Should animals be protected from hate speech?
According to a paper in the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, yes.
“Laws against hate speech protect members of certain human groups. However,” it laments “they do not offer protection to nonhuman animals.”
It would be bizarre and impractical to say that wounding words are appropriately censured only if they actually wound — among other problems, this would mean that even the most egregious instances of hate speech would be permissible if, for whatever reason, no one was hurt by what was said.
That, of course, is the entire proposition of free speech.
But if you’re going to block “hate speech” against people, and if it doesn’t matter if words “actually wound,” what kind of person wouldn’t apply the same standard to animals?
A speciesist, that’s what kind.
Racist, speciesist…potato, puh-tah-toe:
There is no in-principle reason to support the censure of racist hate speech but not the censure of speciesist hate speech.
The professors certainly aren’t the first to suggest such a thing.
Consider PETA’S December 2018 tweet, which asserted, “Words matter, and as our understanding of social justice evolves, our language evolves along with it.”
Following that, it 86’d phrases such as “Kill two birds with one stone,” “Take the bull by the horns,” “Bring home the bacon,” and “Beat a dead horse.”
- Feed two birds with one scone
- Take the flower by the thorns
- Bring home the bagels
- Feed a dead horse
Continuing, PETA waxed, “Just as it became unacceptable to use racist, homophobic, or ableist language, phrases that trivialize cruelty to animals will vanish as more people begin to appreciate animals for who they are…”
Just as it became unacceptable to use racist, homophobic, or ableist language, phrases that trivialize cruelty to animals will vanish as more people begin to appreciate animals for who they are and start ‘bringing home the bagels’ instead of the bacon.
— PETA (@peta) December 4, 2018
Back to the Oxford Journal, for readers too dense to understand the professors’ idea, they came up with something more familiar.
In order to illustrate hate toward animals in a way all can understand, the authors drew a timely analogy — instead of people hating animals, just imagine it’s white supremacists hating minorities:
Imagine a group—let us call them the “White Defense League” (WDL)—who distribute leaflets in a residential area. In their leaflets, the WDL decry the “propaganda’ spread by anti-racists and argue that white people are morally superior to those of other races. They further argue that white people should prioritize other white people — even if that means ignoring the exploitation, suffering and death of non-white people. If the WDL were operating in a liberal state with laws against “hate speech,” it is not hard to imagine that its members would face criminal prosecution for distributing the leaflets.1 In the UK, for example, members of the WDL might face prosecution for the distribution of “written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting,” that, regardless of the intent of the distributors, is likely to stir up “racial hatred.”
Surly that’s easier to envision than untoward terms toward a pink fairy armadillo.
You know an animal is special when your social media manager has to check to make sure it's real.
Meet the pink fairy armadillo. At about 6 inches long, it's the world's smallest armadillo. The shell’s color comes from blood vessels close to the surface. https://t.co/c345qKajqr pic.twitter.com/5HU40yg2TG
— Smithsonian (@smithsonian) June 14, 2021
The instructors do admit that race and species are different, but going back to the anti-free speech thing…
We acknowledge that race and species are not the same thing — but note that the existence of difference does not undermine the possibility of making certain legitimate analogies between them.
And once again, with regard to the law:
[L]et us remember that hate-speech laws already protect people from hateful speech targeting many different characteristics. Depending on the jurisdiction, for instance, they may protect individuals from abuse directed at their religion, sex, sexual orientation, physical or mental abilities, and so on. The pertinent question is whether there is a morally salient difference between race and species that justifies treating race, but not species, as a protected characteristic under hate-speech law. If there is, it will be due to a “formal” specification of the kinds of groups that are appropriately protected by hate-speech laws.
“[T]he existence of difference,” the paper says, “does not undermine the possibility of drawing analogies.”
So what’s the legal paper’s conclusion?
The guys understand a bit of skepticism:
[W]e acknowledge that even if the harmfulness of hate speech (racist or speciesist) provides a prima facie reason to support the criminalization of said speech, it is plausible that, all things considered, criminalization is not justified.
After all, punishment causes its own issues:
Perhaps…the harms of criminalization would be significant enough to counterbalance the harms criminalization seeks to avert.
And maybe hateful speech could just be opposed with hate speech in the opposite direction — if only an insulted sarcastic fringehead could come up with a comeback:
This is the sarcastic fringehead fish. It lives in the Pacific and looks entirely unremarkable until it’s threatened… pic.twitter.com/R8krAxj2p8
— Quite Interesting (@qikipedia) January 10, 2017
[P]erhaps the harms of hate speech could be counterbalanced without the need for the drastic step of criminalization, such as through counter-speech.
Lo, that’s not enough.
Bottom line, it’s time for the furry and scaly among us to be protected, legally — from words they have no hope of comprehending.
Or hate speech just shouldn’t be illegal at all:
With these caveats in mind, we conclude that we have found no good reason to endorse the discrepancy: either there is good reason to criminalize both racist and speciesist hate speech or neither should be criminalized.
One thing I’ll give the article and its argument: It’s for the birds.
See more pieces from me:
Find all my RedState work here.
Thank you for reading! Please sound off in the Comments section below.