Musings Of A Spiritual Atheist

Bigotry is closely allied to hate and contempt. It is, perhaps, the visible expression of those but it is surely also an expression of distorted emotional attitudes. It is an irrational condemnation of individuals based on identifying them as belonging to a group, then making assumptions about that group when, in objective reality, no such group exists. It is the lumping together of disparate individuals with completely separate and independent lives and attitudes into a conglomerate based on the bigot’s self defined fantasies.

We may take as an example the bigotry often expressed towards the aboriginal inhabitants of North America, sometimes called Indians, sometimes Natives or First Nations, depending on the context. In a continent as large as North America, ranging from the high Arctic to southern Mexico it must surely be apparent that there is some variation in social structure, attitudes, customs and genetics between the various aboriginal groups. Yet bigots lump them all into a single group with the single focus of living off white people. Interestingly, they are always accused of living off white people, not black people or Chinese people or East Indian people or any of the others who make up North American society. That, to me, is a telling point going to the fundamental emotional themes of the bigot.

Others hate homosexuals, black people, white people, English, Irish, French, Germans, those with an education, those without an education, teachers, students, ladies who wear short skirts, ladies who wear long skirts, Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, Mormons, Moslems, Sikhs, Hindus, etc, etc, etc, ad infinitum. In fact, there will be someone, somewhere, who will hate any group it is possible to define, whether real or imagined.

The sad thing about this, of course, is that we are all members of a single species, a single tribe, coming from a small group of individuals in Africa and are all quite closely related to each other. When we hate other people we are hating our own relatives, literally. When we commit genocide, we are murdering our own family, literally. When we humiliate others we are dishonouring our own family, literally. This makes bigotry an expression of self hatred. The bigot takes those things he knows about himself in the deepest recesses of his mind and which he hates and fears the most and transfers his self loathing onto some other innocent person. Why else would so many of the claims made by bigots be so utterly ridiculous? Many of their claims are so ridiculous that they could only have originated in a perverted mind and, surely, the inventions of a perverted mind must have come from the severe emotional fears deeply etched in that mind. Even those who adopt and follow the hatred espoused by others must have had a similar attitude already present in their mind for a chord to have been struck by comments made by another. Whether originating or resonating hatred, bigotry must surely be based on a deep seated contempt for oneself and a fear that the hatred descriptor, whatever it may be, refers to oneself and describes what is hidden in the deepest recesses of one’s mind. One hates what one sees and despises in oneself.

This being the case, the way to reduce hatred and bigotry is to improve the self-respect of the bigot, since it is really themselves whom they loathe. The target is innocent, and may not even know they are the target of hatred. Even if they are aware of it, there is no reason why they should modify their behaviour in any way except, perhaps, for the very practical precaution that they avoid being hurt. The responsibility belongs to the bigot and it is they who must change.

Those who criticise others often defend themselves by saying that their comments are just free speech. Sometimes this is true. Criticising the Catholic church for its stand on contraception, or Jehovah’s Witnesses for their stand on blood transfusions, or fundamentalist Mormons for polygamy are all cases in point. In fact, any subject can be the focus of a logical and respectful discussion. Often, however, free speech is just an excuse to voice hatred and it must always be kept in mind that free speech is not absolute. There have always been, and still are, legal and social limits on what one may say, one of which bans hate speech. How can one tell the difference?

Some limits are clear cut. Threatening to hijack a plane in an airport, even as a joke, is a criminal offence for example, and falsely accusing someone of taking a bribe, while not a criminal offence, could lead to being sued for libel. Neither of those, though, is hate speech, but do show that society has placed limits on free speech. In Canada, those limits must be justified as reasonable in a free and democratic society.

Hate speech is distinguished by denigrating, insulting and humiliating descriptions or by calling for extreme action to be taken against various groups or individuals for being members of those groups. The groups attacked can be racial, religious, physical or identified based on almost any parameter that the hater chooses to define. Thus we have hatred directed at all sorts of people. Any time a group engaging in a legal activity is the target of insultingly negative comments amid calls for action to stop something or other associated with the group, consideration should be given as to whether the comments are hate speech.

Bigots are, of course, free to hate whomever they wish to hate. Bigoted hatred is not, in itself, illegal, although I personally consider it to be indefensible, utterly ignorant and grossly offensive. Nevertheless, Canada is a free society and people may display that kind of ignorance of they wish. What they are not allowed to do is to translate that attitude into action against those for whom they have such hatred, nor may they advocate any action which demeans, ridicules or threatens the liberty and safety of their targeted group. That would constitute hate speech and is forbidden as it exceeds the limits permitted for free speech in Canada. Hate speech is not just the words coming out of someone’s mouth. It also includes written material and, arguably, body language. It is quite possible to show contempt by expression and body movements. If the message of hatred is clear, then it is hate speech, even if expressed in silence.

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