Speech vs. Violence: A Guide for Idiots and Academics (But I Repeat Myself) by Martin L. Shoemaker
Speech is not violence. Anyone who says otherwise is an idiot or an academic. But I repeat myself.
Speech is me saying, “I’m gonna bash your head in with a baseball bat.” Violence is me bashing your head in with a baseball bat. There’s a difference.
When I say this, some idiot or academic (but I repeat myself) will bring up a psychological study that purportedly shows that speech can cause the same PTSD as can violence. Besides the fact that more than half of psychological studies are irreproducible bullshit, this sort of “thinking” assumes that PTSD plus a bashed-in skull is no different from PTSD.
Some other idiot or academic (but I repeat myself) will argue that Wrong Speech will incite violence and thus is violence. Since these arguments are themselves used to justify violence used to stop speech, the person making this argument has just self-incriminated. By their own “argument”, they have just committed “violence”; and to stop them—according to their own argument, not in fact—I am “justified” in bashing in their skull.
But I’m not, because their argument is fallacious. There are specific legal definitions for incitement. Something you disagree with is not incitement. “You’re wrong” is not incitement. “You’re an idiot” is not incitement. “You should have your skull bashed in” is probably incitement. “Bash his skull in!” is incitement. But ideas you disagree with are not incitement, and they’re not violence. You being offended is not proof of incitement. If you insist otherwise, you’re an idiot or an academic (but I repeat myself).
“Dog whistles!” shouts some idiot or academic (but I repeat myself). “Dog whistle” is a claim that a speaker doesn’t have to say “Get them!” for all of his eager dupes to understand “Get them!” The accuser is smug and superior and knows what the speaker “really meant.” The idiot/academic (BIRM) making this argument is committing the Straw Man Fallacy (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man):
A straw man (sometimes written as strawman) is a form of argument and an informal fallacy of having the impression of refuting an argument, whereas the real subject of the argument was not addressed or refuted, but instead replaced with a false one. One who engages in this fallacy is said to be “attacking a straw man”.
They want to accuse the speaker of violence, so they assert that they can read his mind and the minds of the listeners. People who falsely claim to be able to read minds are lying. They’re looking for an excuse to attack the speaker, rhetorically and perhaps physically.
Note also that even in a case of true incitement, there are two invalid, illegal responses: “He’s right! Get them!” and “He’s wrong! Get him!” You are in the wrong if someone’s inciting words lead you to violence, either against the speaker or against the speaker’s target. You are allowed to violently defend yourself against violence. You are not allowed to violently defend yourself against speech. The answer to bad speech is more speech.
P.S. I predict that someone with ill will or deficient reading skills will quote excerpts from this essay out of context and use them to accuse me of supporting, advocating, or excusing violence. That person will be an idiot or an academic. But I repeat myself.
*For more of Martin L. Shoemaker’s writing, this time fiction, go here.
And if you like GOOD science fiction, you should run, not walk. – SAH*