Wednesday, March 5, 2014

We Hates It, We Hates It Not

Conor Friedersdorf, over at the Atlantic, wades into a hornet's nest with the assertion that refusing to photograph a lesbian couple's commitment ceremony (or, as long as we're being precise, refusing to provide a quote to photograph said ceremony) is defacto evidence of animus towards homosexuals. (If nothing else, you must credit the man for game bravery in the face of a certain teapot tempest.)

In doing so, he strides into a minefield that very few have braved. Yet, strangely, he does so without managing to ever really engage with the central issue. What, really, is hate - and is there a difference between being hated and feeling hated? If I despise someone with a passion that burns more brightly than a thousand Suns, yet they have no idea of my animus, are they hated? If my indifference knows no bounds, yet they perceive me as implacably hostile, which is true?

Offense, as I understand it, is in the eye of the offended, because it is simply not possible, by any means, to offend someone who simply does not take offense under the circumstances. So does hate work in the same way? If someone is unaware of, or refuses to acknowledge hate, does the hate have any meaning?

If not, then hate ceases to be a "real" thing and exists only in the perception of the recipient. And then, Mr. Friedersdorf's argument, as well reasoned as it may be, falls apart. But then it leaves us where we really are, but often refuse to acknowledge - in the position of judging whether or not someone's subjective feelings of being hated (or fearful or offended) are actually important. And that loss of objectivity matters, because it means that people who complain that it's really whether or not the greater public sympathizes with your plight are, effectively, correct.

People on all sides of the "conscience" issue, as well as those who steer well clear of a side, tend to be selective in their determination as to whose hurt feelings they understand to be worthy. But with emotions, perceptions are reality. The Christian who feels put upon because people perceive them a bigoted suffers no less subjective injury than a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer person who feels judged (and found wanting) for not adhering to conventional sexual norms or the college student who feels threatened by the reactions of her schoolmates to the fact that she's paying her tuition by acting in pornographic movies. These things are all important to them. It's the rest of us who pick and chose, and in so doing, heighten or assuage the feelings of those people who have invested themselves in our decisions.

So in the end, whether or not I do something (or refuse to do something) with hate in my heart is immaterial. It's what blossoms in the hearts of others as a result of my choices, words and deeds - and whether or not their peers legitimize that blossoming - that matters.

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