Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A Message of Hate

Johnathan Baker, in a comment recently delivered to the post Pope Benedict XVI Markets Hate, made the following point.

We live in a basically relativistic society which unfortunately means that it is difficult to dialogue in a respectful manner - if you disagree with someone, you are a messenger of "hate". This is very sad.

I agree that it is sad. However, let us not go so far as to say that hate speech does not exist. Just as a lot of speech these days is currently mislabeled hate speech (by those who want to silence it), a lot of hate speech is currently mislabeled as legitimate and appropriate.

Where is the distinction?

First, let’s start with the position that a person is to be presumed innocent unless proven guilty. In other words, it is the duty of the person who makes an accusation of "hate speech" to prove his case. A mere accusation is not sufficient or legitimate.

Second, the accuser must demonstrate that the accused has made false or misleading statements motivated by unfounded hostility towards the target group. Motivated, that is, out of unwarranted hatred and desire to promote unreasoned hatred in others.

This is hate speech:

It says that religion itself is responsible for 9-11. It invites the viewer to take the hostility deservedly attributed to those directly responsible to 9-11 and to apply it to a much larger target group, those who believe in one or more gods. It says, for example, "Think of the Amish with the same contempt that you have for the 9-11 hijackers."

The Pledge of Allegiance is hate speech – it invites people to adopt the same attitude towards those who do not support a nation under God that they would adopt to those who support rebellion, tyranny, and injustice for all.

So is the national motto: "Those who do not trust in God are not to be thought of as one of us."

This is not hate speech:

There is nothing in this that invites unreasoned hostility towards a target group. In fact, a religious person can look upon the sign and imagine a world of chaos and destruction as his "world without religion." When I see this message, I tend to imagine Mars. It is a world without religion, but not the type of world that want the Earth to become.

Neither is a T-shirt that says "Jesus Saves" or "What Would Jesus Do?" even though, if the speaker is not careful about what parts of the Bible he is pointing to, it may not be a useful moral guide.

In particular, it is not hate speech to say, "I believe that your proposition P is false for the following reasons." The morally challenged person in such a case is the person who points to the individual who said, "I think you are wrong for the following reason," and brands him a hate-monger without justification. This is the true hate-monger.

In all of this, the burden of proof rests with the accuser, not the accused. When the accuser cannot provide good reasons for his accusation, we have reason to suspect an ulterior motive – something driving the individual to grasp at anything that gives even the slightest glimmer of legitimacy to the hate he has for others.


CrypticLife said...

Alonzo, I've changed my mind.

When the court releases its verdict that "Under God" in the Pledge is unconstitutional, I will sign my name to my letters to the editor and not ask them to withhold it from publication.

Yes, I still worry about my children's relationships in school and the community. However, it is hate speech -- and I am coming to worry more about them growing up to feel like they're second-class citizens than about their relationships right now.

Just thought you might like to know.

Jonathan Baker said...

You define 'hate speech' as "false or misleading statements motivated by unfounded hostility towards the target group... to promote unreasoned hatred in others."

My point remains, however, that some issues are highly volatile today, and provoke strong emotions just by being raised.

For example: let us say that I think that smoking is unhealthy for the environment, for the smoker themself, and for anyone who is subjected to the fumes. According to your definition I could argue for making smoking illegal provided I used honest research and was carefully and pointedly aiming my hostility at the smoke and not the smoker.

However, could I do the same thing about homosexual marriage, say? If I thought (and I have argued this elswhere on this blog) that marriage between two persons of the opposite sex should be defended because of the potentiality of natural offspring and their protection, and that therefore homosexuals, no not even my homosexual friends, should be allowed to marry, is that hate speech? It's hard to say such things today (except to said friends) and be able to truly talk through the issues that both sides raise without it turning into a brawl full of ad hominem attacks.

Perhaps the person who made the first photo in your post really did think that religion is the basic cause of division among peoples and that 9/11 was absolutely just one more consequence of religions (particularly the fact that there are more than one). I for one have no problem with them saying so. It gives me the opportunity to show them that they are, as you say, attempting to generalise from a particular, which is not logical.

On the other hand the freedom from religion foundation may (for all I know) promote the idea at its meetings that belief in God is so dangerous for our society, that the time has come to assasinate some of the key proponents. Their little ad would then surely count as 'hate speech' if anything did.

Thus, I don't think that 'hate speech' is an accurate term. The trouble is that with complex issues, anyone can accuse the other side of "deliberately misleading" information, even if it is neither, only one, or both of those things. Nor can you assume without more evidence that a statement is intended to rouse hostility. It certainly will arouse hostility if it is a sore spot for a particular group of people, hence my exmaple of gay marriage. But smokers will also get angry at a suggestion that their "rights" be taken away.

Ditto on the questions of gun control, abortion, cloning, celebrating Christmas publically, etc... It is simply not possible to have a reasoned debate on these topics today without being called a hate-monger. The reason for this is partly because of the invented concept of 'hate speech'. Hatred is not in speech but an emotion in people, and it is there that it needs to be dealt with.

Inciting violence or hostility is always wrong whether using lies or not.

Oolon_Collpuhid_Dem said...

Your argument against gay marriage is probably not hate speech but it sure is fallacious though. You claim that opposite sex marriage"should be defended".

It's not under attack.

Allowing homosexuals to marry does not mean that heterosexuals will have to give up their marriage rights. Allowing homosexuals to marry will not effect the pregnancy rate (save for a handful of in the closet men that might come out with greater social acceptance) and it will not turn people gay.

There is nothing to defend against.

Janus said...


I don't see the first photo as hate speech in the least. In fact, (and please be critical of my general argument if you think it is wrong) religion's epistemology, if fully embraced, would lead to credulity, dogmatism, and - ultimately, in some cases - violence.

I do not hate the Amish, but I do tar them with the same brush as radical Islamists: they are credulous and dogmatic. There's little difference between their ideas and Plato's utopia of a closed society.

If one were to behave morally, one would denounce each of these characteristics of religion's epistemology, and cite powerful examples when it is wedded to a political or ideological stance.


vjack said...

I disagree about the first image being hate speech in any way. By your own definition, where is the evidence that this image was motivated by hostility?