So, there I was, watching as much as I could stand of the congressional questioning of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and mostly feeling completely unimpressed by these leaders of legislation and industry — am I jaded? Am I a smartass? I don’t know. I just know that none of them made me think, “Wow, THAT is someone I need to learn more about because I’m impressed….”

Anyway, I was simultaneously monitoring reactions on social media, in particular a back-and-forth between two pretty bright men I follow on Twitter. One of them seemed comfortable with the idea of AI programs identifying hate speech before it can happen — which almost sounds like a movie subtext, but I digress — while the other seemed neutral.

Anyhow, the AI-approving fellow expressed an idea that America has made great progress in righting social and civil wrongs and that any tool available to “make people less racist” had its uses.

Any tool? Really? I have to disagree. Silencing hate doesn’t really do anything to battle against it. I’m not sure that hiding racist speech — or any sort of objectional speech — serves anything but an illusion. Like Bonhoeffer’s “cheap grace,” it avoids the difficult work that effects deep and lasting change. So, I wrote about it over at Word on Fire.

Beyond its non-effectiveness, silencing “hate speech” turns each of us into Potter Stewarts, unable to clearly define what hate speech is but quick to say “I know it when I see it.”

Such subjectivism permits any remark to be understood and prosecuted through one’s own peculiar lens. One person might hear “Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no” (Matthew 5:37) and see it as a call to unstinting personal clarity, while another might declare the phrase a “dogwhistle” against biological or philosophical fluidity and voila, Jesus is accounted a bully whose words are hate speech. No media platform for him, even though every one of us could stand to be exposed his other utterances, like: “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37)

Stopping difficult, controversial, or “hateful” words before they are uttered or published will ultimately destroy authentic engagement between people. It may leave our feelings unhurt, but the price of insult-free living will be more loneliness, more isolation, not less.

You can read the whole thing, here.

Image: CSpan/PublicDomain