The lawyer-in-training is coming out (heh, no pun intended) in me today. In law school, professors hammer into us the fact that “words matter.” A lot of time and effort is spent poring over words and their meanings; often disputes will turn upon a word that you and I think has a fairly settled definition. Over on wow.com there is a post about the fact that a GLBT guild is planning a “pride parade” in a couple of weeks. At the end of it is a little note that got under my skin, though. it says “NOTE: All hateful comments will get deleted and repeat offenders will be banned.” I know that the post made there is a bit of a charged subject and riles emotions on both sides of the issue. It’s the irony that while celebrating one group’s freedom of expression, they immediately turn around and warn that “hateful” speech will not be tolerated. But what exactly is the definition of the word “hateful?”
More after the break.
Before I go on, let me be perfectly clear. I have no problem with the event. I am all for freedom of expression, on both sides of the issue. But I think the term “hateful” gets bandied about far too casually, and not nearly equally across the board. If someone disagrees with an event, the nature of a guild, or even the posting of an article and makes their disagreement known, is that hateful? If someone has religious beliefs about the practices of another group, is that hateful? If someone calls another ignorant and a “Bible basher,” is that hateful? In my experience, the answers would be “Maybe, Yes, and No.” In truth, I think the answer is more likely “No, Maybe, and Maybe.” Whether or not it’s hateful depends on the way that the message is delivered and to whom it is delivered.
According to one of the editors of the site, hateful is “[a]nything that we feel is done in poor taste and is outsides the bounds of what a normal person would consider normal and respectful discourse on the given subject.” This definition perfectly illustrates my point about how varying definitions will wildly alter the results and perceptions of someone. I wouldn’t necessarily think that something posted that was disrespectful or in bad taste was hateful, but that’s the definition given by the editor of the site. Using words like ignorant, bigoted, and calling someone a “Bible-basher” to describe dissenters is pretty clearly disrespectful, though. That seems to meet the definition of “hateful” speech to me.
Beyond just that post, though, it seems to me that we’ve reserved the word “hateful” for those that disagree with “progressive” viewpoints for “backward” reasons. If you oppose homosexual marriage from a religious perspective, you’re hateful, backward, ignorant, and clinging to outmoded moral ideals. But is it not hateful to call someone backward, ignorant and malign something that is extremely important to that person? I don’t hear the word used in that context nearly as often.
Put it another way: Take out all GLBT references in the WoW.com post and insert Christian references and themes. Instead of naked dueling, it’s Holy Pally duels. In my humble opinion, there would be a very strong backlash against the group trying to flaunt or force their Christianity upon others. Am I wrong about that? I really don’t think I am. In fact, I think there would be lots of stronger words flung against that sort of an “event.”
I don’t really have any conclusions. I realize that it’s a charged subject and that it’s very hard for BOTH sides to handle with any kind of respect and reason. I just thought it was interesting to point out inconsistency in the treatment and implementation of the definition of a word.
Speaking of definitions, I will leave you with a definition for another word that I think can easily describe either side of the argument:
bigoted (adjective): obstinately convinced of the superiority or correctness of one’s own opinions and prejudiced against those who hold different opinions.