What in Hell Is Hate Speech?

If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us. —Hermann Hesse
We say it all the time: the leftist media is inciting violence and hate by calling everybody a racist and a white supremacist. —Candace Owens
All morons hate it when you call them a moron. —Holden Caulfield

     In recent years people have protested against hate speech, sometimes against plain old “hate” in general, sometimes while shrieking in hysteria, as though it were a new fashion trend. This happens both in “real life” and in the virtual reality of cyberspace. Not only self-proclaimed Nazis, white supremacists, and trollish provocateurs, but also people like Dr. Charles Murray, Dr. Jordan Peterson, and of course Mr. Donald Trump have been condemned repeatedly, and frenziedly rioted against, for allegedly spewing hate in public.

     But what exactly is the nature of this hate, or this hate speech, which elicits such outraged attempts to silence it? I suppose a good start would be to consult my dictionary’s definition of “hate speech,” which is as follows:

hate speech, noun: abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group, especially on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation: we don’t tolerate any form of hate speech | international conventions banning hate speech.

That is from the New Oxford American Dictionary, third edition. I also have a copy of the Houghton Mifflin College Dictionary published in 1986, and the term “hate speech” is not to be found in it. Apparently way back in 1986 hate speech was not yet a “thing.” Even “hate crime” is absent, which demonstrates the backwardness of 20th-century lexicographers.

     Considering the first three words of the Oxford definition, actual hate speech would have to be abusive or threatening. This could be interpreted to mean that the speaker or writer of hate speech would have to have the deliberate intention of abusing or threatening someone or some group of people, but that is apparently not the case at all. Even if the speaker or writer has no abusive or threatening intentions, so long as at least one person (what sort of person will be discussed later) feels abused or threatened, that person is the victim of the hate speech of the speaker. Consequently, at a practical level hate speech does not require any actual hatred in order for it to be uttered. Hate speech evidently has been interpreted to mean that it exists so long as someone feels threatened by a statement, even if she feels threatened by statements considered to be plain, objective truth by the speaker, and calmly stated as such.

     As a Buddhist, and also as an American citizen who values freedom of thought and expression, I find such a definition hard to accept. How can hate speech have nothing to do, potentially, with hate? From the perspective of Buddhist ethics in particular, the moral quality of a person’s actions depends upon that person’s intentions, their cetanā. So a more Buddhist, and perhaps more sane, definition of “hate speech” would be something like “speech motivated by hatred.” Maybe the definition could be broadened somewhat to include speech that isn’t itself motivated by hatred, but nonetheless is intended to incite it in others. But if so, then the three fellows I just mentioned are mostly or even completely off the hook, as they do not appear to be motivated by hate, or for a desire for hate in others.

     President Trump’s alleged hate speech seems mostly to be symptomatic of a sort of brash, callous indifference to tact. Mr. Trump simply calls them as he sees them. Jordan Peterson may occasionally be motivated by righteous indignation against what he (and I also) considers to be a new sociopolitical system that is thoroughly dystopian; so in his case his motivation may be tinged with a little hatred of an idea, or at least some irritation at it—but not any personal hatred of a human being. As for Charles Murray, I fail to see how the man is motivated by hatred at all; he is a very mild-mannered and gentlemanly guy, is more or less of a Quaker who also has stated a deep affinity for Buddhism, and simply is fearless enough to discuss empirical facts that contradict the aforementioned dystopian system’s central dogmas.

     It is fairly obvious that in many cases a person simply stating his or her honest opinion is condemned and persecuted for hate speech; and if we do not have the right to express our honest opinions, then free speech is essentially dead. It seems to me that the bottom line for freedom of speech would be that people must be allowed to express their honest opinions, even if others—so-called “snowflakes”—feel threatened or offended by those opinions. As has been observed plenty of times before, there would be no need at all for a Constitutional guarantee for everyone to say what is agreeable to everyone else. Why on earth would we need the US Constitution to allow us to say nice things that everyone likes? Seriously.

     Furthermore, it is plainly obvious to me that many or even most of the people raging against hate, sometimes with hysterical howls of “Fuck y-o-u!!!” are more motivated by hatred than are the people against whom they are raging. Again, going with a more or less Buddhist ethic, assuming that hate speech is speech motivated by hate, then it would be rather along the same lines as lying, which latter requires the deliberate intention on the part of the speaker actually to deceive someone. One cannot lie accidentally. For a person merely to say something that isn’t true does not necessarily imply that the person is a liar; a kid who gets a test question wrong at school is not punished for lying, even though he is penalized for writing down an incorrect, non-factual answer. Similarly, many of President Trump’s frequent careless inaccuracies and exaggerations are not technically lies, even though they may be called lies by people who hate President Trump. I remember not long ago Mr. Trump announcing that he was offering to some young athletes a pile of hamburgers “a mile high,” and the anti-Trump media immediately went to work fact checking the statement, estimating the average thickness of each burger and calculating the potential height of the stack if they were piled one on top of the other.

     Theft also would be an example of this sort of ethical situation: one cannot steal something accidentally, at least not from a Buddhist perspective. One must have the deliberate intention to deprive someone else of their property. So a kid taking the wrong jacket, or the wrong bicycle, mistakenly believing it to be his own because he didn’t examine it carefully enough, is not a thief. Yet somehow hate speech is occasionally attributed to people less hateful than the people sanctimoniously accusing them. The implication seems to be that hate speech has nothing necessarily to do with hate in the speaker, or what may be more likely, that the people who hate hate speech believe they know the minds and the hidden motives of the people making the allegedly hateful statements. They can dismiss their own hatred, which in their view is “correct” and justified, and attribute hate to the minds of people they don’t know—they appear to know the minds of others better than they know their own, which is just absurd.

an anti-hate rioter bashing a conservative with a NO HATE shield used as a weapon

     When an anti-hate protester on a college campus or a city street is screaming “Fuck you” with a face empurpled with rage, that is pretty obviously hate speech, yet Charles Murray quoting statistics regarding, say, IQ scores of different ethnicities, or measured psychological differences between the two biological sexes, in a very calm, unemotional, rational manner, is perpetrating a hateful outrage that must be stopped. He should be silenced, by hysterical violence if necessary.

     The key to really understanding this whole issue is the observation that a person’s favored ideology is a major factor in determining whether one’s words are hate speech or not: If one is a progressive calling for violence against a non-progressive, or calling for their social and professional ruin, then that is not hate speech, supposedly, even if some conservative types really feel threatened—who gives a damn about what conservatives feel or think! Even to offend or threaten a black conservative, or an obese autistic Hispanic lesbian conservative (if such a person exists), is evidently acceptable to progressive activists opposing hate speech, because victim groups are not the primary issue—ideology is the primary issue. Progressives may turn against their own if one steps out of line and utters something heretical, but even that is outrage against ideological heresy, not against hate.

     Hating conservatives, or hating the President of the United States, or hating police officers or immigration officials or whomever, is considered to be fine by many on the new radical left; whereas a non-progressive saying something non-progressive or otherwise politically incorrect is pretty much de facto guilty of hate speech, regardless of his or her motives, and regardless even of context—even quoting the word “nigger,” even saying that someone else said it, or reading Huckleberry Finn out loud, somehow involves hate (unless maybe a black person says it), and therefore the person should be hated and attacked, at least by an outrage mob on Twitter.

     One thing to consider is that the new radical left is essentially a cult, or at least has adopted a very cultish mentality. Progressivism has become a kind of atheistic religion, much as Marxism 1.0 before it was oftentimes referred to as a materialistic religious movement replacing God with an all-controlling socialized government, and the Kingdom of Heaven with a Marxist utopia. And one peculiar symptom of such a cult mentality is the eagerness to demonize and attribute sinister motives to nonbelievers. From a leftist point of view, anyone spouting non-leftist ideas must be a bad person deliberately spreading lies, not an honest, mild-mannered person who simply entertains a differing set of opinions and value judgements. I am reminded of the Book of Mormon, in which all non-Mormons are portrayed as depraved sinners who deliberately reject what they know to be true. Thus, from this kind of thinking (I almost wrote “reasoning”), a non-leftist who advocates non-leftist ideas must be motivated by hate. Therefore, everything they say is automatically hate speech.

     The foregoing considerations provide us with enough information to answer the title question with a fair amount of confidence. What is hate speech? Hate speech is nothing more and nothing less than any speech which progressive leftists hate—that’s really all there is to it. So long as the radical left has the ability to control the social narrative and the cultural value system, then they will stack the deck in their own favor like this as much as they can. If leftists themselves are motivated by hate, or inciting hate against a designated outgroup, then no matter. If conservatives feel threatened, then maybe that’s even a good thing.

     It all boils down to the degenerate form the new left’s “moral high ground” has assumed: the one moral commandment left standing is, Thou shalt not offend a leftist. There it is, and hallelujah.


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