Friday, April 25, 2008

Don't Be a Hater

How about a no place for "hate rhetoric" sign? I'd buy that in a second and display it proudly.

The Anti-Defamation League's "No Place For Hate" program has been getting lots of heat for awhile now. Another city has decided to kick them to the curb:

From the Boston Globe:
The city has joined a growing number of communities ending their relationship with an Anti-Defamation League program, No Place for Hate, over the organization's failure to "unequivocally recognize" the Armenian genocide, a spokeswoman for Mayor Joseph Curtatone said yesterday. Curtatone is president of the Massachusetts Mayors' Association and sits on the board of its parent group, the Massachusetts Municipal Association. After that group voted unanimously to sever ties with No Place for Hate, which promotes diversity and antibias efforts, Curtatone decided to have Somerville do the same, said spokeswoman Lesley Delaney Hawkins. The city will join the National League of Cities Partnership for Working Toward Inclusive Communities, she said.

At my college, I'm greeted with various versions of "no place for hate" signs when I walk through the door. It always makes me cringe. "Hate" belongs to the lexicon of phrases that irritate me such as "reverse discrimination" and "playing the race card". I'm not sure exactly how it happened, but it seemed back in the 90's all this "hate" rhetoric became wildly popular as a way of addressing prejudicial attitudes, statements, and behaviors. Just as "love" is a phrase that becomes cheapened with misuse, the politically-correct labeling of attitudes, statements, and behaviors as "hate" has had a similar effect. I have at least three problems with this tendency:

1. Saying that a person's attitudes, statements, or behaviors are hateful is sometimes a true statement, but other times is simply a rhetorical weapon used against those whose views you do not agree with. This abusive tactic is quite common in contemporary American society where various groups struggle for the power to impose their version of reality on others. Due to the psychologizing of social problems (race is one but there are others) that I have mentioned before, throwing the word "hate" around can knock one's opponents off their feet very effectively.

2. Hate rhetoric is a symptom of the very psychologizing of social problems that I have already critiqued. It focuses on the "feelings" of the alleged perpetrator distracting us from the real issue which is the distribution of power.

3. It implies insight into the inner-workings of people's minds and hearts that frankly few of us actually possess. How do I know that "hate" is the motive behind another person's attitudes, statements or behavior? (Also why is that important anyway? See point #2)

My point is not to create a false dichotomy between psychology and sociology. As I have said, what happens in our minds matters, not only regarding what we say and do, but to our very spiritual development and ultimately, civilization itself. Baha'is believe in the power of love and the need to reduce the amount of hatred among the peoples of this world. Psychologizing social problems however is not about acknowledging the dynamic relationship between the mind and the social order, it is about giving a primacy to the mind that distorts reality and obscures the unequal distribution of power which is the well-spring of inequality and oppression.

My vote is that we retire the "hate" rhetoric from our public discourse entirely. It adds nothing to the meaningful analysis of social problems and cheapens the word itself.

"Consumer culture, today's inheritor by default of materialism's gospel of human betterment, is unembarrassed by the ephemeral nature of the goals that inspire it. For the small minority of people who can afford them, the benefits it offers are immediate, and the rationale unapologetic. Emboldened by the breakdown of traditional morality, the advance of the new creed is essentially no more than the triumph of animal impulse, as instinctive and blind as appetite, released at long last from the restraints of supernatural sanctions. Its most obvious casualty has been language."
(Commissioned by The Universal House of Justice, One Common Faith)