The politics of hate

You can say that you hate a particular type of food, or a style of art, or a political philosophy, or a type of cruel or wicked behaviour, and in general this will be socially acceptable, though obviously other people are entitled to disagree with your view.

But if you say that you hate a particular human being or a group of people personally, you had better have a very good reason indeed, or this will say something far worse about you than about the object of your hatred. Even if you have such a good reason it is more likely to be taken as an excuse rather than a justification unless the objects of your hostility are themselves very obviously worthy of it - if they are nazis or murderers, for instance.

Two blog posts about hate - and the reaction to them - rather illustrate how most people usually don't think hate a good thing, but others are frighteningly quick to resort to or defend it.

This week Dan Hannan MEP wrote a blog post in the Telegraph about the sort of hatred some people on the left display for anyone right of centre. His article, There are some forms of hate speech that lefties openly applaud  is illustrated by a picture of  a T-shirt with the logo "I still hate Thatcher." It refers to the paradox that you can be prosecuted for referring to a religious or racial group in the language that some people use for their political opponents. He cites three comments posted on the Guardian website:

"Jeez, have you even met any ******? They're like a cross between Fagin & Goebbels."
"I have always found ****** to be nasty, selfish, lying, despicable, evil, grasping, ignorant, duplicitous wastes of oxygen."
"****** are extremist scum. End of story."

If the word which I have represented by asterisks had been a description of an ethnic group, anyone who posted this would be labelled a racist and be in serious danger of prosecution. Dan made the point that if the asterisks had represented the word "Muslims" the negative reaction, including on the left, would be nearly as strong. This too could have meant prosecution under a particularly bad piece of legislation put forward by the last Labour government.

In all candour, if Dan had not gone on to explain which group of human beings was being attacked, I hope and think I would have still said that all three comments and particularly the essence of the third charge - extremist - were more likely to be true of the individuals who posted them than of whatever target they were posted about, whoever that target was. Though of course, the posters might merely be extremely rude and thoughtless people.

What was actually posted had the word "Tories" where the above quotes have the asterisks.

Dan suggested that a certain type of leftie is particularly prone to hating their opponents. His argument was immediately undermined by the comments posted on his article, presumably by right-wingers (unless someone with a perverse sense of humour was having a laugh, which I would not entirely rule out). Said comments were almost as vituperative about left-wingers as the quotes  which he was discussing had been about right-wingers.

Ironically, there was much more evidence for Dan's position in the comments posted on an article written a year ago in Salon magazine by an American Democrat, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, which was entitled  I can't believe my best friend is a Republican. Ms Brodesser-Akner's piece was a celebration of how you can like someone, enjoy their company and learn from them despite very vigorously disagreeing with almost everything they believe in. The article was a powerful and amusing celebration of political diversity and some of those who posted comments got it.

However, a depressing number of comments posted on the article attacked both Ms Brodesser-Akner's friend as one of the people who were supposedly destroying their country, and the author herself for being a traitor to Democrats and Liberals by being friends with her. These comments were pretty much the US equivalent of the sort of hate speech against Conservatives which Dan Hannan was blogging about.

Democracy depends on a diversity of opinions to function and the fact that we don't always see things the same way as other people is a good thing rather than the reverse.

Whether it is Nye Bevan describing the Conservative party as "lower than vermin" or someone on the right giving way to equally poisonous comments about the left, it doesn't make us better human beings and it doesn't help the political debate move forward in any constructive way when the language of political hatred goes over the top.

It definately isn't the answer to make expressions of political hatred subject to criminal prosecution - the legal system has quite enough to do catching murderers, rapists, burglars and metal thieves. But perhaps such expressions are something which everyone with an interest in politics ought to do more to discourage. Particularly when it comes from people on our own side of the political fence.


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