On extreme and everyday hatred

13 november 2012 | In Crime Ethics Hate Crime politics Psychology | Comments?

The locus of the problem

In policy documents and in the scholarly literature, the idea recurs that the contemporary problem with xenophobia and racism is not primarily located in extremist acts of violence but rather in prejudices prevalent in the general population, and primarily expressed in minor acts of discrimination and behaviors well below the threshold of the criminal. These acts and attitudes when combined, when systematic, accounts for many  avoidable problems facing society in general, and targeted groups in particular, and are quite clearly  a proper target of policy measures. In addition, these widespread attitudes are often held (see Barbara Perry’s 2001 book ”In the name of hate” for instance) to provide the background conditions and justification for more severe hate crimes. Hate criminals may take everyday racism as their mandate to offend

The inclusiveness of the legal definition

Hate crime and hate speech laws target, depending on jurisdiction, more or less extreme versions of discriminatory actions. In the hate crime literature (See Iganski 2008 and Perry 2001) a case has been made in favor of an inclusive definition of hate crime, not limited to cases of extremist violence, but including more or less any crime in which a bias element plays a central role. The argument in favor of such a definition is usually made on the grounds that less extremist, less obviously racist, yet still hate motivated crimes, have the same sort of particularly harmful impact as extremist crimes has, and this is the morally relevant distinction between hate crimes from other crimes. Focus on the obvious cases can make us blind to the prevalence of these relatively ”minor” crimes , and can thus have a detrimental an impact on victims tendencies to report and on authorities tendency to respond. It may also make us blind to the occurrence and impact of non-criminal covert racist behavior.

Harm and Prevention

Hate crime and -speech laws and statutes are often justified on the basis of the harm caused by these crimes. The justification may be retributory, but for the most part, the assumption and justification is that punishment has a preventive function. It is supposed that legislation will limit the occurrence these crimes, and of their harmful effects. It is also viewed as an expression of the state’s commitment to equality. It is presumably assumed to have a discouraging influence on prejudices in general. It’s to the latter function I’ll now turn.

Wider effects on prejudice

The point is this: even if the non-criminal, less obviously xenophobic expressions of prejudice is the true locus of a societiy’s xenophobia problem (and the source of  target groups remaining disadvantaged), punishing the more extreme manifestations have effects on the prevalence of the attitudes thus distinguished as aggravating.  This, presumably, is their rationale. There is little point in the criminal law expressing commitment to equality if the predicted effect is not a reinforcement of support of equality.

Are hate speech laws effective?

In his 2004 book The Hateful and the Obscene, philosopher Wayne Sumner argued against hate speech laws on the grounds that they are largely unnecessary. The kind of racist expressions that presumably warrants criminal sanction in this way is likely to be counter-acted by public opinion and reactive support for victimized groups. Society would indeed be worse if racist speech would stand  un-opposed, but it isn’t. At least not for established minorities (which tends to be the ones protected by this sort of legislation). This, of course, is part of the classic liberal defense of the first amendment: the solution to hate speech is more speech, not restrictions on speech. Hate speech legislation, on this view, is not effective and thus lack justification. Indeed restrictions are likely to make would-be offenders self-righteous and martyr-like and may thus exacerbate the problem.

The extreme and the everyday

The relation between extreme/criminal acts and speech and everyday xenophobia is crucial to policy and legislation pragmatically construed. If hate crime and – speech laws may in fact make things worse in this way (as argued in Jacobs and Potters seminal 1998 attack on hate crime legislation) and it is the widespread prejudice in the non-criminal population that accounts for the severe impact of these crimes (the impact of hate crime is presumably more severe in a society where the victim is also subject to widespread prejudices), we have a dilemma. If the public reply to hate crimes is diminished prejudice in the general population, each hate crime is likely to diminish the conditions for their particularly harmful impact. While this should  not be counted as a mitigating factor, it does rather undercut the rationale for it being an aggravating factor. In particular if the attitudes that actually determine the impact is not that of the offender, but that of the general public.

One mechanism by which punishing hate motivated speech and acts may have a detrimental effect is, as stated in the introduction, if it means we ignore and accept everyday racism as relatively unworthy of attention. Hate crime legislation, especially when it is not enforced, can be a relatively cheap way of ”taking prejudices seriously”. It can express commitment to equality while not making a commitment to work towards equality.

The case for legislation

The argument that hate crimes and -speech is naturally counteracted by public reactions, because tolerance is the prevailing attitude in most modern societies, does not necessarily undermine the case for legislation. In fact, it may offer a further argument in favor of these laws: Legislation (plus prosecution and sentencing) is part of the public ”reaction” to these crimes and to this type of speech. The public condemnation of these acts (be they acts of violence or of speech) means that they are held to warrant extra punishment. The laws are legitimate.  The support offered to victims should not just come from public reactions (which a fickle and too dependent on ones groups prior standing) but from legislation that ensures equality of consideration.

The empirical question, crucial for policy

Do laws (and prosecutions, sentencing etc) have a reinforcing impact on attitudes thus expressed? This, is an important question. And it would seem to be an empirical one, the settling of which depends on careful (and methodologically very complex) evaluations. Do effects on general attitudes depend on an inclusive hate crime concept, for instance, showing that non-extremist and non-violent crimes can be hate crimes too? Does it depend on law-enforcement making these crimes their priority? Or might such a policy result in a worsening of the situation, by putting the emphasis on group conflicts? These, as I say, are clearly crucial question to answer if hate crime- and speech legislation is based on and ultimately justified by their role in, a general anti-prejudice policy project.

The Hate Crime Concept(s)

11 september 2012 | In academia Hate Crime media Moral philosophy Self-indulgence TV | 1 Comment

A few months ago, the German partner of the ”When Law and Hate Collide” project hosted a splendid symposium on hate crime.

You can find all the presentations on youtube.

My presentation on the Hate Crime Concept(s) (the spoiler is in the title: there might be several such concepts) is here.

The slides, if you find that you need to look at something a little less distracting than me moving about nervously, are here: The Hate Crime Concept(s)


Hate and Harm

5 juli 2012 | In Crime Hate Crime | Comments?

The justification of punishment

Ok, short background: The traditional justification of punishment is based on two not entirely independent considerations: Wrongdoing and Culpability. There are other considerations, but -with the possible exception of strict liability offenses – these are necessary conditions for the justification of punishment. If no wrong has been committed, or the agent is not culpable, there can be no justification of punishment. This rules out mere ”utilitarian” justifications of punishing an innocent person in order to bring order or create a false sense of safety in the public. Now,  what counts as criminal wrongdoing is a matter of contention, but the minimal conception has it that it is a matter of  harm. It’s minimal in that it does not presuppose anything beyond the nearly universally accepted principle that inflicting harm is to be avoided. The wrongness of an action is a matter of the harm caused. But it does not end there. Attempted murder causes no, or rather little, harm, but still involves substantial wrongdoing. Intending, or rather: risking harm is thus also a form of wrongdoing. It’s notable that the notion of risk is actually rather more central than the notion of intention , as is shown by the tendency not to punish ill intentions when the means used are clearly inadequate. Homeopathic poisoners face very limited charges.

Hate crime legislation

”Hate crime hurts more”. This claim is supported by most proponents of hate crime legislation, Notably Frederick Lawrence and Paul Iganski. This argument, then, seems to take the ”wrongdoing” route to the justification of punishment enhancements for hate crimes: if punishment is to be proportional to harm,  crimes that causes more of it deserves harsher punishments.

The Critics

Critics of hate crime legislation (notably Heidi Hurd and Michael Moore, Anthony Dillof , James B. Jacobs and Kimberly Potter) tend to question the above claim. Jacobs and Potter points out that the evidence is slim, and that hate crimes are not compared with properly ”parallel” crimes. This criticism had a lot of merit at the time of it’s publication, but more recent research shows that even when controlled for other factors, hate crimes tend to cause more emotional harm than parallel crimes. Another line of criticism, from Hurd, Moore and Dillof, points out that hate should not be used as a proxy. Not all hate crimes cause more harm than parallel crimes. So is it not unfair to punish those that do not cause more harm because others tend to? Lawrence and Iganski admits this, and Lawrence actually argues that while the justification of the legislation is based in the fact that hate crimes hurt more, the justification of individual punishments is based on the culpability of the offender. It would seem that individuals, then, are being punished for their opinions, and a whole new can of criticism opens up.

Hate and Risk

Heidi Hurd points out that if we allow enhanced punishment on the ground that the type of crime they commit tends to cause more harm, we would have to punish bad tempered people more than others. Bad tempered people tend to cause more harm than others, so even when they don’t, they’re assaults should be viewed as aggravated. This is intended as a reductio, but does it work as one? Assault with a deadly weapon is worse than assault without one because it risks greater harm, even when it does not in fact cause it. There is a clear mechanism by which the deadly weapon (hence the name) would tend to cause the harm, and by wielding it, you are risking that harm.

Now apply this to hate crimes. Hate crimes, i.e. crimes committed because of hate/bias/prejudice towards a certain group, tend to cause more harm because acts expressing hatred do. There is, arguably, a mechanism by which hate crimes tend to cause a certain kind of harm. This does not always happen, and it’s not the only mechanism by which such harm is caused, but committing a hate crime risks causing additional harm. It is ”assault with a harmful opinion”, if you will. I’ve used the drunk driving analogy before: you risk causing great harm if you drive under the influence. You may cause the same harm while sober, and you may avoid it while drunk, but this does not undermine the fact that you are justifiably punished for taking the risk. Of course if you actually do cause harm under the influence, you are punished more than if merely taking the risk. If the analogy holds, hate should be aggravating even when it does not cause additional emotional harm, but even more so when it does.

Opinion or expression?

Opinions does not cause harm on their own. They must be expressed and/or perceived in order to do so. This suggests, as I’ve explored elsewhere, that we might move away from punishing ”opinions” and concentrate on hate expressive acts. There are many benefits to this approach, chief of which is that expressions are more easily ascertainable than are opinions. We don’t punish ”thoughts”, and we focus on what actually cause the harm. A crime that expresses hate causes/risks the same harm no matter whether the perpetrator actually harbors the opinion, so this seems a natural route to take.

But expressions can be open for interpretations and the criminal may plausibly deny intending to express anything particular about the victim. Should evidence showing that the perpetrator actually harbors the opinion then be rendered irrelevant? Not necessarily. If you hate a group and commit a crime against someone of that group because of it, you risk expressing the hatred that in turn risks causing the greater harm. A risk based approach is thus consistent with both versions.

Racists as victims of hate crime: the vulnerability account

15 mars 2012 | In Crime Hate Crime politics Self-indulgence | Comments?
Victim-centered accounts of hate crime

One of the main issues debated when it comes to hate crime is about its victim: Who are the victims of hate crimes? This can be taken as an empirical question about the most common victims of hate motivated attacks – a very relevant question that can and probably should drive policy measures – or it can be taken as a conceptual question regarding what counts as a hate crime. There is a widespread belief, for instance, that only minorities can be the victim of a hate crime. But in most legislations being targeted because of religion, for instance, includes being targeted for belonging to the majority religion. It’s just much less common.

Very few countries have an open-ended scope for victim, suggesting that it’s not merely the ”hate” or ”bias” aspect that makes these crimes of special interest. The sort of group that you hate must have some particular feature or history, that makes targeting them a particularly bad idea.

Perception matters

It is, in fact, not the actual group-membership of the victim that counts, but what group the perpetrator believe the victim belongs to. I’m not Jewish, but because of my name and some superficial features, one may perhaps be led to believe that I am, and if one attacks me because of this belief and bias toward Jewish people, I would be the victim of an anti-semitic hate crime. This, of course, makes sense if hate crime focuses on culpability of perpetrator: for all he/she knew, I’m Jewish and attacking me would tend to have the intended consequences of harming me and my group. In fact, the targeted group may still suffer, if they get to know that I was targeted because (mistakenly) believed to belong to them. One notable feature of this arrangement, however, is that I, presumably, would not suffer more because mistakenly being held to be Jewish than if I had been the target of some otherwise motivated crime. So harm-wise, it might be preferable that I be the victim of an anti-semitic attack than that an actual Jewish person is. But, of course, if targeted in such an attack, I would probably not have the typical supporting back-up of the Jewish community, so perhaps I would, in a sense, be worse off. Oh well.

The motive

There’s one further aspect: It’s not enough that the perpetrator believes that the victim belongs to a certain group, that must also be the reason why that victim was chosen. This is of considerable importance, as we shall see below.


Hate crime legislation was developed in support of certain groups that were very often targeted by bias-motivated crime. Certain ethnic and religious groups and certain groups based on sexual preference were, and still are suffering more than their share of bias motivated attacks, and something had to be done about it. Several things, in fact. But there are two rationales lurking here: 1) These people are being targeted more often, and we need to create incentive for this to decrease. And 2) These people suffer more as a result of being targeted than do other people. This is the ”hate crimes hurt more” account, which I’ve written about before. Both these accounts make room for limiting the ”hate crime” category to certain groups: those that are hurt more by being targeted. This is in line with the harm principle – punishing perpetrators in proportion to the harm they cause, or intend, or risk, to cause.

We may speculate that 2) is true because 1) is true, but let’s focus on 2). This suggest that certain groups are more vulnerable to harm. They may be such, in a sense developed by Wolff and De-Shalit, that their disadvantages cluster: They are not only more likely to be victims of crimes, but also less likely to secure jobs, more likely to be discriminated against, having less access to certain social goods etc. Targeting the vulnerable seems to add to your culpability (even if you could defend yourself by saying that they were already at such an disadvantage, that another attack wouldn’t make things that much worse). Let’s grant this, for the moment, and say that hate crime legislation is in place to protect groups that are at a disadvantage. Minorities often are, but not all minorities. The very rich, for instance, is a minority, but not a vulnerable one. Targeting them would not, on this account, count as a hate crime.

Vulnerability and motive

Now we come to a tricky issue: we’ve said that what’s important in hate crime is 1) Perception of the victims group and 2) Vulnerability of that group and 3) Hate/bias toward that group. If 3) is essential to hate crime, and this should fit into the ”vulnerability-as-prone-to-harm” account, we must show that targeting a group because of membership is worse than targeting them for some other reason. I.e. prone to cause more harm. We are currently not enhancing punishment just for knowingly attacking someone belonging to one of these group, so this seems to be an essential ingredient. The argument is usually that if I’m targeted because of group-membership, that means I and my group live under a constant threat of being targeted again. I won’t evaluate this claim here, but grant it and see what follows. For if this was a tricky issue, the following is even worse:

Vulnerability as perceived by victim

Let’s grant that for most societies, the majority is not at a disadvantage (this may be a conceptual claim, or an empirical one and as such is probably challenged by the 99% movement). So if I’m targeted because of belonging to that group, I’m not suffering any additional harm, and the perpetrator would not have deserved punishment enhancement. Despite fulfilling the other criteria, the ”hate” part, I’m not the victim of a hate crime. I don’t believe muslims, say, are a threat. I don’t think they are taking over the country I live in and intend to bring in Sharia law. But I know that some people do. Most of them are probably just paranoid and misinformed, a lot of them seem to be clear cut racists. These people think that they are under a real threat from muslims. So what happens when one of them is attacked by a muslim because of majority group-membership? Presumably perceived vulnerability matters to the harm experienced by a victim. So, again, attacking me for belonging to the majority would seem to be not as bad as attacking a racist for that same reason. The same sort of insecurity would tend to spread, at least in the racist community, and the harm would be, and should be foreseen to be, considerable.

Should this count as a hate crime? I’m guessing most people would say no. I tend to say ”no”. But this means the vulnerability account needs to be amended in some way. Perhaps the answer is that the attacker only thinks that the victim belongs to the majority, and that at least the majority of the majority does not perceive themselves to be threatened in this way. It’s only if they target the ”vulnerable” group of the majority that they are culpable. But then, of course, we’ve said that they are not targeted because they belong to the vulnerable subgroup of the majority.

I’ve not considered a case where racists are targeted because they are racists, partly because I don’t think many of them perceive themselves as such. But let’s say that a group is targeted because of their racists beliefs, and that the vulnerability-related harm ensues, for the reasons mentioned. Would this count as a hate crime? If you suggests ”no”, there is a further victim based account, and I will deal with it in another post.


One reason why hate-fuelled crime against racists would not count as a hate crime might be that their vulnerability is based on mistaken beliefs. But note that the same would seem to hold for at the very least most of religious groups as well. But perhaps it is because victims of hate crimes are supposed to be innocent. I.e. in no way deserving of hate? There is something morally wrong with being a racist, the same moral wrong that other hate crime concepts take as their justification. And hating the immoral might not add to culpability. In fact, some would say that it would be a mitigating, rather than aggravating circumstance. I’ll return to this in a later post.

Prejudices, emotions and misattributions

30 januari 2012 | In academia Emotion theory Hate Crime Moral Psychology politics Psychology | Comments?

In my earlier forays into the theory and science of emotion, there was one thing that struck me as extremely potent as an explanation: misattribution. Misattribution (frequent appeal to which is made by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and colleagues) often goes like this: You have an emotional reaction, positive or negative, and you look for a reason for why you might have this reaction by scanning the environment for salient differences that might account for it. Haidt calls this ”post-hoc rationalisation”.  Post-hoc rationalisation results in misattribution when the reason you take to account for your emotional reaction does not correspond to what in fact caused it.

This is a quick, often unreflected, process and it seems to be quite widespread. But people differ enormously in what type of rationalisations and attributions they tend to make. Some will often blame their own flaws for any negative reaction to a situation, others will blame the food, their company, the climate, or just the nearest person. The process is also often very useful: we need to explain our negative and positive reactions, and we need generalised explanations if we are to make plans for how to live our lives if we are to avoid these unpleasant experiences and make the pleasant ones more frequent.

Now, our emotional reactions are caused by a vast combination of factors. Some we are aware of, or can become aware of, some are welcomed, and some we are reluctant to accept. I like avant garde jazz, but I also very much like the fact that I like it. It’s part of my self-image. This being true, any unpleasant encounter with avant garde jazz tends to be blamed on the circumstances. In fact, even if my last five, or ten encounters would have been unpleasant, I would be unlikely to attribute this to my tastes having changed.

If you are prejudiced against certain people (this based on group or individual characteristics), you are likely to attribute the valence of any negative emotional reaction you have encountering these people to them. If you are unaware of your prejudice, or unaware of that it is a prejudice (perhaps because you are reluctant to accept it), you are likely to try to find some rationalisation of your reaction that correspond to your considered view of what constitutes a proper reason for an emotional reaction.

Discrimination very rarely proceed by someone being ruled out on basis of group membership. All stops pulled apartheid is very rare. Rather, everyday discrimination proceed by people having an averse reaction to a person or situation, and then looking for something that could be treated as an acceptable reason to disfavour that person.

Let’s say I am interviewing people for a position as a research assistant, and one of the applicants is female. Let’s say I’m prejudiced against women, but I don’t think I am. So I have an averse reaction (this is my prejudice being manifested) and I start looking at the applications for a reason why I might have this reaction. And it turns out the female applicant’s typing skills are somewhat worse than the male applicants. ”Ah – typing! Typing is very important for a research assistant”. This is a proper reason, even if it’s not my reason and it’s not a good enough reason to determine who get’s the job.

Prejudices, in other words, often work by making the prejudiced person more likely to find some acceptable reason on the basis of which he/she may discriminate against the target group. This sort of discrimination is probably quite common, but exceedingly hard to prove, especially for the person who exhibit this strategy (very often not knowing it).

The phenomena on which this is built – post hoc rationalisation/explanation, is, as mentioned, a very useful cognitive feature and we wouldn’t want to get rid of it. In fact, generalizations are often very useful, and generalizations and prejudiced are quite clearly related. What we need, of course, is better generalizations, and making sure that this process properly correspond to the reasons we accept. I’m guessing (because the jury is still very much out on what works for prejudice-reduction) that what’s required is that we, contrary to inclination, approach that to which we have averse reactions, to find out more about the proper cause of that reaction, hoping to calibrating our reactions to what actually matters. (This may, for all I know, be what Gordon Allport meant by the ”contact-hypothesis”, btw).

Punishing causes

3 januari 2012 | In Crime Ethics Hate Crime Moral philosophy Moral Psychology Uncategorized | Comments?

”Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”, remember? I remember very little of the substantive debate but I do remember that it spurned a debate on the use of non-committing slogans in political speech. The immediate appeal of slogans should not be dismissed as a mere trick, however.

There is a quite obvious and quite relevant issue hidden in the slogan: How does, or should, our approach to crime relate to our understanding of, and approach to, the causes of crime? Presumably our toughness or softness on crime should be modulated on the basis of our perception of the causes in question because clearly, all crimes do not share causal histories and clearly, this matters to how we assign responsibility.

Quite generally, causes are relevant to responsibility and to criminal punishment as punishment is meted out on basis of, and in proportion to, the harm agents cause. A highly valid defense to the allegation of murder is to say that you didn’t cause the person to die. Or, actually, accurately and more precisely: that you didn’t do it. To murder someone is not only to cause the death of another, but to do so while trying to do so.

The most obvious causal component of relevance to responsibility/culpability is the decision. We are condemned for the things we decide to do, and decisions have consequences.  Reasons and considerations are presented to us, or thought up by us, and then we make a decision to act on some of them. We are then held responsible for at least the causal consequences that we had reason to believe would follow. But decisions are not where causal chains end. And while deciding to do something that will cause harm when there is no reasonable amount of compensation is surely blameworthy in it’s most paradigmatic form, it’s not the end of blameworthiness either.

Yet, there are further moral judgments to be made which goes beyond the decision. For instance: what considerations did you act on? How was the case for and against acting presented to you? Was it greed? Was it vengeance? And now the question becomes: can we add to a criminal sentence on the basis of pre-decision causes? We seem to be able to subtract from a sentence on basis of certain causal pre-cursors, such as ignorance or a mental episode. But can we add?

Now to the hate crime context. For theoretical reasons as well as practical ones further down the line, it’s important to distinguish between the reasons for the support of hate crime legislation and the justification of that legislation. My reasons to favor higher taxes may be that I would gain from it in the long run, but that’s not sufficient as justification as tax rates are not in place to satisfy my interests. It does mean, however, that I’m more likely to look for, and find, further reasons for higher taxes.

It’s very likely that support for hate crime legislation is at least in part grounded in the intuition that some pre-decision causes are worse than others. We dislike, and we are right to dislike, prejudices, vengefulness, greed etc. But it is not clear that we should punish on the basis of the moral objectionableness of pre-decision causes. Even when we are somehow responsible for having become bad people, we can’t be punished for being bad people, only for doing what bad people tend to do, and which makes them bad: harm. If there are other justifications, we should identify them. But we should be very clear that our acceptance of those justifications is not wholly founded in our independent, warranted, but legally invalid, moral stance. Or, of course, we must make the case that these pre-decision causes are reasonable grounds for punishment enhancement. Which means much more work.

Two lessons to draw from this:

1)We may maintain that decisions are where culpability starts, but that the picture is more complex then previously recognized. Decisions may be judged as worse not only on the basis of the harm intended, caused or risked, but on the considerations that was deemed sufficient for the decision to be made. To treat a prejudiced view as a decisive reason, then, is worse, for instance, than treating greed as such a reason because it is a worse reasons. Still, we are not punished for this reasons, but for treating it as a decisive reasons. (Leaving, for know, the question whether the cause and/or reason for our accepting this consideration as a (decisive) reason should influence the extent to which we are culpable…)

2) Pre-decision causes are clearly relevant for effective preventive measures. We should concentrate a lot of effort at counteracting them and the most effective means may not be punishment enhancement, or any other means available to the criminal law.

Being ”tough” on causes of crime doesn’t necessarily, or primarily, involve punishing people for having certain beliefs attitudes or dispositions, but effectively counteracting the conditions under which such beliefs, attitudes or dispositions arise.

The christmas day hate broadcast

23 december 2011 | In Hate Crime media Moral philosophy Self-indulgence | Comments?


’this the season and all that and whoever is on the non-news part of your state-subsidised radio or television is instantly promoted to the status of National Treasure. And about bloody time.
To be serious for just a minute, though (even though I don’t really want to): on sunday the 25th, swedish radio P1 will broadcast an episode of the soaringly popular program Filosofiska Rummet. This episode features yours truly in conversation with the magnificient police officer and educator Jeanette Larsson and professor of Criminal Law, Per-Ole Träskman. The topic is hate crime, it’s nature and moral status, and the point and justification of hate crime legislation. I may sound like a sceptic on the show, but that’s mostly a group-dynamics kind of thing.

There goes the neighbourhood

21 december 2011 | In Crime Ethics Hate Crime politics Psychology Uncategorized | Comments?


What counts as a hate crime?
Among the first questions you should ask when being introduced to a new category-concept is this: what does it cover? What qualifies as an ”X”? When given a fairly informative definition, you then quickly go on to fringe cases, and ask whether they qualify or not. This technique will make you seem polemic and lacking in seriousness. If you’re a decent philosopher, that’s at least partly true.
We need fringe cases in order to lure out the differences between theoretical models, and also to test the plausibility of these models.

Hate crimes, as we know, invoke a combination of factors, mainly crime, prejudice and the small but very significant and problematic notion of ”because of”. A crime is a hate one when it is committed because of a prejudice against a certain group (membership in which is based on some to-be-determined characteristic important to the victims’s, or somebody’s ”identity).

Now, it’s important to note that committing a crime because of a prejudice against a group, is more narrow than committing a crime because of group membership. I may believe (rightly) that the elderly are less able to catch me, running from the scene of the crime, and therefore target them. According to the so called ”victim selection model” for hate crimes, this might qualify simply because group mebership was part of the reason why I picked out this particular victim. According to the animus-model, it wouldn’t count unless I also held some negative and unfounded views about the elderly and that was part of the motivation for the crime.

The victim selection model allows for cases where the perpetrator has no prejudice, and prejudices in general do not enter the explanation why the crime took place. Semantically, this puts the label ”hate (and bias) crime” in question. But consider a further case:

A person assaults a group of immigrants that have recently moved in to the neighbourhood. The reason is that he/she (rightly) thinks that the arrival of immigrants have lowered the economic value of his/her house, and thus intend to scare them into moving away. Let’s imagine this is the sole reason, and the perpetrator can deny any prejudice by saying that he/she would’ve assaulted anyone whose presence in the neighbourhood had that effect.
What does the animus model say? Well, no animus is present, so this seem not to be a hate crime. The victim selection model, on the other hand, would presumably rule it in.

However: the peculiar feature of this case is that the crime is still committed because of prejudice. It’s just not the prejudice of the perpetrator, but that of the potential byers of property. On one interpretation of the ”because of” clause in the hate crime definition, then, these sorts of crimes would count. In many respects, these crimes seem to be at least as shady, and in some sense cowardly, as crimes committed on the basis of a prejudice that you have yourself. They presumably do as much damage. But should they count as hate crimes?

It depends, you might say (and rightly so), on the proper analysis of the

because of

. It’s just that this analysis depends on the plausibility of what’s included, like the fringe case above. And that in turn depends on the moral foundations of hate crime legislation. A question that, as reader of this blog may have noticed, is far from settled.

Hate Speech as Hate Crime

27 oktober 2011 | In Crime Hate Crime politics | Comments?

A number of States have laws criminalizing speech on the basis of content. ”Hate speech”, as it is often known, is a regulation prohibiting certain views from being expressed. This is distinct from direct incitement to criminal acts, or, for that matter, causing physical harm by expressing a view very loudly in someones ear, by the emphasis on content. (Lets leave for now the crucial question of how to individuate content in context).
Now, Hate Speech and Hate Crime are usually kept apart. The former is much more controversial and not embraced by as many states, or by as many scholars. Indeed, its not uncommon to come across strong advocates of Hate Crime legislation that are simultaneously in strong opposition to Hate Speech legislation.

The key difference, it is claimed, is that Hate Crimes require a ”base offence”. This means that in order for a Hate Crime to exist, there must be an act that would be criminal even absent the hate motive. But in the case of Hate Speech, it is said, there wouldn’t be an offence absent the motive or content.

There is a clear weakness in this argument, and it depends on the conflation of hate motive and hate content. I can express a hateful view without actually harboring the hate expressed. Linguistic content is not a relation between my internal state and the words I use, but between linguistic conventions/functions and the words I use. If Hate Speech is a crime based on content, it is a crime that can be committed with any motive. This means that there is a ”base offence”, independent of hate/bias motive, which can then be turned into a Hate Crime, if such motives are present.

This does not mean that all states with hate crime laws should start punishing hate speech acts. It only means that what acts can be a hate crime depends on what acts are criminal in the state in question. If speech based on content is such a crime, there is no theoretical hurdle to stop it from being a Hate Crime.

Future-oriented and customized punishment

6 oktober 2011 | In Crime Emotion theory Hate Crime Meta-ethics Moral philosophy Moral Psychology Naturalism Neuroscience politics Psychology Psychopathy | Comments?


Legal punishment is normally justified by appeal to Wrongdoing (the criminal act) and Culpability (”the guilty mind”). These are features focusing on the perpetrator, which makes sense as it is he (nearly always a ”he”) who will carry the burden of the punishment. We want to make sure that the punishment is deserved.

But it is also typically justified by appeal to societial well-being. To protect citizens from harm, to promote the sense of safety, to reinforce certain values, to prevent crime by threatening to punish, to rehabilitate or at least contain the dangerous. According to so-called ”Hybrid” theories, punishment is justified when these functions are served, but only when it befalls the guilty, and in proportion to their guilt (this being a function of wrongdoing and culpability). Responsibility/culpability constrain the utilitarian function. Desert-based justification is backward-looking, while the utilitarian, pro-social justification is forward-looking. (Arguably, the pro-social function is dependent on the perceived adherence to the responsibility-constraint.)

Neuroscientist and total media-presence David Eagleman had a very interesting article in The Atlantic a while ago, pointing out that revealing the neural mechanisms behind certain crimes tends to weaken our confidence in assigning culpability. Rather than removing the justification for punishment, Eagleman suggests that we move on from that question:

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