate is subjective, how can you justify imposing restrictions on hate speech, without enforcing YOUR definition of hate onto another? What gives you the right to be the arbiter? What gives you the right to decide for me what is hateful? Because that is what you are trying to do.

Authoritarianism is defined as:
favoring complete obedience or subjection to authority as opposed to individual freedom.
exercising complete or almost complete control over the will of another or of others.

So who is truly the problem here, is it Milo who seeks to share a belief deemed unfit by the moral majority, or the person who seeks to dictate for others what individual freedom they are allowed to hold because they find themselves among the moral majority?

The reason why I told you to read the works of Pain and Mill is twofold, Pain is the author of America, our founding fathers were influenced by his works and that influence can be seen in the founding principles of our country. Second, Mill is the author of Liberty as we understand it in America, without him, we very well could not even have the right to free speech in this first place, a right by the way that is not shared in most other countries. So if you seek to call the validity of our principles into question, call the right to free speech into question, then you would do well to understand what exactly they mean. Because your argument from personal ignorance, while morally sound to you, is immoral to me. It is immoral to me because of the right you assume to posses to dictate what is or is not acceptable for me or anyone to hear, or to say.

Today, you may find yourself safely among the moral majority, and with the feeling of safety, see no problem in cutting down any principle that stands in your way, any law preventing you from reaching your desired utopia. But ask yourself this, what happens when you are no longer in the moral majority, what would you do then, having already cut down every principle, every law that could protect you, where would you run?

On Ayan Ali, you completely missed the point, what troubled me is that someone who advocates humanist principles, is judged to be hateful, for advocating humanism. That the poison of moral authoritarianism, that poison that you are happily drinking, had convinced you and many others that individual freedom is a privilege and not a right. Because it is the majority who dole out privilege, and as such can take it away. But a right is protected, even from the hands of those who would willingly give it all away just to remain in safety of consensus. You are giving up the best thing about our country, and you don't even see how dangerous that is, because you do not understand what it is you are giving up.

Shame on you for your willful ignorance. Shame on you for daring to tell me that for the sake of decency, I need to surrender my individual rights. When conservative Christians sought to deny individual rights to homosexuals, they also cited decency as their justification. This is the company you find yourself in.

Breeon's picture


This is the game I'm talking about. We can't define "civilized" because we come from different backgrounds and culture? Well coming from different backgrounds and cultures aren't going to change. I'm sure everyone will have their definitions and examples, but bottom-line is that it's generally being decent to one another. Should we refrain from trying to be a a"civilized" society because we are all different? If we are always going nit pick about exactly what it is, then we waste too much time on specific definitions and not enough time on learning and figuring out how to be a more positive or healthier society.
I'm not sure what the answer is completely, but it surely won't come from trying to define something exactly when it's hard to get everyone to agree. However, it doesn't mean that we should not try either.

You see the questions shouldn't be, what's it really mean to be civilized? What is free speech and when should it be censored? It's really about can we identify those behaviors and situations that are not congruent to helping us establish a more safe and healthier society. That is really what should be focused on. Either we believe that we can work together to find solutions to these problems, or that we believe everything has too many deep rooting meanings for any of us to understand. In that case, we may as well not have any hope in getting better.

julesann2614's picture
"It's really about can we

"It's really about can we identify those behaviors and situations that are not congruent to helping us establish a more safe and healthier society."
-I agree with this statement. Anything to benefit as a society should be considered and examined.

"Either we believe that we can work together to find solutions to these problems, or that we believe everything has too many deep rooting meanings for any of us to understand."
-I agree with this statement as well. But I disagree that working together means interrupting a speech and blocking the spread of ideas and information. Working together to find solutions would be a person holding another speech in opposition to the one being discussed.

We cannot work together as a society when we shut those with different ideas down. All I am trying to get across is the man should have been able to speak so long has he had the invitation to continue doing so. The people should have been allowed to peacefully protest. If we shut all those down with different ideas down then everyone would still be second class citizens other than the rich and white elite.. People would still be stoned for not observing the Sabbath. What we have accomplished as humans is due to different ideas being spread. We learn from hearing bad ideas and from seeing hateful things occur.

I think you have understood exactly what I meant when you say that we can't define something that differs by culture. It is close to impossible. But how can you say that someone is speaking hatefully when we don't really even know what that means across the board?

Note: I'm not trying to be an asshole or play games..I'm sincerely asking you a question. It is very difficult to agree with such a statements like "That is hateful speech"...When no can agree on a meaning for that statement.

Truett's picture
Here's a quick case-in-point

Here's a quick case-in-point for those who would forcibly stop the speech at Berkeley: In Monty Python's "The World's Most Dangerous Joke", Ernest Scribbler creates a dangerous bit of speech in the form of a joke. He dies in the process. The military recognizes its utility and, while carefully avoiding the effects of the dangerous speech, prepare for its use against the Nazi forces. The dangerous speech is deadly, and is in the end deemed illegal and prohibited by the United Nations. No one will have to hear it again.

Despite the noble intentions of people who notice what is hateful and damaging speech and wish to forcibly prohibit it, they are engaged in a real life example of the very thing Monty Python pilloried in their skit.

Most of us in this forum are against Milo's message and even against Milo himself, but we disagree on what to do about it. Those of us who advocate for free and open inquiry are probably noticing that we atheists are considered uncivilized, dangerous, immoral and not worthy of being heard. Many of us know what it is like to be forcibly prevented from speaking. We notice when a fellow atheist is proposing action that is not only generally unfair but is specifically dangerous to our own speech and cause.

In the final analysis, we have concluded that the ideas on offer should be weighed on their own merits, without the artificial imposition of ignorance by those who want us to avert our eyes from dangerous ideas. We, or at least I, feel that those who would silence others by force are in the wrong, albeit for some noble and understandable reasons.

PS: I'd love to insert the Monty Python sketch for everyone, but I'm having a bit of trouble with that. If you've not seen it in a while it is worth a quick Youtube search.


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