Many people seem to take Freedom of Speech as expressed in the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment as a kind of secular quasi-scripture, thinking that it gives them license to state anything at all, no matter how hurtful, belittling, or even damaging to others.
Of course there is the famous cliched exceptions of “wrongfully shouting ‘Fire! in a crowded theater”, slander, libel, publishing copyrighted material without proper reference or permission, and others. Beyond this, classified information also may be rightfully suppressed in the name of national security, especially to the extent that public knowledge of it may be considerably aid criminals or enemies of the United States. The same thing goes for judges “gag orders” to prohibit parties in a criminal trial from discussing the details of the charges before the case goes to trial, so as not to allow public prejudices or “trials by media” bias the jurors into pre-determining innocence or guilt in their own minds before the actual trial starts.
However, abusive speech itself also ought to be curtailed more than it is at present. I define abusive speech as “speech whose content or tone is clearly designed to degrade, humiliate, belittle, or belittle others when there is no compelling and just social or public interest to engage in such tones; especially if reasonable people would believe that the content or tone is plainly out of proportion to any wrong the target might have committed, or if the tone or content is likewise plainly unnecessary to produce the results the speaker wants to achieve”.
Admittedly, there is a very blurry boundary separating abusive speech as defined here and speech necessary to accomplish a task. Law enforcement, military, and general security practices come to mind here. In these situations, a case-by-case basis approach should suffice to distinguish whether or not enforcers cross the line from legitimate reestablishing of law and order into outright abuse. In situations in which physical security is clearly not at stake, it should be easier to distinguish between the two.
At this point, I will go beyond what is stated in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as well as other nation’s constitutions regarding freedom of expression and ask a few basic questions: Why have freedom of speech at all? What purpose does it serve? In doing so, I intend to show that abusive speech is or ought not be defensible under freedom of speech as usually conceived by its most avid promoters.
Going back to basics, the purpose of communication itself (including speech) is to supply information that either increases net benefit or reduces net harm to the greatest extent reasonably and humanely possible and in the proportion appropriate for the circumstances. Speech communicating information that unjustly decreases benefit for society as a whole or especially creates net harm for the same is a net bad. Similarly, speech that increases benefit for society as a whole or decreases net harm for the same is a net good; but only to the extent that it does not lead to unreasonable levels of harm or injury to others’ body, mind, or spirit. This is especially true if neither the speaker nor the intended audience actually need the benefits of that speech in order to maintain a realistically humane levels of living (peace of mind, quality of life, financial security, etc.). This means speech should be free to the extent that the benefit it adds to one or many people plainly would outweigh the bad it causes others – with one exception.
That exception is information – even truthful information – whose tone or content causes to others degradation of esteem, peace of mind, or physical functionality clearly out of proportion of any offense or annoyance that other person may caused. This is still more true for such speech made merely to benefit others or mitigate against harm toward the same that collateral damage to others. All this is especially true when that speech likely will generate levels of physical or psychological hurt so intense that no amount of benefits gained by or harm mitigated against by the speech justifies imposing such high levels of harm on even one other person. Therefore, such speech, can justly be either modified or even restricted.
Malice, spite, belittlement, and similar such traits expressing derogatory views of a person or group (directly or indirectly) do not add any useful information about any matter beyond what polite, civil, and humane speech already supplies to the immediate direct audience or the broader society. This makes the former basket of traits ineffectual at adding useful truths to a person’s or society’s knowledge base. That means such speech has no substantive cultural, intellectual, scientific, or otherwise social value. Even any short-term happiness or satisfaction the speech supplies does not change the fact that that such speech has no rightful place in civilized society, because of its long-term counter-productivity to speeding the day when the commanding majority accepts the speakers position.
This being the case, the good coming from derogatory tones or content is trivial, so unnecessary, so ineffectual at adding new ideas and other content to the debate, and indeed so counterproductive at speeding the day that the majority comes to accept the speaker’s ideas, that any benefits gained from such speech, whether by the speaker or audience, are clearly inferior to the need to avoid inhumane, spiteful, and derogatory treatment of others.
Hence, I do support somewhat greater restrictions on Freedom of Speech, particularly with regard to hate speech and belittlement in general. This is especially true when much research over the past two decades shows that verbal abuse of others does indeed strongly affect the psychological health of many people. If the purpose of free speech is to allow an unobstructed flow of useful and substantive information between two or more parties, then I find it difficult to justify saying that the free speech mantras justly apply to speech that abuses the esteem of others. Hence, I do see a place for legislatures, courts, and chief executives to regulating speech plausibly said to be destructive to another’s dignity and esteem, especially speech that qualifies as abusive and indeed has a strong tendency to psychologically destroy those who are its targets.