I was talking about hate crimes so much that I never stopped to ask some basic questions.
What is hate?
Is hate just another loaded term, or does it mean something? I always thought of hate as an emotion. The opposite of love, perhaps. Something that makes you lose control.
When I was in law school I learned that crimes of passion are treated differently than crimes not involving passion. If, for example, a man discovers his wife in bed with another man, is overcome by passion and shoots the guy, the heat of passion involved normally reduces the murderer’s culpability, so that instead of first degree murder, he’s only guilty of second degree murder (or even manslaughter).
But let’s say the same man never experienced marital infidelity, but merely tires of his wife. After reflecting on the matter, he decides he’d be better off with the proceeds of her life insurance policy than the wife, so he poisons her.
There’s no heat of passion, no sudden quarrel, no hate of any kind.
The law recognizes that as the worst kind of murder: first degree murder, with premeditation and deliberation.
So what is it about hate that has made it suddenly become transformed into a more, not less, criminally culpable mental state than being possessed of a clear, reflective, sober, rational mind?
Might it be that “hate crime” isn’t the correct phrase to be used in describing crimes motivated by racial prejudice? Let’s look at hate crime in the context I mentioned. Suppose a white man had an absolute, irrational, blinding hatred of race mixing, and that this was driven by the sexual aspects of his hatred.
There’s the well known phenomenon of sexual racism — people unable to have sex with anyone except members of certain races.

It’s racially prejudiced to rule out someone for a job based on their race or to keep them out of a pub. Ruling out someone as a potential partner based on their race is just as prejudiced.

Hmmmm….. What about ruling out someone based on that person’s sex?
(Nah! Sexual sexism is off limits, and will remain that way! Achtung baby!)
Let’s return to hard facts of life. I once knew a white man who not only was turned off sexually by other races, but he claimed to be unable to have sex even with white women if he discovered they’d ever had sex with members of other races. (In my unprofessional opinion, that’s true sexual pathology!) But let’s suppose a guy like that found his wife in bed with a black man, went absolutely berserk, and shot the black man to death. Absent any racial prejudice, such a killing would traditionally be seen as second degree murder, but now the added factor of uncontrollability (assuming the passion involves racism) adds to the guilt. Presumably hate is to be more severely punished than cold, emotionless states. Assuming that the hate means less control, and not more control, how much judicial sense does this make?
And what about fear? Is that the same thing as hate? If crime is motivated by fear, from where do we obtain the supreme confidence of knowing that this is a thing which should add to criminal culpability? Suppose a man (or a woman) was raped as a child, and as a result of the rape develops lifelong fears manifesting themselves against sexual offenders. If he lashes out against a child molester, is this a hate crime? Is the sexual attraction to children a form of sexual orientation? If the relevant hate crime statute includes “sexual orientation” on its list, then why wouldn’t the deliberate murder of a child molester be a hate crime? Shouldn’t the protected sexual orientations be listed? Not that I’m advocating the murder of child molesters or rapists, but are these hate crimes? Or does hatred based on sexual orientation necessarily involve only some sexual orientations? While the statutory language is very general, and most likely is intended to give protection to homosexuals only, laws invite this sort of technical squabbling.
Parenthetically, I’m wondering whether a nexus of fear and hate can be found in the term “homophobia.” In the normal usage of that word, fear and hate are all but synonymous; those who hate homosexuals are said to be afraid of them.
What if fear is at the root of the kind of crime which is being punished here? Should prejudice crimes properly be called “fear crimes?” Some yes; some no. I think there is such a thing as calm, calculating, cold-blooded hatred. Maybe that’s what the laws aim to punish.
But that still begs the question of what is hate, and I’m afraid I haven’t answered it at all.
Here’s Dean Esmay:

….Hate is a healthy emotion. An utterly appropriate emotion, in fact, so long as, like all other emotions, it is kept in its place.
Indeed, I go further: if you cannot hate, then there is something fundamentally wrong with you. If you tell me that you cannot or will not feel hatred, then there are only two possibilities: you are either a liar, or there is something dark and twisted about your soul.
…..if you cannot or will not ever feel hate, then I assert that, ultimately, you are perverse. Because hate is an entirely normal, entirely healthy emotion. When, like all other powerful emotions, it is kept in its appropriate time and place.

Dean is right. Hate is so normal that it is abnormal not to hate.
I can’t shake this feeling I have that hate is not a thing decided, any more than people decide to love. Hate is very, very tough to define. There isn’t agreement on whether it is good or bad, much less what things or people should be hated, or who should get to decide these things. That’s why I think making hate a target for legislative regulation will ultimately create more problems than it will solve.
A race-based society full of the hate that dare not speak its name?
MORE: Since I so love hypotheticals, here are a few more:

  • A man convinced that his daughter was brainwashed by cultists (and who therefore believes Scientologists and Moonies are evil incarnate) overturns recruiting tables belonging to both the Church of Scientology and the Unification Church, and defaces their literature.
  • A gay man who hates the Westboro Baptist Church for its crude misinterpretation of Leviticus 18:22 hacks into the GodHatesFags.com web site, and causes property damage.
  • A fundamentalist Christian interprets certain passages in the Koran (which read “kill them wherever you find them”) as proof that Islam is evil, then goes on a rampage of vandalizing mosques.
  • Hacking and vandalism? Or hate crimes?
    MORE: The best working definition of hate crime I can come up with is found in Section 280003 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994

    a crime in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim, or in the case of a property crime, the property that is the object of the crime, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person.

    These two pending bills would make all crimes falling into the above definition federal crimes.
    UPDATE: Here’s a New York Times report about a bank executive who allegedly jumped naked from the bushes along a New Jersey nature trail and exposed himself to a woman.
    If it is determined that the banker “intentionally select[ed] [the] victim because of the actual or perceived …. gender,” (i.e., he wouldn’t have done this to a man) then under the statute, it’s a hate crime!
    Am I alone in thinking this a bit ridiculous?