Hate-speech laws help only the powerful
They’re the latest means through which the elite asserts its authority.
YouTube comedian Mark Meechan has been convicted of grossly offensive behaviour under the Communications Act. Meechan’s crime was filming his girlfriend’s dog raising its paw as he made pro-Nazi comments. Under the YouTube username of ‘Count Dankula’, he posted this joke video on the internet, and it was then viewed over three million times. This week, Airdrie Sheriff Court found Meechan guilty, and he now faces potential imprisonment.
Talking to the press after the judgement, Meechan said ‘today, context and intent were completely disregarded’. He explained during the trial that he was not a Nazi and that he had posted the video to annoy his girlfriend. Sheriff Derek O’Carroll declared the video ‘anti-Semitic and racist’ in nature. He added that ‘the accused knew that the material was offensive and knew why it was offensive’. The original investigation was launched following zero complaints from the public. Offensiveness apparently depends on the sensitivity of police officers and judges.
Offensive behaviour is one of the crimes of immorality, such as offence against public morality, action against the state, counter-revolutionary activity and other catch-all terms, that have always been used to suppress dissent (reasonable and unreasonable). In other words, ‘hate speech’ laws are no different to those laws that we snigger at as blatant attempts by governments of other countries, past and present, to control their subjects. Yet we permit such laws to be passed in our own country.
Laws against speech which are advanced under the guise of defending the weak are actually designed to protect the dominant elite. Laws against harassment, threats of violence, incitement to commit crime, and so forth, are all already on the statute. They protect all people equally. Hate crimes are different. They are crimes against public morality, as defined by lawmakers. The offences are crafted not to protect ‘marginalised groups’ but to demonstrate the virtue of the ruling class and to demonstrate its power. They use minorities as shields to protect their own interests.
Christianity, patriotism, monarchy and the family were once society-wide emblems of the moral consensus. But as they were diminished by a new multiculturalism, a crisis of values developed. With so many differing perspectives and traditions at play in society, it became hard to find moral totems around which the nation could gather. One unifying idea today is that racism is wrong. It is a moral value that appeals broadly to liberals and conservatives, relying on the innate human moral values of fairness, and individuals being treated according to their actions.
The problem is that racism can be manifest both in action and thought. Racial discrimination of action can be limited through legislation that bans racially determined pay, employment, accommodation and so on. It is largely a transparent, fair and workable system. The problem is that racist beliefs, casual prejudices and in-group preferences – what we might call racial discrimination of thought, mild or extreme – have become the focus of legislation to prevent even offensive (but non-racist) speech in order to eradicate racist thought.
What we see now in British hate-crime legislation is an attempt to control speech and thought. The existence of ‘offensive thought’, which finds expression in a joke, offhand slur or a casual slip, is now something for which our moral superiors can prosecute us. This is a profoundly troubling situation. What is more troubling is that no major British political party has opposed the spread of hate-crime legislation. No major British politician has articulated the ethical and intellectual case that hate crimes are iniquitous, unworkable and dangerous. Ultimately, if the people cannot find a champion to oppose this censorious trend in the mainstream, they will find one elsewhere.
There was one political figure outside the Airdrie Sheriff Court when Meechan was convicted. It was not the local MP or MSP. It was not a member of the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat or Scottish Nationalist parties. It was Tommy Robinson, the right-wing activist. ‘What this is about is implementing laws that silence people and stop people talking, joking and having free speech’, he said. He also pointed out that the laws are implemented selectively: while Meechan was prosecuted over a joke video, radical imams who preach anti-Semitic sermons are not. Regardless of how accurate this view is, the fact that Robinson takes an interest in free speech and speaks so clearly makes his views appealing to people starved of political figures who speak so directly.
What’s more, such double standards don’t only apply to crimes of thought and speech. Meechan’s absurd prosecution contrasts starkly with the cases of Muslim grooming gangs, the existence of which have often been shielded from the public, in some cases for many years. This is because Muslims are deemed a protected class. In the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, the police were deemed ‘institutionally racist’. Even though the police today have no explicitly racist policies, this is a sin that cannot be proved but always lurks. As a result of good intentions (avoiding racial bias), the existence of protected classes became woven into police practice. As a result, terrible crimes, such as those exposed in Telford, went unpunished for decades.
The conviction of Mark Meechan is the result of this same identity politics, political monoculture and virtue-signalling of the ruling class. This situation is no good for anyone. In fact, the existence of classes protected by the ruling elite only builds resentment that actually damages those protected groups. They become the subject of ire because our very sense of fairness rebels at the idea of certain groups becoming specially advantaged. But it is not too late to defuse this situation. We must begin to treat all people fairly, and according to their actions. We must abolish hate-speech laws, and stop travelling down the road to censorship.
Alexander Adams is an artist and writer. His website is alexanderadamsart.wordpress.com.
Picture by: Pexels, published under a creative commons license.