PC Culture

Talk of Making ‘Nerd’ a Hate Crime in the U.K. Is Why Hate Speech Laws Are a Bad Idea

Star Wars nerds fans wait for the first showing of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker at the TCL Chinese theatre in Los Angeles, Calif., December 19, 2019. (Patrick T. Fallon/Reuters)
Opening the speech-laws door would mean that our rights would depend on the subjective definitions of whoever happened to be in power at any given time.

On Friday, I caught a little bit of flack for calling Star Wars fans “nerds” on Fox News.

This was, of course, not surprising to me. I knew my comments would piss some people off — after all, how could I forget receiving a barrage of death threats over joking about the franchise back in 2015.

Now, nothing on my current Twitter feed even comes close to the level of vitriol that I received a few Novembers ago. However, one person shared an article that shocked me even more than any of the murder threats or calls to throw acid in my face: Apparently, a British psychologist had actually, recently, earnestly suggested that what I had just said should be considered a hate crime with legal consequences.

Dr. Sonja Falck (who, by the way, is also a psychology lecturer at the University of East London) made an appearance on Good Morning Britain on Thursday, and she sincerely suggested classifying the use of words and phrases such as “nerd,” “geek,” “brainiac” “know-it-all,” “dweeb,” “brain box,” “smart***,” or “egghead” to make fun of someone as a hate crime under U.K. hate-speech legislation.

“If you look at those legislations that relate to hate crimes, hate crime is simply about somebody being targeted in a negative way for who they are,” she said. “And a person with a very high IQ who comes across in a different way often is targeted in that way.”

Although Thursday’s interview certainly generated the most buzz for Falck, it was far from the first time she’d made these claims. In fact, her comments were based on eight years of studying discrimination against high-IQ people, during which she said she discovered that words like these, where “the person is being set apart as being different to others,” had left every high-IQ person whom she’d interviewed “feeling like they’re a misfit and they don’t belong” at least at some point in their lives. She even detailed her findings in a book, titled Extreme Intelligence, which came out in September. (Falck herself is a member of the high-IQ society, Mensa.)

“Slurs such as these will continue to be used unabated at the expense of the brightest members of society unless and until legislative action is taken,” she said at her book launch, according to the Telegraph.

“In the short space of time since racial, homophobic and religious hate speech was banned, it is now seen by most as morally abhorrent,” she continued. “It would be progress for British society to come to feel the same way about hate-filled, prejudicial slurs against our high-IQ community.”

Of course, I don’t doubt Falck’s claim that people with high intelligence have, at times, felt badly after being called “nerds.” Despite that, though, her call to classify the use of such words as hate crimes is nothing short of ridiculous.

I’m not a “genius,” however, I was made fun of for all sorts of things growing up. What’s more, my giant, book-stuffed backpack and my tendency to choose studying over socialization certainly meant that the exact kinds of words that Falck is speaking out against were certainly among those that I heard often. Guess what, though? I was able to get over it, and even think that I’m a stronger person for going through what a lot of people (you know, the ones who don’t peak as gorgeous but mean eighth-graders) go through. Now, I’m almost proud of it . . . and I’m not alone in thinking this way.

The other person on Falck’s Good Morning Britain television segment — teacher, mathematician, and self-described “proud geek” Bobby Seagull — said the same sort of thing.

“While the term geek and nerd has historically been seen as being negative, people have now embraced the term and seen it as positive,” he said. “I think with geeks and nerds, if you see it as a negative thing, it could be negative, but if you embrace it, actually to be a geek means a good thing.”

The truth is, according to Falck’s logic, a huge percentage of speech could be classified as a hate crime. In fact, if the standard is simply that it’s a hate crime because “somebody [is] being targeted in a negative way for who they are” as Falck says, making fun of anyone in any way for any reason could easily qualify. Make no mistake: Taking the step that Falck touts as “progress” would actually be a huge step backward to anyone who cares about humor, speech, or freedom in her country.

As the Telegraph notes, hate-speech crimes in England and Wales can be punished with incarceration. Although being called a word like “nerd” might hurt some people’s feelings, it’s also hardly the kind of thing that I think too many people would consider to be an insurmountable obstacle. It can be, as Seagull noted, taken in a flattering way; it can also be a form of lighthearted teasing a joke — and I truly have a hard time understanding how anyone could argue for allowing punishment by imprisonment for using a word like that.

This whole debacle, of course, is a good example of one reason why I often caution against the Leftist push to institute laws against “hate speech” in the United States. After all, what does and does not constitute “hate speech” is subjective. It means something different to every person, and we should not be throwing people behind bars based on such a subjective standard. Opening the speech-laws door would mean that our rights (and the limiting of them) would depend on the subjective definitions of whoever happened to be in power at any given time. All it would take would be for enough people like Falck to get elected for the use of an innocuous, even childish, word like “egghead” to become an imprisonable offense.

I myself have been the victim of some absolutely horrific speech throughout the years; I know how bad it can make you feel — and yet, I still believe firmly that no words directed at me could ever feel worse than having to worry about losing my right to use my own.