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?