From: The New York Times
When Is Speech Violence?
The New York Times:
Imagine that a bully threatens to punch you in the face. A week later, he walks up to you and breaks your nose with his fist. Which is more harmful: the punch or the threat?
The answer might seem obvious: Physical violence is physically damaging; verbal statements aren’t. “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
But scientifically speaking, it’s not that simple. Words can have a powerful effect on your nervous system. Certain types of adversity, even those involving no physical contact, can make you sick, alter your brain — even kill neurons — and shorten your life.
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The Church ordered Galileo not to speak or write on the view that the Earth moved. It was not debatable, for it was clearly harmful. Souls would go to hell, should they hear of it and doubt the veracity of the Bible. In Protestant countries, the view that that the Pope was Christ’s representative on Earth was similarly not debatable. In Catholic countries those who held the opposite view were seen as doing monstrous harm. The thought that there is no god has been considered harmful in most religious countries (and until relatively recently, punishable by death after torture). In the early 20th Century, Darwinism was not open to debate in a school setting in many states in the U.S. In Stalin’s Soviet Union, genetics was not open to debate, for it was very harmful, since it cast doubt on Lysenko’s plan to feed the masses. And to the Nazis, Einstein’s physics should not be discussed, for it was harmful for some to think that a Jew’s ideas could be great scientific achievements. Surely, all those self-righteous members of the Holy Office, Protestants, Catholics, and Stalinists had been undergoing “long stretches of simmering stress.” As for the Nazis, imagine how it must have “remodeled their brains” to know that “good” Germans had been putting up with Jews for centuries and centuries. And presumably, if we are to believe the article, any challenge to the cult of victimhood throws the politically correct also into “simmering stress.” It causes harm to the brains of the little darlings who burn buildings and beat up the people who want to listen to such “hatemongers.”
This article is spurious at best. Neuroscience cannot make the required distinctions. Not only truly bad actions can kill neurons and rewire the brains of others in an unhealthy way. Falsely believing that his wife is cheating on him, a man may be led to depression and suicide. He would have been better off discussing (debating) the accusation so he could challenge the evidence. Or at least get some psychological help.
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