OPINION: We Should Respond To New Zealand With More Free Speech — Not Less

Karl Notturno Center for American Greatness
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Hours after the horrific terrorist attack in New Zealand, a large number of articles asked the predictable question: shouldn’t tech companies do everything in their power to remove hate speech from their platforms and the internet as a whole?

On its face, the argument for purging hate speech from the internet is compelling: if festering hatred in dark corners of the internet spurs deranged people to commit senseless acts of violence, we should do everything in our power to expunge hate speech and hate groups from every platform we can.

This logic, however, is deeply misguided and will only lead to increased radicalization and unnecessary violence.

Even the most authoritarian and repressive regime cannot extinguish ideas and their very attempt to do so will often give the ideas newfound credibility. There is no reason to outlaw patently stupid ideas — they are easily rebuffed with argument. Forbidding the consideration of a certain thought is easily viewed as an admission that it is strong enough to be dangerous.

And this is why the attempt of many in the media, academia, and government to forbid the consideration of so many thoughts is exceedingly harmful. They have pushed certain assumptions as axiomatic truths and have effectively exiled anyone who dares question them.

If anyone asks whether large-scale immigration is a good thing, they are immediately labeled a xenophobic racist. If anyone questions whether the push to normalize transsexuality is wise, they are immediately denounced as a transphobic bigot. If anyone challenges the extensive push for globalization and the increased power of transnational institutions, they are immediately condemned as a nationalist and therefore as a white nationalist.

Censuring people does not make them agree with you. They won’t suddenly change their minds because you yelled at them. They may stop talking publicly about the issue, but they will continue thinking about it and having private conversations with anyone who will engage them. If anything, the severe condemnation will make them suspicious and wary and may even entrench their offending views.

And what happens when we have banished conversation of unpleasant topics and have exiled all the transgressors? They will naturally gravitate to the most extreme and radicalized groups, because those will be the only people who will be willing to have the types of conversations they want. And in that environment, the radicals will have the advantage, because there won’t be any reasonable people to fight back.

The more exiled the group, the more paranoid and prone to violence. And the growing push to purge them will make them feel even more hunted. Someone who feels hunted rarely stops to reexamine their beliefs — their fight or flight instinct kicks in, and all too often they will pick the former.

Many of our so-called public intellectuals have been sheltered from the uncomfortable questions that often start people down this path of radicalization. These questions have been deemed too “triggering” or offensive in and of themselves. Unfortunately, this means that these intellectuals do not have good answers to them. Instead of trying to come up with good answers, they try to shut up the questioners.

What many fail to grasp is that politics is a tool to avoid violence. Unpleasant speech is better than a mass shooting. Being triggered is better than someone pulling a trigger. And when we try to sanitize the public discourse and make the Overton window smaller and smaller to spare someone’s feelings, we simply push more people towards violence.

Isolation and ignorance drive radicalization. But you can’t cure someone of ignorance by simply shouting “you’re ignorant!” The black man who deconverted 200 Klansmen didn’t do it by telling them to go educate themselves. He talked to them — no matter how unpleasant their views were. That was the only way he could change their minds.

Instead of censoring the hate, we must engage the hate. That’s the only way we can avoid further violence.

Karl Notturno (@KarlNotturno) is a fellow at the Center for American Greatness. He also serves as director of A Soldier’s Home, a nonprofit that helps homeless veterans. He graduated from Yale University with degrees in philosophy and history.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.