07. January 2007 · Comments Off on Thought-crime · Categories: Ain't That America?, Cry Wolf, General, Good God, Pajama Game, Politics

I was never, even in my convinced feminist phase, much of a fan of hate crime legislation. Tacking on extra special super-duper penalties for a particular motivation in committing a crime against a person or property seemed… well, superfluous. Defacing someone’s property, lynching someone, harassing phone calls; most of the stuff of which hate crimes are made is already illegal anyway, with pretty hefty penalties already attached upon conviction.

But on the other hand, I could understand how the persons and communities against whom such crimes were routinely directed were pretty generally directed could feel particularly threatened, and could honestly feel that such legislation could provide a modicum of protection. Many of the crimes typically reported as being “hate crimes” were pretty vile, as well as being very widely reported. I could understand those fears; as a feminist woman, and member of one of those classes against hate crimes could theoretically be committed. Personally, though, the existence of misogynist comedians and the whole so-called patriarchal establishment dedicated to keeping women down so lavishly documented in MS Magazine just didn’t cause me a moment of worry. I just figured that being a bigot of whatever persuasion was punishment in itself. Ignorance and bad manners wasn’t something that could, or ought to be legislated against.

I could also understand and sympathize with legislators who passed hate-crime legislation. They run for office, and it must be extraordinarily difficult to look into the eyes of constituents who are frightened and beleaguered and tell them “no”. At the very least, our solons need to be seen as doing “something”. The same for community organizations, and local media outlets; the case against hate crime legislation was made, if it was made at all, almost apologetically. No one wanted much to be seen as being in favor of bigots and racists, misogyny and homophobia, which is pretty much where you must be if you were against such a worthy cause.

But always niggled in the back of my mind, that what hate-crime penalties were actually against was thought-crime, in an almost Orwellian sense. Being able to determine a clear motivation for a crime in a court of law might turn out to be pretty dicey at best, but adding on another penalty for one particular motivation for a crime, and only that motivation? And that worried me at the time: as loathsome as bigotry, etc. all is, everything I had ever learned in civics classes, and everything I had ever been told about intellectual freedoms specifically emphasized the rights of other people to have loathsome thoughts, and their right to be tacky and bigoted and ignorant. No less a set of righteous do-gooding busy-bodies than the ALCU had upheld the right of neo-Nazis to demonstrate their tacky, bigoted, ignorant thoughts, and their appalling bad manners as well. It seemed to me that in allowing one set of thoughts to be deemed “bad” and punished over and above the penalties for commission of a crime, that for the best of motivations we had taken a step forward onto a very slippery slope.

The capability of criminalizing certain thoughts and opinions was a sting in the tail of hate-crime laws, and it seemed as if it flowed seamlessly into another angle of the slippery slope. To be fair, that particular angle had been running for a long time, since early 1970s (or even before) and that was the propensity for honest discussions about race, class, man-woman relationships, religion or anything else liable to elicit strongly felt opinions to be cut off in a heartbeat by accusations of various “’isms”. Curious, intellectually engaged and well-meaning people only need to be called a “racist” or a “man-hater”, a “warmonger” or an “islamophobe” a couple of times to learn that there are some topics that are untouchable, unless you have a hide as thick as a rhinoceros. So over the last couple of decades, a lot of necessary discussions haven’t taken place, for the “’ism” club is ever-present and those who wield it ever-vigilant. So it made middle-class dinner parties ever duller, and higher education a perfect sink of political correctitude; it’s only social pressure, after all.

Legislation, though; as with hate-crimes, it’s something else, especially when it is painted as a resolution against “religious intolerance”; so innocuous, so well-meant! Who could be in favor of religious intolerance, of disrespect to anyone’s “holy book” and of demonstrating bigotry and intolerance against any other religion? So it’s only a resolution, a statement of intent… but still… what was that, about the paving material of the main route to the infernal regions? And that a faith needs to have the force of legislation behind it says something uncomfortable about both the faith and the civil authority. In several European countries, and in Australia there have been civil cases brought against critics of that religion, the name of which Rep. Conyers is so assiduous in reminding us means “submission” and “peace”. Probably a lot of people thought it would be a good thing to not denigrate religion, and it would be a nice gesture to make legislation making it so.

Two— no, three words: “Thoughtcrime”. “Slippery Slope”.

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