The Tyranny of Ambiguity: “Hate Speech” laws in Japan and subtle Western imperialism

Economist Tyler Cowen linked to the following report in the Washington Post about a supposed increase in enmity between Japanese citizens and Korean expats in Tokyo’s Koreatown. Setting aside all of the hyperbole on the part of the Post concerning rising tensions, and setting aside the interesting fact that there is a Koreatown in Tokyo, and setting aside the fact that there seems to be an increase in nationalism throughout the developed world, I’d like to focus on the Post‘s advocacy of “hate speech” laws. The Post reports:

“Japan is right now at a crisis point,” said Yoshifu Arita, a [Left-wing] lawmaker who is campaigning for new laws to regulate hate speech. “A situation like this — people getting so publicly hostile — never happened in the seven decades after the war until now.” […] In 1995, Japan did accede to the United Nations’ convention to eliminate racial discrimination, including hate speech, but its parliament has not passed legislation to enforce that treaty commitment. Its reluctance, experts and politicians say, stems from a separate war-era legacy — the wholesale suppression of anti-government dissent. Japan created free-speech laws to prevent a repetition of that censorship, and many still oppose the idea of regulating speech, said Kenta Yamada, a media law professor at Senshu University. The Japanese government’s hope, Yamada said, is to reduce hate speech with education and enlightenment, not with new laws.

Now I think we can all agree that ethno-nationalism is a bad thing, and there has been a rise in ethno-nationalism throughout the world since the 2007-2008 economic crisis began. However, I hope we can all equally agree that squelching free speech in the name of an imposed tolerance would be a much, much worse outcome.

“Hate speech,” of course, is ambiguous and invites arbitrary censorship. The fact that the Leftist politician pushing for the assault on free speech is employing the language of crisis does nothing to relieve my suspicions of her intentions.

This piece brought up three more quick thoughts in my mind:

  1. The report states, in the above quoted passage, that Japan created free speech laws after the war. This is all well and good for the most part, but I’ll never tire of reminding people that the right to free speech cannot be created by government. Free speech is a natural human right, and as such it is impossible for governments to create free speech. For example, what would happen if Japan had not created free speech laws after the war? Would free speech not exist? It’s possible, but this could only be true if governments had laws in place prohibiting free speech.
  2. Is it just me, or did the reporter – a Western Leftist – come off as sounding a bit imperialistic in his subtext?
  3. Imagine what a federal incorporation with the US would do for ethnic relations between Koreans and Japanese.

More on Chinese Culture

The plight of migrant workers (and hints of Chinese nationalism):

If there’s one takeaway lesson from all the migrant worker stories in the news, it’s that they are quite often treated like crap. Nothing has hitherto expressed this more bluntly than one Wuhan toilet.

“Migrant workers prohibited from entering. Offenders fined 200 yuan,” reads the toilet’s bare concrete slab façade in bright red letters.

[…] Snoot city dwellers may love to hate on those lowly migrant workers who clean their streets, prepare their foods, and build their city, but unfortunately institutional discrimination in China does not end there. Foreigners (and dogs) are now at risk of being barred from certain establishments.

Read the rest of the blurb (from Shanghaiist). Readers may recall my most recent musing on culture and nationalism in China. There is more from our blog, on China, here.