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Ireland and Hate Crime Laws
No time to write for personal reasons, so I’m re-upping this article from about 2 years ago re Ireland and Hate Crime laws. It’s back in the headlines because two men were tragically and horribly murdered in Sligo last week – details are it sketchy but it seems that both were targeted because they were gay. A man is in custody.
If I was writing this today I would reconsider a lot of it – in the case of gay people maybe there is a desire on the part of Irish people to create such laws; the way the legalisation of gay marriage passed by referendum indicates there’s something more than mere acceptance of gay people in Irish life. It’s one aspect of modernity and change that we can demonstrate robust support for.
I also think I underestimated the (misguided) sincerity of politicians in trying to introduce these laws. I don’t think Leo Varadkar (for example) is lying when he says he thinks these laws are good and necessary. He’s wrong, but he’s not lying.
One thing I regret not emphasising in the below is that every Irish person has a right to feel and be safe, and that hate crime laws distract us from that goal rather than bringing us closer.
Nevertheless the recent talk on this subject does touch on some things I mention here: one is the pre-existing desire on the part of politicians, media and activists (but I repeat myself) to create hate crime and hate speech laws for their own needs, and repurposing any events they can to that end.
The other is, because all our policy thinking is done by NGOs and activists, our managerial class is unable to understand crime and punishment except through the lens of topics activists are concerned about, as though those topics can be detached from general “law and order” and resolved in isolation (they can’t).
And the final one is the idea of a hate crimes treadmill, which is a phrase coined (as far as I am aware) by Coleman Hughes. I find it useful and clarifying but I don’t hear many other people using it.
Anyway pls read and comment, hopefully back to normal week after next.
At the height of the whole Google/ Speakers Unicorner farce I mentioned I felt the real issue at stake was the potential to use such events for the suppression of political speech through the introduction of new hate speech laws. I suggested that the purpose of removing the blasphemy clause from the constitution was to clear some legal space to allow for that — closing a chapter on the conventionally pious part of our legal history so that the era of secular piety could begin in earnest.
I got push back, on the basis that there was no necessity to remove blasphemy in order to create new laws, and that an incitement to hatred law is already on the books. This is all true. But what we’re talking about here are sanctity and morality laws, so it’s not a purely practical matter. Looking at the reaction to a couple of incidents in the last few weeks I’m confident in my views. Laws controlling speech are coming, or at the very least a strong push for them is. They are not necessary and must be resisted.
Of the high profile incidents that happened recently, we have a recording of the attack that occurred in Dundrum and are well placed to judge it’s larger meaning for ourselves. Disappointingly for activists, there is no obvious racial element to it, but it’s nevertheless upsetting to listen to. The empathy it arouses, and the big-heartedness of all Irish people is what proponents of laws limiting speech count on. Regular Irish people will be supportive of laws that stop women getting attacked in the street, or death threats being delivered by phone. They think people should be respectful of religious symbols. So if that’s what’s planned, what’s the problem?
The first problem is that existing Incitement laws are good enough. There is no wave of hate we are straining to contain, and if there was, the first step would be an application of those laws. The reason people want something new on the books is psychological, and this is the specifically Irish dimension. Our peripheral history leaves us with a sense of cultural insecurity that asserts itself differently in different segments of the population.
The deepest longing of Irish Twitter and company is to be noticed and praised by their equivalents in more cosmopolitan (read: multiracial) countries, and to be thought their equal, or failing that, the best student in the class. Our cultural cognoscenti will imitate whatever their equivalents in the US or UK do, whether those things make sense in an Irish context or not: anything to avoid looking like provincials. To the extent that it comes from our indigenous politics and media, the drive for Hate Speech laws is about forcing the symptoms of elite inadequacy on normal people.
The second problem is that these laws introduce a moral hierarchy that is not reflective of public morality. Say what you want about our old taboos — for good or ill they did represent what people held sacred. Passing laws to prevent young girls being assaulted in the street or NEETs throwing up Nazi salutes outside Google would have that kind of support. But what about laws that regard misgendering as hate speech, or that prevent people from stating that a woman is defined as an adult human female? Would such laws codify the popular, sacred values of Irish people? I don’t think they would. If two teenage girls get in a fight and each punches the other, but one is white and tears off the other girls hijab, I absolutely do not accept that the a greater category of crime has been created by the latter act, and I think most Irish people would not accept that either.
What advocates plan here is not the adoption of laws to reflect the heartfelt beliefs of the community, but the reverse. The plan is to insert new values into people’s hearts via the statute book. In fairness, it works. But it’s wrong. Minority race and identity issues are not the moral centre of Irish life.
The third problem is linked to the one above, which is that once we start down this path, there is no end to it.
In describing the circular and self-fulfilling nature of the anti-racist grift, Coleman Hughes has written about what he calls the racism treadmill. While racism exists, activists will demand further powers to address it. Any evidence of inequality between representatives of races is by definition attributable to racism. Since even in an ideal society there will be minor differences in the lives of individuals, there is no conceivable end to anti-racist activity or the expansion of it. This pattern is characteristic of a particular type of progressive mindset and revealing of its competitive advantage as a belief. There is no outer boundary beyond which progress is desirable. Problems are never resolved, because addressing them only ever proves the need for a further concentration of power in the hands of activists of various kinds.
I guarantee you that’s where we’re going. Each prosecution under a new hate speech law will be proof that more arrests, more laws, more funding is needed, until we eventually arrive at the authoritarian clownocracy of Germany or the UK. There is a hate crime treadmill, and we are about to step on it: let’s not.
Finally — even if this type of law was necessary, it is only as the last part of a wider conversation that we haven’t started. Don’t ask me to curtail my freedom to dissent in order to make the country safe for a cultural change I have not consented to. If any major political party or public figure in Ireland wants to talk about where we’re going culturally and why, let’s have it. Until then, the discussion doesn’t begin with hate speech laws, any more than a discussion on whether I should buy a house starts with presenting me with a bill for tarmacking the driveway.
This is not about preventing assaults, or death threats, or right wing terrorism because those things are either currently illegal, or could be made so irrespective of any racial component. In no particular order this is about cultural keeping up with the Joneses, making political dissent impossible, and empowering zealots, grifters and people who are a little of both. It’s about changing the moral landscape of the country without doing the hard work of convincing anyone that the cultural changes you’ve decided on are necessary, good or inevitable.