First of all, what is hate speech? We all recognise the most obvious form of hate speech – speech that explicitly expresses hatred. “I hate all you [insert slur here]” is hate speech.
For the purpose of this discussion at least, I include in the definition of hate speech the sort of talk one might see out of the Alt Right. It’s the sort of speech where, “We don’t hate them. We simply recognise that they are different. Members of this one group are not interchangeable with members of this other group.” You know, together but unequal.
I’m targeting this type of speech because strictly speaking, no, they do not “hate” the group and are not expressing that through their speech. However, they are indicating that the groups are not equal. “Asians are smarter than whites, who are smarter than blacks. It’s just an observation, guys.” See? They aren’t even claiming racial superiority – they recognise that other races have whites beat in different areas.
This sort of speech, even blatant hate speech, has protection under the First Amendment, and that freedom of speech is integral to our democratic processes. I am not here to argue that.
What I am here to argue is the accountability aspect of this.
Let’s say you are the sort of person who holds a view like this to be true. Blacks are stronger, whites are smarter, women are more nurturing – whatever. You do not “hate” that group of people, you just believe that as a group this is true of them. In all likelihood, you hate “PC culture” and the liberals who engage in “identity politics” to push back on those observations. No hate, just an observation.
Actually – real quick, these observations are bulls***. They are hasty generalisations reinforced by various cognitive biases and social expectation. Even where one thing is more generally true of one group than another, there is no fundamental reason why that needs to be true. Anyone can be brilliant. Anyone can be dim. Anyone can be strong. Anyone can be weak. It depends on the metric used and the situation assessed, it also depends on the chance one is willing to afford that person based on social expectation. But we’ll save that for another conversation.
What I want to focus on here is that through these “observations,” one reinforces the idea that one person is more or less something because of their membership in some group; membership they did not choose for themselves. Sure, not every member of the group is that thing or behaves that way, one simply observes that statistically, however vaguely applied that term may be, that person is more likely to be that thing or behave that way.
It reinforces prejudices and social expectations. Worse yet, when one deems something to be true in a general sense of the group, any demonstration of that thing by an individual who belongs to that group gets attributed to the entire group.
Example? Illegal immigrants are murderers and rapists. Last year, authorities attributed around 400 homicides to illegal immigrants. That’s too high a number as obviously we don’t want anyone murdered, but out of the total number of illegal immigrants? It’s a pittance. Compared with the total number of homicides, or the percentage of legal residents guilty of homicide in the last year? It’s laughably uneven.
But if a single illegal immigrant commits a murder, that gets attributed to all illegal immigrants in this narrative that they are violent murderers and rapists invading our country.
A white male commits a brutal murder – that’s the individual. White males are not that way (and that’s true – the vast majority of white males are not committing horrible offences, many, like many Americans overall, are upstanding citizens).
This is not to suggest that we should be generalising these sorts of offences to whites or men or white men instead of the other group – it’s that no such generalisation should occur. The proportion of the group, itself a baseless metric in most cases, guilty of a thing is so small that it becomes statistically irrelevant.
Another way of saying this: correlation does not equal causation. If white males are responsible for most occurrences of domestic terrorism, one should examine if their whiteness has any bearing on it. Even if 100% of incidents were attributable to members of this group, it may have nothing to do with their being from that group.
In many cases, it seems to me, the perpetrators share some link but it’s not membership to some group. If anything, it involves the cross-section of membership to multiple groups – they come from a background that yields the same motivation to commit the act. In some cases, that motivation is societal pressure to conform to expectations of their group.
You know, like when feminists talk about toxic masculinity and then men say, “Of course that guy snapped. Do you know how tough it is to be a man in this society?” You’re talking about the same thing. He’s not violent because he’s a man; he’s violent because society has been telling him what a man is until he became violently frustrated by the pressure of trying to confirm to that.
And that is the point of accountability with this broader form of hate speech.
Yes, perhaps you do not hate members of these various groups. You simply think membership in that group is somehow important and members of the group should look after their own interests. The other groups won’t – they have their interests.
That tribalism puts up walls between members of the groups. It sets expectations about how members of groups should behave, both as a member of said group and in their interaction with other groups.
It’s the sort of talk that radicalises people.
You don’t hate women. You just think men and women are different. They have different natural strengths and should fill certain roles in society.
Boom – incels.
You don’t hate blacks or immigrants from “brown countries”, you just think their presence is erasing your white identity and European ancestry.
Boom – neo-Nazis.
I do actually hear you when you say, “I’m not a sexist” or “I’m not a racist.” What I’m asking you to hear is that your talk is responsible for creating individuals who are. You are tapping into the neuroses and violent emotions of folks who now see an outlet for all of their frustration. You are shouting “Fire” in a crowded theatre and then claiming it’s the responsibility of the individual to check for actual smoke or fire.
Are people equal? No, and they never will be. But that inequality always has and always will exist at an individual level, not at a group level. Nothing is true of every member of a group except for the single thing that defines that group.
What do all Africans have in common? They have ancestry that traces to continental Africa. Same is true for Europeans and continental Europe. End of story – anything beyond that is a crappy generalisation.
“No true Scotsman” – you know what defines a true Scotsman? Being a man born in or naturalised to Scotland. “Must love haggis and golf,” – nope, you’ve already crossed the line in generalisation. You are now in the intersection of Scotsmen who also love haggis and golf. Some Scotsmen like one or the other. Some hate both. Still Scotsmen.
And as time progresses, the lines blur with many of these groups. What does it mean to be white or black? You think at this point in history many family trees haven’t crossed “racial” lines at some point? I say “racial” with quotes because the entire concept is phrenological nonsense. There’s a cultural basis to ethnicity, but race is perhaps the single most stupid invention in history.
So legally you are entitled to your speech. Personally I do not think it should be stopped in any way. If you want to go to a college campus and speak about a Zionist conspiracy, legally nothing should happen. Socially something should happen though, and not because of some liberal concern that you are going to recruit people to your ideology. Events like this attract two types: fervent supporters and avid opposition – no one is there for persuasion. Something should happen because of the very real consequence that the speech will radicalise someone to take violent action.
It’s a veil of pseudo-intellectualism, spouting phrenological generalisations about entire groups of people to support a personal sense of helplessness and insecurity.