“Because we are ‘free’ to be hateful, members of traditionally marginalized groups suffer.”

Laura Beth Nielsen


The other night I watched a documentary called Can We Take a Jokewhich claims to be ‘an examination of Western society’s apparent contemporary intolerance of edgy humor by comedians’. But, instead, it is a thoughtful exploration of how we often take the easier route of attempting to shut down things we don’t want to hear rather than debating those things.

I admit I don’t get ’cancel culture’ (I cannot figure out who actually gets canceled) and ‘woke’ seems like a blanket term for certain types of political correctness. All that said. There is a weird battle among ‘snowflakes’ <another term I think has to do with being overly sensitive but I am not sure> in which everyone seems constantly outraged at something someone else said. It’s a bipartisan shared stupidity. And while it may have its roots in something meaningful it is has been hijacked by performative politics. And that is where it starts getting really weird. Politicians, using words to create outrage have made words, well, meaningless <and that should be a crime>. At exactly the same time they are making the constitution meaningless or, at minimum, warped to whatever outrage they have at the moment.

Free speech offers everyone the freedom to be stupid, say stupid, but not be free of the consequences for stupidity.

I admit that I struggle to explain the boundaries of free speech to anyone. Despite the 1st Amendment, local, state, and federal laws limit all kinds of speech. We regulate advertising, obscenity, slander, libel, and inciting lawless action to name just a few (but for some odd reason, not politics). Hate speech is hateful, but legal. And maybe that is where ‘cancel culture’ steps in. just because it is legal doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have some consequences. it can be legal and we, the people, can ‘cancel them out’ to show their stupidness, hatefulness or basic lack of decency has some consequences.

That said. Just as I suggested with regard to political correctness, what we consider ‘hateful’ has expanded to include some fairly silly things. By the way, just because I used the word ‘silly’ doesn’t mean that they cannot be important and representative of some serious discussions/issues, but, almost any ‘obia’ with regard to people is going to be hateful to some people, and representative of some people. Do I wish it were not that way? Sure, I do. But with 7billionish people in the world and a belief I don’t think everyone should think exactly the same things, there will be some people who will always think differently. I can’t ‘cancel’ them, I can’t suggest they are ‘woke’ and that’s stupid, all I can do is live with them, talk with them, listen to them, and recognize, for the most part, whatever the part I ‘hate’ is just part of who they are. And maybe my point within that is we shouldn’t make anyone voiceless. If we do, how can we hear what they have to say and offer some dialogue around what they say? Silence, voiceless, does not seem an option.

Now. To be clear. Hate speech is rarely just hate speech. In many cases it is representative, and embodies, actual behavior. So that ‘speech’ embodies tangible harm and a desire to subordinate another’s views <if not subordinate a cross section of a population>. Hate speech perpetuates actual behavior – discrimination, division and inequality.

Here is where I will run into legal issues. There is stupid speech and there is hate speech. The difference to me is one that embodies hateful behavior and the other is simply performative**. Stupid is the latter; hate is the former.


Some legal scholar is going to come out of the woodwork and challenge me. I am all ears and I am up for the debate.

Some non-legal everyday schmuck is going to come out of the woodwork and challenge me with some simplistic empty constitutional meanderings. Shut up. I have no time for you.

To be clear. Anyone can, and should, suggest protecting hate speech is consistent with and even central to Constitutional founding principles. Where I will debate is when they argue regulating hate speech is a ‘slippery slope’ of overreach <I would like to point out that there is no slope, we – as people – are quite capable of making one-time decisions, and choice making is kind of what makes people people>. Hate speech, tied to behavioral aspects, cannot be trivialized. It cannot be because by association the behavior also becomes a freedom – tied to the free speech. I don’t say this as a ‘snowflake’ but rather as a concerned citizen concerned with societal norms and a better society.

We should not remove voices, simply outline consequences if you use your voice.

We should all remember the right to speak already is far from absolute.

We should take note that often hate speech tends to put disadvantaged members of our society in situations with serious consequences.

In the end.

Words have meanings. Words are ideas. Words shape attitudes. Words inspire behavior.

We should debate meanings robustly.

We should debate ideas robustly.

We should debate attitudes robustly.

We should make people accountable for behavior.

Don’t remove voices, don’t make people voiceless, hear what they have to say and robustly – as is YOUR freedom – debate the accountability for what they chose to say with their freedom. Ponder.


** performative: this is another slippery slope but let me suggest people with a larger platform have a higher responsibility than other people. A politician should not have the same level of accountability than an everyday schmuck like me – theirs should be higher. Their ‘performative’ is signaling to a crowd of which someone in that crowd could be inspired to act. There should be accountability.

Written by Bruce