— Kathy Griffin (@kathygriffin) December 23, 2013
Twitchy decries the comparison mainly on the theory that Robertson committed no act of violence against gay people and also observing that "the murder of Matthew Shepard... might not have had anything to do with Shepard being gay after all, but rather with drugs."
Here's the book that came out last September examining that evidence that the murder wasn't about homosexuality but crystal meth: "The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard."
But let's take this a step deeper and compare the repression of free speech and the use of physical violence to control and oppress people. Murder — especially torture murder, like Shepard's — is a terrible crime. Is it even worse if it is a hate crime — that is, if the victim is chosen because he belongs to a group toward which the murderer feels hate? The reason it is considered worse is because of what it does to the minds of other members of the group.
We all fear crime, and if there is a lot of murder going on, it erodes our sense of well-being and may inhibit our freedom to move around town. But when the crime is hate crime, it has a disparate effect on the minds of the people, so that some are constrained and afraid more than others. That matters! In fact, spreading a false belief that a murder is a hate crime also imposes that disparate burden on members of the group that was supposedly targeted.
Hate speech similarly affects the minds of the members of the group against whom hate has been expressed, and it can produce the same kind of fear of violence that is caused by a report of a hate crime. Now, there is hate speech and there is hate speech. Think of the most virulent hate speech, and you should see how powerful it is, how justified and painful the fear is. In extreme cases, members of the targeted group should take alarm and even flee in terror. A purveyor of hate speech need not commit an act of violence to create a fear of violence. He might inspire others to commit those acts of violence, and even if he doesn't, the threat of violence alone has an effect. False reports of hate speech work the same harm.
In the set of statements that could be characterized as hate speech, what Phil Robertson said was not that bad. Many would argue for a narrow definition of hate speech such that what Phil Robertson said would not be in the set at all. Defining the category very broadly is a political and rhetorical move, and it isn't always effective. At some point — and perhaps with Robertson, we've hit that point — you're being too repressive about what can be said on issues about which decent people are still debating, and it would be better to hear each other out and remain on speaking terms.
There is more good to be achieved by talking to each other and not shunning than by treating another human being as toxic. In fact, to treat another person as toxic is to become hateful yourself. It's better to let the conversation flow, and if you really think your ideas are good, why switch to other tactics? What's the emergency? Especially when your cause — like gay rights — is for greater human freedom, you ought to resist becoming a force of repression.
Since making his controversial remark, Phil Robertson has put out the message that as a Christian he loves everyone. Love speech is the opposite of hate speech, and it has so much more to do with Christianity than the reviling of sin in the earlier remark. He wants to speak against sin, but it's a problem when you aim a remark at a kind of person who has, over the years — over the millennia — felt a threat of violence and the burden of ostracism. I think Robertson knows that.
That's what I want to say in this conversation that I think should flow on. The love is in the conversation. The conversation is an independent good, even if we never agree.
Come on, haters. Show the love.
It's Christmas Eve.