Thursday, October 8, 2009

"Hate Crime" is Thought Crime

Today the House voted to expand the definition of "hate crime" to include a victim's "gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability." The NYT reports:

Democrats and advocates hailed the 281-to-146 vote, which put the measure on the brink of becoming law, as the culmination of a long push to curb violent expressions of bias like the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming college student.

“Left unchecked, crimes of this kind threaten to ruin the very fabric of America,” said Representative Susan Davis, Democrat of California.
What would this legislation accomplish? The article quotes Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat,
“The hate-crimes act will hopefully deter people from being targeted for violent attacks because of the color of their skin or their religion, their disability, their gender, or their sexual orientation, regardless of where the crime takes place,” he said.
The idea is, the current punishment for crimes like the heinous murder of Matthew Shepard is an insufficient deterrent. We must punish the motive, as well as the act. Supporters were quick to offer the following caveat:
[T]he bill specifically bars prosecution based on an individual’s expression of “racial, religious, political or other beliefs.” It also states that nothing in the measure should be “construed to diminish any rights under the 1st Amendment to the Constitution.” [Emphasis mine.]
What are we to make of this apparent contradiction? What is the mainspring of attacks motivated by "the color of [the victim's] skin or their religion, their disability, their gender, or their sexual orientation," if not a criminal's "racial, religious, political or other beliefs"? Are we really just penalizing pure, non-ideological, animal hatred?

The point is, every action is somehow motivated by a belief, by a value judgment. Even when the action is not premeditated, implicit premises motivate an action. Otherwise our choices and actions would be completely random, motivated by nothing but whim. (It could be argued that even actions based on whim have premises at their root, however emotionalistic. A truly unmotivated action would be the result of the purely probabilistic flip of the coin. Yet the decision to cede a decision to probability, is still a decision based on belief.)

Thus, punishing a criminal for their motivation is tantamount to thought crime. Otherwise, it would be impossible to prosecute someone for a "hate crime." The animals who slaughtered Matthew Shepard were motivated by hatred. But that hatred had a root, be it religion, prejudice, whatever. It is impossible to untangle the source of this hatred and punish it, without punishing the ideas that caused the hatred.

Once the door is open to punish the criminal's motive, it is a short road to codifying "political crimes," as well. I personally think the leftist-anarchists who destroy private property, in the name of anti-capitalism, are motivated by pernicious ideals. Should we also punish their motives, on top of their crimes? Do these crimes not "threaten to ruin the very fabric of America?"

Hatred is an emotion, a response to an individual's values. Ultimately, the punishment of "hatred" is the punishment of values and the ideas that define them. Crimes ought to be punished, because they are crimes, i.e., because they infringe on the rights of an individual. The motive of the crime is only important in establishing guilt. Otherwise, we are punishing ideas, however wrong and unpopular. That is the very definition of thought crime.