|BEHIND THE NEWS|
|WHAT'S WRONG WITH HATE CRIME?|
|By Brooks Alexander|
|SCP Newsletter, AUTUMN 1997 VOLUME 22:2|
Hatred and bigotry are ugly things--everyone agrees on that. As a result, hatred doesn't rally many defenders, and campaigns against bigotry don't generate much dissent. Today, as libertarian author Jonathan Rauch points out, "the war on prejudice is, in all likelihood, the most uncontroversial social movement in America . . . groups and factions that agree on nothing else have agreed that the public expression of any and all prejudices must be forbidden."
What Rauch refers to as the "war on prejudice" is a new strategy of social engineering that tries to eliminate bigotry by suppressing public expressions of bigotry. It is really a form of Political Correctness (PC) that has translated itself into political policy. As such, it is less than a decade old in its present form. Since 1991, the proponents of PC have waged an active campaign to criminalize "hate speech" as widely as possible throughout society. They have succeeded almost by default (after all, who wants to speak up for hatred?). Currently, so-called "hate speech" is prohibited and penalized by a variety of statutes, ordinances and bureaucratic regulations at every level of government -- federal, state and local. And President Clinton has recently embarked on a high-profile campaign to strengthen and extend "hate-laws" at the federal level.
In the private sector, the anti-hate crusaders have been even more successful. Universities were among the first and fiercest opponents of "hatred," adopting draconian speech codes that made students put a smiley face on all their public conversation. The media were next in line to penalize disapproved speech. In network television, several popular commentators were publicly sacked in the mid-1990s because they had thoughtlessly uttered politically incorrect remarks in the course of their commentary. Today, newspaper reporters must write their stories with special attention to a PC "checklist" that tells them which common words and expressions are not to be used, and which PC terms to replace them with.
Big business soon lined up behind academe and the media. "Diversity training" became the order of the day in large corporations. In the process, the demand created by big business raised up a previously unknown profession -- the "diversity consultant." A "diversity consultant" is anyone who claims enough "expertise" to train other people in the ways of PC. Today, those "diversity consultants" spread the PC message like an army of evangelists, because they must continually sell their services to new clients in order to make a living. In such ways, conceptual fads become self-perpetuating trends. Once rooted in our economic life, they are slow to go away.The Rationale of Censorship
On first impression, the haters of hatred make a good case for their policy. Their argument is: Organized bigotry as a social phenomenon depends on a commerce in bigoted ideas. Bigoted speech is the currency of that commerce. If you interrupt the stream of currency, then the commerce itself will grind to a halt. If there is no coinage of bigoted speech, there will be no commerce in bigoted ideas. Without the support of a lively trade in hateful words, hateful thought as a social force will eventually disappear. Only then can minorities be safe from the crippling effects of prejudice, and society act fairly toward all its citizens.
It is an appealing formula -- simple, elegant and self-consistent. But despite all the high-minded rationalizations, the policy itself makes a lot of people uneasy. Instinctively, they sense that the government is going beyond some natural limit in trying to regulate subjective attitudes -- no matter how "positive" the purpose behind it may be.
Most Americans think of the mind as a sacrosanct personal fortress, constitutionally moated against government intrusion. But moats can be drained, filled or bridged. The right to think freely is by no means a settled issue in human affairs-- not even in these supposedly enlightened times. "Historically, the idea that government should not punish people for what they think or say is a relatively recent development, and many millions of people around the world . . . still do not accept this principle." (Sullum, 1994; p. 65)
In fact, forget the rest of the world, there are plenty of people right here at home who "still do not accept this principle," and they are hard at work. Spurred by their successes of the early 1990s, the anti-hate mongers have expanded their ambition. They no longer want to penalize speech alone. Now they want to monitor our inner thoughts, and attach legal penalties to the ones they don't like. Their latest weapon -- the "hate crime" -- reaches into murky regions of the mind to search out and punish bad attitudes.
The concept of "hate crime" depends essentially on three factors: 1) the crime itself (i.e., the act of assault, battery, vandalism, etc.); 2) what class of person the victim belongs to (e.g., Jewish, black, Hispanic, gay, lesbian, Asian, disabled, retarded, female, illegal alien, etc.); and 3) whether the perpetrator was harboring ill will toward that class of person when he committed the crime. If the perpetrator's act was motivated in whole or in part by such ill will, then it is classified as a "hate crime," and makes the perpetrator subject to extra penalties because of his reprobate feelings.Floundering in Self-Deception
Why is that a bad idea? Let me count the ways. First of all (and most basically), it's a bad idea because its diagnosis of the human condition is off by 180 degrees. Bigotry isn't created by society. It's created by human beings, and then expressed in society. We don't learn to be prejudiced, we only learn how to be prejudiced. Prejudice itself doesn't need to be learned, it is inherent to fallen human nature. And it is universal. The urge to look down on or fear those who are different from us is a tendency we all share. Since our exile from Eden, we are all "bigots" to one degree or another. If we can't acknowledge that simple truth then we can only flounder around in confusion, seeking imaginary solutions to misunderstood problems.
Political Correctness is deeply in denial on that account and hence can never come to grips with the problems it's trying to address. PC social engineering by definition cannot solve a problem that it does not understand. But its misguided efforts will surely have other results. Every attempt to meddle with society has an impact of some kind, even if it isn't the one we wanted. "Hate speech" and "hate crime" laws don't have any real effect on the "hatred" they are supposed to deal with, but they do create a number of other problems for us right away.
For example, laws against "hate speech" (ironically) are a minor inconvenience for serious bigots, but a major verbal obstacle course for everyone else. Deprived of one word to express their scorn, the scorners will simply move on to another. Meanwhile, the rest of us are told that we must learn to pick our way through the verbal minefield that the bigots have left behind. "The vocabulary of hate is potentially as rich as your dictionary, and all you do by banning language used by cretins is to let them decide what the rest of us may say." (Rauch, 1995; p. 43)
Another problem with such laws is that they can lull people into a false sense of social complacency that prejudice is being dealt with, while in reality things may be getting worse. There is evidence to suggest that suppressing hateful speech actually increases hateful behavior. The experience of Canada is instructive. As a Canadian magazine observed,
Freedom to speak delegitimizes the use of force. When we have the right to speak, to convince, and thereby to offend, we have a lesser claim on the need to resort to force to make our point . . . In Canada, hurtful acts are progressively taking the place of impermissible hurtful speech . . . To the fearful, this is proof of the need for greater speech repression and justification for even greater censorship. To the feared, greater speech repression is justification for greater violence. Speech repression and hurtful acts feed on each other. (Braun, 1993; p. 66)Hate Crime And Common Crime
Worse yet, the "hate crime" strategy is having a harmful (if largely unnoticed) effect at ground level. All the clamor about "hate crime" sends a discouraging message to ordinary citizens with the misfortune to be victimized by ordinary crime. Many people, especially in low-income urban neighborhoods, already feel neglected and unprotected by the authorities -- "common crime" blights their community, but is plainly a low priority for police. The "hate crime" emphasis marginalizes their plight even further.
Recently, in a San Francisco housing project notorious for drugs, prostitution and violence, an Asian immigrant was severely beaten by a gang of black thugs. Political activists labeled the incident a "hate crime." The mayor ordered an investigation and the Chief of Police announced that a "Hate Crime Task-Force" had been formed to solve this incident and would continue thereafter as a permanent investigative unit.
Now the fact is that the average resident of this particular housing project has lived in fear of violent crime for years. Police have long since given up on "solving" most of the beatings, robberies, rapes and murders that go on there. But . . . because the immigrant was beaten up for reasons of "hatred," the authorities are pouring their resources into solving his case.
That may be good news for the immigrant, but it is bad news for the immigrant's neighbors, who live in daily fear of the kind of crime that has nothing to do with "hatred." By announcing that "hate crime" attracts their intensive attention, the police are admitting that their routine attention can't restrain or even punish the crime that goes on in the project as a matter of course. Only victims of "hatred" qualify for the kind of police attention that offers any hope of actually catching their assailants.
Because the police don't have unlimited resources, giving "hate crimes" a higher priority means giving non-hate crimes a lower priority. In the housing projects, that means that most crime victims can forget about getting any police help at all, since they already get next to none. And the formula harbors another implication, i.e., that crime victims can attract attention to their case if they claim being victims of hatred as well. That has the potential for creating great damage, both on a personal and a social level. On a personal level, it creates an incentive for making false accusations. On a social level, it creates an incentive for stirring up conflict and discord.Anti-Hatred As a Political Tool
But the most dangerous problem with hate laws is that the definition of "hate" becomes politicized -- i.e., that "hate" becomes a term used to demonize attitudes that the ruling elite dislikes. It is all too easy to turn anti-hatred into a political tool because "hatred" is such a flexible concept.
Indeed, "eradicating prejudice" is so vague a proposition as to be meaningless. Distinguishing prejudice reliably and non politically from non-prejudice, or even defining it crisply, is quite hopeless . . . the line between a prejudiced belief and a merely controversial one is elusive, and the harder you look, the more elusive it becomes . . . stamping out prejudice really means forcing everyone to share the same prejudice, namely that of whoever is in authority. (Rauch, 1995; pp. 38-39; emphasis added)
Today, the commissars of Political Correctness are in authority in our major cultural institutions, and their prejudices and attitudes determine what constitutes hatred and what doesn't. No one should be in the dark about what that means. The prejudices of PC have not exactly been hidden under a bushel.
The main prejudice that PC harbors is against the mainstream culture and its traditional values. The diversity constables are quick to champion the interests and sensitivities of anyone who is out of the mainstream for any reason -- including those who put themselves out of the mainstream in order to pit themselves against it (e.g., the so-called "sexual minorities"). But PC is utterly indifferent to the interests and sensitivities of those who are part of the majority culture.
There is no point in asking PC to be more even-handed. That wouldn't be a good idea even if it were possible. The concept of an equal opportunity thought police is not very reassuring. But it's really a moot question, because PC isn't capable of equanimity in the first place. One of the major doctrines of "diversity consciousness" is that the white, straight, male-oriented, majority culture deserves to be disadvantaged, as a reparation for its centuries of oppressing everyone else.
Therefore, a member of the majority culture cannot be a victim of "prejudice," no matter how thoroughly he may be disliked because of his status, condition or identity. And he cannot be the victim of a "hate crime," even if he is attacked by black racists seeking revenge on "whitey." In fact, there are no "black racists." There are only black victims acting out their rage at a legacy of oppression. Only whites can be "racists." Only oppressors can be "prejudiced."
The doctrine sounds absurd, even mad, when it is stated that way. Yet it has been stated exactly that way by its proponents. Worse yet, it has been adopted as a controlling assumption of the way that the government keeps track of "hate crimes.""Hate Crimes" and Race
The perpetrators of "hate crimes" are classified by race alone, but the victims are classified by race, ethnicity/national origin, religion and sexual orientation. As to "race," the FBI officially counts Hispanics as whites. That means that if a Hispanic attacks an Arab, a Jew, an Asian, a black or a homosexual, it's talleyed as another "white" hate crime against those groups. The net result is to inflate the numbers of "white hate crimes" and stigmatize members of the majority culture as people who are hopelessly prone to hatred and hateful behavior.
The reality of racial crime in society is quite different. The reality is that black on white racial crime far exceeds white racial crime against blacks -- despite the fact that whites far outnumber blacks.
. . . the FBI's most recent annual report showed that "most interracial murders involve black assailants and white victims, with blacks murdering whites at 18 times the rate at which whites murder blacks." (Francis, 1997; p. 29)
But this politically incorrect reality doesn't get reported, and it carries no weight with our "hate crime" monitors. Black "hate crime" only exists when it is directed against someone other than whites. Louis Farrakhan isn't considered a hate-monger primarily because he spews venom against the white majority culture. That is perfectly acceptable to many people. He is considered a bigot primarily because he expresses hostility toward another minority group, namely, the Jews.
That double standard infects all of Political Correctness, but in the case of "hate crimes," its bias against the majority culture becomes especially clear. When black teenagers in Georgia murder a newlywed white couple because the pickup truck they borrowed for their honeymoon bore a confederate flag decal, it's considered an ordinary crime. But when a gang of blacks in California beat up an Asian who wandered into their war-zone, it's considered a "hate crime."
The irony of the anti-hate crusade is that it serves as a shield and a sword simultaneously. It not only offers protection to the opponents of the mainstream culture, it also gives them a weapon they can use against their enemy. Therefore people who are part of the mainstream are placed at a double disadvantage. Anything they say or do will be used against them. Anything their enemies say or do will be used against them as well.What's Wrong With Hate Crime?
The answer to "What's wrong with hate crime?" is. . . "everything." It is an offense to the First Amendment and a dangerous exercise in thought control. It aggravates the problem it sets out to solve and creates new problems along the way. It consigns the victims of ordinary crime to a limbo of indifference. It singles out some hatreds for punishment, and ignores or excuses others. It rewards false witness and encourages inflammatory accusations. The list goes on. How many counts of indictment do you need?
But if you want proof, look to Canada. Canadian "hate laws" are more developed than our own, and their enforcement has been more aggressive. What has been the result? A Canadian Jewish commentator provides a candid answer. According to him, the Canadian "hate speech" laws
are proving to be self-defeating. They have certainly not put hatemongers out of business. Incidents of intolerance in Canada have risen with an alarming vengeance since these trials. Canada's failure in this regard, coming as it does from a country noted for its multiculturalism and social tolerance, should serve as a warning to the growing number of Americans who have come to see censorship as an appropriate tool to control racist and sexist hatemongering. (Braun, 1993; p. 44)
"Hate crime" laws are bad policy, based on bad theory, and they have bad results. We know this from watching it happen elsewhere. Others have already tried the remedy, and the report on their experiment is already in. All we have to do is pay attention.
Stefan Braun (1993); "Can Hate Laws Stop Hate Speech?" Moment (August, 1993).
Samuel Francis (1997); "Clinton Blind to Evidence of Real Bigotry," Conservative Chronicle (August, 1997).
Jonathan Rauch (1995); "In Defense of Prejudice: Why Incendiary Speech Must Be Protected," Harper's Magazine (May, 1995).
Jacob Sullum (1994); "Bad Words." Reason (Aug/Sept, 1994).
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