Saturday, February 24, 2024

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Words can convey both meaning and opinion. They therefore can be weaponized, stretched beyond their literal usage, to win favor, or to bully, or to slander. Propagandists know the power of words – that’s how they earn their daily bread.

The word “hate” and its derivatives offer an example. Wordsmiths know that most of us recoil from hate. Therefore to brand someone as “hateful,” or a spreader of “hate speech,” or simply a “hater,” is to link him or her with a despicable tribe of beings generally deplored by regular folks.

So, the word in its various forms should properly be used to describe only genuine acts or feelings of hate. To stretch its meaning beyond those unfairly accuses others.

We know true hate when we see it. Murderers of people solely because of their race, sexual orientation, sexual identity, or nationality, or any other such category certainly practice hate, as do modern-day Nazis who march with swastikas or Confederate flags. 

But it seems to me that in common parlance today, most people accused of hate actually operate from other attitudes: fear, or discomfort with someone different, or misplaced concern for their own children, or truly held religious beliefs. 

Haters exist, and they’re dangerous not only to those they hate, but also to society at large. Still, much of what’s now called “hate speech” derives from attitudes less toxic than true hatred. To equate actual hatred with fear or ignorance serves a political purpose for some, but it makes political bridge-building much more difficult.

But regardless of the differences between true hate and other attitudes falsely equated with it, the effects are too often the same. Whatever the origins of a particular legislative or administrative action that discriminates unfairly against some group, a “yes” vote is a “yes” vote, whether it derives from fear, ignorance, religious belief, or actual hate. 

To the target of such acts, the particular attitude behind them doesn’t matter. It’s hurtful and dangerous in any case. 

Familiarity may breed contempt, but at least as importantly, it breeds understanding. People who are related to someone of a different ethnicity, or sexual orientation, or religious creed other than their own are more likely to practice tolerance. 

America’s social and political polarity would ease considerably if people of different backgrounds made a conscious effort to get to know each other. Maybe that way the incidence of so-called “hateful acts” would shrink to just those bred by true hate. And we have laws to deal with them.

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