Sunday, December 07, 2008

Hate Speech and the Presumption of Innocence

In a recent comment to my posting on A Message of Hate, Jonathan Baker asked some questions about the distinction between raising honest objections versus hate speech.

He wrote:

For example: let us say that I think that smoking is unhealthy for the environment, for the smoker themselves, 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.

This is mostly true - except I would not necessarily have objections to aiming hostility at the smoker. A person who smokes under conditions where their smoking would do harm to others is somebody who can be condemned for their lack of consideration for the well-being of others.

When we use praise or condemnation to promote or inhibit certain desires, we praise or condemn the person who has the desires. To praise or condemn the desire itself is nonsense. What use does a desire have for our praise or condemnation? How does a desire itself act on our praise or condemnation? No, the desire itself is not our target. The person with the desire is our target.

Now, to compare this type of argument to gay marriage:

If I thought (and I have argued this elsewhere 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 depends.

If there is good, solid evidence that there is harm done to the well-being of children by allowing homosexual marriage, then it is not hate-speech to mention that evidence.

I compare this situation to that of a prosecutor at a trial saying, "We intend to prove that the accused had a motive to murder the alleged victim, had an opportunity to murder the alleged victim, and did in fact murder the alleged victim."

Would this be hate speech?

It depends on the quality of the evidence. It depends on whether the speaker is somebody who was lead to believe that the accused committed a murder by the evidence. Or, instead, if the speaker was lead to believe that the evidence is evidence of murder because this is what he wants to believe.

When a desire to believe that somebody is guilty causes one to see "evidence" where none exists - causes a person to evaluate the evidence according to whether it supports the desired conclusion, rather than evaluate conclusions based on the available evidence, then we have evidence for an accusation of hate-speech.

Many of the arguments against gay marriage use "evidence" that fits this second category. There is no actual evidence to suggest that allowing homosexual marriage would be harmful to a society's capacity to raise children. There is simply a desire to believe that this is the case by those who are looking for an excuse - a rationalization - to make actions harmful to the interests of homosexuals seem legitimate.

One last point. Baker said:

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

This is false.

All we need to do is to note that criminal punishment is violence. Arresting a person and holding him in jail, or executing him, is a violent act, backed by people with guns.

It is not wrong to incite violence or hostility against, for example, rapists, murderers, thieves, embezzlers, con artists, and the like. We do it all the time.

What is wrong is inciting unjustified violence against these people - with assuming that they are guilty, rather than assuming that they are innocent unless and until the weight of the evidence proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Homosexuals have a right to the same type of consideration. They have a right to our assumption that homosexual marriage is not a threat to the quality of our institutions geared for raising children unless and until the weight of the evidence proves otherwise beyond a reasonable doubt.

And let us not forget . . . what is most often forgotten . . . that an important subset of those children whose interests we are supposed to be protecting are homosexuals.


Anonymous said...

Would you please clarify (or point me where I've missed reading) how and whether you make a distinction between condemning an act from condemning a person? If you don't make a distinction, would you elaborate as to why you don't? Thanks-

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your blog. I enjoy your posts. Later I will hopefully engage more in comments. Just wanted to drop a note of encouragement.

Anonymous said...

Annie said-
"Would you please clarify how and whether you make a distinction between condemning an act from condemning a person? If you don't make a distinction, would you elaborate as to why you don't?

I think this post may explain the distinction between condemning an act and condemning a person.

This quote (from near the end of the post) is a summation, and really it isn't very helpful without having read the linked post. But to quote/summarize:

"all moral judgments are ultimately judgments about mental states... Our identity – the ‘who’ we are – is a collection of mental states. It makes no sense to judge somebody – to call that person good or evil – without calling a collection of mental states good or evil."

Anonymous said...

To clarify the last point, what I meant to say was that - it is senseless to condemn and act. No one does that, and this is demonstrable. We only condemn desires/aversions, and by doing so condemn the people who have these desires/aversions (as condemning just a desire without condemning everyone who has this desire doesn't make any sense. If a desire is bad, then everyone who has this desire is bad in at least that one aspect.)

Anonymous said...

Annie -

I realize this is my 3rd comment on the same post. I apologize, I'm a bit scatter-brained right now. I wish I could edit these together as one comment.

To elaborate - in DU, one does not condemn acts. One condemns desires. The act of "shooting JR" is either good or bad depending on the desires motivating the act. Shooting JR due to a desire to take his money is bad. Shooting JR due to a desire to protect yourself/your loved ones (assuming it's obvious he is about to hurt you/your loved ones) is good. So it is the desires that are condemned, not the acts.

The reason you cannot condemn simply a desire without condemning a person is because desires don't exist on their own. There is no Platonic Ideal Desire to Protect, just as there is no Platonic Ideal Chair. All desires are contained within people. If there were no humans on earth, there would be no desires on earth. All desires are mental states of agents. Therefore when we condemn a desire we are saying "This person is bad because he has this mental state. You should not have this mental state. If you do, you will be punished." You cannot disentangle one from the other. To say that someone has bad desires (such as the desire to kill your loved ones for profit) without saying that the person himself is bad for having this desire is nonsensical.

(yes, I'm ignoring non-human animals, for simplicity)