by JL Wall

Apparently the irony in the title of this brief post — “Round Up Hate-Promoters Now, Before Any More Holocaust Museum Attacks” — is lost on its author (h/t Jack Hunter). The logic of “Isn’t it time we started rounding up promoters of hate before they kill?” is exceptionally flawed and exceptionally dangerous. (I’m fairly certain that if you replace a few words, you have the soundbite version of justifications used in the past by people with intentions less-than-innocent.)

That final line reveals a belief that hatred of a person or a group will inevitably lead to violence taken against them. (At least, for reasons which will be made clear later, I hope that this is the belief it reveals.) It is, in its way, analogous to some of the rhetorical defenses we have seen employed by torture apologists. And, as in those instances, it is simply wrong. For it to be true, every person who has ever experienced hatred toward a person or a group must have at least attempted (or, for the sake of widening the scenario, prepared to attempt) some action against that person or group. I think it safe to declare that there have been instances of bigots, racists, and hate-speech peddlers who have not acted on those opinions and feelings with intent to do harm. (If you have contrary evidence, by all means, present it.)

But what about the desire to harm to another on account of hatred? The more we broaden the language — the wider we make the net — the more we’re going to implicate. It would make sense, after all, for hatred to correlate to a hire desire to do harm to another. But if I experience an urge to break the law but do not act upon it, I haven’t broken the law. Except, apparently, in the case of racial, religious, ethnic etc. hatred against another.

To treat hatred itself or its expression in thought or word,* as the equivalent of physical violence or any other deed taken against the object of that hatred, is to conflate thought with deed. Conflation of the desire with the deed is little better, but the expectation that they ought to be treated the same is perhaps symptomatic of a flawed understanding within our culture that they are not the same.

We can praise intentions even when the deed goes awry, and this is at times a mitigating consideration, but even that word — mitigating — denotes a distinction between the two, that they are not equivalent. And it is not always mitigating to have intended good when the deed and/or its results are harmful. But intention and desire are both easier than deed. And so we begin to see a culture in which the distinction between sport and spectatorship and sport and the videogame “equivalent” give way; in which one can take pride in the upkeep of a home or yard that one pays another to keep up; and, perhaps most importantly, in which one can claim to hold a set of beliefs without the expectation that one live by them: the talk-radio host who lashes out a drug users while abusing drugs himself, the pro-choice politician who claims that abortion is a moral wrong but sees no need to work to reduce their frequency, the religious man or woman who cheats their customers or on their spouse. (Perhaps also symptomatic of the present incarnation of this manner of belief is the “easy,” feel-good religishness that tends to be labeled Moral Therapeutic Deism.)

In all of which, the intention and the desire more than make up for the failure of deed: some people, after all, are weak-willed and we would be judgmental to judge them for failing to enact those beliefs. To treat everyone fairly, we must obliterate the distinction between desire/intent/belief and deed.

And so we reach the point at which we need criminalize and round up those who hate, because their hatred — spoken or unspoken — is indistinguishable from acting out against the object(s) of that hatred.

*Here, I’m distinguishing “I hate Jews” from “Hey, kike!” Whether the latter is worthy of criminalization is a slightly different debate. (To which my answer is no.)