The Problem with Hate Crimes — or Perhaps I Should Say ‘Hate Crimes’

Race_Hatred_on_Trial_cover“Hate,” as you know, is a word that’s starting to dominate our cultural — and now legal — landscape. Shouldn’t we at least think about what it means? What does it mean, really? Don’t answer too quickly! Reflexive answers are given without thinking, and we just might want a better answer than the superficial one.

There are certain words that we “have a sense of” even if we can’t clearly define them. Words like “fair”, “more” or “awestruck”. But in casually using words without a precise meaning, they can develop a certain “looseness” that convey a range of meanings, rather than a specific thing. Eventually, the original meaning is abandoned entirely.

Hate, I would argue, is like that. Someone can hate eggplant, the rival team, or dubstep. This is of a different quality than hating drunk driving or human trafficking. There is also the distinction between hating behaviours (or opinions) and the people associated with those behaviours or beliefs.

Current culture finds its moral benchmarks in feelings. We live in an era of fragile egos, and being told we are wrong bothers us. Bothers, not because we think our logic is better than our critics’ logic, but because we dislike having our ideas challenged at all — we’re offended because it makes us feel bad.

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Feelings have — for many — surpassed ideas or ethics in the measurement of right or wrong. Fuzzy feel-good terms like “love” are watered down to mean pleasant feelings toward someone. This fuzzy “love” becomes interchangeable with “good”.

Presumably, “hate” is the opposite of good. It would follow, then, that hate in this sense would be the opposite of pleasant feelings. Possibly it could even be synonymous with “hurtful”. And remember too, that “love” has a strongly positive connotation, and “hate” has a strongly negative one.

Let’s complicate things a little further, where do “hate speech” or “hate crimes” fit in? When I used those terms, did you react to them? Did specific examples come to mind? If so, were they all associated with a single political perspective? That would make sense. Making emotional arguments to sway a political process gets rapid results. And so, certain actions, groups and behaviour are broadly defined as hate, or hateful as a political shortcut to control both the masses and the message. Why bother defeating an idea or argument if you can just make people think it’s “mean”.

We see the same sort of thing with crime. We are strangely more interested in what motivated the crime than the actions themselves. If a victim (minority, woman, or whatever ) were attacked by some white guy, that might be national news. But when a major city has a handful of murders, and 20+ wounded in a weekend of violence, it’s just a “local news story”.

Doesn’t that tell us that the “hate” motivating the crime is of greater concern to us than the crime itself? How is a “Government of Laws” to sort out the motives of a stranger, when we cannot always judge our own motives objectively?

What constitutes hate, anyway? Race and sex seem to be popular starting points, but only so long as it affects traditional “victims”. (e.g. Three lesbians once beat up a homosexual guy, and claimed “hate crime” was impossible since they are “gay”, too.)

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