Hate and Freedom of Thought

We all hate hate, but does that justify compromising our most fundamental of freedoms.

René Descartes postulated “I think therefore I am”, reasoning that thought is the very essence of our being.

Freedom of thought is guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which states:

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
a) freedom of conscience and religion;
b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
d) freedom of association.
Freedom of thought is meaningless without the freedom to express one thoughts, thus freedom of thought and expression are interlinked in one statement in The Charter.

Popular ideas do not need protection. The very point of protecting freedom of expression in the constitution is to protect the expression of unpopular ideas. After all today’s heresy may be tomorrow’s science, as history has taught us. And it is those that espouse hate that would love to control what other people think and say. We know better.

The irony of combating hate with restrictions on freedom of thought and expression is that it is these very freedoms that are the best protection against hate. The very worst expressions of hate are those that are institutionalized by governments or corporate media. The best defence against such hate is the freedom of ordinary people to challenge it with logic and reason, without restriction on their freedom of expression.

Take, for example, government censorship and control of information and mandatory versions of history. The truth does not require being made “mandatory” or “official”. It can stand on it’s own. Such mandatory versions of history are virtually always false (with one unfortunate exception which is a subject the Fifth Column will examine separately in the future) and often used to promote hatred by authoritarian regimes.

Government restrictions on freedom of expression to fight hatred can also have perverse effects. Should we make it illegal to insult religion in order to combat hatred on the basis of religion. That is actually not such a huge leap of reason and we have seen what can happen when that leap is taken.

Much has been made of the use of the Internet to disseminate hate but the Internet is the best thing that could happen to the spread of hate. The old way was a lot more work for the hate mongers but a lot more effective. They would target susceptible individuals, often alienated or disaffected youth, and would then befriend them and provide them with an onslaught of controlled information via pamphlets and meetings and oratory. They would only see one side of the picture and this would all be done out of public scrutiny.

With the Internet we all can see the message of hate they are spewing and, more importantly, the target audience using the Internet to access hate messages has unfettered access to all of the counteracting anti-hate information on the web. More often than not the hate mongers will simply end up preaching to the converted, something us bloggers understand all too well.

The only restriction that should be put on freedom of expression is against promoting or counseling others to commit illegal acts that involve violence or cause harm to others and that is where the reasonable limits provision of the Charter comes into play:
1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
Freedom of expression is too precious to compromise, even with the best of intentions, for the best of intentions can go awry. Allowing the government to decide what are acceptable thoughts for people to express is a very dangerous idea.

We must not let the hate mongers intimidate us into compromising our fundamental freedoms but instead we must take the attitude of Voltaire who wrote: “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write”.

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