Thoughtcrime is doubleplusungood

Sorry to get all heavy on y’all on the day before Thanksgiving, but some of you got to talking about “hate crimes” back on this post, and I just can’t let it pass without reciting my usual homily on the subject…

Karen said:

And Kathryn, did you notice that in this country that after race, the highest number of hate crimes concern religion? Why do I not think that Christians are the ones being picked on?

To which Kathryn replied:

I thought sexual orientation was the biggest source of hate crimes (which makes your point, I suspect).

To which I just had to say:

It depends on how you define “hate crime” … which is sort of what the whole phenomenon of “hate crimes” is about, isn’t it?

A “hate crime” is a political act, one to which Orwell assigned the term “thoughtcrime,” a.k.a. “crimethink.” And writing and defining the hate crime law is also a political act.

The very decision to have such a thing as a “hate crime” is a political act as well — or, at least, a political choice.

And it’s one to which I object. Such things should not exist in America. That’s one of the few points on which I agree with libertarians. Punish the act, not the thought or attitude behind it. The idea that an attitude would be deemed a crime in this country is in its way as ugly as the attitudes such crimes seek to punish. It appalls me that the concept of “hate crime” ever developed in this country…

I mean, I love Big Brother and all, but this is supposed to be a free country, which means people are free to think and feel all sorts of mean, nasty, ugly things. It’s when they do something to other people that we should be concerned, and what we should be concerned about is what they DO.

31 thoughts on “Thoughtcrime is doubleplusungood

  1. Karen McLeod

    “Punish the act, not the thought or attitude behind it.”

    I can go with that. Of course, if it’s the act we’re punishing, then any leniency for ‘crimes of passion’ goes out the window. Ditto insanity pleas, and self defense (we’re punishing “the act,” remember). In fact, we almost always take thought or attitude into account. Thus, if I don’t intend to kill you, but only do so by accident, it’s manslaughter, not murder, and could be ruled neither, but simply an accident (in either case, there was no thought or attitude behind it). If I plot to kill you, pick out a weapon, seek you out, and do you in, that’s first degree murder (in that case I thought it out, and I definitely had an attitude toward you). The concept of a “hate crime” simply carries it a little further. Thus if I hate journalists in general (misojournalisty?), and you’re the first one I run into as I stalk around looking for one to damage, then I thought about it (I was looking for journalists with the intent to harm), and I definitely have an attitude (durn those pinko, nazi, furrin’thinkin’, hoityj-toity journalists anyway). Yet, because I wasn’t after you personally, and journalists aren’t protected under ‘hate crime’ it might well be less than 1st. degree murder. I could even claim mental illness or stress (like Joe, I just lost control for a moment). The other problem with hate crimes, is that for the hated segment of society, these criminals are, in effect, terrorists. The victim is not usually bothering the attacker; as a matter of fact he/she may notknow the attacker. In the case of property damage/vandalism the effect is to instill fear into the hated group. That’s why swastika’s are painted on Synogogues, and why nooses and burning crosses mark the vandalism of choice against black people. But under regular law they never get prosecuted as terrorism. Nuisence vandalism is more like it. A fine. Tsk.

    I can get along without any added penalties for “hate crimes” as long as we’re consistent. However, it is socially useful to have handle on who/what people are hating irrationally this week. And tracking hate crimes lets us track the extreme expression of that. Of course, we don’t have to prosecute people to do that.

  2. Brad Warthen

    Karen, surely you see the qualitative difference between judging a crime according to whether the person intended to DO it, and judging it on the basis of the person’s political attitudes. It’s night and day. All that stuff about insanity pleas and degrees of intent are about judging a person’s degree of actual culpability for the act, not making political value judgments about underlying motivations. Not a double standard, but rather two completely different things.

    And you know what? I agree that it’s useful for the authorities to know who has a beef that could lead to violence. Just as it’s useful to know who has a penchant for mugging people to get money for a fix. (We won’t even get into, for the sake of this discussion, how this naturally leads to police profiling, as the authorities learn what to look for and apply those lessons….) But recognize the risks inherent in what you’re suggesting. A totalitarian society would justify itself by saying it is “socially useful to have a handle on who/what people” are harboring certain antisocial attitudes…

  3. Karen McLeod

    But we’re not judging on the basis of political attitude. I can be as ‘misojounalistic’ as I want to and no one is going to put me in jail for it; it’s only when I start gunning for journalists that it gets criminal. And let me repeat: These crimes are not just murders, batteries, property damage, etc.; they are acts of terror. They don’t care who you are; they simply target you because you are a group. The difference between 9/11 and Birmingham Sunday is a diffence in size, not in intent (and yes, the 9/11 terrorists were foreign, but does this make it better?). The reason, I think, that we’re starting to target hate crimes is because they are more than simply property damage or battery, and to treat them as such ignores that. I don’t care whether you call them hate crimes. I do care that we not tolerate domestic terrorism any more than we tolerate foreign terrorism. When you vote with a bullet instead of a ballot, you’ve stepped out of politics and into crime. And in this case we’re not tracking “anti-social attitudes” we’re tracking anti-social acts.

  4. Greg Flowers

    How about if the assailant hates journalists, guys in glasses and guys in bow ties? Does that make it four times as bad even though the effect is the same, Brad is prostrate at the corner of Main and Gervais (ala N.G.) with his head stove in.

    Is not any act of violence an act of terrorism? If you point a gun or a weapon at me with intent to injure, I am terrorized.

    All acts which impede upon the freedoms are bad, equally bad, regardless of the politics behind that act. Regulation of the politics rather than, or in addition to, the action is, as Brad points out, a dangerous and terrifying thing.

  5. Karen McLeod

    If someone points a gun at you, it may terrorize you, but it doesn’t effect me. Likewise if said person shoots you, I have no need to be afraid. But if you and I have something in common that was the reason that person attacked you, then I get to be scared, too, because the potential is there that I may be the next person on this guy’s list by simple happenstance. And obviously, it’s not “four times as bad,” unless, of course you fall into one of those catagories (or were you suggesting that the victim had to have all of those qualities in order to upset this criminal? Are either of you saying that a kid throwing paint on a school wall is the same type of vandalism, as an adult painting swastikas on a synagogue?

  6. Burl Burlingame

    I once had a city editor (a real Gannetoid) who refused to allow physical descriptions of at-large perps in the daily police column — unless they were white males. To report the physical description of criminals who were still out there murdering and raping and robbing was “racist or sexist,” he insisted. But if the criminal was a white male, that could be reported. (In a city that’s only about 30 percent haole, even that little was valuable.)

  7. Elliott

    This is a fascinating discussion. I always agreed with hate crime laws, but I am now rethinking it.

    I agree with Karen about crimes of passion. If we are punishing the crime how are they lesser crimes? Also, if you kill your neighbor because he stole your wife, then you hurt your neighbor. If you kill him because he’s black you also terrorize other black people. There is a difference.

    What about police officers? If we punish the crime why should there be greater punishment for killing an officer than a wino?

  8. Kathryn Fenner

    As someone who was confined to quarters after dark unless accompanied by others in college, and still somewhat is, because of her sex, because some people will do things to women (I am and have been at least the size of an average man since I was ten, so it was solely my sex that has kept me at significantly less liberty than males of similar size), I have to say it feels a bit, um, dunno, uh, interesting, that presumably straight, white men who have never been in fear of being the victim of extra crimes because of their color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, etc., find it hard to fathom why extra penalties or extra consideration might be warranted.

    I get the point you are making, Brad. I have made a similar point about anti-gang legislation–we have plenty of laws already dealing with conspiracy,racketeering influenced corrupt organizations, etc.

    It’s just that some people are a whole lot more terrorized than others, Greg—gays, Muslims, women,on a daily basis. They are at greater risk of being random victims of violence solely because of a category they fit into–that you do not fit into. Categories that, by and large, they have no control over, except religion, the free expression of which we choose to protect in this country…

  9. martin

    I have a particular interest in child abuse. Over the past few years, we’ve had plenty of those cases coming to trial. Children murdered by parents, day care operators, injured by nannies, raped by priests, etc.

    Based on what I have seen our judges do, the more specific the law is in pertaining only to a child, the more unlikely it is for a judge to view the murder or assault of a child as seriously as they view an adult assaulting or killing another adult in terms of sentencing. (Where are the right to life people when walking, talking kids really need somebody to stand up for ’em?)

    As a result of this, I think we need to make more use of “special circumstances”. I think this applies to “hate crimes”.

    Someone picks up a cast iron skillet and bashes a child, a Jew, or a gay guy in the head. For all, you have a charge of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature. For the child, the special circumstances should be something like battery on a child and involve sentencing above and beyond the basic charge for ABHAN. This seems to be contrary to how SC Judges think these things should be handled. It’s like they’re thinking, “We can’t execute or send this man to jail for killing his child because his child is dead”.

    With the assault of the Jew and the gay guy, investigation should determine if they were assaulted because they were the member of a group the assailants have an irrational hatred for and not because they looked at them funny. If religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation is found to be the motive for the assault, it should be a “special circumstance” and something added to the sentence.

    But, the focus of the prosecution is ABHAN. Hopefully, that would prevent the judge and/or jury from being distracted from the assault itself, distracted enough not to take the actual assault as seriously as they need to. The violence is the real problem anyway.

    Violent hate crimes need to be tracked and the perpetrators and their friends need to learn it’s not acceptable behavior. We are in the USA, not Somalia.

  10. Brad Warthen

    Ah. Martin says “the perpetrators and their friends need to learn it’s not acceptable behavior.”

    That’s the thing, see. People know that violence is not acceptable behavior. What a HATE crime law is about is communicating to the perpetrators and their friends that their thoughts are not acceptable thoughts. And that’s what’s wrong with the concept — in America.

    Karen and KB get to the heart of it. Karen writes, “But if you and I have something in common that was the reason that person attacked you…”

    … but, as Kathryn notes, I have no such identification. I can’t imagine having such an identification. I don’t think of myself as a member of ANY sort of group. I can’t remember when I ever did. I appreciate y’all trying to ‘splain it to me in terms of journalists answering my description, but that doesn’t really do it for me, either. I just don’t have an identifying gene, or something.

    The irony of this is that it seems — and I’m really generalizing here — to be a common trait among straight white guys not to believe that we have any traits in common. And we (to the extent that we can even speak of a “we”; I’m forcing myself to do so here for the sake of argument) definitely don’t think our fates are linked in any way.

    We don’t — hell, this isn’t working for me, so I have to abandon it…. I don’t feel happy when some other white guy has a triumph, or sad when he gets, say, laid off, or feel a chill when he is found mutilated in a gutter. That’s his good or bad luck, and it has absolutely no impact on me. It’s not that I don’t care. I do. But I don’t feel a little thrill of “he’s just like me!” I just don’t. And I can’t imagine how anyone does.

    I recognize that others do. Women in particular. Women are really wonderful, empathetic people. Things happen to other women, and they really feel like it’s happening to THEM. It’s why they watch chick flicks, all about personal stuff happening to some stranger that I couldn’t possibly care about because it’s NONE OF MY BUSINESS.

    Anyway, those same cognitive differences are at work in the way many women feel about hate crimes.

    Now, I’m going to go write a post about a chick flick I saw tonight…

  11. Burl Burlingame

    I’ve always thought of a “hate crime” is one that would not have normally occurred were the victim not a member of generic victimization. If you beat somebody up and they happen to be gay, that’s assault. If you go out looking for a gay to beat up, that’s a hate crime, but it’s still assault. The difference should simply prevail during the sentencing portion.

    Just to be difficult, what about those states that levy huge additional fines if you hit a public employee with your car?

  12. Kathryn Fenner

    I suspect, since you chose to become Catholic, it would be difficult for you to understand even in that instance. Basically, you are a privileged person by birth. Don’t feel guilty (not that you do), but do try to understand, please, that life is a lot harder for a lot of the rest of the world. I have friends who aren’t comfortable walking with their significant others in Lexington County; I am not comfortable walking alone a lot of places at certain times that men might feel fine–one reason I have big dogs; Nikki Haley’s religion (original and the change from it) was brought up by Kathleen Parker as a source of potential problems….

  13. Juan Caruso

    Brad, we finally seem to agree on something.

    Although my feelings for lawyers in elected office are well known,
    none of them need fear me for my opinion.

    Perhaps you can recall in the late 1980s a congresman (lawyer) introduced a bill to make killing lawyers a hate crime. It was resoundingly defeated by the other lawyers.

  14. Karen McLeod

    Brad, try to think (meditate) yourself into a situation where people like you in some way (color,religion, whatever) were consistently attacked/killed (extreme=European Jews 1938–and it started earlier–1945). Now, you see a sign of that terror painted on the wall where you worship, or planted on you lawn, or spoken of loudly, raucously, and threatenly as you pass by. Like I said, it doesn’t have to be dubbed “hate crimes,” but we need to address the broader implications in trial and sentencing.

  15. orphan annie

    please remember that gang stalking is also occuring in Columbia , South Carolina and across America. If you are not familiar, google it.
    It is devastating.

  16. Kathryn Fenner

    I suppose we can/should deal with aggravating circumstances/extraordinary viciousness of attacks and the intimidation factors regardless of the genesis. In the unlikely event white male evangelical Christians actually get persecuted like they like to think they are (see, Matthew Shepard), we should treat their attackers the same as we treat hate-filled attackers of minority groups.

    To the extent white male Christians *reasonably* feel their speech and actions chilled by threats of the yobs and mobs,we need to address those fears as well.

    On a related note, I read in The State this morning that the Lowcountry Secular Humanists have a license plate “In Reason We Trust” available through the DMV. In a fit of perversity, I briefly toyed with getting one, but dismissed it out of rational fear of retribution against me and my vehicle should I display such a thing. Freedom of religion?– sure, so long as it’s the right one (see, Bolton, Warren).

  17. Kathryn Fenner

    Mr or Ms Pest, and I assume that is your real name, since Brad has asked us to use our real names, I’m not entirely clear what your post means. Can you elaborate?

  18. Maude Lebowski

    “I don’t feel a little thrill of “he’s just like me!” I just don’t. And I can’t imagine how anyone does.”

    You can’t imagine how it would be thrilling to your wife and daughter to see a woman elected president? That’s bizarre.

  19. Kathryn Fenner

    I’m with Maude—especially your wife–your daughter may be young enough to think she can do anything, but surely you could empathize with your wife?

  20. Maude Lebowski

    “your daughter may be young enough to think she can do anything”

    But if she’s well-educated she knows that black men had the right to vote before women and that women could not sit on juries in this state until the 1960s. Even my 9-year-old daughter knows that there have been no female presidents. I truly find Brad’s perspective (or complete lack thereof) baffling.

  21. Kathryn Fenner

    I’m going to be 50 in January, and I certainly was aware of societal restrictions on girls growing up in Aiken. My third year of law school, in Atlanta, King and Spalding was proudly featured on the front page of the WSJ, far left side (FYI,Brad), in an article describing the bathing suit contest they held with their summer clerks (my law class– I was fortunate enough to be at Powell Goldstein where they proudly had ONE woman partner) despite the pending lawsuit by Betsy Hishon alleging discrimination against women in partnership decisions. Comments quoted in the article from members of the firm were of the “damn proud of it” variety. I chose to accept a job in Chicago, thank you very much, where the discrimination was less overt.

    Women maybe five years younger than I have no real understanding of what it was like to be a woman lawyer in the waning days of menswear suits and floppy bow ties. They have much greater expectations of equal treatment, in my extensive experience. There is almost no understanding of the struggles women experienced even in the 80s by young women starting out today. Pretty much the only “woman’s” issue they will cite is maternity leave. They are wrong, imho, but they believe they have achieved equality.

    I suspect in less female-friendly fields than law–and there are plenty of them, like technical and engineering fields, progress has lagged even further behind.

    So perhaps Brad’s daughters would not appreciate how amazing a woman president would be to many of us, but surely his wife would.

  22. Karen McLeod

    Kathryn, have you read “Half the Sky” yet? I agree that women have less than full equality in this country, but we are so much better off than in many countries. And yet, according to that book there are women who have overcome tremendous obstacles.

  23. Bart Rogers

    I have been very fortunate in my life to have worked for some very powerful women and come to appreciate the fact that when the chips are down, maturity, wisdom, and strength is present whether male or female.

    One female was an architect who taught me more than I ever learned in a classroom at any level. She could design on a level above most male architects and understood the practical side of design and how it related to sustainable construction in a time before “green” design was even thought of.

    Another was the Executive VP of a major manufacturing firm in Virginia when women were generally not in positions of power or influence. Her business acumen was outstanding and her decisions almost flawless.

    Both have been major contributors to what little success I have enjoyed over the years. We will have a female president one day soon. Indira Ghandi, Bhutto, Maier, Thatcher, Merkel(sp?), to name a few from other countries have met with success. It is inevitable that we will follow suit in time.

  24. Kathryn Fenner

    Bart–Interesting–or perhaps sad, that two of the women you mention were assassinated.

    Oh Karen–I hardly think any of the tiny difficulties I encountered — I wasn’t allowed to raise the flag or be a crossing guard in grade school–boo hoo— even merit a mention compared to the horrors so many cultures routinely inflict on women! I had it so much easier than women even five years older than I. I certainly have not been mutilated, imprisoned at home, kept illiterate, etc.!

  25. Bart Rogers

    Well, when looking for a negative, I guess assissination is about as negative as one can get.

    I didn’t look at how two lives ended, I looked at the fact that even in third world countries, women could be elected to a leadership position.

  26. Kathryn Fenner

    and of course, there was more to the story, in both cases, than that they were female. These were further from MLK,Jr. assassinations—-they weren’t killed because they were women, in most analyses I read, but because of things they had done (no judgment intended on that statement).

    Which brings us full circle to the original post, doesn’t it?


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