Count Dankula and the Excuse of "Joking"
Free speech, as a value, is under attack from both Western governments and their citizens. From university students and administrations deplatforming invited speakers to police making arrests for opinionated posts on social media, we are watching the fall of a critical Western value. While most advocates for free speech understand the arguments in its favor, one response to these violations of free speech remains constant and corrosive: "It was a joke."
The recent example of Count Dankula speaks volumes about this problem. For anyone who isn't aware, Count Dankula is a Scottish comedian who, to annoy his girlfriend, taught her pug to do a Nazi salute whenever the phrase "gas the Jews" was said. He recorded the process of teaching the pug this and posted it to his small comedy channel on YouTube, and a screenshot of the offending pug can be seen below. After getting only minor attention, it was posted on Reddit and went viral. Under Britain's extensive hate crime laws and regulations on electronic communications, Count Dankula underwent two years of legal battles with the government, with the police themselves seeming to be the complainants in the case since no complaints from the community seemed to have arisen. In fact, the police had to seek out the Scottish Jewish community's representatives for the sole purpose of being able to have a party to represent the supposedly offended. After all of this authoritarian nonsense, the refrain we now hear from so many of Count Dankula's defenders is that he is a comedian and was joking, but I don't care.
Surely, Count Dankula should have never been put through any piece of this ridiculous misuse of state power, but that isn't the point. That he is a comedian does not matter; people who aren't comedians should similarly not be abused by the state in such a way. That he was joking does not matter; people who would seriously teach dogs to give Nazi salutes should similarly not be abused by the state in such a way. If you had an elderly Nazi, still believing Hitler's acts to be just and right, who was in all seriousness teaching a German Shepherd to salute Hitler whenever "gas the Jews" was uttered, he too shouldn't have government abuse him. Genuine Nazis should be afforded the same protections as anyone else by a Western country, because Western society is founded on the primacy of the individual.
When a free speech advocate defends someone by saying that he or she was joking, they're absentmindedly ceding territory to some variant of authoritarian. Arresting people for jokes is certainly wrong, but that defense implies that it would have been perfectly fine to try and convict Count Dankula were he not joking. In their times, Lenny Bruce and George Carlin stood as comedians in opposition to the Right's regulations on speech and enforcement of manners. Defending them by simply saying that they were comedians would have truly hurt their cause. Now, we who believe in freedoms find ourselves more in conflict with the Left, and comedians seem to be the canaries in the coal mine once more.
The only way I know my speech is protected is to ensure the most heinous, inexcusable speech is protected. I want to live in a country where a man is perfectly free and will be protected by law and the state if he were to run from Jew to Jew as he called them kikes and alternated between telling Jewish jokes and reciting Nazi propaganda. Similarly, I want to live in a country where a man can call everyone he ever meets a nigger, with the state supporting that as his right and the police protecting him in the likely case he'd need protection. If a neo-Nazi wants to deny the Holocaust, let them do so, just as we already let Communists deny their innumerably higher body counts. Only in a country with free speech as a protected right could I be sure that writing this paragraph would be safe.
Although free speech is often conceived of as a Western value, the United States alone protect free speech by enshrining it in our constitution. Throughout Europe and Canada, not to mention the rest of the world's abominable records, speech is tightly regulated. Saying "Sieg Heil" in Germany will quickly give you a chance to see their jail cells. If you call Jordan Peterson "she" in Canada, he could let out a distressed chuckle as Ontario's government prosecuted you for it. In England, speaking ill of any ethnic group, with the obvious exception of the English, will get you a fine or a getaway in their famously diverse prisons. The United States are free speech's sole defender, and the battle is already here.
As in Canada, gender pronouns seem to be how this is creeping into our law, starting in the Democrat controlled cities. Since 2015, New York has had a law resembling Bill C-16 in Canada, which everyone concerned with the fate of free speech should know well. Under both laws, a person can be heavily fined for not using a person's preferred pronouns. This is compelled speech.
Government taking the decision of your language out of your hands is a terrifying breach of your rights, and, with the bastion of America now under siege to those who wish to destroy free speech, the fight is yours no matter where you live. In such a case, we need to stop making errors when defending our case. Free speech's maintenance requires its advocates to be extremely confident, coherent, and spirited. We are right, both morally and rationally, about the value of free speech, and we will only lose through our own unforced errors. Learn all there is to learn about the topic, and don't let emotionally reactive answers like "It was a joke" kill the preservation of free speech.