I write in response to Jeff’s Cieslikowski’s Letter 12.5. As always, Jeff makes compelling arguments with thoughtfulness and intentionality. They bring clarity to an issue many of us grapple with through our bright college years and beyond. However, I do find myself disagreeing with the thesis of his argument. Even before we determine the appropriate manner of engagement, we must ask ourselves the more fundamental question of whether we should engage at all. This is the question Jeff and I find ourselves trying to answer today. The two sides Jeff and I find ourselves on have concerned thinkers throughout history. For instance, in an early dialogue, Protagoras, Plato ascribes vice to folly. If so, one has a duty to engage; to provide instruction to remedy the folly and consequently, the vice. In The Republic, however, Plato appears to have changed his mind, ascribing vice to the uncontrollable, irrational aspects of the person, irremediable by reason. If so, rather than engagement, hate speech only deserves repudiation and discipline. Such a reading suggests that there is nothing to be gained by platforming or engaging because the very act of engagement is an act of civility. I will argue that a person who espouses hate speech cannot be reasoned with, and hence we have a duty to avoid platforming their speech to prevent them from becoming legitimate topics of conversation.
In my view, the “sticks and stones” argument is naïve, and honestly quite insulting. Hate speech is dangerous, and its consequences are real. An oft repeated refrain I heard during my time at Yale was that free speech has a price. What this claim ignores is that the price of the free and unchecked speech of the white nationalist or the homophobe or the misogynist is scarcely paid by the speaker. It is paid by those who have not generated this speech and are in fact harmed and victimized by this speech. When a national leader calls Muslims animals, it’s not the leader who pays the price of that speech. It’s the Muslim child who is bullied and harassed in school or can’t find a job because of his name. It’s all very good, from the safety of one’s armchair, to adopt the posture that declaring all asylum seekers parasites is hateful speech but must be tolerated in a free society. The price of this speech is not imposed on the speaker; it is imposed on the asylum seeker whose child is taken away from her, even though she has done nothing wrong.
I’d particularly like to push back on Jeff’s commentary about anti-fragility. We don’t solve global pandemics by letting people die off until the remainder of the population has acquired immunity. And we don’t address hate speech by telling those victimized by that speech that they are fragile and need training. As Devontae Torriente writes, “It’s time for us to do away with the idea that we must be respectful or courteous to be entitled to our rights. Politeness isn’t a requirement when we are confronting anyone who uses their political and social power to further disenfranchise us. We are now charged with ushering in a new era of normalized discomfort in which people in positions of power know that in this fight for our humanity, we will not concede the raw power of our indignation. In this age of entitlement by those with problematic or seemingly unpopular views, remember this: I don’t owe you my tolerance, especially not when my life is at stake.”
When we provide the power of our platform to one issuing hate speech, we exact a price on the person, and the body, and the life of those already victimized in society. I do not see why we should be expected to pay this price for their freedom to spread hate. They use our platform to disseminate words and ideas that threaten the personhood of those among us who most need the solidarity of our community, and then turn right around and tell us that we must tolerate their hate so that they can have the privilege of our platform. This seems flatly absurd to me. Their hate speech simply does not deserve the courteous respect of our platform. They deserve the full measure of our unvarnished indignation and outrage. I believe that it’s quite reasonable for us to tell them, “Being ‘deplatformed’ is the price that you, the speaker, pay for your hateful speech.” When the victims of hateful speech stand up for themselves in outrage and indignation and refuse to engage with the hate any longer, I think it is perverse to invalidate their pain and indignity, and to describe them as fragile snowflakes in need of instruction and conditioning on how to tolerate more hate rather than cheering them on in their courageous refusal to back down before persons in positions of power and privilege in society.
Yale College, 2020.