Facebook and transphobia

Can Facebook’s community standards be used to drive transphobic content away? The rules are promising. Anything transphobic may fit under prohibited hate speech, defined as “a direct attack against people on the basis of what we [and British law] call protected characteristics” including gender identity. “We define attacks as violent or dehumanising speech, harmful stereotypes, statements of inferiority, expressions of contempt, disgust or dismissal, cursing and calls for exclusion or segregation.”

The heart of the anti-trans campaign is calls for exclusion of trans women from women’s spaces.

There are long lists of what is dehumanising, including generalisations or comparisons to insects, animals, filth, sexual predators, subhumans or criminals.

“Statements denying existence” are forbidden, which arguably includes suggestions that people transition on a whim, such as, “he wakes up one morning and declares he’s a woman”. Referring to trans or nonbinary people as “it” is specifically forbidden.

Calling us mentally ill is forbidden. Alleging “Moral deficiency” is forbidden, including calling us perverts, so mentioning “autogynephilia” should be forbidden. Statements of our inferiority, such as calling us freaks, abnormal, or worthless. Expressions of contempt, or admission of intolerance, is forbidden. Denying that the protected characteristic should exist. Expressions of contempt, hatred or disgust. Cursing and profane terms are forbidden.

Demands that we be segregated or excluded are forbidden. Facebook does not specify that excluding trans women from women’s spaces counts, but arguably it should. Advocating political, economic or social exclusion is forbidden, including “denying access to spaces (physical and online) and social services”. Slurs, “defined as words that are inherently offensive and used as insulting labels for the above-listed characteristics”, are forbidden.

Heading 16, “Cruel and insensitive”, may also be relevant. It forbids mocking “victims of serious physical and emotional harm”, which could include transphobia, internalised or external.

Facebook refers us on to this essay on hate speech by Richard Allan. It is a balance. They want to encourage self-expression, but have rules against bullying. Attacks on social groups, including trans people, are hate speech. Context matters.

Facebook profits from “language designed to provoke strong feelings, making the discussion more heated” because it drives engagement. They believe in “harmless use cases”. In the context of immigration, Allan writes “we don’t want to stifle important policy conversations”, and that could be a defence for transphobes, arguing that trans woman access to woman’s space is a policy debate. So the hatred has to be something more than that.

Trans people can quote hate speech in order to argue against it, and reclaim slurs: I can call myself a tranny but no-one else can. There is a thin line between expressive opinion and unacceptable hate speech, and AI can’t define it, so users should report it to moderators.

Facebook is an American company with American cultural values, including commitment to free speech: “The goal of our Community Standards has always been to create a place for expression and give people a voice.” However on the same page they say they want content to be “authentic”- “we don’t want people using Facebook to misrepresent who they are or what they’re doing”. So, anti-trans campaigners often pretend to be women’s rights campaigners, or lesbian rights campaigners, when what they seek is trans exclusion. This is not authentic. Hate speech fits under their principle of Dignity: “We expect that people will respect the dignity of others and not harass or degrade others.”

So what happens when the anti-trans campaigners breach the community standards? Trans people and allies have to complain. And while groups and pages breach the community standards, complaints are restricted to particular content on groups. You can, however, report a page.

I want to see how this works. I see a hateful picture: it has the words “human beings cannot change sex and the law should not pretend that they can”. I click the three dots, then “find support or report photo”. I click “Hate speech”, then “Sex or gender identity”, then “Next”.

It asks, “Does the post go against our Community Standards on hate speech?” I click Yes, then Next. Unfortunately, it does not allow me to explain how it does that.

On the page itself, I click the three dots, then, again, “Hate speech”, “Next”, “Report page”, “Done”. Again, I cannot give reasons. It suggests I can block the page, so stop seeing it, but I don’t want to: instead, I want to prevent other people from seeing it: trans people, who might be hurt by it, and potential haters, who might be radicalised by it, or confirmed haters, who might share its rubbish.

Facebook claimed to have “taken action” on 22.1m pieces of hate speech content in three months, which means removing it, covering it with a warning, disabling accounts, or reporting it to agencies. They say that out of every 10,000 content views, 10-11 included hate speech.

After an hour, I got a message to say that the page did not go against any specific community standard, so would not be removed, but suggesting I block it. So far, so useless, and no opportunity to put the case that it is transphobic hate. Possibly the most extreme hate might occasionally be deleted, but not this, which campaigns to take away trans rights and pretends trans people do not exist.

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Unfortunately, the implementation does not live up to this promise. I reported an image, and have not heard back. Then I reported a comment- transphobia whited out on my site, not all text-readers will- “‘Trans women’ can be males with gender dysphoria but a huge majority are males with autogynephilia, which is a male sexual fetish based on being validated as their idea of woman.” This is a lie, and also a “derogatory term related to sexual activity”, so banned. But the response is,

we reviewed the comment that you reported and found that it doesn’t go against any of our Community Standards… we understand that you don’t like it. We recommend that you hide the comment or unfollow, unfriend or block the person who posted it.

This is completely useless. Hate and lies about trans people spread across facebook uncontrolled.

Powerful speech

There is no free speech in the world. Instead, we have power speech. Powerful people can say what they like. The rest of us might not be arrested for our opinions, but anyone can be persecuted if the persecutor is sufficiently powerful or determined. People are persecuted for who we are.

Jonathan Freedland, in the Guardian, challenged anyone to disagree with “The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away,” one of the “anodyne statements” in this letter to Harper’s magazine. OK. These things often don’t work. Paul Krugman talks of arguing with zombies– because the zombie statements are in the interests of the powerful.

Here’s what would have been arguably an “anodyne statement” in 18th century London. It’s transphobic. On my blog I will white it out, that doesn’t work on the WordPress reader app unfortunately:

Edward Gibbon states that when Elagabalus proclaimed herself Empress and married a man, she “subverted every law of nature and decency”.

The social consequences of challenging this opinion would have been severe. “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” is one of the ornaments of the Enlightenment in England, a feat of scholarship, well worth reading, and includes this brutal prejudice. No trans person could have silenced him then, or had that opinion excised. There were trans people, but they were quiet about it. They might have been mistaken for gay.

The bad opinion that harmless trans women should be expelled from women’s spaces is subject to endless reiteration by the powerful, particularly Donald Trump, Rupert Murdoch, and their minions or hangers-on. Sometimes it might persuade people, particularly when they are made to look away from the real issue. If you believe the myth of the predatory men just waiting for gender recognition reform so that they can pretend to be trans and attack women, you are a fool, but it is so loudly proclaimed that it feels like an anodyne statement. Jonathan Freedland, who is Jewish, should know the blood libel was anodyne, in some cultures and at some times. In the diaspora, there have been many Jewish commmunities, where the surrounding goyim could attack, encouraged by the authorities, at any time. The blood libel is false, but here’s a Saudi cleric repeating it, on television. He may even convince some people.

Possibly the blood libel, and the common transphobia of such as Rowling, is best defeated by looking to its consequences for its victims. Enough people see the harm and suffering such rubbish causes, and rise up against it. This is a response from the heart, not an Enlightened refutation. The answer to Mein Kampf is a roar of righteous anger, not wasting time reading the thing.

The letter says that the main threat to “the free exchange of information and ideas” comes from snowflakes like Mr Trump, but leftists should be better than that.

Several NYT columnists signed the letter, possibly objecting to the resignation of James Bennet. Then Jennifer Finney Boylan distanced herself from the letter because JK Rowling had signed. I don’t get that. If you think Tom Cotton’s article calling for the National Guard to be called on protesters should be met by reasoned refutation, surely Rowling’s should too? What if David Starkey had signed? His racist remark, which leaves me speechless, may be read here. I won’t quote it because of systemic white supremacy in the UK. He would only have been saying that bad ideas should be met with good ones, not that his own statements are always good. That remark could have been refuted by the definition of genocide: the term includes attempts. Completed genocide is rare.

Starkey has been a “controversialist”, making his money from saying offensive things, for a long time, clickbait both for his supporters and many who loathe him. He’s pushed it too far now, but previously he dismissed female historians as “historical Mills & Boon”. That is a nasty little insult. It’s trolling, not the “free exchange of information and ideas”. Anyone responding to it with a long, detailed account of how female historians make a worthwhile contribution would be feeding the trolls. No-one who disbelieves that may be convinced of it.

I am glad that Daniel Ratcliffe, Emma Watson, and the Leaky Cauldron condemn Rowling. There are any number of posts refuting Rowling, some line by line- may I recommend my own? As the Cauldron says, her remarks are “harmful and disproven”. That makes no difference at all. If “exposure, argument and persuasion” were enough to refute her rubbish, Rupert Murdoch would have made his money some other way than newspapers. The money of millions of Potter fans may have some effect on Rowling.

Margaret Atwood signed the letter, tweeted something mildly pro-trans, and was subjected to a hail of abuse, including calling her a “gender traitor”.

Hate incidents

If someone says, or tweets, something hateful towards trans people, should the police get involved?

In the US, constitutional protection of speech, held to include burning crosses, is fundamental, but in Britain we recognise the concept of hate speech. Hate speech oppresses particular groups, suppressing their speech, so vitiates the main benefit of free speech: hearing different perspectives so as to find the truth. But not everything that is hateful should be criminal. A hate crime involves harassment, intimidation, violence, or property damage motivated by hatred of the victim as a member of a particular group rather than as an individual. Shouting abuse in the street is a crime under the Public Order Act 1986. A hate incident is not criminal but may still offend and distress a member of a minority.

Here are the current Hate Crime Operational Guidelines, last reviewed in 2014, currently subject to a consultation. Dr Nathan Hall’s foreword (p1) makes the case for police involvement even when there is no crime: Regardless of how trivial an incident may appear initially, the actions or inactions of the police in response to that incident can have a significant impact on the way that the organisation is viewed by the community it serves.

Where there is no crime (p60) The police have limited powers in these circumstances, but should recognise that hate incidents can cause extreme distress to victims and communities and can be the precursor to more serious crimes.

Such incidents are discussed at pp60-63. Where another agency is responsible the police might not even formally record a “non-crime hate incident”- for example transphobic shouting in a school. Where no other agency is responsible, the police should record the incident. Any risks to the victim should be identified. Police forces should keep local statistics. The public may object, calling the police the “thought police” (a term from 1984), so the police should not overreact or breach the hater’s human rights.

Hate Crime on the Internet: see pp115-122. Making threats is a crime, and if the anonymous individual is in England, threatening someone in England, and can be identified then English courts have jurisdiction even if the servers are elsewhere.

There is a site, True Vision, on which to report hate crime including on the internet. Personal threats should be investigated.

Not all hate is criminal. On line, haters radicalise each other, and their hatred may spill over into real world harassment and intimidation, but criminalising the hatred is politically impossible. And while I would like the self-righteous hatred exhibited by such as WPUK rebuked, I find others called “extremists”, such as Extinction Rebellion, admirable, so don’t want criminal law to encroach too far. Yet I read that the vile Harry Miller tweeted personal abuse as well as the inanities quoted by the judge, so possibly he got away with his court action because of the evidence rather than the facts.

Harry Miller

It’s amazing what whiny snowflakes transphobes are. After tweeting what a judge called opaque, profane or unsophisticated (para 251) and containing “abuse” (para 23) “gender-critical”, ie transphobic, tweets, Harry Miller had a half hour phone conversation with a police officer. He then claims that (para 93) he experienced a deep sense of personal humiliation, shame and embarrassment such that he withdrew from his own company and has not visited his office since. However this embarrassment did not stop him from tweeting continuously about his hatred of trans people ever after.

Some examples are necessary. They are vile, so I white them out: select text to view at your own peril. I don’t quote the tweets that abused individuals personally.  “Your breasts are made of silicone/
your vagina goes nowhere/
And we can tell the difference/
Even when you are not there/
Your hormones are synthetic
And let’s just cross this bridge/
What you have, you stupid man/
Is male privilege” (para 56)

This was not even original, he copied it from someone slightly more articulate.

Para 44 is an opaque one: “You know the worst thing about cancer ? It’s transphobic.” Apparently a certain type of brain tumour is different in men and women. He also spread the falsehood that a child-murderer is trans (para 37).

“I was assigned Mammal at Birth, but my orientation is Fish. Don’t mis species me. fuckers.” (para 42)

Enough of that garbage. As the judge says, Free speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative … Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having. (para 3). Unfortunately he does not give a useful analysis of hate speech: because it suppresses the speech of victimised groups, hate speech reduces the benefits of different perspectives that free speech should give.

Para 120: The claimant’s barrister quoted, it may be considered necessary in certain democratic societies to sanction or even prevent all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify hatred based on intolerance …, provided that any ‘formalities’, ‘conditions’, ‘restrictions’ or ‘penalties’ imposed are proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued.

Para 228: Mr Giannasi, the police Hate Crime Adviser, said, Failure to address non-crime hate incidents is likely to lead to their increase, and ultimately increase the risk of serious violence and societal damage.

Para 248: Kathleen Stock argues “gender critical” comment is not hate speech.

The judge merely says, para 281, The Claimant’s evidence, which I accept, is that he is not prejudiced and that his tweets were sent as part of an ongoing debate. He does not want to address the issue himself, stating it is for the complainer to give evidence that it is hate. He says only one trans woman complained- I see wicked rubbish like Miller’s tweets, and shrivel a bit, or I just ignore it. Life’s too short. If one has the courage, mental energy and trust in the system necessary to complain, many other trans women seeing his profanities will find them hateful.

So here is the argument that it is hate speech: Miller’s quoted tweets and others first call trans women a threat to cis women, and then mock and vilify us as ridiculous. This is dehumanising. It makes violence against us more likely- after all, who could respect a trans woman? The sense that we are ridiculous is the basis of a lot of the hate I receive, which Miller encourages. I fear that the sexual thrill Miller gets from tweeting about our vaginas will not eventually be enough for him, and he will become actually violent; or, possibly, if he sees a trans woman he will be abusive, in such a way as to be intimidating or harassing- an actual criminal offence. It is reasonable for the police to assess the risk of escalation into more serious harm (para 104ff).

So it was reasonable for a police officer to speak to Miller. The judge disagreed, partly because he thought there was not enough evidence of the harm Miller had caused. He took Stock’s falsehood at face value, that some expressions described as transphobic are not necessarily so (unlike racist language which is always hateful and offensive), para 281, yet he thinks (para 245) that “TERF” can be a pejorative term.

The case is also notable showing the idiocy of Kathleen Stock’s position. She is an academic who tries to drive trans women out from women’s spaces. She says, I argue that there’s nothing wrong, either theoretically, linguistically, empirically, or politically, with the once-familiar idea that a woman is, definitionally, an adult human female. I also argue that the subjective notion of ‘gender identity’ is ill-conceived intrinsically, and a fortiori as a potential object of law or policy. In light of these and other views, I am intellectually ‘gender-critical’; that is, critical of the influential societal role of sex-based stereotypes, generally, including the role of stereotypes in informing the dogmatic and, in my view, false assertion that – quite literally – ‘trans women are women’. I am clear throughout my work that trans people are deserving of all human rights and dignity.

Where to start? There’s also nothing wrong with treating a few thousand trans women culturally and socially as women. Trans women exist, and have done for millennia, no matter what theory, gender identity or otherwise, is used to explain us. Trans acceptance subverts gender stereotypes, and our human rights as usually understood include recognition of our acquired gender: human rights caselaw led to the Gender Recognition Act and our Equality Act protections.

Miller sought to do a great deal of harm. His case argued that Hate Crime Operational Guidance, under which hate crime is investigated, was contrary to his human rights so should be abolished. The judge threw that one out without hesitation. He is left with a decision that in his particular case, the police should have found more evidence of actual harm before a police officer phoned him. Such evidence could easily have been found, had the police sought it: contact a few trans people and see what we think.

To me, it is not necessary that hate tweets have a specific victim, a trans woman who reads them and feels hurt and fearful, for them to be dangerous and a misuse of free speech. Even if, as the judge suggests (para 74) the only readers are his fellow-haters, he still encourages them and they may commit crime because of it, as they radicalise each other. But some organised campaigning- say a team of a dozen trans women, finding complainants to say that they find a particular tweeter’s rants hateful and why, might fulfil the judge’s requirement.

The judge did not accept the complainant’s comment that “eighty years ago Miller would have been making the same comments about Jewish people”- para 60. Well, it’s not certain, and the slippery hater denies hating at all. But he certainly likes to mock and denigrate trans women, and he would probably find some other target if he was not aware of us.

Hate-media report it as you would expect. “Police compared to Stasi and Gestapo by judge” crows the Telegraph. The Daily Mail referred to the police phone call as an “Orwellian nightmare”. The nightmare of trans women abused in the street and by powerful media continues unabated. You can read the whole decision here.

Quaker transphobia

Are Quakers transphobic? Yes. Not all, perhaps, but there is a vicious, self-righteous, self-pitying strain of transphobic hatred in many Quakers. At least one cis ally had to step away from her meeting because of transphobia there, and trans people are leaving.

“The Friend” magazine regularly prints the letters of transphobes, and there is a fine example in this week’s. It is anonymous, as the writer fears their vile prejudice becoming known.

It attaches Quaker virtues falsely to the transphobe cause. “The promptings of love and truth” and “sitting with uncertainty” allegedly lead the writer to transphobia. Wokeness is mocked with scare quotes, and being a trans ally called the “easy”, thoughtless path.

Trans concerns are minimised, and myths peddled. “We heard about the trans woman who feels alienated”- this sounds abstract, beside the account of our “victims”. “A young man pressured to redefine his gender rather than accept his homosexuality” as if that ever happens. No-one who cannot accept gay people can accept trans people.

The answer, they imply, is just to exclude trans women. How else to protect vulnerable, fearful women? Well, you could introduce them to the trans woman and show fear of her was unjustified. Few meeting houses have communal showers and changing rooms, and the risk in a toilet cubicle from trans women generally, if it exists, is far less than the risk anywhere else of male sexual violence.

“The Friend” printed an excellent article by James Barrett, specialist psychiatrist, who wrote “it is soul-crushing and miserable for someone to live their lives pretending to be something they are not”, a quote made prominent in large print. The editor is not a transphobe. But letters show a steady drip of poison.

On 17th May, a woman claimed to have had transgender friends! Then she said “the recent politicization of transgender has adversely affected women, girls and lesbians” (sic). She then wrote of “misinformed trans activists” in misogynistic bullying of rape survivors. She wants a “safe space for debate”, or to be able to hate trans women without criticism.

Elsewhere, the self-righteous attempt by some Quakers to promote hate and fear against trans women was on full view. One claimed that being asked what her “gender” was, was a lie- she has sex but no gender. So she works to deny the ordinary descriptive language we use to explain our experience. Another complained of trans women being referred to as “she”.

One suggests the “theory” underpinning our identity is “unhelpful”, and “just be kind” “gets nowhere”.

One asserts “female-bodied people calling themselves non-binary is anti-lesbian”. Some AFAB non-binary people have male partners. She wants to regulate the words we use about ourselves. Another says “it isn’t about trans rights, as gender-critical progressive women are in favour of trans-identified people having fully the same rights as everyone else”- as long as those rights are defined to exclude us. She is against our rights under the Equality Act. Despite all the open transphobia, she claims “honest and open discussion” (transphobia) is “suppressed”. One claimed that trans women talking about our experience “causes pain to other Friends”.

Then there is the old lie, “This is an issue which will affect everyone, not only Quakers”. Gender recognition, the only new right on offer, only affects trans people.

Are Quakers transphobic? Not all, but some are grimly and self-righteously so. If you go to a Quaker meeting there may be someone there resenting your presence. They are unlikely to say anything- despite talk of Quaker “plain speech” we are not good at handling conflict- but you may find yourself frozen out.

As an antidote to the hate, a beautiful picture.

Safe space, free speech and hate speech

No trans woman should have to hear that trans women are a threat to cis women, without robust rebuttal, ideally by allies rather than ourselves. In particular in universities, where trans women are in their late teens and early twenties, where they live on or near campus and spend much of their time on campus, they should be protected from the idea that we are a threat, either ourselves or that violent men will pretend to be women in order to assault women, if we get recognition. If people say we are a threat, they feel entitled to use violence against us to protect themselves or others.

That might be the most protection we can get.

Safe spaces in Britain have been created by students, usually allies protecting fellow students. This started with far right speakers attacking students of south Asian heritage. The leaders of Britain First, recently retweeted by Trump, or the English Defence League have nothing of use or interest to say, cannot be trusted to tell the truth, and are grossly offensive to most students, not just Muslims. If you do not have the basic empathy to feel with those minority students, you have something wrong with you. Some students are prejudiced, and BAME students will receive microagressions, but generally the most overt racism is taboo.

Now, the National Union of Students policy is that attacks on students cannot be tolerated, and it was a cis woman NUS women’s officer who opposed Germaine Greer speaking in Cardiff. Their video here explains that as charities they have to be careful external speakers do not incite hate crimes, and consider health and safety. That is separate from their no-platform policy, which bans the EDL and Al-Muhajiroun. Freedom of speech should be balanced with the right to be safe from harm, such as Linda Bellos saying she would take off her glasses and punch one of those bastards- trans women. That is incitement to violence, but as they put it it might have a “possible impact on campus cohesion”, emboldening TERFs to mock or threaten trans women. If “risks or tension arose at a similar event before” that might be a reason to refuse a speaker a platform within the Student Union. The Union might consider “robust regulatory steps” to allow a higher risk event to go ahead. Steps to mitigate risk could include having Union officials observe, stewards provide security, or the speech submitted to the Union in advance.

Germaine Greer could simply have been told not to mention trans people. At another speech she made in Norwich she refused to answer a question about trans women, saying “What do I know?”

The risk to cis women of trans women in women’s loos is less than the risk from other cis women. Self-certification when one pledges to live in the acquired gender life-long by oath is sufficient protection against people faking.

Before researching this I did not know the difference between the No Platform policy, applied to particular extremist groups, and the External Speakers policies, applied to all speakers. This is arcane. When everyone knows about the difference, it is a useful distinction to allow people to distinguish different issues. When listeners might not know, there can be a bait and switch, making someone answer about extremist groups and then ridiculing the answer as if it applied to any speaker.

“Obama as Hitler”

Never was there a post more needing illustrated by Matisse- pictures of sane, beautiful people doing their thing to balance out the descriptions of madness. I did a google image search, but would not pollute my blog with the stuff that emerged. Do it only if you have a strong stomach.

There are pictures of the President with a toothbrush moustache, pictures of Obama, Hitler and Stalin, pictures of him waving with the subtitle “Seig Heil”. One picture compares calls for those other than the little people to pay taxes to Hitler inciting hatred of Jews. “Fiscally responsible achievers who paid mortgages on homes they could afford are responsible for your misery!”

Mmm. That is an interesting one. I do find Leona Helmsley hateful, but that is based on reason. The way the richest one percent take more and more of the wealth while others are squeezed is more a product of globalisation and the greater increase of people with skills than work for them to do- and if globalisation is the cause, that does not mean trying to prevent globalisation is the solution.

Mmm. Maybe I should take down that Leona Helmsley reference. It is an appeal to emotion. I am dealing with the whipping up of fear and hatred here, so should be particularly careful to avoid it myself. I leave it in to illustrate the matter, and, well, because this is a blog. I criticise it because Leona Helmsley is not typical. So we see a way of propagandizing: that cartoon seeks to widen the Good People to people who have paid off their mortgage, and people who still believe they can- place a divide just below them, to the scrounging improvident workshy. My allusion seeks to widen the Good People who should be on my side, and portray the bad people as the rich: anyone richer than you, perhaps. This us and them, they are the enemy, is so destructive- indeed disastrous.

It is so tempting. If you do that google image search- one of the main horrors of it is the exuberance, the joy of invention of it. It is as creative as tax avoidance schemes (Oops).

When a fbfnd described going to the post office and finding two men outside with an “Obama as Hitler” sign, who catcalled her, a commenter said that had happened to her too, again outside a post office. “But that’s insane”, I think. The reality of it is terrifying.

When some in Rwanda dehumanised others, they called them “cockroaches”. Dehumanising the President, some call him “a Muslim”. It is so hard to ascribe degrees of vileness to such hatred, but I think the American tactic is slightly viler. Not the people who employ it, though, as that is to fall into the same trap. When I am absolutely clear about abhorring the sin, that is the time to make sure I love the sinner.

Stephen Fry

A tower in Eden“It’s now very common to hear people saying ‘I’m rather offended by that’ as if that gives them certain rights – it’s simply a whine, it’s no more than a whine. ‘I find that offensive’. It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that’ – well so fucking what?” – Stephen Fry at the Hay Festival 2005, sourced here.

Lots of things offend me: hate speech offends me. It is a fairly new concept for me, hate speech: speech about a person or group which humiliates or derides or vilifies that group, with the intent that the group be treated as disgusting or as an enemy. Certain Rwandans referring to Tutsis as “Cockroaches” is an extreme example.

The “cockroaches” example is vile. Clearly “free speech” should not protect it. It is an incitement to violence. More subtle hate speech may smell wrong, but I might not be able to put my finger on exactly why. I have an emotional response to it. I say it is offensive.

If this quote is representative of his current view, Fry rejects the emotional response. He privileges people who are able to articulate an argument on why something is wrong over others who can only make the emotional response. I think the emotional response has value, because we can read human relationships and situations and react to them without engaging our verbal centres.

When someone calls my words “offensive” I want to look for the value in the communication, rather than dismiss it or privilege it. “Offence” is not a trump card, but sometimes a whine is the best I can do.

Also, while reasoned refutation of religious belief is absolutely acceptable though some find it offensive, some extreme speech deliberately to offend, such as gross insults of Mohammed, is wrong.

Mmm. What of the term “sky-fairy”? It is ridicule, it calls a belief stupid without saying why. It also expresses an emotional response of the atheist, willing to explain up to a point, but eventually driven to shout STFU. By then, we are simply offending each other. There is a place for reasoned dialogue, a place for shouting at each other, and sometimes you just have to go for a lie down.

Seeing that this was extempore speech, I love his articulacy, including the jewel-like exactitude of his use of the word “fucking”. The perfect word for that place.

Below is a Wordle of my last six weeks or so. Thanks to DC.

Wordle