I’m going to experiment with commenting on social topics, at some risk. We’ll see what happens. [1]

I was thinking today about the Charlie Hebdo affair, and tweeted “So I am thinking that hate speech is likely to have unexpected and undesirable real-world impact on the speaker. I might be OK with that.”

This created a small Twitter conversation, notably with Jon Terry, @leankitjon, and others. I think it’s fair to say that Jon is more merciful than I am. That said, the conversation makes me want to explain myself. I suggest that the answer is neither black nor white. I suggest that actions have consequences and that we do well to consider them.

If you cross against the light often enough, you will be killed. Maybe you don’t deserve to be, but you’ll be just as dead.

According to theories of free speech, one should be able to say anything one wants. In free speech, one should be able to publish blatantly racist material, material mocking any race, creed, color. According to free-speech advocates, I guess, free speech should be protected, no matter how mistaken wrong, or downright hateful it is.

I have two concerns. First, I do not feel the need to protect speech that is sufficiently wrong. In particular, I do not feel the need to protect hate speech based on gender, race, religion or any other group classification. I do not support hatred in any form. I’m for free speech, and I’m against hate speech. Is this contradictory? Perhaps, but I contain multitudes.

Second, should is not is. People should not be raped, killed, tortured, attacked by terrorists, or run over by trucks in a crosswalk. But sometimes they are. That’s bad, very bad. I am not in favor of it. I am against it. Still those bad things happen, and they are not uniformly distributed.

They were asking for it.

The notion that something evil is justified because the victim was somehow asking for it does not hold water. The terrorist attack, the rape, the murder, the torture, are always wrong, are never justified.

Similarly, killing a bunch of hate-mongering cartoonists is always wrong, even if “they were asking for it” by pushing hatred at a group known to include some, dare we say, extremists. The risk was there, and it was obvious. The act was predictable and it was evil.

One should be able to dress any way one wants. One should be able to drink wherever one wants, and to whatever excess. One should be able to publish even the most hateful, disgusting, evil material. Bad things should not happen to someone who does those things. Yet, sometimes, bad things do happen, and our behavior influences whether they will, or will not, happen. This is a fact and we will do well to be aware of it.

If I choose to shout racist slogans at members of my favorite hated race, I need to be aware that certain things are more likely to happen to me than if I do not. If I choose to let people drink booze from my navel (no one has requested this for a long time, by the way), I need to be aware that someone might get the wrong idea and act on it.

Choose the action, choose the consequences.

Actions have consequences. It would be a much better world if no one did bad things. Some might argue that it would be a better world if we could be protected from the consequences of our actions. I do not agree. I think consequences are how we learn, as individuals and as society. I think we need consequences in order to progress, even though some consequences are really horrible and are visited upon the innocent.

Sometimes we might knowingly choose to do things that increase the chance of undesirable consequences. We need to be aware of those potential consequences and to accept that they might occur. We need to adjust our behavior to give ourselves the best possible chance of getting the consequences we want. Nonetheless the bad consequences could occur. We need to face that, and to choose in that light.

Find a balance.

The world is dangerous, and it always will be. Cowering in fear results in a very poor life. Taking the wrong risks results in a short life, or worse. We need to find our own balance on all the dimensions of life, taking risks where we’re prepared to bear the consequences, and avoiding them where we are not.

It matters what we wear, where we drink, and what kind of cartoons we publish. Sometimes the consequences are very unpleasant. Unjustified, deplorable, evil. But very unpleasant nonetheless, and perhaps preventable. Let’s choose what we do, aware of the potential consequences.

Consequences are how we learn.

I am OK with consequences: I think they are part of learning, part of progress. I am not OK with evil actions, and I observe that our behavior can be chosen to balance the positive results and the negative ones.

I do not condone killing, rape, or pretty much anything else that you think is evil. I wish they did not exist. I’ll work to keep them from happening. I’ll work to make free choices less risky, while I expect and hope that life will never be free of risk.

TL;DR: Too Long; Didn’t Read

We can choose more risky behavior or less risky. When we make enough risky choices, we’re more likely to get a result we really do not want.

Choice works. I’m OK with that.

[1] Perhaps you disagree with me. I’m prepared for that consequence. Write me a civil email if you wish, or even an uncivil one. Please don’t blow me up or shoot me, though.