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.


Carletta said...

Well thought out post Raven!

I'm off to check out BlogBlast.

Dr.John said...

Thank you for a very clear statement of where you stand.

Unknown said...

I love that you thought so much about his questions and took the time to articulate your answer so fully. That's why I love you!

Dianne said...

that's pretty much why I love you too!

I'm a wee bit cranky over this stuff at the moment. And have a very low tolerance level for it.

I have to constantly catch myself from saying hateful things (NOT hate speech) and respond with humor or kindness.

I am so ready for election day.

Anonymous said...

Raven, I appreciate your thoughtfulness. I would not have had the patience to make the dispassionate distinctions you make in your post.

As we have witnessed time and again, when a group of people is depicted as less than human or relegated to the category of “other”, all kinds of ethical boundaries evaporate. When people become things, any transgression can be justified.

I am encouraged to see the weariness that many are expressing with the agenda of division and fear.

And thank you for having the heart and the fortitude to moderate this discussion.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this well-thought out and well-articulated essay, Raven. You've spoken in such details things that are important to be said and shared. For a long time it has bothered me how the extremist faction of evangelicals has taken over the term "Christian" practically to the exclusion of the "ordinary garden-variety" denominations. Now I fear they are doing the same with the term "American," using inflammatory, divisive speech as their main tool. That is one of the reasons why I feel Obama is such an important candidate, with his message of unity.

Anonymous said...

I have never for one moment forgotten the temper-tantrum Bush threw on television when the results of the 2000 campaign were in question. He said if Gore won, it had to be because of election tampering. Ugly words. Why is it the winner never questions the results when they're in his (her) favor?

Raven said...

carletta - thanks. Hope you participate in the blog blast. It's a pretty impressive event.

dr. john - you are welcome.

kim - aw, shucks... thank you.

dianne - thanks... aw... I like your new picture. I'm having a hard time not feeling cranky myself. Lies and hate speech are hard for me to tolerate without getting very cranky.

anna - it does give me hope that much of the hate speech seems not to be sticking. Would that some of the other lies were faring as badly.

deborah - Oh, boy, I agree. What the Christian right defines as Christianity is so far from what I understand the words of Jesus to mean that it is stunning. I hope this pro and anti-American ugliness doesn't take hold. McCain and Palin have a lot to answer for whether they win or lose.

quilly - oh, no... don't get me started on the Bush "wins." There is pretty ample evidence that both Bush elections were fixed. His temper tantrum was the tantrum of someone who expected his theft to go unchallenged as it did the next time. In each election, he virtually telegraphed that it was rigged. He called the press in early on the evening of the second election to tell them with this smug look on his face that he would win. I hope the Republicans don't steal this one. I don't think Obama and Biden will cave as easily as the others.

Mimi Lenox said...

I applaud your dissertation on the subject of hate speech. It really does boil down to an "us or them" mentality, doesn't it? Brava for this articulate article. So glad you are with us on November 6th. I can absolutely begin to feel the passion out there.

Thank you for promoting and helping to get the word out.

Peace and love,

P.S. I have added you to the scrolling list in my sidebar!

storyteller said...

Amen … may we mindfully remember that giving and receiving are the same … and what we do to others, we do to ourselves … for we are all one … sharing this small planet.
Hugs and blessings,

sgreerpitt said...

I'm tickled that your peace globe link on Mimi's blog sent me to this post instead of to today's (11/6 -- although I read that as well and liked it). This is such a good, clear statement on the subject of hate speech. Ought to be required reading.

My reaction to McCain's concession speech (and the interruptions he had to deal with) was the thought from Hosea 8 "They sow wind, and they shall reap whirlwind."