Thursday, December 4, 2008

Reclaiming Hate

As the season of peace and goodwill to all men gets into full swing, I thought it might be an appropriate time to post some thoughts about Hate and its benefits.

I, personally, enjoy hate - I find it an enriching and invigorating emotion, almost on a par with spite – but in recent years this most piquant of emotions has had a bad rap, something that I think needs altering.

I am literally on record as finding myself agreeing with Bill O’Reilly more than the left. No one seems to believe me when I say this, much as no one seems able to accept that when I write a song called America about how I like America in which the chorus says ‘I’m with America’ that I mean it and do, in fact, like America. Saying positive things about Bill O’Reilly and America is like trying to stage an anti-semitic presentation of the Merchant of Venice at the National Theatre – you could indulge in every Jewish stereotype going, have a grotesque, green-skinned, gargantu-nosed Shylock delivering the ‘Hath not a Jew eyes’ speech in an asthamtic wheedle while fingering gold coins like Poker chips and every review would praise it for daring to confront the semiotic hallmarks of its context. This is because the idea that the National Theatre could actually have descended into Jew baiting is inconceivable. This is good. It is not good that, in the same way, every vaguely intelligent western voice should be pre-assigned to the anti-American faction. America remains a shining city on the last best hill and deserves better than the vapid dislike it receives from sophomoric Europeans who have yet to realise that they are Alexandrians in the age of Rome. I dislike being grouped with them.

In fact I Hate it. And this brings me back to what I was supposed to be talking about. I am on record as sometimes agreeing with Bill O’Reilly. However, something that I really disagree with Bill O’Reilly about is Hate.

Often, on the Factor, O’Reilly will co-opt the left’s traditional opposition to Hate and turn it against the kind of legitimate Hate that I think needs defending. Suddenly, ‘hate speech’ and ‘hate websites’ - terms coined to describe Klan rallies, Queer bashing and (amazingly, I checked, and this domain really exists) – were being used to describe bloggers and commentators who wanted nothing worse than for Dick Cheney’s assasination attempt to have gone better and for people to sneer about Sarah Palin. This, and I think O’Reilly knows it, is supremely offensive and dishonest. There is no equivalence between hating a minority and hating an individual, it’s blazingly obvious. And yet people seem confounded by it.

So effective was the progressive campaign against Hate that now, as with ‘theory’, it has run into a problem: many people are uncomfortable with the idea that a word might have several related but distinct meanings.

Theory could mean ‘vague guess about what’s going on’ or it could mean ‘rigorously tested and internally consistent idea about what’s going on that fits the available evidence and is as close to true as we can get, considering’. Similarly, ‘Hate’ could mean ‘unreasonable reactionary emotion caused by unacknowledged prejudice within the hater’ or it could mean ‘sense of extreme revulsion augmenting a reasoned response to an idea or individual that has grossly offended your moral philosophy’. It is not paradoxical to hate hate. You can hate racial hatred. It's easy.

That this does not readily spring to the articulacy of many allows O’Reilly to get away with his distortion. He confuses the two meanings. You can’t endorse a blogger who hates someone because Hate is bad. And those tasked with rebuttal enter a tailspin of misconceived axioms – hate is bad, after all.

None of this particularly matters because the custodians of the laws dealing with hate are not morons and are thus able to differentiate between confusing homonyms. Where we get into trouble is when the co-option of Hate by right wing forces meets the twisted way we treat religion. As has been discussed a lot lately, we have fallen into the odd trap of viewing religious opinion as distinct from it’s sane counterparts. If you prefer the superposition model to the multiple universe hypothesis you argue about it and you curse bloody Dr Stevens and his damned sexy hypothesis that gets all the funding. If, however, you prefer a model where a God directs the movement of photons through slits of card then you are not argued with: your opinion is just respected and you are treated as part of a distinct group with a collective identity that can be regarded as a singular noun and afforded protections.

This is ridiculous. Subscription to a religious position entails nothing more than the adoption of a set of opinions. Opinions are not innate, they are not fundamental to one’s person. Hatred of a person because of their opinions is a category two hatred, akin to hating Dick Cheney – not akin to hating Gays.

When the British government passed a wholly unnecessary law outlawing threatening speech or behaviour inciting religious hatred (it was already illegal to incite crimes and this covers any provable case of being ‘threatening’) it had been gratifyingly watered down so as not to cover ‘abusive or insulting’ speech. Still though, the debate fell into the same trap I describe. Rowan Atkinson’s celebrated opposition to the bill studiously (and probably sensibly) avoided an attempt to justify hate, instead worrying about the outlawing of ‘criticism’. The government responded by saying that it was ‘hate’ not ‘jokes’ that they wanted rid of. Aside from the waste of time, money and law the saga ended well, but it remains to be said that religious hatred should not just be legal but that it is often a moral imperative, just as hatred of racism is.

I would like to have category two Hate back. I would like it to be uncontroversial that, should a man subscribe to a belief system in which gays can be stoned to death, in which women can be considered and punished for adulterers when raped, in which mutilation of girls is justifiable, in which the story of Abraham’s willingness to murder Isaac is considered morally instructive, in which condom use is discouraged in AIDS ridden African nations, in which the benefits of technology are disregarded for a nonsensical devotion to an imagined spinning-wheel past, in which terrorism is acceptable… should a man subscribe to these beliefs, I feel within my rights to hate him. My rights, in fact, are irrelevant: I do hate him. He’s a nobhead.

Like the grumpy old misanthrope who looks at a glass, calls it half-empty and then, spurred by his awareness that, given the nature of time and its relentless progress in a forward direction, a glass halfway toward emptiness will inevitably become empty and hastens at once to make arrangements for its refilling – I consider my Hate to be a good thing. It forbids acceptance of the repulsive, precludes respect for the damaging and prompts resistance to the indefensible. Hate is a negative thing that - like dissatisfaction, boredom and horror - can have a positive outcome. Hate is a thing to cherish. I like it. I’m having it back.

On which note, Merry Christmas.
May your days be merry and bright.
Simon Indelicate