Speech is protected under the first amendment, and always should be. This has presented a moral quandary. Is verbal bullying protected under the constitution? This article, which seeks to answer this question, was spurred by a discussion on Twitter with a group of people who could not accept that speech could be a form of violence.
Many people will simply hold that speech is protected under the first amendment, and yet also not protected in cases like bullying. They will not consider whether or not such a position is contradictory. To be fair, it is incredibly difficult to be logically consistent in all of our world views. We learn our world views, our morals, etc from those around us, and even though we may accept all of them, it does not mean that we have spent the time necessary to determine whether or not they are logically consistent.
I think it can be argued that we can hold speech, all speech, and that includes the expression of all ideas, as protected under the constitution, while still dealing with verbal bullying. This can be accomplished by looking beyond the speech itself, and looking at intent.
Offensive vs Harmful
There is a difference between something being offensive and something being harmful. Something is offensive if it is repugnant to our world views. But that does not mean that it is harmful. Something is harmful if it causes damage. That damage can be physical, but it can also be psychological. PTSD, for instance, is a firmly recognized condition, with identifiable changes in action of brain function and speech can result in psychological harm. If we are to consider the existence of violent speech, then it must be speech that is harmful, not speech that is repugnant to our world views.
This is consistent with the WHO’s definition of violence: “The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation” (World report on violence and health). The definition does not only include physical force, as it is not just physical force which can produce actual harm.
Intentional Action or Gross Negligence
As the WHO’s definition states, intent is a necessary component of violence. If there is no intent to cause harm, then there is no act of violence. The one exception may be gross negligence, which is generally considered to be negligence that is so extreme that it results in a situation that is indistinguishable from malicious intent.
In a society with laws, there are of course ways in which the person can be punished. However, I always prefer to think of how the stateless population could handle such issues. Punishment does not make sense, and punishment would violate the NAP. But compensation does make sense. It cannot be forced without law, but the individual can be put under a lot of pressure by society. Even in a society with laws, it is fairly common to attempt to recover damages. If the bullying results in trauma that requires treatment, then the bully is financially responsible for that treatment.