Harmful Opinions

It’s been a long bloody time.

Everything I’ve been doing is awfully pretentious but that’s something for another day. What I am here to touch on, however, is politics. Specifically American-centric politics. Of course I could talk about Canadian politics too but Canada is boring, and their elections have finished already.

As you may or may not know the 2016 US election is coming up. Naturally in an internet-filled modern world it’s been the talk of even more people than before, #Trump2016 and all that. Now, I will start off by saying that since I’m no American, I’ve no dog in this race. However, for the first time in a very long time, the winner of this election will actually make a difference, for better or worse. This is because, surprising as it may seem, out of all four legitimately leading candidates only one is an pro-establishment. Hillary, if elected, will be another Obama, no matter how proud she is of her inability to grow a beard. I, however tempting, am not here today to tell you what my opinion of the candidates are and for whom you should vote. That comes later.

This piece is about a meta-critique of opinions, in general. You’ve all heard that saying: ‘opinions are like assholes, everybody has one’. That’s not really true, since everybody has many, many opinions that they’d very much like to share if properly probed and/or riled up, but the sentiment is not lost. You may also have heard the saying ‘opinions cannot be wrong’. This is, in the loose sense, correct. Facts are something that ‘has occurred or is actually the case’. One can philosophically argue that nothing is ever a fact, for all of last Tuesday-ism could create a false sense of perspective, and we can never really know. This opinion, aside from the obvious irony, is extremely unproductive for all purposes of discussions. If ‘true’ facts can never exist, conventions will shift to interpret ‘not wrong’ information to be facts, because that’s how we all operate. In this sense, opinions can be very, very wrong.

What about the so-called ‘harmful opinions’? These ideas and thoughts which are deemed ‘problematic’, ‘hateful’, ‘bigoted’ and whatever way. Can they be wrong, even factually wrong? Many would think so, myself included. These opinions can then lead to what one can call ‘hate speech’, defined by the USLegal as ‘a communication that carries no meaning other than the expression of hatred for some group, especially in circumstances in which the communication is likely to provoke violience. It is an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and the like. Hate speech can be any form of expression regarded as offensive to racial, ethnic and religious groups and other discrete minorities or to women.’ From here we have people committing ‘hate crimes’, of which the definition is quite long so I’m not going to paste that here.

Let’s first go and examine the validity of this classification of legal matters with the ‘hate’ prefix. Hate crimes are, usually, crimes by themselves and thus automatically illegal. The idea of equality here would be that they should be treated the same as they were regular crimes. This would suggest that in the eyes of the law, a terrible thing done to two different persons should not receive different treatment and/or punishment just because of who the victim, or the criminal, may be. This is the basis of anti-discrimination, and I hope you’re with me so far. If someone breaks into a store and kills two people by shooting them in the head, that person should receive the sentence regardless of whether they’re white or black, man or woman, Christian or Jew, presuming the same criminal history and method. So, with this in mind, ‘hate crimes’ should be a classification, and nothing more. It isn’t, at least in the context of the United States and quite a few other first-world countries. Hate crimes – in this case – can be a statutory enhancements based on the perceived motivation of the criminal(s), as in based on their motives, derived from their opinions. Should this be the case? One may argue that it should, since it’s not fair to punish someone who had a lapse in attention and accidentally run over a person the same as someone who took out his car and run over a person intentionally, as in motive and/or intent definitely should matter. One could also argue that the classification of ‘hate crime’ was designed to be harsher as to deter crimes based on said motives.

Let’s tackle the first notion of motive/intent playing a (large) role in criminal law. This has traditionally been the case, and not just to appeal to jurors. Some behaviour’s legality changes based on a person’s motive. The counter-argument to this would be if the law/the government/the jurors were to judged based on motive/intent, it introduces serious biases into the criminal system. Some people may think some things immoral, while others may not. The counterpoint argues that a person’s livelihood, perhaps even his life, should not fringe on whether or not he was lucky that day with the jurors. The second notion of ‘deterring motive’ has an inherent bias built into it. Why are these motives, whose crimes in context brings just as serious consequences as those done without, be treated differently based on the target of the crime? Is a suffering man not deserving of the same treatment as a suffering woman just because he’s a man? Is it somehow more ‘wrong’ to beat a man up for being gay than to beat him for something else?

I don’t offer answers, only arguments. This is not a legal piece, but and thought exercise. I’m no lawyer, though I wouldn’t like to suggest that somehow such a badge would put someone’s words above mine. This is another subject for another day though, so let’s head back into hate crime. ‘Hate crime’ either should, or should not be treated differently just because of who they’re targeting, depending on whose view you’re asking. With this logic in mind, regardless of what the law says, do you reckon hate speech should somehow not be protected under free-speech like those that are, well, not? Some argue either way, but it is all based on the notion of Freedom of Speech. Again, I must remind everyone that this is very American-centric, as the First Amendment doesn’t necessarily exist locally, though equivalents may very well be present. Feel free to apply wherever you may find appropriate.

‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.’ It is interpreted to cover freedom of speech, the press, assembly, religion, and the right to petition. As any law, it comes with plenty of clauses. However as this is not a legal piece, I shall leave it out, and talk about philosophy for a moment. Many consider ‘freedom of speech’ to be the building block of America, a great civilisation by all metrics (though the country is not often compared to the average). Many also recognise the exceptions to this, such as speech inciting violence, threats, harassments, and various other things. It is in this grey area where the problem lies. Some argues that ‘hate speech’ falls under one of these unprotected categories, while a lot would disagree. If you noticed I’ve yet to disclose an answer, and I’m not going to do so here. What’s the point then, you ask? It’s to get you to think, of course, and to prepare for the last one.

It is now time to lay the ‘hateful opinions’ on the table, or harmful whichever you may prefer. It did take a while, comrades, but here we are. Thought influences words, and words influence action (or crimes in certain cases). If you’re someone who thinks hate crimes (whichever constitutes a hate crime in your view) as different, and that hate speech is different – or not – I will now step in to express the only strong opinion I have. Hateful thoughts, violent or otherwise, shall not be the grounds for any sort of framing, unless as part of a conspiracy or preparation for a crime. Free thoughts are the basis of human advances in civilisation, even if it wasn’t always as free. You might consider the world we live in a more tolerant and receptive one compared to that of 10, 100, 1000, 10000 years ago, and you’re probably right. However, we still have plenty of people that are so hell bent on denying freedom of expression that it’s absolutely atrocious. This isn’t some third world, communist nazi hellhole I’m talking about. I’m frankly referring to almost every single country on earth. Every country is undergoing progressivism at one pace or another, but it doesn’t mean they’re becoming any more open to disconcerting ideas. All governments advocate collectivism one way or another, conservative or otherwise. People like it because it’s easy. It makes them feel like they can speak despite not having earned their spot on the podium. Some countries don’t tolerate people speaking (or perhaps even thinking) ill of their religion, their traditions, their values, and their homophobia. Other countries don’t tolerate people disagreeing with their mandated quotas, their aversion to a meritocracy, their national surveillance, and their right to define hate speech whatever they want. In a bubble of perspective, nothing is different between them.

If you’re still wondering why I brought American politics into the piece, the answer would be I consider U.S. politics a very, very interesting landscape, somewhat similar to that of the UK. The main difference here is that the U.S. stands at the centre of the internet crossfire and information would therefore be far easier obtained. It’s also more varied and highly competitive, a trait often missed in other elections. Compared to mainland Asia (all countries encompassed), U.S. is a very leftist country, while it’s very right-winged compared to the rest of the Western World. Politicians in the US go on and speak of such things like socialism, hand-outs, transsexuals, entitlements, gun control with absolutely no sense of perspective regarding the direction which their proposed policies will lead the country, and how it may inevitably reflect on their already unimpressive legacy. I’m one of the few actually looking at both sides of the coin, precisely because I don’t have a personal agenda. I’ve heard people calling gun control the silliest thing since Soviet Russia, and also heard people claiming gun control would instantly debase the country into a Orwellian nightmare. Both of these types are personal friends, and I guess I just kind of forgot the note to demonise everyone who disagrees with me. This isn’t to say I’m somehow smarter or more qualified to talk about these things, just that I’m someone who’s does something more than advocating his own opinion, and that of those who may happen to agree with him.

I already told you that everything I do is pretentious.

Image courtesy of chsarrow.com.

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