By Eric Soble
The “Unity Jam: Stop the Hate Rally” held this Monday publicly made a stand against hatred and intolerance in the wider Lewisburg community. This event is increasingly necessary, given the numerous hate crimes against immigrants in rural Pennsylvania.
There are several points that could be made concerning the overall message of this rally. What does it mean to “stop the hate”? Is this a good way to show community and solidarity? How do we reconcile our love of free speech with our commitment to providing a safe atmosphere for all?
For me, the main problem with the “Stop the Hate” rally is that it contradicts its very title by hating those deemed hateful. This obvious paradox is one that is difficult to get past, because transcending the cycle of hate would mean tolerating intolerance.
One way to solve this problem is by separating action from belief and speech. I think we all can agree criminal actions against persons of any color or shape deserve punishment and chastisement.
However, belief and speech are fundamentally different from action. No matter how absurd or offensive speech or a belief may be, they are peaceful expressions, so long as they do not threaten or imply force. We must remember freedom of speech becomes meaningless if it only applies to speech considered “acceptable” to a wide margin of society. This is not a matter of agreeing with such speech, but rather allowing it so the same censorship cannot be applied to any other group.
This freedom presents a difficult problem for those of us who wish to be part of an accepting, tolerant community: we cannot criminalize ideas, yet we wish to discourage hateful expressions of bigotry and prejudice. The solution to this does not come from “stopping hate,” but by encouraging a more open dialogue. If these hateful people were allowed to speak publicly about their beliefs, their positions would automatically be discredited. Everyone should have the right to make him or herself look like an idiot.
“Stop the Hate” starts us in the right direction but fails to make several critical distinctions concerning how to go about this process. It is not enough to proclaim our opposition to hate; we must understand hate as a sentiment to be exposed, not silenced. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis has said, “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” We cannot solve hate by automatically dismissing it. Like any other learned ideology, hate must be intellectually challenged and discussed.