Being Offensive

      4 Comments on Being Offensive

In modern society, we are usually allowed free speech. Most people agree that free speech is a good thing.

On the other hand, most people disagree on what exactly is free speech. Does it include hate speech? What exactly is hate speech anyway? Does free speech include being offensive? Should we be allowed to insult other people for no reason? What about if you have a good reason? Is verbal harassment okay? Verbal bullying?

Obviously, I’m just talking about legal consequences. If you regularly praise Hitler and his ideas, some of your jew friends might stop inviting you to their parties, and that’s also perfectly within their rights. I’d probably remove you from my list too. The question is, should you get in court for it, and maybe pay a fine or go to prison?

Racist at party

In that specific case, pretty much everyone would say no, you can’t charge someone for the crime of praising Hitler. In that case, can you lose your job for that? That’s a very serious real-life consequence.

Hitler-approval is an idea. No matter how bad or good an idea is, if it doesn’t affect your job performance, it’s pretty much like a religion. I really don’t see why it could be justified to fire someone over it. On the other hand, if almost all of society disagrees with you, and you’re ranting about it all the time, then it could affect your company’s reputation, and in that case I’d say firing is justified.

Still, any employer should, in my opinion, have 100% control over who are his employees. A job is a contract that two people agree on, and I happen to think that an employer should never need a reason to fire someone. If they don’t want to give money to someone in exchange for services, then they should be free to fire them. That also includes firing someone over their race or religion (yikes) (even though, in most cases, the person wouldn’t be hired in the first place if the employer is that kind of guy). Obviously, in the long run, any employer that systematically fires or refuses to hire a group of people regardless of their abilities, will end up losing several good potential employees. In the dog-eat-dog world of capitalism, you can’t just regurlarly ignore chances of making your business better, and still expect to come out ahead. I would 100% allow them to be racist, but would also expect them to eventually fail because of it.That’s not fair for the victims, but if they’re really efficient employees, they’ll find another job, and I think that’s infinitely better for them than working under someone who not only hates them, but is also still mad at the fact that they were forced to hire them.

Just to be clear: I think firing should always be allowed, but it is never justified unless it has a clear negative impact on your job performance or company.

The next part is, should insulting be legal? We mostly accept groups of friends or family insulting each other “for fun”, but if it’s a stranger, it’s different. Under our current Laws (Canada and United States), insults are not actionable.  The only exception really is if it rises to defamation, which is a high hurdle. If you call someone an idiot for no reason on the street, they might ignore you, insult you back, etc. But it definitely won’t make them lose their job or get hurt, so that’s definitely not nice, but it’s also not a real problem. It’s their choice whether to take you seriously and feel bad, or to just go on with their lives.

Insulting on the street

Wikipedia defines Hate speech as:

Hate speech, outside the law, is speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as gender, ethnic origin, religion, race, disability, or sexual orientation.[1][2]

In the law of some countries, hate speech is any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is forbidden because it incites violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group. The law may identify a protected group by certain characteristics.[3][4][5] In the law of other countries, hate speech is not a legal term.[6] In some countries, a victim of hate speech may seek redress under civil law, criminal law, or both. A website that uses hate speech is called a hate site. Most of these sites contain Internet forums and news briefs that emphasize a particular viewpoint. There has been debate over how freedom of speech applies to the Internet as well as hate speech in general.

So basically, hate speech is criticizing someone on the basis of their characteristics, in an aggressive manner, that if taken seriously, could convince others of acting against this person.

I personally think this makes no sense. According to this definition, Hate speech is insulting someone in such a way that someone else would want to commit an actual crime against that person. If, for example, John tells Fred that he’s worth nothing and deserves to die, that’s being an asshole. If John then assaults Fred, with or without a weapon, then that’s a serious crime. If, instead, Tom tells Fred the same thing, and upon hearing it, John decides to attack Fred. Obviously, if Tom doesn’t help, then he’s an accomplice. If he walked away before the fight, and didn’t notice John assaulting Fred, I really don’t think he should be charged. In that case, John is 100% the culprit, and Fred the victim, but it’s John’s fault if he couldn’t just ignore Tom and decided to attack.

I really fail to see how it’s different for public speaking. If you go on stage and tell your audience that all muslims are assholes, you’re probably an asshole too. On the other hand, you shouldn’t be arrested for it. I actually think that, if you paid for the right to use the room, you should be allowed to finish your speech no matter what, and even kick people who interfere if you want to. After that though, if the next audience doesn’t want to hear you, or the next owner doesn’t want to host you, then it’s completely your fault and your problem.

credit: xkcd

credit: xkcd

Yes, I am talking about politically incorrect speakers for whom “being offensive” is a trademark, like Milo Yiannopoulos.


I really think no one should even consider protesting a speech. If you don’t like it, don’t listen, and if you’re right about it being “inacceptable”, then other people also won’t listen and it will go away by itself. Even if you do, the person got the right to use the room for a certain duration, and you didn’t, so stay outside and make it civil. It doesn’t make ANYTHING they’re saying right or wrong, it’s just basic decency. You don’t criticize someone by looking worse, that only helps their case.

So, where would YOU draw the line on free speech?

  • On the hate speech thing, I think there’s a major distinction (missing in your question) between “being offensive” and “inciting violence”, that we need to make. I have noticed in recent times that people have started to talk of a mythical “right not to be offended”. There is no such right, there never was, and I earnestly hope there never will be. What’s dangerous about such silly ideas being bandied around is that the rest of us start self-censoring ourselves (“I’d better not say that, even though it’s my right to say it, in case it offends someone”). People can take offence at anything, no matter how silly – although typical examples seem to centre more around religious beliefs, so let’s think about that for a moment:

    “Freedom of religion”, an important part of free speech, means you have the right to believe whatever you like, and gather together with like-minded people to celebrate your shared beliefs etc – as long as no national law is infringed by so doing.

    If you happen to believe passionately in the Church of the Green Cheese Moon, and it’s fundamental tenet that the Moon really is Made of Green Chess, that’s fine. But it doesn’t, and never did, mean that you have the right to prevent others from describing your Green Cheese Moon beliefs as stupid! In particular, **my** freedom of speech requires that I’m allowed to describe the Green Cheese beliefs as moronically half-witted – and the Green Cheesers as moronic half-wits, phrasing it as offensively as I care to. Comedians, in particular, must have the freedom to take the piss out of anyone (in a humorous way), and some of them will hopefully use that freedom frequently.

    But all of this is a million miles away from genuine hate speech, inciting racial, ethnic or religious hatred, which is rightly illegal in many (but not all) Western nations. There may be a grey area in the middle – where does a freethinker’s free speech cross the line into hate speech, but there are grey areas throughout life, especially in an evolutionary universe. Only Platonists would disagree (with their belief in Platonic Essences).

  • Kingfisher12

    I’m generally opposed to government censorship in any form. People ought to be free to express themselves in words however they see fit. But there are two lines where it might be justified for authorities to step in.

    The first is in language that is obscene. I would define obscene as language that is considered socially taboo within the society. I can support restricting obscene language, but only by designating certain areas and media as ‘obscenity free’. Parks and playgrounds where children play should be shielded from obscenity. Media aimed at children should be free from obscenity (or require a parental warning). But everything else is fair game. Adults can regulate themselves on what is obscene.

    The second is language that explicitly incites violence. In this case though laws shouldn’t target the speech itself, but rather the influence of the speaker. A person with no influence should never be punished for what he says, no matter how ignorant or vile. But a police officer, or public official should be held to a higher standard. A common protester should be able to say whatever stupidity they want, but a person who deliberately incites a riot should feel the full force of the law.

    Perhaps it can be a measure of audience. Saying something to a couple of friends is fine, but saying the same thing on national TV might be a crime.

    • Kaito Kid

      You raise an interesting point with obscene language, I honestly didn’t think about that angle when I wrote the post. I agree that “taboo” language should definitely be regulated at least in kids media and locations.

      As for your other point, what about a common person who incites violence without any influence, but then later on this person gains influence and an audience. The person stopped saying that stuff, but obviously a few private videos from those days exist and went public later. What would you do in that case?

      • Kingfisher12

        Well I think people should be allowed to recant past statements. A person who gains influence may say ‘listen to what i’m saying now, not to what I said when I was younger and more foolish’.

        But when a person gains status as a public figure, even their contemporary private statements may become subject to scrutiny. A sitting judge cannot, even in private, express opinions that could be construed as advocating lawbreaking. It comes back to whether the language affects the job-performance of the person. If the job of a person is to keep the peace (and arguably that is part of the job description of every public figure) language that would upset the peace is contrary to that person’s job.

        Likewise, if part of the job of a person is to uphold an image (of a company, institution, or profession), speech that would damage that image is subject to regulation within the organization holding the image.