12 May 2007

In defense of hate speech

"A person who spreads statements or other information among the public where a certain race, a national, ethnic or religious group or a comparable group is threatened, slandered or insulted shall be sentenced for ethnic agitation to a fine or to imprisonment for up to two years."

-Finnish law on ethnic agitation

"Effective methods are needed to deal with discrimination. Especially important is to stop people from using publicity to maintain anti-immigrant attitudes. Racism on Internet must be put down with heavy hand."

-Minority Ombudsman Mikko Puumalainen, Aamulehti 14.4.2007

The secular Satan has many faces: intolerance, racism and ethnocentrism. He manifests himself in violence and slurs, while his emanations warp the structure of society, mysteriously keeping the minorities oppressed even in the absence of much apparent discrimination. No weapon can go unutilized when fighting this bastard child of white man's arrogance and sad little fears, for it is his evil that keeps the innocent, virtuous People of Colour, womyn and differently abled human beings in subjugation, squalor and despair. Paladins of tolerance, unite!

One could run with the hyperbole until almost every reader would come to see this as a rant, perhaps funny, but hopelessly strawman-like to properly describe the attitudes of modern left-wingers. Fair enough. There are considerable numbers of intelligent people on the left, men and women of idealism tempered by realism, perfectly capable of seeing the shades of grey even in such sensitive issues such as racism. All the more surprising, then, that so many positions of power are now occupied by raving lunatics of left, who really do seem to believe that Western culture is the fount of all evil, and who ends up on the top in the classic exploiter-exploited relationships of world is somehow a question of virtue (evil white people oppress the good because they're evil), not one of power and strategy. Their naive policies have played a large part in constructing the already explosive, gradually worsening situation Europe has with its Muslims and other minorities. One would think that, with the failure of their utopian plans growing more and more apparent each year, the far-left multiculturalists of Finland would be gradually backpedaling from their positions. Our nation has barely started walking down their road, and a change of course to some more promising policy without losing any face would still be easy. I mean, what kind of leftist would want to become an author of demographic shift done in a way that will inevitably lead to increased ethnic tensions, ghettoized minorities stuck in poverty and crime, rise of far right and so on?

Quite a few, it turns out. The streams are diverging. While many anti-racists seem to have grasped the need to refine their worldviews considerably, and the discussion on immigration is becoming more open, the more extreme leftists are drawing quite a different conclusion. Finland still needs an ethnic makeover. The problem is still whites and their racism. We didn't fail in the blind tolerance of multiculturalism, fundamentally flawed understanding of xenophobia or the intrinsically limited effectiveness of anti-racist education. We failed in our insufficient tolerance, too little propaganda and far too much tolerance shown to racism in all its myriad forms. Efforts must be made to rectify the situation, and at the front of crusade stands our Minority Ombudsman Mikko Puumalainen. Having bravely struck down the monstrously racist candy wrappers, the Commissar has now turned his righteous fury on Internet racism. His first target is the infamous hate propagandizer Mikko Ellilä, whom he asked police to investigate for his hate speech.

OK, so perhaps Ellilä isn't infamous. Very few people have even heard of him; whatever his eventual fame, it'll begin with this case. Perhaps he isn't hate propagandizer either. His writing style is certainly aggressive, his worldview very much black and white, and there's plenty of material to use selective quotation on. He has advocated the retraction of citizenships from unproductive or criminal members of non-native ethnicities so they'd be forced to leave, and compared the operation to pumping out the sewage. In "Yhteiskunta Koostuu Ihmisistä" (Society Consists of People), the essay that so enraged Puumalainen, he considers the sorry state of African socities manifestations of black genetics -- born stupid and aggressive, they live that way too in Africa and in West as well, if not strictly controlled by white law. And there's more. Ellilä is a racist, pure and simple. However, at no point has he advocated violence. He claims to see every person as an individual, thus avoiding the classic racist mistake of extrapolating perceived group averages into some individual. Much of what he has wrote deals with libertarianism, media criticism and other issues. While I consider him to be crudely mistaken on many counts and consequently don't care much for his opinions, I fail to see what makes them a real threat. Certainly he wasn't really worth bothering with.

The legal case is muddled. On one hand, Ellilä hasn't ever incited people to violence or any other illegal act, merely used his right to free expression. On the other hand, there is a Finnish law forbidding the spreading of "threatening, slandering or insulting" statements about some groups to the public, and Ellilä certainly has slandered and insulted many. It may be that police decide not to press charges, but if they wish to push on, perhaps egged by Puumalainen, they propably can. It is impossible to tell yet. What is clear at this point, on other hand, is that Commissar has screwed up again. He has chosen precisely the wrong way to fight against racism, which is kind of shame, because it really should be resisted. However, he's helping to delegitimize his whole extremist ideology with this ridiculous moralist jihad of his, and that's a good thing. To treat this illness, we must first wean ourselves of medicines that hurt more than they help.

Why do I consider his actions so irrational, so counterproductive? Why not punish Ellilä and others like him? Intellectual racists may not incite violence as such, but they can give words to inchoate prejudices of others, give people rational justifications to seeing minorities as inferior and discriminating against them. They may gain the ears of those in power, even gain power for themselves. I do think that the role of native European racism in our ethnic problems is often vastly exaggerated, but it does have a significant one, and it may easily grow worse. Lashing out might force him to curb his rhetoric and deter others. And surely outlawing hate propaganda isn't a real offense against the principle of free speech? No sane person complains about not being allowed to scream "fire!" in packed movie theater, either.

Let us start from the martyr's crown. Imagine an American government official indicting Noam Chomsky for anti-American propaganda and inciting terrorism (by implying that terrorist attacks are perfectly legitimate resistance against US imperialism, to spin up an example). How would people react to such a trial? Some might welcome it, some would grumble. Those people, however, never were the audience of Chomsky and other such writers, so their reaction is largely irrelevant. The target audience however, student intellectuals and left-wingers everywhere, would be enraged. They would see a state and official ideology unable to confront the ideas (or as many would put it, the truth) it doesn't like, and thus is forced to use coercion against their authors. Such would be the predominant response in the population which, state worried, might get influenced by the wrong ideas. And it gets worse. Whatever punishments Western governments are willing to inflict are no deterrent to dedicated ideologue. On the contrary, the long-term benefits are in some sense greater. A trial raises the thinker's profile in today's vast chaos of media persons, authors and bloggers. Sometimes considerably so. A conviction, for its part, is the martyr's crown.

It is in the nature of repression that it will crush any resistance from anyone if harsh enough, yet in many cases it turns out only to increase the enemy's resolve. The breaking point is often surprisingly high, and many people aren't capable or willing to go that far. If a squeamish state nonetheless punishes dissidents, it usually ends up only feeding the hostility of target's group and alienating their sympathizers. The target can posture as an oppressed victim, even if the prosecution failed in the end. If previously a nobody, he's now marked down as someone who merited state crackdown. He'll be able to tell people "what they don't want you to know". Moderate thinkers with lives beyond their ideals may perhaps be deterred by the possibility of legal sanctions, but extremists, the more dangerous type, might even hope for a trial. This dynamic is apparent in Ellilä case. The man himself is combative, not at all intimidated by the feeble threat of "fines or up to two years imprisonment". He has climbed on the cross and is shouting loud from there. The news has spread very fast in Internet, especially through various nationalist blogs and webpages. American rah rah -nationalist Little Green Footballs with over 100,000 daily hits also took note of issue. People are exploiting the case to bolster their arguments about dangerous multiculturalists, Islamization of Europe and PC threat to free speech. Basically, the case is now a tiny international embarassment for Finland, with potential for growth if Ellilä goes to trial. It is also being used as propaganda material by the ideological enemies of Puumalainen. Well done, sir! Truly you are a gift that just keeps on giving.

The hate speech legislation can be counterproductive in practice, but it's also problematic in principle. What exactly is the difference between hate propaganda and harsh, brutal (and perhaps grossly erroneous) criticism of some group? There must be some fairly clear delineation, because the law must forbid the former, but protect the right to latter. Of course the current Finnish law, which forbids "slandering and insulting" groups, fails in the second count. It is the interpretation and implementation that really counts, though, and here we find how the contemporary European delineation really is defined. Apparently it revolves around the identity group of accused. Native Europeans can get into legal trouble for racism towards any coloured people, for anti-Islamic attitudes and of course anti-Semitism. Others are pretty free to sneer on outsiders of their choice. Muslims for their part are welcome to anti-Semitism and even Holocaust denial, if they don't advertise it too much. However imams can get slapped with deportations or other penalties for "incitement to terrorism" charges. These are also rather vague statutes and begging to be abused, even if only professional hatemongers have been targeted so far. What, I wonder, will happen in 2017 to some radical imam who calls the infidel culture decadent filth and preaches that it is every believer's duty to defend ummah by whatever means necessary? Not to mention that if there is someday a cultural and political shift to far right in Europe, these laws will be reinterpreted in rather interesting ways.

Exactly how dangerous it is to allow hatemongers freedom to slander and insult? It should be noted that much of what they say and write is extremely crude and blatantly offensive. Arousing contempt and loathing in most, they can often work contrary to their purposes. Reichsführer Pekka Siitoin gave Finnish neo-Nazis an Untermensch face, while the sermons of radical Islamist imams are causing wariness and hostility in many. In public it is also possible to humble them in debate and make their pig-headed ignorance apparent to all. Perhaps they happen to have some good points too? We'll never know if you censure the whole subject. In fact, the whole practice of taboo subjects implies that we're somehow afraid of the power of dissenting views, which makes little sense if we really have truth on our side. Many an intellectual might say that ordinary citizen fails to comprehend the complexities of modern world, and instead goes for simplistic stories exploiting emotions, like racist propaganda. There is a grain of truth in such view. A construction worker here might fall to far right, a confused young Muslim there to Islamism, because they were for various reasons unable to resist peer pressure and skilled manipulators. Still, I cannot see the people in general as an amorphous mass, to be kneaded at will by social engineers and propagandists. Most people do have more or less common sense at least, and it's not that easy to incite significant, lasting hatred in them. Far better, of course, if you're deliberately inflaming some real problem or conflict, but here, the issues are what really count, not anything that is said of those. And anyway, it is precisely in real world disputes and problems that we can least afford censorship. We can't just dance around everybody's feelings then, expecting that everybody avoids saying "slanderous, insulting" things. That would effectively paralyze the whole debate. We need real solutions to our problems. Ignoring them because you find them politically inconvenient is a time-honored strategy, but it won't make the problems go away.

How then to separate from each other the harsh, unpolite criticisms, and incitement to hatred, which on the contrary rarely helps and usually hurts? In social interaction it is possible to gradually sharpen our response; if someone says something simplistic and offensive, we can glare, argue back or express our distaste in various ways. Or we can bash his head in, as in the good old days, if he makes us angry enough. With such complex repertoire we can in theory navigate well within these murky waters, where people exaggerate to make a point, generalize, and often provoke others on purpose... Yet also spread hate while hiding behind pretty words and denials of any ill intent. Law, however, has to define an exact criteria for what is a crime, and I fail to imagine a set that wouldn't either allow only the most blatant hatemongers to be convicted, or allow the conviction of legitimate critics of some group that law "protects" in practice as well as in principle. We can put in place second type, loose laws, and trust that the spirit of law will live in its implementation. However, as the case of Ellilä has shown, it can't always be counted upon. And even if there weren't clumsy, overtly partisan officials ready to bend the law, the courts will make mistakes, and private individuals will try to abuse the system with false allegations. We do know that many members of officially victimized minorities like to accuse natives of racism whenever something is said or done that they don't like (whether this is due to cynical calculation or sincere belief, I don't know). Surely we shouldn't have laws that encourage such behaviour, and potentially start clogging the judicial system with utterly pointless accusations. Once racism can refer to pretty much anything, for the most part perfectly innocuous, the death of stigma currently hovering around it is only a matter of time.

So, maybe convicting people for hate speech just spreads bitterness and aggravates those that the propaganda might have influenced. Maybe the boundaries of the entire concept are hopelessly unclear. It might still be proper to punish it, if it were truly hurtful. There's no doubt that a black person would find Ellilä's "Society Consists of People" stupid and offensive. But really, why should he give a damn about what some guy on Internet thinks of blacks? One of the ill effects of official anti-racism and contemporary victimhood cult is the degeneration of our capability to simply not care. Many radical feminists are ten times as extreme and hostile with their misandry, as Ellilä is with his racism. Should I be crying over things that Dworkin, Solanas and others have said about my sex? Or have I been wiser in alternating between ridiculing and ignoring them? They've done all they humanly could to offend men, but I simply chose not to play their game. As I see it, ignorant claims and vapid insults are simply a sign of third-rate minds; it is the offender who is shamed, not the target. To be hurt by them means absolutely nothing apart from you getting hurt.

Why we do have these laws, then, if they are so obviously pointless? That's a story for another time.

No comments: