Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Hate Speech vs Peace Speech
When I posted Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama the other day, I mentioned my distaste for the tenor of Mr. McCain's campaign and I used the phrase "hate speech." Dr. John, in a comment, asked me three questions: "what is hate speech," "Is it only hate speech if it's directed at your candidate and not hate speech when directed at the other party," and is calling something hate speech a form of hate speech. I left a response in the comments section, but I've been thinking that this is an important topic and maybe worth trying to discuss at more length.
So, in answer to Dr. John's questions:
I would define hate speech as language and statements designed to feed the fear and divisive feelings in a community or society. Such statements as "he's not like us," particularly coupled with the suggestion that "he hangs around with terrorists," have little purpose other than to stir up fear and the worst aspects of human nature. Declaring that some Americans (McCain voters and small town residents apparently) are pro-America and the rest of us are somehow anti-American is as ugly and incendiary as it is untrue. Such language, such statements have little or no purpose other than to rouse crowds to your side by stirring their meanest passions.
Hate speech is hate speech no matter who it is directed at. I have not heard hate speech come from the Obama campaign. They have not implied that Mrs. Palin or Mr. McCain are unpatriotic, they have not made comments about the people they hang out with, nor have they ever implied that those who are voting for Mr. McCain are lesser Americans or unpatriotic. Are hateful things said by voters in crowds on both sides? Yes. The world has an abundance of nasty people in it. The difference is what the campaigns themselves are doing. Mrs. Palin in particular has stirred and encouraged these feelings by the nature of the campaign she is running. And other than one moment when he was face to face with someone spewing nonsense, Mr. McCain has done little to discourage it.
When Congressman Lewis - a black senator, not part of the Obama campaign - illadvisedly compared the danger of this to the tenor of George Wallace, Mr. Obama and his campaign both immediately stepped up and decried the comparison. Mr. Lewis also apologized. Mr. McCain has not done the same. Given the opportunity of a bully pulpit during the last debate, he chose instead to say how great his supporters are. And most of them probably are. Given the opportunity to tell those among his supporters who are confused that hate and bigotry are not the way, Mr. McCain chose to remain silent. Lighting a fire in the woods and doing nothing to bank it, is a good way to start a forest fire. Sewing the seeds of us and them, pro and anti-American in a time when people are angry and looking for a place to vent their fear is inviting trouble.
I would draw a distinction between hateful statements and hate speech... at least what I mean by it. I think many of us make hateful statements from time to time in the heat of passion. Hate speech in my definition is a conscious and consistent effort to appeal to and fan the flames of the worst in us.
Obviously I don't think that calling something hate speech is itself hate speech or I wouldn't be doing so. If I was meeting hate for hate, that would be hate speech, but I'm not.
I'm believe that the kind of language and comments Mrs. Palin is making fan the flames of distrust and hate which I think is both wrong, ugly, and socially irresponsible. Language has power. I think it is the job of every citizen and every thinking human being to speak up in the face of such things. Had more Germans spoken up sooner in Nazi Germany, perhaps things would not have gone so far. Had the citizens of Rwanda said "no more" as racial hatred was spewed with increasing venom, perhaps the Rwandan holocaust would not have taken place. I don't think America is on the brink of a holocaust, nor am I comparing Mrs. Palin to the Nazis, but we are in a perilous time, the kind of time when toxic speech seems to have extra potency. It is at such times that people are most prone to put their better angels on the shelf and fall prey to "us and them" thinking.
I disagree with pretty much everything about the McCain/Palin ticket, but I don't think they are out to ruin the country. I don't think they are un-American for their beliefs. I don't want to demonize them and likewise don't want them to demonize me for my beliefs, to say or imply that I am less of an American than they are, or to call my candidate names. These are seeds being planted in the soil of our psyche. They will still be there if Mr. Obama wins. At a time when this country needs most to pull together, poisoning the well. Absurd over the top statements like Mr. McCain's suggestion that Acorn (and by his inference Mr. Obama) is perpetrating "one of the greatest frauds of voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy in this country" feed fear and distrust. Mr. McCain has supported Acorn himself. He knows quite well that they are no danger to Democracy. This is fear-mongering and planting the seeds for people to distrust the results of the election should Obama win. This is ugly in it's blatant dishonesty but also in it's disingenuous pouring of poison onto the results of the election and potentially the future presidency. That's one of the reasons I think it is important to discourage it.
So that's what I have to say about hate speech. I probably have a lot more to say but that's where I'm leaving it.
On the other side of the coin from hate speech is the wonderful twice annual Blog Blast for Peace hosted by Mimi at Mimi Writes. Twice a year Mimi asks all of us in the blogosphere to post a banner and add our words and energy to create a massive international prayer for peace. The next event is on November 6th. I hope many, many, many, many of us will put our thoughts to peace and love and post a Dona Nobis Pacem post on the November 6th (two weeks from tomorrow). We can use words to divide or to unite. I know I don't always succeed in using them to unite, but that is my goal. I hope you will all join in on November 6th and share your highest vision for this nation and the world. My banner is at the head of this post and will reappear on the 6th. Please click on the icon below to find out how to get and create your own banner and to sign on for the big day.
Peace be with you, with all of us, now and always.