On a dreary Monday morning, I rolled out of bed and began my long walk to the community bathroom before class. Every morning, I “take in my surroundings” and glance at resident’s doors, in particular messages left on dry erase boards. While scanning these boards, one caught my eye. This board, which is pictured to the right, had the word SLUT written across it. After my immediate reaction of disgust at the way certain girls treat each other, I thought of John Stuart Mill, an advocate for freedom of expression whom we discussed earlier this semester. John Mill believed that freedom of speech was good for society. Expressing one’s opinion allowed others to either discover that what they believed to be true was actually false, or that it would help solidify one’s opinion to be true. Mill argued that the more we know, the better off we are as a society. Over time, good ideas will become successful, and bad ideas will fail. This sounds like a pretty good idea at first, but then on second thought, should speech be regulated? What happens when freedom of speech harm’s others?
The truth is unregulated speech can cause serious harm. As children, we have always heard the saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” However, words and the things people say can cause serious harm. Effects of this form of bullying can cause depression, suicide, stunted social development, and a need for retaliation. The truth is, when freedom of speech hurts others, its not just an opinion anymore; its a form of hate speech. Individuals who are harmed through hate speech can react in violent ways either towards themselves or others. Victims of these crimes can become depressed and harm themselves, such as Alex Harrison’s suicide that occurred in Cadillac, Michigan a few years ago. Alex regularly suffered from hate speech, as students would constantly taunt him and accuse him of peeking in girls’ windows. Alex took his own life because of these harmful accusations. Is the ability to have unregulated speech worth the potential consequences?
Freedom of speech, such as words written on dry erase boards, can cause serious harm. Is it every okay to inflict personal harm because it is “for the good of society”? While some forms of freedom of speech cause society to develop as a whole and acknowledge truths, other forms can be detrimental towards individuals. Mill addresses hate speech in On Liberty, which he refers to as harm principle. This principle, Mill claims, is the the only exception that restricts Freedom of Speech. However, when this topic was briefly reviewed in lecture on September 20, 2011, under the topic “Should harmful ideas be suppressed?” it was said that Mill’s theories claim: who decides what is harmful, and that harm itself should be up for debate. Because the topic of personal harm is debated, some forms of hate speech may be considered acceptable. Perhaps, certain forms may be allowed as long as they are not physically detrimental, however, mental harm still occurs. Does the term harm need to be defined? Do you agree or disagree with Mill’s theories related to hate speech? If Mill was still alive today, what do you think he would say about this, would his opinion change at all?