(I am going to try to get a hold of Jacobs and Potter’s book and write about it. For now, a few musings on “hate crime” ideology. Given my blogging text limits, I will post the text separated in different parts, and cut into the usual tiny posts.)
The quotes below come from a review of the book by a guy with a homosexual dysfunction. Ralph Wedgwood, formerly an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is now a Lecturer in Philosophy at Oxford University and a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford. He is the author of “The Fundamental Argument for Same-Sex Marriage,” Journal of Political Philosophy (1999),
In Chapter 6, Jacobs and Potter criticize the justifications that are most frequently offered for hate crime laws. First, they consider the claim that “more severe penalties for criminals motivated by prejudice are justified because such offenders are morally worse–more culpable–than criminals who engage in the same conduct, but for reasons other than prejudice” (pp. 79-80). They dismiss this claim with the following objection (p. 80): “A con artist may defraud widows out of their life savings in order to lead a life of luxury. An ideologue may assassinate a political leader in order to dramatize his cause or to coerce decision makers into changing national policy. Are these criminals less morally reprehensible than a gay basher or a black rioter who beats an Asian storeowner? Of course not.”
The sheer irrelevance of this objection is staggering. Jacobs and Potter are objecting to the claim that crimes motivated by prejudice are more culpable than crimes that involve the same conduct but different motivation. However exactly the philosophically tricky notion of ‘the same conduct’ is to be understood, it is indisputable that defrauding widows out of their life savings is not “the same conduct” as gay bashing. The question that Jacobs and Potter should have asked is this: Suppose that a gang of young men beat someone up just because they feel bored. Is this act less morally reprehensible than if they had beaten him up just because they believed that he was gay? Both acts are seriously morally wrong, but it is far from obvious, at least to me, that the second act is not more reprehensible than the first.
Wedgwood argues that one must apply the notion of “the same conduct” to judge if two crimes are equal from a moral perspective. This is already a tricky assertion, because crime is not and should not be defined or evaluated on the basis of the type of the perpetrator’s motive or conduct alone. But more on this later.
First of all, regarding what the proponents of hate crime categories construe, what is the problem with the example offered that beating up someone because of alleged boredom is less worse than beating up someone because of some prejudice against homosexuality? It starts with the ultra-simplification of the motive, a reductionism that only serves to muddle and completely obfuscate the real complex set of motives. Boredom does not cause assault crimes. A complex set of aggregated motives need to be present to make someone who is bored commit a crime of battery.
In such a situation we would find a series of other psycho-social dysfunctions that together could lead some people to commit a crime. The perpetrators could even allege that they committed a crime “because they were bored,” but this would be a reductionist, ignorant version of the facts. They necessarily must have other issues to commit a crime and allege it was solely out of boredom. So the first problem with the comparison given and its “motive” starts there.
Next, we can also raise several issues regarding the question of a gang beating someone up because they believed he was a homosexual. Firstly, the majority of people who oppose the legitimation of homosexuality do not beat up homosexuals, therefore an opposition to the normalization of homosexuality itself does not produce violent behavior towards homosexuals, nor is it correct to say this is some form of prejudice, since opposing the normalization of homosexuality requires knowledge, not prejudice. Secondly, if the gang members had a certain hostility towards homosexuals, and this could possibly be qualified as prejudice, they would need to have some other set of ideas regarding their own social behavior (i.e. believe that they had a need to beat him up to actually do it).
Thirdly, and even more poignantly, the number of homosexuals who are pro-homosexuality zealots and who batter other homosexuals is thousands of times higher than the beatings from heterosexuals with problems.
Returning to the question of motive, we can conclude that simply stating that “prejudice produces a crime” is also not correct, just as saying that “boredom produces crimes” is also not correct.
But even if we consider a variety of crimes where the conduct was the same, and even if the motive in all of them included some kind of “prejudice,” there are a vast number of examples that will show why “hate crime” concepts/categories are invalid. What if the gang beat up another guy because he refused to be part of a gang? Or because he voted for a politician the gang didn’t like? Or because he was old and weak? Or because he was homeless? Or because he was fat? Or because he was wearing a new suit? Or because he studied hard to pass exams at school and they hated that he was a “nerd?”
Why is only the beating related to the homosexual victim enormously more morally wrong than every one of the above examples and so many more that we could conjure? Why does this case justify an abnormally privileged category?
The truth is that it is absurd to rob the other victims of their equiponderation of the harm of the crime they suffered or from the perspective of degree of evil of the crime that was perpetrated. All of the above examples would require a set of problematic attitudes from the part of the gang that would cause them to perpetrate the beating, and in all of the cases these sets of attitudes are equally bad. Furthermore, labeling the motive a mere “prejudice” is oversimplifying it.
But the most fundamental problem is that there is no moral ground to make the distinction that the prejudice against the homosexual is worse than any of the others, it is clearly the result of an “Animal Farm” logic, a distinction based on power privileges, discourse inequality, and profound injustice.
To note: depending on the “hate crime” legislation and what it defines as victim categories, some of the examples above could also be categorized as “hate crimes.” Wedgwood quotes an example: “Alabama law defines a hate crime as ‘a Class A felony that was motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or physical or mental disability.'” Even then, if we include the beating of the homeless and the old man in hate crimes categories, why are they any worse than the beating of the guy who didn’t want to join a gang? On what moral ground does one assert that half of the above examples are worse than the remaining half?
How can one assert that the guy who was beaten because he didn’t want to join a gang or the other victim who been battered because he had studied hard suffered less or were assaulted less than the guy who was beaten because of his homosexual dysfunction? There is absolutely no moral grounds for the claim. This is one aspect that makes so-called “hate crime” categories highly immoral from a philosophical pespective.
As Jacobs and Potter point out, the statutory definitions of “hate crime” in fact make no mention of hatred. Instead, these statutes, in effect, define “hate crime” as “criminal conduct motivated by prejudice” (p. 11).
This is absolutely fascinating! It’s like legislation against robberies that makes no mention of… robberies!
My not-being-a-lawyer guess is that if the legal text and rationale had been construed upon the term and concept of “hate,” they would probably not be able to prove it, except in very, very rare occasions.
Thus, even in law discourses, the fake-hate-stake is burning bright.
Second point, in most cases of domestic abuse, we do find a lot of hatred from the perpetrator to the victim, such as from one spouse to other, from parent to abused child, etc. And it is interesting that regarding these types of violence dynamics, there is no one making grand speeches about “hate,” “hate-based violence,” etc. Have you ever heard anyone say, “hate-based domestic violence?” Never.