Combating hate speech is a moral obligation

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Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee proves yet again that the 1980s buzz-phrase “politically correct” still exists only as a disingenuous qualifier to preface an expression of palpable bigotry. It’s just a slightly broader way of saying, “I’m not a racist, but …”

After warning his radio audience last Monday that he was about to say something not “politically correct,” Huckabee said:

“Can someone explain to me why it is that we tiptoe around a religion that promotes the most murderous mayhem on the planet in their so-called ‘holiest days,’” Huckabee said. “You know, if you’ve kept up with the Middle East, you know that the most likely time to have an uprising of rock throwing and rioting comes on the day of prayer on Friday. So the Muslims will go to the mosque, and they will have their day of prayer, and they come out of there like uncorked animals — throwing rocks and burning cars.”

Animals.” Huckabee’s word — a word that is literally dehumanizing. Mike Huckabee doesn’t want you to think he’s a bigot. He just wants you to know that he sees himself as superior to more than a billion people whom he regards as sub-human. Huckabee thinks it would be unfair for you to twist that into making him out to be a bigot.

A better Arkansan, William Lindsey, responds to Huckabee’s remarks:

That’s what hate speech is. It’s an attempt to hook onto visceral, unexamined prejudices that lurk inside the minds of many people in a particular society, as they deal with and think about a particular group of people.

It’s an attempt to hook onto those visceral, unexamined prejudices by telling adroit, carefully massaged lies that appear to present accurate information about a whole group of human beings, by isolating the behavior of some members of that group and focusing on it as if that behavior is typical of every member of the group.

… The ultimate goal of this kind of adroit lying is, of course, to dehumanize the targeted group, and to make that targeted group susceptible to abuse and violence. Selecting a minority group out for obsessive hostile focus, lying about it, and suggesting that it should be defined according to the behavior of some of its least admirable members: this is, in and of itself, already a form of violence.

This is related to the point John Shore made last month in a post titled “Anti-gay Christianity claims another life“:

Bullies bully because they feel empowered to do so. And why do bullies in America feel particularly empowered to victimize gay people?

If you’re wondering about the answer to that question, you’re only pretending to. Because you know why. We all do. American bullies feel empowered to freely hound, denigrate, and beat-up LGBT people because they live in a country historically and culturally defined by, and everywhere infused with, Christianity. And the ubiquitous “traditional values” brand of Christianity … has long and very actively taught that being gay is a reprehensible moral abomination, an offense against God so foul that divine justice demands that in the afterlife gay people be punished by spending eternity having the living flesh burned off their bones.

Every American bully who victimizes gay people does so confident, at one level or another, that he or she is furthering the cause of God — just like the pastor up the street, or the pastor on the radio, or the pastor on TV, or the pastor at the head of any of the infinite number of Christian “ministries” that trades in the hectoring of gay people.

This is why it’s important to shout back at the pastor up the street, or at the pastor on the radio — even if that pastor is also a former governor. If their voices go unchallenged — unanswered, unquestioned, unmocked — then we allow them to empower bullies and to make marginal minorities “susceptible to abuse and violence.”

Their claim to have some kind of moral authority does not derive from the strength of their arguments. Their arguments are flimsy, fragile falsehoods. Nor does their claim to authority derive from their strength of character. Their character is reprehensible.

They wield moral authority because they assert it — because they claim it by divine right like the kings of old. But just like with those kings, divine right isn’t the true source of their authority. That authority comes from the voluntary consent of others — from our willingness to bow and submit without question.

That consent can be withdrawn. It is our right, it is our duty, to withdraw it. And thereby, also, to withdraw from the bullies their misplaced confidence that they are furthering the cause of God.

This is why I’m not concerned with or convinced by the perpetual fretting of the Tone Police and the Very Nice People who worry about “negativity” and who urge us to approach every disagreement with sweetness and light and the spirit of gentle Jesus meek and mild. It’s OK to disagree, they say, but not to rock the boat. Look at Mike Huckabee, they say, see how sweetly he smiles? See how cheerfully avuncular he seems (even while dismissing a sixth of the world as “animals”)? See how gentle and gentlemanly he seems (even when he’s comparing being gay to necrophilia or equating environmentalists with pornographers)? Why can’t we be more like that instead of always harping on criticism and negativity?

But there’s nothing nice, sweet, meek, gentle or polite about allowing moral impostors to bless violence and to sanction bigotry. Failing to condemn the hate speech of Huckabee and other bigots has nothing to do with kindness. The kindest thing one can do in response to such speech is to respond as aggressively as you can — to refute, rebut, reject and ridicule it with whatever microphone you can find. Anything less than that just serves to reinforce the lie that these folks represent some recognizable, decent, legitimate form of morality.

They do not. To allow them to continue their charade would be unjust. It would also, therefore, be unkind — to them as well as to their ever-growing roster of victims.

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