Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Totalitarianism, Hate Speech and Social Disintegration

In totalitarian Stalinist USSR, criticism of the regime was not tolerated. It represented a threat to the communist revolution and would be addressed with violence or a permanent stay the Gulag. In a sense, criticism of the regime was regarded as “hate speech.”

Remarkably, our re-definition of “hate speech” has a strong totalitarian fragrance. According to Wikipedia:

  • In law, hate speech [now] is any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is forbidden because it may incite violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group. The law may identify a protected individual or a protected group by race, gender, ethnicity, disability, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other characteristic.
Stalin might have gladly used this definition to justify his prohibition of free speech. After all, criticism – “hate speech” - threatened the welfare of all the citizens of the USSR and certainly would “incite violence.”

Interestingly, absent from Wikipedia’s modern re-definition are the elements that we had previously associated with hate. Here’s how Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines “hate”:

  • “An intense hostility or aversion usually derived from fear…extreme dislike or antipathy…loathing…”
The Wikipedia understanding means that if you express your legitimate concerns - loving concerns - about an action of a “protected individual or group,” you can find yourself in hot legal water if they claim that you had offended them. It doesn’t matter at all if you had been motivated by love for the “protected individual.” It might not even matter it you in fact offended the “protected individual.” If they simply say you offended them, you can be charged with a “hate crime.” Even if you make an innocent off-color joke, you can find your job threatened.

Consequently, joking with a “protected individual” can land you a lawsuit. Even an inquiry can create offense – “any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display [which may] incite violence.”

The law is now being construed to protect the ones who least need it – the ones most prone to act-out with violence. The lesson: demonstrate that you are willing to act outrageously and the law will now coddle you and enable you to be rewarded for anti-social, violent behavior!

Clearly, this will not create a better society. Instead, it creates imbalance, social disparities, and alienation and concentrates power in the hands of the “protected individual or group” – any bully who wants to claim that he has been offended.

This is not to say that certain forms of discrimination shouldn’t be proscribed. For instance, we shouldn’t tolerate racial discrimination in hiring or housing. Such “intolerance” doesn’t come with a high price tag – a sacrifice of needful individual liberties. Instead, we, as a society, have everything to gain by legislating against racial intolerance.

However, passing laws against “any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display [which may] incite violence” is an entirely different matter. Instead of protecting human beings, these laws are designed to protect behaviors and lifestyles, and their cost is astronomical – a significant move towards totalitarianism and the institution of secularly- favored behaviors and speech, in effect, a State-supported religion, promoting certain values and speech and forbidding others. While the law should criminalize racial intolerance, it shouldn’t allow the “protected individual” to throw loud and disruptive parties every night, such that anyone who protests against them is charged with “hate speech” and “inciting violence.” Race and behavior should not be equated!

There is little difference between what is happening here and the blasphemy laws in Muslim nations, where no criticism of Islam is tolerated. Islam is the “protected group.” Islam therefore controls the media, the universities, influential jobs and the government.

Oddly, some of these same nations hope to meld a common national identity – a common glue - among their citizens. The moderate Islamic nation of Malaysia is one of them. However, some years ago, a study conducted by the University of Malaysia found that Muslims, Christians and Hindus students hardly associated.

Ironically, they were surprised by their finding. Clearly, the favored status of Islam had created deep divisions, penetrating into the core of interpersonal relationships. After all, who wants to risk a friendship with someone who has a favored status and has the power to accuse you of “blasphemy” and have you thrown into jail. And what “protected individual” will condescend to associate with one beneath his social status? Besides, ones legally-assigned social position largely determines ones worldview and a greatly attenuates the possible areas of common understanding. Such disparities can only lead to social disintegration.

Western “blasphemy laws” do the same by conferring greater power and privileges on certain “protected individuals or groups.” The creation of inequality bodes poorly for our future.

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