You’ve heard it, I’ve heard it, we’ve all heard it: I’m not even just talking about Kanye West’s latest deluge of verbal offal to human heart gristle Alex Jones. Stupidity is everywhere, and it’s getting worse. As humanity continues to wend its way through the universe on the only planet we have, I shouldn’t be shocked that the lowest, dumbest conspiracy theory nonsense is being banded about by idiots- and yet I am considering the only planet we have will be a flaming ball of iron and there’ll still be some crispy climate change denier gasping out “M-my…op…opinion” before bursting into flame. So my question is, and I’m not even being rhetorical- why are people so okay with mainstreaming stupidity under the guise of “opinions”?
I’ve seen so many people trot out the usual, tired lines about the Kanye West debacle this week. “It’s freedom of speech, everyone is allowed an opinion”. And for the longest time I was stymied about how to put my feelings into words against this sentiment. Our language is limited in this area: because, yes, if you want to go with the most base, un-nuanced version, the things Kanye West has said are opinions. But please tell me how we’re so low as a society that “I think pineapple is the best fruit” can be categorised in the same hall of descriptor as antisemitic conspiracy theories and full throated support for one of the most despicable figures in all of human history. And what’s happening to internet searches of his name in the wake of Kanye West’s latest episode of “when dickheads have money” you ask?
Tell me this, defenders of FrEe SpEeCh: why is it that so many of you will throw yourselves out of your chairs to defend Kanye West’s rotted opinions like he’s paid you to, but you’re suddenly of the opinion that free speech ends there: that nobody has the right to reply, debunk, discuss or point out that if someone’s opinion comes with a body count perhaps it’s more important to protect human life and liberty than someone’s right to talk shit? If you care so much about free speech you’d listen to peoples responses, but it seems people just want to shut down any replies under the guise of protecting the original speech… I don’t understand how the free speech protection coalition never seems to understand that this leads to circular discussion: one side yelling at another, the other responding, the original one yelling again… we need to come to resolution, and resolution happens when we debunk falsitudes- and we only debunk falsitudes if we’re allowed to cut the original lie off from being repeated or it spreads.
Hate speech is like a virus: it has a patient zero, and it spreads virulently- the vaccine is widely available: education. people seem to misconstrue being corrected on a stupid opinion as some sort of invasion of bodily autonomy, but being corrected on wrong information isn’t a “winners and losers” game, it’s collectively good for society if you stop espousing nonsense… and if nothing else it stops you looking like an absolute arse.
As we’ve seen, there has been a precipitous rise in violence worldwide, but in the UK in particular the continuously contentious anti trans row has meant a 56% increase on the already not insignificant hate crimes faced by trans people and even the home office, run by cartoon transphobic villain Suella Braverman has admitted that “transgender issues have been heavily discussed on social media over the last year, which may have led to an increase in related hate crimes”.
Meanwhile in America, the vile meninists who blame women for issues caused by their own reluctance to accept their distinct mediocrity, and therefore unattractiveness as a partner, have been working in lockstep with regressive right wing policy makers which has culminated in attempts to entirely strip abortion rights from the US- and if you think this row is staying abroad, the one thing Jacob Rees-Mogg has learnt to do between sucking cold teabags, is import culture wars: regardless of Brexit. He was heard describing the right to abortion in the case of rape as a “cult of death” recently- Rees-Mogg by the way, earns some of his inconceivably vast fortune via a company which… manufactures abortion pills. Nothing like clinging to those morals unless there’s some paper with the royals on it, is there?
We’ve had this nonsense running faster and faster for years, and I want people to remember- anti vaccine demonstrators were SURE 10 years ago that vaccines cause autism and now billions of covid vaccines have been given out and autism cases are…’nt, suddenly it’s something else: heart problems or dizziness or a sudden dislike of cheese… Sudden Adult Death Syndrome has existed for years, and is now converted into a shibboleth for the anti vaccine mess to explain that uncle Brian died and we don’t know why. Now anti vax groups are blaming SAD cases on vaccines without evidence. And we let them! Media outlets who could disseminate easy, factual truth like “every vaccine has adverse side effects but that is hugely smaller than the millions of covid deaths”- but do they? Unfortunately, factual truth doesn’t really seem to move the news cycle, but giving an incel 10 minutes to rail against women sure brings in the viewers, doesn’t it: heedless of the damage it does. You don’t NEED to present a man who hates women to argue against his viewpoints because all he cares about is saying his nonsense.
Reason doesn’t work on unreasonable people, so don’t GIVE the unreasonable people the airwaves!
We have to refine the discourse around what constitutes opinions, because the phraseology is hopelessly limited- but further to this, we have to discuss why, WHY as a supposedly intelligent species, we’re happy to push stupid, incorrect information, dressed up in a cheap wig and fake moustache with “my opinion” scrawled on it.
If my opinion was that people called Ben were all evil, I’m fairly certain there’d be dissent, that I’d be told I was wrong, weird, stupid, making it up, purposely being dense- is that not totally normal, expected even? Or should I be allowed to walk around spouting anti Ben rhetoric…?
When an opinion causes harm to the innocent, when an opinion is patently false-when an opinion comes with a body count, maybe your right to hold it isn’t as inalienable as others’ right to safety.
Because here is the other problem, the awkward point that nobody discusses in these swirling debates of never-ending ignorance: opinions don’t just float in a void. Starting with an inert opinion, if it’s my opinion that tacos are the best food on earth you can bet I’m going to eat tacos at some point… make sense?
Opinions lead to action, especially when those opinions are contentious. When you constantly demonise and fear monger over a minority, you have no right to cling to the defence of its inertia as an opinion when others who share that opinion take it as permission to use that “opinion” as justification for murder. It does happen: the US right wing media and right wing nee’rdowells like Tucker Carlson, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert who is in charge of the district in which a mass shooting of the gay people she’s condemned and called “supremacists”- and even disgraced and disgraceful ex president Donald Trump continue to fearmonger that the LGBT+ community are somehow “grooming” children by existing.
Pushing the idea that a whole community are paedophiles looking to hurt children will inevitably lead to radicalised people with these apparently oh so protected opinions swirling in their heads, walking blithely into an LGBT+ space- one of those places we make so we’re not ‘shoving it down your throat’- and mowing us down with guns. You can’t spread rhetoric like that, knowing you’re stoking this type of hatred, then shirk any and all responsibility for it.
This is the other contentious point: people want their access to what they think is “free speech” (it is here that I tiredly remind you that free speech is your protection from speaking out against THE GOVERNMENT without repercussions), and yet they want absolutely none of the responsibility that comes with it.
When you say things, people listen. When people listen, they decide how they will act based on that information. When they act on that information, their actions are of course their own, but if your wilful spread of harmful rhetoric led them to that action- the inescapable false conclusion that jewish people are bad, that black women should accept racist lines of questioning, that LGBT+ people are dangerous, that abortions which save lives all over the world are not healthcare- then you should, you must accept your role in spreading it.
I always, at this point in this discussion I’ve had hundreds of times, have people approach me to say- usually in some lofty tone as if they’re about to teach me something I haven’t thought about before, “erm, you are aware that discussing this stuff is how we know that it’s bad and that discussing it is important”. To you I say simply- why do I need to enter into a long “both sides” discussion about war crimes to know war crimes are bad? Why do I need to listen to straight men talk about how people like me make them uncomfortable and thats why I don’t deserve to live, and have to defend my right to walk the earth or not be imprisoned for the crime of “you can’t stop yourself thinking about me having sex”- this has happened twice this week…
Is there proof you can give me now that my mere existence as a gay man, that my community existing, makes the world worse? Because if there isn’t, please let me know why you think I should debate this pretty obvious thing with you. And why do you also discount my expert opinion as someone who is literally IN THIS COMMUNITY, LIVING THIS LIFE?
Not everything needs to be discourse needs to be blown up to size 100,000 and written in the sky by planes to remind people that just because YOU want to discuss gay people as if we’re a theoretic that doesn’t exist to do anything but annoy you by showing diversity on TV, doesn’t mean I do.
It’s not just that we’re collectively accepting that stupidity is the price of “opinions” and “free speech” when we don’t have to- it’s not, because the least we can do is call it out and ostracise those who promote and cling to disgusting ideologies; it’s that we’re also allowing people to do this, then act confused when the trail- from corpse to gun, gun to wielder, wielder to manifesto, and manifesto to interview after interview about the dangers that random minorities pose, leads right back to them.
You do not have the right to wield a hateful opinion without also wielding the responsibility of it: if what you say leads to harm and death, perhaps you shouldn’t have said it in the first place, perhaps it IS our place, societally, to delineate that its actually NOT OK to praise one of the most notorious warmongering evil humans in history, mayhaps decisions about healthcare should be decided on by the people who need to access that healthcare with minimal interference from outsiders, however well intentioned?
Let’s be frank. Society is failing at the moment. We’re letting people like Elon Musk, billionaire right wing jerk merchant, pretend twitter is a “marketplace of ideas”. I’ve said it before but a microblogging site is not the place for intelligent conversation. The reason that anti trans and pro trans people clash is that clear ideas like “women regardless of gender should feel safe” are being pared down to the bone and tiny flecks of rhetoric are spit back at “opposing sides” when both sides are pushing the same fucking obvious idea- that women should feel safe. But trying to inject nuance into a platform that runs off controversy and is character limited and run by a ham sandwich with a face is never going to work. And there are some ideas that we don’t need to discuss. What is there about Hitler, drug fuelled hate wielding maniac, mass killer, pure evil, that committed horrifying crimes we should all hope never to see again, that you could possibly ever love if you’re a decent person?
People also fall to “mental health” to defend indefensible remarks, and it’s possible to accept that someone is mentally unwell and still not let those remarks fly. Britney Spears shaved her head and ended up in such a restrictive conservatorship that she’s spoken about being mentally broken by it- odd how she wasn’t touted as a champion of free speech then, isn’t it. Mental health contributes to- and yet does not excuse- antisemitism or hideous rhetoric like that of people like Lily Cade who called for “parents of trans children to be lynched”. Mental health is vital and those who suffer should be treated for it- but it doesn’t give you carte blanche to do everything but grow a curly villain moustache and start saying evil things casually.
The time is passed now where we can simply sit back and allow the “marketplace of ideas” that is society to be polluted by such “if you don’t agree with this you need to wonder why you don’t fit into society” issues- but at the very least, if we must continue to sink into the dystopic horror of discussing these topics, it’s at the very least fair that the people pushing these ideas start accepting the responsibility, start acknowledging the blood that stains their hands and start to grasp the concept that “free speech” covers our right to call them evil just as thoroughly as it covers their right to be evil.
Overall, the question we need to ask is as simple as this: why are people so desperate cling on to, to defend, to discuss “opinions” that are so clearly wrong and why can’t they approach unpicking these “opinions” and asking themselves if they’re wrong with the same zeal they have for clinging, white knuckled, to rhetoric that gets people killed.