Hate Crimes and Thought Crimes

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I've seen the following argument several times in recent months:

1. Hate crime laws make a penalty more severe only because of a different intent.
2. If you increase the penalty for a crime merely because of the motive, you are criminalizing a motive, i.e. a thought.
3. Therefore, hate crime laws are really criminalizing people's views and thus are thought crime laws.

The result is that a number of conservative organizations have been resisting hate crime laws and calling them thought crimes. Family Research Council is one group that has been doing this. When Congress had a bill on hate crimes in front of them, they were sending daily emails calling the bill a thought crime bill. I thought it was inaccurate to label it that way at the time, and I'm even more convinced of it now after reading Eugene Volokh's post from a few weeks ago on the subject. Volokh points out that we do this sort of thing all the time, and no one has any qualms about it. Treason is a thought crime, on this view. If I stole a government document in order to destroy it for the fun of it, it wouldn't be treason. But if I did it to sell it to North Korea or Iran, it might be treason. Also, murder or manslaughter can differ in terms of intent, as can different degress of murder from each other and different degrees of manslaughter from each other. Intent is extremely common as a means of distinguishing between different kinds of crimes with different penalties. Even less controversial discrimination laws can distinguish between different penalties (or whether a crime has even been committed) according to intent.

If those things count as thought crimes, then we shouldn't be opposed to legislating against thought crimes. But I think it's probably better to recognize that none of these things counts as thought crimes. A thought crime would be thinking something without doing anything further and then being arrested merely for having the view.

I haven't said anything about whether there are good reasons to favor or to resist including sexual orientation as specially protected in terms of hate crimes. I think there are reasons offered on both sides that have some merit. But it's silly to oppose these laws simply because they treat two murders or assaults as different according to motive. It's true that both are assaults, but they do have different moral factors that apply to them. One is a worse assault. At the same time, we don't always recognize morally important issues as affecting what kind of crime someone committed or even whether they committed a crime. I'd love to try to think through (at some point, not today) which factors count as legitimate ones in terms of motive. But ruling it out merely because it does involve motives is at best ignorant of how law generally works in this country with regard to different motives for the same act.

15 Comments

Thanks so much for this post. I've been one who has thought hate crimes are ridiculous and unwarranted and this has caused me to reevaluate my position. I think the terminology "hate" is part of the problem. In a sense, people think all crimes are hate crimes. Timothy McVeigh killed all kinds of people, and was motivated by hate for America. It's just hard for people to think that this doesn't count as a hate crime. "What . . . was my loved one murdered for love or altogether altruistic motives? Apparently it's wrong for some people to be hated, but not me." That's kind of weird to get your mind around. I think a better term might help, although I have no idea what they may be.

But most importantly, the motive - act of a hate crime is different from the danger of the motive - speech potential of hate crimes. We have all heard stories that radio broadcasts in Canada, such as Focus on the Family, can't air programs in which a classical biblical view of homosexuality is put forth - because it is viewed as a "hate crime" or something.

So, I'm warming up to the idea that there could be merit to the idea, but I still think you would have to admit that there are proponents of "hate crime" legislation that want to use it to squash legitimate acts of freedom of religion and speech that they don't particularly like.

There are plenty of objections to hate crime laws besides this one. One from the left that my adviser endorses is that calling them hate crimes sounds as if you're excusing them by saying it's a pure act of emotion rather than stemming from some racist (for example) view that one endorses with one's reasoning capacity.

Hate crime laws aren't targeting all crimes that stem from hate. They're targeting crimes stemming from hate against particular groups that have been the recipients of certain kinds of hate that have much more damaging consequences in general or that have a widespread enough commonness. It's not that it's ok to hate some people and not others. It's that certain kinds of hate require more serious action to seek prevention or constitute a more serious offense and thus deserve greater punishment. The question before Congress was about which groups count as getting this special protection. I think you can come up with principled reasons why some and not others might get such protection. Some of the posts at the Volokh Conspiracy around the time of the one I linked to dealt with this issue in some interesting ways.

What was especially interesting to me was seeing all these libertarians allowing for justifications for something like this.

Calling it a hate crime to teach the biblical view of homosexuality is stupid on so many levels. Thinking an action is wrong is consistent with all manner of emotional attitudes toward someone. It might be said by someone who is gay who regrets its being wrong. It might be said by someone who enjoys spending time with gay people more than spending time with straight people. So calling it hate is just a misnomer. It does involve a criticism of a certain action, one closely associated with a socially constructed concept of being gay, but that's just not the same thing as hate.

Most importantly, this kind of speech act has nothing to do with what's usually called a hate crime, which is something that's already a crime but comes from a motive deemed hateful. This kind of speech act need have neither the hate nor the independently criminal element, so it's interesting that it can become a hate crime without either of the two usual components.

I agree the thought crime argument is flawed but here is my problem with "hate crimes". Hate is hate, if you kill a man because you hate him because he is a different race than you, or if you kill a man just because you hate him, either way its hate. Hate is hate, the type doesn't really matter.

Right, but there might be reasons one kind of hate is worse than another, even though both are hate. This shows the law is inaptly named, not that it's a bad law. You'd need to show that all hate is morally equivalent, but I don't think you can do that, because I think that's false. Hating someone for doing evil and hating someone for being black are certainly not morally equivalent, even if you want to argue that both are bad.

There might also be other reasons to allow for different penalties for crimes that are based on racism, say, as opposed to violent crimes just because the person got in the way of your burglary. Given the history of racism and the unconscious participation of most white people in residual racism and in practices that unwittingly have a negative proportional effect on black people, I think harsher penalties are appropriate for those who deliberately use violence against black people because they're back. This is going to be true of other groups as well. The question is whether it's true of all the groups it's proposed for and whether the differences in penalties are the right amount of difference, and I have nothing to say about those questions at this point.

I am really tired of these accusations of residual racism. Just because I am white, why do people have to accuse me of automatically being racist, and when I don't act racist they say its "sub-conscious" as some sort of cop-out. I am really getting tired of people thinking that by being white, I am racist, and that whitehatingblack is the only type of racism, with there being no reverse of the situation.
Your point about hating someone for doing evil, is a lesser type of hate, was a good point, but what about hating someone because you don't like how they act? Is this a lesser type of hate? Actually come to think of it, hating someone for doing evil may not be a lesser type of hate. We tend to give them leeway because they hate evil, but hating the person is still wrong. Hating evil is good, but not hating people. I don't know if I buy that. Isn't all hate of people morally equal? Why not?

I was just reading through the comments, and I came across something. You said "It's not that it's ok to hate some people and not others. It's that certain kinds of hate require more serious action to seek prevention or constitute a more serious offense and thus deserve greater punishment." That seems kind of unfair. To say that hating someone for their colour is more important than hating someone for their parents, or their amount of income. And would these things work reverse? Would it still be considered a hate crime is a black man killed a white man because he was white?

I am glad to see that your view of "hate crimes" does not extend to the destruction of free speech and the speaking out against things as wrong. At least I know we are on the same page, though I don't understand how hating someone because they are black is any different than hating someone because they are an unwanted stepchild.

David, racism is at the heart of all manner of interactions that we don't realize. We're conditioned to respond certain ways. We suspect people a little more if they're black than if they're white, even if it's so negligible that we don't notice it. Kids prefer dolls that are of lighter skin, and white men tend to be attracted to those who look like the ideal white model image. We're more likely to walk to the other side of the street if a black person is coming up behind us after dark, and we're more likely to lock our car doors if we drive by black youth than if we drive by white youth dressed the same way.

Scientific studies do notice it. This is so well-established now that I don't think any reasonable person can resist it after looking at the data. There's a nice test online somewhere that shows that juxtaposes faces of black people and white people with terms indicating good things and bad things, and people have a very hard time getting around the unconscious tendency to associate words for bad things with darker faces. Black people and white people alike don't do as well on this test as their explicit, conscious views would lead them to expect. That shows that we're affected by the history and effects of racism in ways that don't fit with our conscious views. This is incredibly well-established at this point.

Nevertheless, I'm trying to figure out where I accused you of anything. I never said anything about the moral status of residual racism. It's clearly bad, but I asserted no view on whether it's something that makes me morally a bad person for having been involuntarily shaped by the effects of racism in society. More strongly, I never said that everyone is affected by residual racism to the same degree or that you in particular are affected by it at all. As far as I know, you grew up a social context that had different effects on you than what I observe in the general populace of the U.S. So I don't see why anything I said should count as an accusation against you. It wasn't an accusation to begin with, and it wasn't directed at anyone in particular, including you.

I'm also trying to figure out why being affected by residual racism is the same thing as being a racist. I said nothing about the concept of being a racist, which is clearly a much stronger claim. A racist is someone who has a particularly vile attitude toward people because of their race, and it usually manifests itself both in conscious views about inferiority (moral, intellectual, or whatever) and in a negative attitude toward the person that the person seeks to justify in some way (and is thus aware of it). That's what it means to be a racist. Someone affected by residual racism, on the other hand, may well understand that they're affected by the social patterns in our society and thoroughly dislike that about themselves. Such a person is not a racist.

On the hate issue, I do contend that hating someone because they are evil is not as bad. I'm not going to impugn the motives of the psalmist who hates evildoers because what they do is offensive to God. I think there is such a thing as righteous hate, but I also think it's very difficult and perhaps almost impossible for a human being to do it fully in a way that is compatible with loving the person. (It's different for God, who can hate what is truly despicable about a person while loving what is good about the person and loving what he can and perhaps will redeem in the person.) That's why the emphasis almost always has to do with the part that's hard, the loving of enemies. But I do think some kinds of hate are much worse than others.

Even those who don't agree with me on the possibility of righteous hate (which is almost every contemporary Christian) should admit to some degrees in kinds of hate, however. Even if the act of hating itself is always wrong, there are some motives for hating someone that aren't as bad as others. The motive stemming from hating evil deeds is at least a righteous basis, whereas any motive is just evil if it has to do with hating someone because of their race, the fact that they compete for the attention of other people whose attention you want, and such.

I don't think it's quite as bad for a black person to kill a white person because of race as it is for a white person to kill a black person because of race. That isn't to say that is excusable or justified. It's to say that both actions are very bad, but one is at least a little worse. The reason it's worse is because it contributes toward a great evil that the other doesn't contribute toward. Anti-black racism is still enough in effect, and its effects are even more in effect, that I think anything that contributes toward it is more bad than the same type of action that doesn't contribute toward it (other things being equal). I'm not going to comment on whether it should be a hate crime, because I think that language is unhelpful, but I can see why someone might argue for a slightly stronger penalty or at least a little less willingness to be lenient in sentencing. Those who commit acts that have a more harmful effect in society might deserve a little less leniency.

I don't understand how hating someone because they are black is any different than hating someone because they are an unwanted stepchild.

Oh, I do. One is hating someone because of their race, and the other is hating someone because of completely different factors. One has to do with a social assignment to a category in part due to biological differences that have no ultimate significance in the grand scheme of things but that have been artificially given social importance and then have been used to cause great harm to those in certain of those categories. The other has to do with not liking someone who happens to be a child of someone you married. I don't see how anyone could put those in the same category. The reasons for hating are very different and thus have to be evaluated very differently. One is because of membership in a group, and the other is merely contingent features of an immediate social relation.

That's not to say that hating an unwanted stepchild isn't as bad as hating someone who is black for being black. It's plausible as far as I can tell at the moment that hating the stepchild is worse. After all, a stepchild is someone you've taken explicit steps to make part of your family by marrying the child's parent. That brings with it a responsibility to love this child in a way that goes beyond the love we are all morally obligated to have for those who are unrelated to us. But the fact that these are very different cases means a whole mess of different morally-relevant factors will arise in the two different cases, so I would definitely not want to assume that they are similar. I gave one example of one such factor from the stepchild case, and the larger racial justice issues count as a factor for the other case. I'm sure there are plenty of other factors that would affect how bad the hate in each case might be, so I'd never want to assume they're morally equivalent.

I am sorry if I did not explain correctly. You never did accuse me of anything, I was talking in general. I am sorry if I made you feel attacked, or improperly accused. There may be inborn preferences, and yes I have heard of that test you spoke of, but I would point out the things that define a person is not our instincts, or emotions, but how we deal with them. If there is an instinctual dislike of another race, that is not what is bad, but how we allow it to affect our behavior. Also I ask you, is it really racism to be attracted mostly to people of the same race, after all, does that mean it is a form of racism to be attracted to people with a certain hair colour? Is it wrong to like brunettes over blonds (from a purely physical attraction aspect)? Instincts are not what define the man, but how one lets them affect their behavior.

"On the hate issue, I do contend that hating someone because they are evil is not as bad. I'm not going to impugn the motives of the psalmist who hates evildoers because what they do is offensive to God." I believe that there can be no good hate of a person. What we are supposed to do (trite yet true) is love the sinner, but hate the sin. We feel that hating a person because the are evil is more justified, because mingled with that hate is a hate of something that should be hated. This is your example, but what about other types of hate? Should the be punished differently too? What about hate for someone because they are a stepchild?

"I don't think it's quite as bad for a black person to kill a white person because of race as it is for a white person to kill a black person because of race." What is this double standard? Why on earth is "one type of racism" not as bad as another? Thats ludicrous. "The reason it's worse is because it contributes toward a great evil that the other doesn't contribute toward" Well that sorta makes sense except I happen to disgree with you. Both contribute to a great evil. I would say in some parts black-against-white racism can be bigger. White racism is promptly met with firing, public scathing, etc, etc. Black racism, such as Al Sharpton's comments “White folks was in caves while we was building empires ... We taught philosophy and astrology and mathematics before Socrates and them Greek homos ever got around to it.” And other such things. Just the other day I was at my work place (summer job, I am only 16 so its the only place I could get a job) at McDonalds, and it was my first day on frys. I was little slow because I was new, and people weren't cutting me much slack. I heard such comments as "That whiteboy is to slow, and we keep getting swamped" And white boy wasn't being used in a descriptive manners, but definitely as a slur. I rarely hear a white person use a racial slur, the most time I hear n**** is from gangster rap artists. If you don't think there isn't alot of racism going towards white people in reverse, then you are sadly mistaken. In addition to your mistake in believing that anti-black racism is the only racism that contributes to a larger evil, I think this statement is false: "Those who commit acts that have a more harmful effect in society might deserve a little less leniency."
Acts of punishment are not meant to help society. They are meant to give justice. They are meant to give people what they deserve. Justice. You gave example of crimes where motivation is taken into account. In none of those is "contribution to a greater evil" considered. It doesn't matter if you sold Americas secrets to the Lithuanians, or the Russians. Its still treason. It doesn't matter if the person you manslaughtered was a nun, or a criminal. Its still manslaughter. Of course with the Lithuanian example we could argu "What if one led to a nuclear holocaust and the other didn't" Thats non applicable, because the holocaust would be a direct result of the treason, but on the other hand the situation we are dealing with is merely a "contribution to a greater evil" not the greater evil itself. So therefore, like in race issues, we have to consider the treason as being part of a permanent cold war in order for the analogy to hold water.

"Oh, I do. One is hating someone because of their race, and the other is hating someone because of completely different factors."
So hating someone because they happen to be a different race, and hating someone because they happen to have a different social connection to you is different. I can't really argue with that, because it all seems to come down to unprovable axioms. By the way, do you think you have any back up on this issue from the Bible? Because if there is something in there that could back you up, I might be persuaded, just wondering.
"That's not to say that hating an unwanted stepchild isn't as bad as hating someone who is black for being black."
OOOhhhh. Okay, I see. You are saying they are different but both are bad. Okay, I can accept that. At least to some extent. I think trying to prioritize "just how bad" all these hate is, is a bit futile. It all depends on motivation, and frankly you can only understand that to a very limited extent. "The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." Yes we can understand the basics. This guy meant to kill this person, this guy meant to hurt America, this guy was racist, but we can't understand everything or all the mitigating factors. Murder is murder and should always be punished as such. Justice must be served.

Structural racism, institutional racism, and residual racism are not voluntary, deliberate, and attitudinal racism of the sort that most people mean when they talk about racism. Structural racism is purely to do with social customs in society that, while sometimes even having innocent origins, have a detrimental effect racially. There's a sense in which hiring people you know has nothing to do with racism (i.e. attitudinal racism). But it is a party of a greater social fact that white people are in higher positions more often and have more white friends than other friends on average. Therefore the practice of hiring people you know contributes toward structural racism in society even if it doesn't stem from attitudinal racism. When people speak of different kinds of racism, we can't confuse it with outright, attitudinal racism. Everyone contributes toward such social structures. It doesn't mean those people are racists. But that fact also doesn't mean that the overall structure isn't racist. It is a racist structure in society, because the structure discriminates harmfully against some racial groups.

With unconscious residual racism it works the same way, except that it's not larger societal practices but merely unconscious practices within a person. Those are not grounds for calling someone a racist, but that fact also doesn't mean that it isn't racism of a sort. It's just not the kind most people think of when they hear the word 'racism'.

What is this double standard? Why on earth is "one type of racism" not as bad as another? Thats ludicrous.

I explained my justification, and you ignored it. The reason is not because the inner attitude is worse in one case and not as bad in the other. It's because the effects are worse, or rather it contributes more toward an already big problem, whereas the other doesn't have the same effect. An action or attitude can be bad because of its intrinsic state, and two intrinsically equally bad acts or attitudes can have very different impacts in the world. If one is much worse, it is a worse act or attitude, even if the intrinsic components are equivalent. In a world where whites had been historically discriminated against, enslaved, and seen as morally and intellectually inferior, the moral weight of these two acts would be reversed. It's because of contingent socio-historical features that one act is worse than the other. Intrinsically they are the same.

I do think there's plenty of white-on-black racism. There's much more overt white-on-black racism than black-on-white racism, because white-on-black racism is recognized as the worst sin ever, and black-on-white racism is not. That is a double standard, but the fact that people don't recognize the badness of one while probably overemphasizing the badness of the other doesn't mean that the two are morally equivalent.

The reason people can get away with black-on-white racism is because it doesn't connect up with the deep history of racism that white-on-black racism does. That reason alone makes me think it's still not quite as bad morally, even if it's pretty evil. And it is evil. I say that without hesitation. I also say that people are too forgiving or excusing of black-on-white racism. The fact that there are still social forces at work that make life a little more difficult for blacks, and the fact that whites historically (and to some extent still) have created many of those social forces (or at least set things in motion that made many of them likely) does not excuse anti-white racism. So I'd say all of the following:

1. Black anti-white racism is evil, and it gets too often excused or allowed because of the history of anti-black racism. It's worse than people often take it to be.
2. White anti-black racism is too often blamed for things it's not responsible for (or at least for things it's not the primary cause of). It's evil, but there are also much worse ways to be evil. It's not as bad as people often take it to be.
3. Black anti-white racism is still enough worse than white anti-black racism to justify treating the two differently in terms of punishment and in terms of seeking prevention.

But back to the issue at hand: It isn't a double-standard to treat anti-black crimes as worse. We do this all the time. Because of the social history of races in this country, it is much, much worse for me to call a black person the n-word than it could be if history had gone very differently. Social and historical factors external to my own intrinsic state have a significant impact on the moral import of my actions.

Acts of punishment are not meant to help society. They are meant to give justice.

Not true. There are several different moral justifications of punishment. One is desert, and I do think that's the most fundamental (even if it's pretty much out of fashion nowadays), but others include deterrence so that others won't do the same thing, education and moral discipline so that the offenders might end up better people in the process, and protecting society from further harm from the people committing the crime.

I think many people do officially see every death as equally bad on one level, because killing a person is killing a person. No person is better or worse than another in terms of intrinsic worth. But we do have stiffer penalties for killing certain kinds of people. Killing a cop or prison guard can get the death penalty in many states that don't give the death penalty for the same act. Even threatening to kill the president (never mind actually trying to carry it out) carries a much stiffer penalty than a death threat to anyone else. This isn't because a president is intrinsically more valuable. It's because the consequences of killing the president are pretty drastic.

There are also bad ways that differences between people enter into our justice system. In potentially capital cases, we don't have absolutely conclusive data one way or the other whether black criminals and white criminals are treated differently in terms of the death penalty. Black convictions are higher, but black arrests for potentially capital crimes are higher, and the rates for the two are parallel. But there is a disparity in terms of victims. Killers of white victims are much more likely to get the death penalty than killers of black victims. I discuss this here. I don't think there's an easy solution for problems like that, but it does count as an injustice against blacks in our legal system, one that doesn't seem to me to result from any deliberate animosity.

So in the end what do we do? I think we need to consider factors that sometimes will conflict with each other. In terms of individual justice and fairness to the level of offense, you might argue that every death counts as much and deserves the same penalty. Except that in a system like what we've got, people get different penalties just because the crime took place in different states with different laws. But even ignoring that, it seems to me that some external factors require treating certain crimes differently even if intrinsic factors don't justify that. There is a cost. It means some people who are intrinsically just as important are counting less than others of the same worth. But absolute fairness in treatment isn't the only component of justice that's important in terms of sentencing. Given the other purposes of justice, which include seeking improvement in racial justice, I can't rule out the possibility of treating some anti-black crimes as at least a little worse than the same crimes if they are anti-white.

As for biblical examples that are relevant, I think there are some. In Exodus 21, there's a distinction between intentional killing and unintentional killing. The intentional killer gets the death penalty, and the unintentional killer can run to a city of refuge until the next year of Jubilee.

A slave's death is just as morally important as anyone else's and receives the death penalty, contrary to other law codes of the time. However, if beating a slave doesn't lead to the slave's death, it doesn't harm the slave in terms of the slave's earning power. It harms the master, because the slave's work only helps the master. So there's no compensation required the way there is if you harm someone else's slave or someone who is free, both of whose work go toward the earning power of someone else.

If you permanently damage a slave, however, e.g. taking out their eye or tooth, it is treated with utmost seriousness. The slave simply goes free. If you harmed your neighbor in that way you'd have to give up your own eye or tooth (or, more likely in practice, have to pay to the person and/or to the tabernacle a redemption price deemed by the priest to count as the value of the lost body part). In Deuteronomy 23, slaves had to be granted refuge when running from masters. This isn't true of other people who might have offended someone. So the social status of slaves influences the penalty in different ways, sometimes more serious and sometimes less serious than if the person harmed is not a slave or even someone else's slave.

In Exodus 22, different penalties occur for stealing different kinds of property. Some animals are worth more than others. All stealing is stealing, but you harm the person you steal from more if you steal an ox than you do if you steal a sheep.

Exodus 23 insists that no one is to favor the rich or the poor in a lawsuit. You shouldn't side with the poor just because they're poor. They may still be in the wrong. But this stops short of saying that there's never any instance in which the poor should be favored. The previous chapter gives several, and other places list more. You couldn't charge interest to the poor or keep a cloak as a pledge overnight. In Leviticus 19 you had to pay them daily for their work), and you had to let them glean in your fields.

Normally sex outside marriage was a capital offense, but in Leviticus 19 it wouldn't get the death penalty if a man slept with someone else's slave who is promised to another man, they do not receive the death penalty, because a third part is involved. To avoid harm to the third party, a different penalty is given.

Another interesting example is when David eats the bread of the presence when fleeing from Saul, when only Levites were supposed to eat it. Jesus seems to endorse this when he discusses it, saying the sabbath is for humans and not humans for the sabbath. These laws were meant to illustrate something, but sometimes a more important truth takes precedence. David was running for his life and needed food, and he'd been anointed king and was being hunted down by the king whose blessing God had removed. Preserving the anointed king was more important than the object lesson that the bread of the presence serves. This shows that the Bible does treat circumstances of moral outcome as important enough sometimes to affect things that otherwise would be the same for everyone.

I'm sure if I wanted to look through Proverbs and some of the prophets I could find instances where sins against the poor or oppressed are worse than sins against others. I think I've said enough to show that people of different groups get different treatment in terms of law, though, and that was the main issue here.

Jeremy,
You said, and further defended your opinion that ""I don't think it's quite as bad for a black person to kill a white person because of race as it is for a white person to kill a black person because of race."".
As long as the difference is perpetuated, there will be racism and racist attitudes. Your statement, although rooted in historical context [ except all slavers were not black ], will guarantee that for the future, things will not change to people treating each other as equals.

Your logic is excruciatingly painful, try Occam's Razor. One should not look for a complicated reason when a simple more eloquent one exists.

Paul of Tarsus,
I was wrong once.
Visitor 510,000
.

Occam's Razor says that we should not multiply entities when an explanation involving fewer entities will do. What entities am I assuming that are not necessary? Perhaps you just meant an analogous moral principle to Occam's Razor. If we wanted to come up with a parallel moral principle, what would it be? Perhaps nihilism. We could explain why we have moral beliefs in terms of evolution. But none of those beliefs are true. That's the simplest explanation.

Or we could expand to a less simple one that fits closer to our beliefs. Just have one moral principle and reductionistically explain all moral truths in terms of that one thing. Perhaps pleasure is the only intrinsically good thing, and pain is the only intrinsically bad thing. But if our reason for accepting this is to fit with the moral beliefs we actually have, it's amazingly reductionistic. People want lots of things besides pleasure, and people especially think lots of things besides pleasure are good (and not just because they produce pleasure).

It seems, then, that we have a choice. We can go with your proposed moral analog of Occam's Razor. Don't postulate multiple factors that have moral significance when you can explain our experience with fewer. But that leads to moral nihilism. Alternatively, we could add in morally relevant considerations that explain why some of our moral beliefs are true. But if we're going to do that, we might as well explain why the bulk of our moral beliefs are getting at something important and not just some reductionistic subset of them. Once you do that, you have to account for the complexity of most people's actual value judgments, and we end up with a host of morally relevant factors.

So your argument is excruciatingly painful. One should not look for a simpler explanation when it's so obviously false and so out of step with our actual moral beliefs.

As for your few substantive points, I never said that any slavers were or weren't black. Most of them were white, but that doesn't really enter into the discussion. Maybe you meant that not all slaves were black, which is certainly true but largely irrelevant given that the overwhelming majority of U.S. slaves (the context we're dealing with here) were black, and the moral justification for different treatment has to do with the overwhelming effect that had on successive generations of black Americans.

As for perpetuating racial categories, it's abundantly clear that it's impossible to point out racism unless you have a word for race. If you can't say that someone is mistreating someone else on racial grounds (because you're pretending not to have a category of race), then there's no way to call racism bad, because you can't talk about it.

Besides, even those who pretend to have no racial category are engaging in self-deception. They do, or they wouldn't be denying that they have the concept. The concept is ingrained into our social behavior and our psychological responses to people. When white people meet a black person for the first time, race is the first thing they notice. Most white people can get away with not thinking about race explicitly most of the time, because their privileged status allows for that, but it's self-deception. Those privileges are still there. The fact that other white people don't see them as raced is still there. The fact that racists aren't going to mistreat them is still there. The fact that no one will assume they are unintelligent or immoral merely because of their race is still there.

We live in a fallen world. There are unfortunate things that happen, and some of them have consequences that we can't get around. Because of those consequences, we sometimes have to do things that in an ideal world we wouldn't have to do. We have to use violence to defend people from harm. We have to punish or correct wrongdoers. We have to use racial categories to refer to a particular kind of injustice whose effects have caused people to identify themselves and others in ways that in some sense are scientifically arbitrary. At the same time, we ought to hold up the ideal that we not use violence when we don't need to, that we should try to prevent crime rather than having to punish and correct people after the fact, and that we should ultimately recognize that racial categories are not biologically significant in any morally or politically relevant way but are mere tools for addressing the reality of racism, tools that we hope will become less useful as they become less necessary, given further education about what ontological status race really has.

"With unconscious residual racism it works the same way, except that it's not larger societal practices but merely unconscious practices within a person. Those are not grounds for calling someone a racist, but that fact also doesn't mean that it isn't racism of a sort. It's just not the kind most people think of when they hear the word 'racism'."

But aren't moral actions determined by your actions, not your instincts, or urges? You couldn't say that residual racism was a "sin" but merely an instinct to struggle against right?
Also I asked if being attracted to people of your same race by and large could really be considered racism, considering people also have preferences for other attributes such as red/blonde hair.

"I explained my justification, and you ignored it." I did at first not see it, but I then saw it, and replied to it. My point in offense to that was that though anti-black racism does contribute to a greater evil, so does anti-white racism since there is a cultural build up of that to.
And in addiction to that, I have a question. Outside of any legal system, can we really say that the contribution of to a "greater evil" really has any affect on how "morally bad" for the individual the sin is. I mean when it all comes down to it, just you and God, why wouldn't they be on equal terms? From a legal standpoint, you could maybe make claim to the fact that one particular racism is more widespread and should be punished harder, but from a purely moral standpoint, with only your own actions being taken into account before God, why wouldn't they be equal? You say "It isn't a double-standard to treat anti-black crimes as worse." And I am asking you, what about the non-legal, moral issue? Are they not equal in the site of God?


"There are several different moral justifications of punishment. One is desert, and I do think that's the most fundamental (even if it's pretty much out of fashion nowadays)" By justice I mean "desert". I by justice I mean "What you deserve". Whether it is recompense for offense, or punishment for evil. You are right. It is out of fashion, and that is the sad thing, because punishment without the ideas of "just desert" lead to inhumane "cures" and justice system without justice. I think you may have a point, about there being a point in applying wore penalty for things that are socially widespread. That may be a valid point and I think its what you are mostly driving at. The only thing is, I don't see a whole lot of anti black racism going to those extremes, and with our societies feeling that it is the greatest sin and the almost total lack of attention to anti-white racism I don't know if that is such a revelant issue anymore.


"This isn't because a president is intrinsically more valuable. It's because the consequences of killing the president are pretty drastic."
Okay good. I think we are on the same page. You aren't saying that morally, or intrinsically is a white man more or less important than a black, but that the legal rigamorale may have to be different because of society's problems. At least we have come to an understanding.


As for the old testament examples. I think there are some good points, but we have to remember this gets into the whole "Mosaic Law" thing. There is a difference between the legal laws of Israel and the eternal moral laws that still hold over Christians and all people before and after the Old Law passed away. I think some of those examples you gave merely are examples of the eternal law(don't oppress the poor), but others seem to be of the Mosaic law (David eating the sacred bread). I think that example of sins against the poor or oppressed were often condemned as worse, is because it is more morally wrong to attack someone who is defenseless. Thats just common natural morality. (By natural morality I mean the eternal moral law, as you know called Natural Law)

All in all, I think I have come to discovered that we mostly agree. You were speaking about the legal laws (which though to some extent I may not totally agree, I still agree with your general principle) and I was speaking about the intrinsic moral worth of individuals. So I really think in most principles we agree, and in the ones we don't I think only really warrant more discussion, and because we agree on the really big principle stuff (the equal moral worth of all people) we have no qualms that could not be worked out.

As for what the other fellow said, though I don't know if Occam's razor applies or not, I think it sorta true. Thats part of my problem with your legal ideas, is that 1)I don't know if there is still that big of a schism anymore and 2) I don't think that your legal stuff helps the schism. After all, just like affirmative action, it does nothing but alienate the minority group more into the sheltered alcove, most often the alcove being leftist, or Marxist in ideology. By convincing blacks that they "require" help just makes them feel more alien, more different.

You couldn't say that residual racism was a "sin" but merely an instinct to struggle against right?

I'd want to say something in that direction, except that I think you can have sinful desires that you don't want to have, as in Romans 7, the mere having of which does not constitute sinning. So we'd need to make that distinction. I think residual racism can amount to sinful desires in the same way that lustful desires might be sinful but not sin if they aren't acted on (where acting on them can include choosing to dwell on them).

Also I asked if being attracted to people of your same race by and large could really be considered racism, considering people also have preferences for other attributes such as red/blonde hair.

I'm not sure that being attracted to particular traits is racist, even if those traits happen to be connected up with racial categories. What I do think is racist (and sexist) is the social force at work as we mature sexually that influences what we do find attractive. It's an insidious and pervasive influence on children as they develop a sense of what counts a beautiful and attractive, because its standards of beauty are impossible. Even aside from race issues, it makes bone-thin starvation beautiful and healthiness fat. I do think we ought to try to make ourselves overcome that influence from society to whatever extent we can. We may not be to blame for being influenced in that way, but we may be to blame for not at least trying to resist it.

Why can't the same be true for the racial narratives that underlie much of how many white people have been trained to think about black people? A lot of typical black traits are generally thought of as less attractive, and those blacks who have features more typical of whites end up as the ones white people attracted to black people might notice as attractive. So straight hair, lighter skin, less full lips, thinner noses, and so on end up being more attractive, and people who look like Halle Berry are seen as the attractive black women, but it's really because she has the traits that have artificially become seen as beautiful because white people have them. I do think we ought to resist this effect from the culture around us.

My point in offense to that was that though anti-black racism does contribute to a greater evil, so does anti-white racism since there is a cultural build up of that to.

They both contribute toward evils larger than themselves, but anti-black racism contributes toward an evil larger than itself that is greater than the evil anti-white racism contributes to that is larger than itself.

On the issue of evil in the sight of God, I would say this. There's nothing inherently wrong with using the n-word. That sound itself has no intrinsic properties that make it vile. So I could say it in private, not meaning anything bad by it, not connecting it with any of its historical origins or social consequences. Maybe I'll be privately using it to mean the number two or something perfectly innocent. Between me and God, I may not have done anything wrong. But suppose I use the word to mean that in a presence of other people, and they know its historical origin and social consequences. It thus contributes toward a racial social structure in society even if I don't intend it to. I would still say that I acted at best in a negligent manner. It's no longer just between me and God, because I have brought other people into it, even if I have done so unintentionally.

I don't see a whole lot of anti black racism going to those extremes, and with our societies feeling that it is the greatest sin and the almost total lack of attention to anti-white racism I don't know if that is such a revelant issue anymore.

I would argue that it's much more prevalent than most white people realize, since its effects are often hidden to those who are not affected by them in as direct a way. I'm continually surprised by reports I hear of outright racism still occurring when I read blogs focusing about race, because you only hear about celebrity cases in the news. It amazes me how often people still do blatantly and obviously racist things. But it's the subtle things that we miss, like manufacturers producing and stores stocking makeup, nail, and hair care products designed for lighter skin, like the slightly more negative unconscious tendency to give black people the benefit of the doubt in the legal system, like the treating of white victims as being more worth seeking justice for in capital cases, like the common enough tendency of store clerks to follow black customers around stores, sometimes without even realizing they're doing it.

There are enough of those, and they are hidden enough to white people, that I do think the differential is justified, even if black people or politically correct white liberals often overestimate them and even if black anti-white racism is prevalent enough and politically incorrect enough that it's too often ignored. I still don't think anti-white racism is as serious or as influential in terms of actual consequences to society. My position is in between the liberal who focuses only on anti-black racism and the conservative who focuses only on anti-white racism, but in terms of the actual negative impact of the two I'm closer to the liberal (even if in most policy matters related to race I'm going to be closer to the conservative).

You aren't saying that morally, or intrinsically is a white man more or less important than a black, but that the legal rigamorale may have to be different because of society's problems. At least we have come to an understanding.

No, I'm saying that, despite the two individual people having the same intrinsic value, the act of killing one can be morally worse than the act of killing the other. What makes it worse has nothing to do with the intrinsic value of the two people, however. It has to do with other factors.

First I wanted to apolgize. I am sorry if this is taking up so much of your time, you can take your time on responding.

"On the issue of evil in the sight of God, I would say this. There's nothing inherently wrong with using the n-word. That sound itself has no intrinsic properties that make it vile. So I could say it in private, not meaning anything bad by it, not connecting it with any of its historical origins or social consequences. Maybe I'll be privately using it to mean the number two or something perfectly innocent. Between me and God, I may not have done anything wrong. But suppose I use the word to mean that in a presence of other people, and they know its historical origin and social consequences. It thus contributes toward a racial social structure in society even if I don't intend it to. I would still say that I acted at best in a negligent manner. It's no longer just between me and God, because I have brought other people into it, even if I have done so unintentionally." So you are saying that, killing a black person, is a worse sin before God because the effect it has on people, correct?

So you are saying that, killing a black person, is a worse sin before God because the effect it has on people, correct?

That's one thing that makes it worse, but I'm thinking it's not the only thing. I'm thinking now that some of what makes it worse depends on facts about the past, not just on future consequences. I think it's the fact that it's a cooperation of sorts with past evil, a kind of evil that operates on a more collective level than just individual hate for individual reasons. That cooperation seems bad too, and that adds to the badness of the action.

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