One never has to look very far to find those who would cast a baleful eye on any group, any minority, any political or religious belief at variance with their own, and accuse that group of being the ones responsible for damaging the fabric of society, and imperiling the nation.
The blame game is a really neat trick if you are dishonest enough to pull it off. It completely absolves you from personal responsibility. No need to examine your own prejudices, attitudes, words or deeds. Freedom from the guilt of a life spent pointing the finger at your neighbor and, for many, a sure and certain knowledge that you are to leave this Earth for Heaven, because you went to Church every Sunday and never stole, or walked on the cracks in the pavement.
There is one particular group, the Westboro Baptist Church, that serves to demonstrate the perversion of a culture that accepts that not only do we have the right to be judgemental, we also have the right to express our views of others with no regard whatsoever to their well-being; or their right to live free from fear and harassment.
"God Hates Fags". If nothing else there is a simplicity to this message that represents merely the end result of a society where many we consider to be Community Leaders spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about, then preaching about, the sex lives of other people. I am not going to even attempt to pick that appalling phrase apart. Not only is it a complete fail simply on the face of it, it hides multiple fail levels, and fail heaped upon fail should you begin to think about the mindset required to believe it is okay to say things like that. Not only do they say them, they prostrate themselves with them. No, I'm not going to examine it, it is simply a cesspool of depravity.
There was a time when I blamed the 1st Amendment for this ability to spew filth and hatred, regardless of the harm it causes. I have modified that view somewhat, because the Constitution is "just a G'damn piece of paper", no more able to control or modify our behaviour towards each other than the Bible, or the Koran. Those words, never actually confirmed to have been said, but widely attributed to President George Bush sound harsh to many, brought up, as they were, to feel that the Constitution was a document designed and written to form a nation, then guide its future.
The words themselves actually contain a degree of insight that I never credited George Bush with possessing, so I lean towards believing that he didn't actually say them. At least not in the way I believe it to be the truth. As we are seeing in decision after decision, the Supreme Court is and has been playing politics with the Constitution in a manner perhaps not seen since Dred Scott. Bad as this may be, it simply serves to demonstrate that the whole of politics is controlled not by a document, but by people. The decisions are influenced by the words, but the personal thoughts and opinions carry more weight. Justice Scalia is quite capable of reversing himself from one case to the next, this is not news.
It's not the written word that permits the outpouring of hatred from the Westboro Baptists or any number of White Supremacist groups, it is our society's propensity to tolerate them. The written word can inform. In some circumstances it can guide the actions of others. What it cannot do is change behavior in a country, and among a people who may find such behaviour repugnant, yet seem to feel that these groups have the right to speak freely. Often my suspicion is that much of the hate is not very far removed from many of the thoughts of those in polite society. Although they might be too refined to utter the words themselves, neither are they minded to actually condemn with positive actions, those of others.
I sometimes wonder how we will ever prevent the youth, in our schools and colleges, parks and playgrounds, from verbally abusing gay, lesbian, black, brown, disabled and any other minority, when the adults tell them we have a right to free speech, and they can see for themselves the Westboro Baptists holding their disgusting placards. When they can see and hear the filth spewed by good, God-fearin' Christians outside Women's Health Clinics. We know they are "God-fearin'", because they tell us so. Apparently the bit about "love thy neighbor" somehow was lost in translation.
Of course it is simply wrong. No one has the right to behave in this manner, even if the laws appear to permit it. There is no such thing as unfettered free speech, we simply haven't fettered the right bits yet. We have not yet matured sufficiently as a society to codify the very simple principle that your rights extend only to the point where they infringe upon the rights of others, and not one inch further. We have reached the point where it is unacceptable to discriminate against some minority groups in housing, employment and a raft of other areas, yet the nuance is missing.
We still allow hate speech, we still allow discrimination against LGBT people in very many areas. We do not recognize those people as citizens with full rights, the pursuit of happiness among them, because we still allow and support the idea that others are free to impinge upon that happiness, and make the lives of others as miserable as they can. We protect that position with the supreme law of the land. We talk about Right to Work as if it is an employment matter. We justify it by suggesting that employers must be flexible, that they might create a maximum number of jobs. We fail to push back against Right to Work with the most powerful argument we have; that Right to Work is effectively a rolling back of a generations of hard-won civil rights. You can't fire workers for being black, or Muslim, or Jewish, but you can fire them, or discriminate in hiring, if you are able to fire for no reason. See what they did there?
The people of the United States generally hold the view that they live in the world's greatest country, and the world's greatest democratic republic. Well I wouldn't argue with the first bit. I think everyone should feel a certain pride in their community and country. I'm torn, because I'm not American and even I feel some pride in your country. I'm far less sure about the second part though.
It is some perverse irony, given the current political landscape, that it was Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, who uttered these words:
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.Yet when I look around the developed world, it seems that the people have fewer advantages here than in most other countries. It seems that America is the one country among a raft of comparable societies that has done the least for its people, yet many of the people think it has done the most.
Pick an area .... Employment rights, Trades Union rights, Pension provision, Sick Leave, Parental leave, ANY leave. Minimum wage, the right to healthcare, Education provision. The right to legal redress and a humane justice system. The rights of minorities, women, gays.
Point to any of those areas and explain how Americans have more rights, or better provision than any European nation .... Even the other North American nation seems to be managing its affairs more equitably.
We are terrific at making laws that jail folk for personal drug use, but the Holocaust Deniers are walking the streets, publishing their Blogs, Tweeting their filth and generally going unhindered about their business. It is curious that a habit that mostly affects only an individual is illegal, and one that seeks to subjugate and torment the lives of others is protected. Something is deeply flawed about that.
We need to be smarter, and I know many of my readers are just that. We need to be smarter as a society. We need to start putting people first, and we could consider that the judgemental behaviour of a large section of our society is not just hampering our development; it is a self-fulfilling prophesy. If we allow the fundamentalists to spread poverty and hatred, then we create whole sections of society that has little of value, and less to value. Then we point to those sectors and complain that they commit most of the crime. At the very same time, we allow others who commit far more serious crimes to appear on Talk Shows, blaming the criminals. It's a sweet system we have going.
There will be those who will tell me that we can't outlaw speech. That the thought police have no place in our country, that we have freedoms! Well if we are going down that road, I will simply respond by saying that the day that "God Hates Fags" on a placard, becomes illegal; then that is a day I will celebrate. Why shouldn't it be illegal? The day that those we elect to be judges begin to deal harshly with the worst expressions of the judgemental is a day that cannot come quickly enough. Not because I want to see any stifling of debate. Not because I would think it a good idea to outlaw different views and opinions, but because the term "Free Speech" carries a responsibility, which is to use your freedoms wisely. They are not an excuse to subjugate others, and we should not be tolerating it.
After I had finished writing this Diary I came across a story that typifies the kind of hate speech that concerns me the most.
In this instance, an anonymous coward calling them selves Artemis of the Woodland has circulated a flyer threatening to "name and shame" people on disability in a Portland neighborhood.
Later I found a Diary on the subject by Cartoon Peril. The whole episode is clearly designed to be hateful, and to intimidate people who are already suffering, because scapegoating is easy, and the disabled are not to be taken to the waters at Lourdes and cured, but shamed.
In that Diary, the commenters were clear that this odious communication probably strayed right up to the line of legality, but stayed the right side. Yet clearly the message was designed to strike fear through intimidation. It is hate speech, pure and simple.
All of this is bad enough, yet could be put down to a single warped individual who should be in jail, but probably won't be found .... Except he might be, by this guy who I found in the Portland personals of Craigslist:
email@example.comThe link might not stay up, so I copied the message here. Whoever this person is, he (and it is almost always a "he"), heard of the story and wishes to expand on the domestic terrorism represented by this nasty campaign of hatred.
flag [?] : miscategorized prohibited spam best of
Posted: 2013-08-10, 2:13AM PDT
Artemis of the Wildland
Looks like you're under some scrutiny. But I see what you're trying to do, and I like the creative problem solving.
We should talk, we would make good associates.
It might be that the law simply can't make the definition. It's like pornography ... I can't describe it but I know it when I see it. If that is correct, then maybe we should have a broad law that criminalizes hate speech, and we can let the courts "know it when they see it", and set the boundaries accordingly.
If we fail to act decisively, to protect those who we know are vulnerable, and who are being targeted for intimidation, then I am wholly unsure why those people should not simply believe that we as a society support this kind of abuse.
10:37 AM PT: Before there are many more comments about "loving" the 1st Amendment, I would like to remind the demographic of this Blog of a few pertinent issues.
This is NOT an academic argument. These points, as they relate to hate speech, are not an arcane discussion about rights and freedoms.
I don't know where you all live, but in areas of America where the hate is palpable, these are real problems, for real people. The hate and bullying are real, they affect real lives.
Not outlawing any speech might satisfy your inner liberal, but it does not help when we signally fail to send a powerful message to those who use their "rights" to bully, harass and subjugate.