One reason I broadly oppose governmental restrictions on the expression of ideas—even obviously bad, dangerous, and offensive ideas—is the phenomenon I call “censorship envy”: The common reaction that, “If my neighbor gets to ban speech he reviles, why shouldn’t I get to do the same?”
[1.] To offer one example, say a public university bans speech that expresses support for Hamas attack on civilians, and a court upholds that (perhaps on the theory that this supposedly creates a “hostile educational environment” for Jewish or Israeli students).
It seems to me quite likely, and psychologically understandable, that this will create an impetus for greater moves to ban other speech, such as support for Israeli retaliatory strikes against Hamas or other future attackers. Such a misplaced desire for equality of repression is a powerful mental force, and it’s one way in which narrow speech restrictions can end up leading to broader ones.
Indeed, I already often hear it as a defense for restrictions on pro-Hamas speech: In practice, some universities already do various things to try to punish speech that’s supposedly racist or sexist or anti-gay or anti-trans or what have you. Isn’t it only fair that they likewise punish speech that defends the killing of Jews? Yet if that argument for comparable speech suppression is accepted, why would we think it will stop there?
But beyond this, even if the envy doesn’t lead to broader speech restrictions, that itself is dangerous to society. Say that, even if the ban on pro-Hamas speech is allowed, a move to similarly ban pro-Israeli-retaliation speech fails. The pro-Israeli-retaliation speech will then likely rankle many Americans even more, creating more offense and more division.
Right now, when people are deeply offended by various kinds of speech, the legal system can powerfully tell them: “Yes, you must endure this speech that you find so offensive, but others must endure offensive speech, too. Many people hate speech you like as much as you hate the speech they like, but the Constitution says we all have to live with being offended: We must fight the speech we hate through argument, not through suppression.”
Yet what would we say when some offensive viewpoints are banned but other offensive viewpoints are allowed? “We who have the support of the majority get to suppress symbols we hate, but you in the minority don’t”? “Our hatred of certain speech is reasonable but your hatred of other speech is unreasonable”?
Yes, it’s true, you can argue for various distinctions, such as between speech defending the purposeful killing of civilians and speech defending the merely knowing of civilians incidental to attack military targets. (I actually agree with such a distinction
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