Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Hate speech I: Introduction and general discussion

with 5 comments

Preamble: This started with the intention of writing one post, analyzing alleged examples of hate speech. However, with a continual wish for some additional point of explanation here-and-there, the text (and time consumption…) eventually grew out of hand, while the general/introductory part moved far beyond the original intentions. Correspondingly, the overall text was eventually broken into three parts, dealing with respectively the more general matter (here), the “Israeli” examples, and the “Tea-Party” examples. I have also tried to put the breaks on the general part, in order to diminish further growth; and I have not reworked it to the degree that might have been beneficial for a stand-alone document. Note that the belated division can have caused some undiscovered complications with optimal placement of text, internal references, or similar.

Even before the recent obsession with “Internet hate”, “hate speech”, whatnot, I had seen many, many cases of accusations of hate, sexism, racism, and various other “isms” that were entirely unfounded (and a small minority that were not)—often leaving the impression of deliberate attempts to artificially discredit opponents. (See also a number of older texts, including the more general discussions in e.g. [1], [2], [3].) Correspondingly, I have been skeptical to this obsession from the start; especially, since there has been no reason to expect a so fast and drastic change in the behavior of the alleged haters, and since a gradual intensification of the misbehavior of the accusers seems more likely a priori—in particular, as they have seen success after success when applying this type of attack in the past.

This skepticism has been increased by alleged instances normally being reported entirely without examples*—and by the few examples that do occur often being highly unconvincing (as in [4]).

*I.e. X claims that Y has engaged in hate speech, used “hate filled” expressions, made sexist/racist/whatnot statements—but does not provide one sliver of proof. We are apparently supposed to just take X’s claim as truth, which is an absolute absurdity in light of the many historical abuses. I am usually moved to the opposite conclusion: X has not provided evidence—because there is no convincing evidence to provide.

I decided to do a brief Internet search to find some more explicit examples of alleged “hate speech”, in order to indirectly probe the potential scope of the problem and whether drastic counter-measures like censorship or legal persecution might be legitimate (outside of rare exceptional cases). I soon found two* pages containing a total of 34** alleged cases, relating to Israel/Jews/Zionists resp. the “Tea Party”. These examples (discussed below) stem from collectors that are clearly hostile to these groups and who have had the opportunity to hand-pick the worst of the worst (in the former case, going back as far as 1895). In other words, it can be reasonably assumed that the examples fall solidly and unmistakably within what the collectors consider hate speech—not being border-line cases, mere filler to puff out a list of more serious utterances, or something that they would be afraid to include as “evidence” in e.g. a news paper.

*The restriction to two sources is a methodological weakness, and my conclusions would be stronger with a wider variety. However, (a) there are limits to even my time, (b) both sources have an approach very similar to what I have seen in the past, which lessens my concern. The “Israeli” source actually includes more valid examples than I am used to seeing.

**With some reservations for the exact division of cases. Consider the complication around 9, 9a, and 13 among the “Israeli” examples, and possible other deviations from a sensible division.

Correspondingly, these examples give an opportunity to find an upper* estimate of the bar for what passes** as hate speech.

*The real bar could conceivable be considerably lower.

**Note that the purpose is not to discuss whether hate speech and whatnot exists—denying the existence would be ridiculous in the light of e.g. ISIS. The point is rather to check the claims of the scope and the severity for plausibility by investigating the bar for inclusion: A too low bar makes the claims implausible, because it becomes clear that the size of the problem (or “problem”) is massively artificially increased. (This is also the reason why the older “Israeli” examples remain relevant: They are not recent utterances, but they are utterances that have recently been classified as hate speech by someone.)

As it turns out (cf. the more detailed analyses), few cases are bad enough to warrant counter-measures other than factual arguments—and few actually can be considered hate (see an excursion on the relevance of actual hate below).* The “Israeli” source contains some cases with more substance than the “Tea-Party” source; however, this should be seen in light of the very long time span, the intensity of the conflict (also see an excursion on war below), and similar factors—not to mention some far worse statements from Israel’s enemies… To boot, even the “Israeli” source contains a considerable proportion of nonsensical examples. Even going by the “Israeli” standard of inclusion, the claims around hate speech and Internet hate seem overblown; going by the “Tea-Party” standard of inclusion, they most definitely are.

*Which is not automatically to say that the other claims are perfectly fine to make—just that they are not so bad that there is reason to e.g. demand censorship. They can still be rude, narrow-minded, counterproductive, cold-hearted, whatnot. (However, a large proportion of them actually are perfectly fine.)

I originally intended to make an analysis according to a set of more elaborate criteria; however, I found this to be extremely hard due to the great room left to interpretation in many of the examples, as well as the great diversity of examples. Instead, I opted for a freer discussion, often informally using two dimensions: Firstly, is the message (with a high degree of likelihood; not just the possibility) an expression of hate (yes/no). Secondly, irrespective of the presence or absence of hate, what counter-measures might be reasonable (none/mere disapproval* or condemnation/censorship**/legal intervention***). In addition, discussions of factual correctness can take place, seeing that statements that contain a considerable**** factual error can have an undue effect, and that there is at least some risk that the error is a deliberate distortion. (However, note that such errors can also merely be a sign of ignorance.) In reverse, I will never accept the classification of a factually correct statement as e.g. “hate speech”—no matter how inconvenient it might be for e.g. the PC movement.

*In terms of e.g. how (un-)diplomatically something is conveyed, what methods of “agitation” or similar might be used, whether suggestions made are ethically hard to defend, etc. A disapproval in terms of e.g. “I have a different opinion; ergo, I disapprove” is not intended—otherwise more-or-less any debate could be considered a steady stream of hate speech from both parties.

**With some reservations for context. Here my focus is on public forums and comparable situations (including TV debates, blog entries and comments, comments on articles in online news-papers, and similar), provided that there is some pertinence to the statement. Censorship might still be warranted due to a lack of topic connection (even for harmless utterances, e.g. repeated comments concerning cars on a blog post about butterflies); and there might be some rare combination of forum and utterance where exceptional rules can apply (e.g. discussions of BDSM on a forum for pre-teens; however, not based on e.g. “some reader might be offended” or “we do no tolerate dissent”, which will defeat the purpose of a public forum). Governmental forums in a Rechtsstaat must be as forgiving as possible; strictly private forums, intended for a small and closed circle, and not even readable by others, could be allowed stricter and/or more arbitrary rules.

***Note that this should not be seen as a claim about the actual laws in any given country—it is a statement of what laws could legitimately be present in a Rechtsstaat: Could the laws be such that this statement is illegal with an eye at a reasonable protection of free speech? (Note that I do not automatically say that it should be illegal: It is better to err on the side of too much free speech than the reverse.) In particular, I make no comparison with the actual laws in Germany and Sweden, who both have unduly strong restrictions on free speech.

****For instance, claiming that 80% of all convicts are X, when the true number is 20%, is almost certain to distort the implications heavily. On the other hand, claiming 30% will in many contexts leave the big-picture implications the same, and is far easier to forgive. (But deliberate distortions of numbers are not acceptable, even when minor.)

I very deliberately do not use criteria like “is rude”, “is tasteless”, or “could offend someone”: All would reduce free speech far too much, are far too subjective, and at least the third commits the indefensible error of only looking at the result* of an utterance and ignoring the importance of the intent. To boot, such criteria could all too easily be deliberately abused to silence dissent, e.g. through feigning offense.

*If only the experience of the listener is important, there is basically no utterance that can be safely made, as is proved by the extremely thin skin, “triggerability”, and even deliberate search for offense that is common in some PC circles (notably in U.S. colleges).

I also do not (or only very rarely) consider issues of disagreement with overreaching goals, priorities of society, and similar. For instance, having the opinion that Israel has or does not have the right to exist, must be beyond legal and moral reproach—as is the case with all or almost all sheer opinions.* By extension, suggesting means to ensure the wanted outcome that are in proportion to the circumstances** must also be beyond reproach. Condemning someone because of disagreements with such goals and whatnots must be reserved for exceptional cases (e.g. the goal to exterminate all Jews); condemnation of the means must be reserved for those not in proportion to the circumstances. In particular, the accusation of “hate speech” must never become a means to conveniently silence dissent from some PC (or other) opinion just for being dissent.

*But considering someone an idiot for having the wrong opinion for a poor reason remains legitimate.

**Exactly what this entails is too large a question for this text, involving e.g. protection of rights of others, what hostile measures from others require counter-action, and similar. (To boot, there is some room to discuss whether a mere suggestion can be condemnable, or only the implementation of that suggestion; however, I will ignore that for now.) A few reasonably obvious examples concerning the wish to have an apple, however: Buying an apple is OK. Hitting a robber trying to steal an apple (that one already has) is OK. Hitting an innocent bystander in order to take his apple is not OK.

Excursion on the relevance of hate:
Whether actual hate is present, or merely e.g. loathing or contempt, can make a quite large difference in the implications: Hate can easily lead to active intervention against someone, even murder and terrorism, while e.g. loathing only very rarely does. (And when it does, usually to a far lesser degree of extremity.) To boot, hate says more about the hater than loathing does about the loather.

Claiming “hate” also makes highly speculative assumptions about the motivations and the inner state of the speaker, something dubious in it self; and implying that someone who e.g. verbally “attacks” (cf. below) automatically feels hate is unconscionable.

Correspondingly, it is very dubious to use formulations like “hate speech” where hate is not obviously present. A statement might very well still be worthy of condemnation and counter-measures, but if there is no actual hate, the use of “hate speech” distorts the situation in an intellectually dishonest (or incompetent) manner. In these cases, other names should be used.*

*Exactly which depends on the individual case, and I will not even try to create a guide. However, some possibilities include “derogatory speech”, “agitating speech”, and “hostile speech”. (Following the same naming schema. It might well be better to ignore the schema in favor of simpler and more common constructs, e.g. “agitation”.)

Nevertheless, exactly such uses seem to be programmatic in Leftist and PC propaganda. I also looked at some attempts to define the phrase “hate speech”, and found an inclusion of the word “hate”, or another implication of hate, in these definitions to be far from universal… For instance, at the time of writing, the first sentence of the Wikipedia article on hate speech reads “Hate speech is speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”, which does not necessitate even loathing, let alone hate. Indeed, “attacks” it is so vague that even perfectly legitimate expressions of opinion, or even very harmless derogatory statements, could be considered hate speech by some interpreters.*

*This points to another common problem, namely the use of a very wide definition to establish the scope of something—and another definition (or impression of a definition) to establish consequences. A good example is some treatments of rape in feminist propaganda. If we, for instance and for the sake of argument, consider “white men can’t jump” to be hate speech and use such examples to establish a very wide occurrence of hate speech, we cannot then require drastic measures against hate speech. Such measures would simply be entirely out of proportion in the vast majority of cases, often even punishing something that does not deserve any punishment.

More generally, a metaphoric, extended, or, in some sense, convenient use of words in situations like these is not defensible, due to the risk that false impressions are created. Consider similarly the feminist nonsense expression “rape culture”, which calls forth all the associations of rape—yet has virtually nothing to do with it… (As an aside, if PC application of the phrase “hate speech” would be applied fairly to everyone, feminist claims of a “rape culture” certainly would qualify as hate speech—as might “hate speech”, it self…)

Excursion on good and bad faith:
I note that many of the investigated examples require some involvement of bad faith, either on behalf of the collectors or in their preconceptions of those quoted*. Some of the quotes are so obviously not worthy of criticism that no reasonable and objective third-party would have considered them problematic; others require a choice of interpretation that varies between the implausible and just-one-of-several-possible; others yet point to poor research**, likely in the conviction that no research was needed (because “X is evil”).

*As in “X is evil; ergo, he spoke maliciously/with hate; ergo, he must have meant Y and not Z.”, while someone who does not have the same preconceptions might more easily chose Z over X.

**Consider e.g. the 7th “Israeli” item, where it is conceivable that the collector simply jumped to the conclusion that Meir engaged in historical revisionism, “ethnicity denial”, or considered the Palestinians such scum that they were not worthy of consideration—but where even brief research would have given a very, very different interpretation.

In my analyses, I have tended towards an assumption of good faith, possibly more so than I normally do. This for two reasons: Firstly, I generally recommend the application of Hanlon’s Razor. Secondly, I see it as important to apply in dubio pro reo when investigating these types of condemnations—in the presence of several reasonable interpretations of a statement, only one of them has to be acquitting in order to acquit. This especially since the quotes have been taken out of context* by the accusers, that the accusers had the opportunity to include more context*, that it is up to the accuser to prove guilt, and that the accused have no opportunity to defend themselves. (In the specific case of Leftist and PC debaters, I have seen distortion of opponents’ statements and opinions on countless occasions over several decades and in several countries—often in manner that is obviously deliberate. The “Tea-Party” examples, cf. the third part, contain a number of such distortions.)

*As I proof-read the other parts, I see that I have, there, used “context” in different meanings, e.g. textual context, historical context, context of speech. All of these are to some degree vulnerable to these complications; however, the degree varies. In the case of textual context the vulnerability and the risk of (deliberate or accidental) distortion are usually the largest; and textual context was my original intention when writing the above. However, when leaving out another type of context distorts the implications and reasonable interpretations of a quote, the same applies.

Excursion on war (and similar conditions):
Many of the “Israeli” examples stem from a time of great and violent conflict, possibly outright war, and often (mostly?) with the Israelis as the attacked party. In these cases, an additional “benefit of the doubt” must be given, compared to the analyses in their current state: In a hard fight, actions might be necessary that would otherwise be condemnable, and to consider speaking of such necessary evils to be hate speech is absurd. Notably, if the actions go beyond what is justifiable even in hard fight, the actions should be criticized without wasting time on the words.


Written by michaeleriksson

July 21, 2018 at 12:36 pm

5 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. […] Preamble: This is the second part in a series. For an understanding of the motivations, rough criteria, terminology, general take on the topic, etc., please read the first part. […]

  2. […] of the motivations, rough criteria, terminology, general take on the topic, etc., please read the first part (and, optionally, the second […]

  3. […] often after a severe distortion, exaggeration, or unproved claim of intent. Cf. e.g. portions of [1], [2], […]

  4. […] is not hate. Cf. e.g. [1] (ten years ago—things have not improved) or my series on hate speech ([2], [3], […]

  5. […] statement that the Left does not like stands the risk of condemnation as “hate speech”. (Cf. an older text series.) Indeed, often even the presence of negative feeling is mere speculation on behalf of some […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: