It happens all the time. Someone reads an opinion piece with which he or she disagrees and then responds with a stream of venomous rhetoric directed toward the author—occasionally myself. It comes with the territory—the kitchen and heat.
What’s noteworthy, however, is how often critics accuse yours truly or other political opponents of hatred in messages brimming with that very quality—an incongruity that stands out more prominently when a respondent’s invective is compared with the mild verbal jabs in the article to which he is responding.
My own generic criticisms of pornographic “smut-peddlers” and the “abysmal vulgarity” of “much rap music,” for example, was enough to set one reader off on an e-mail tirade that labeled me, personally, as a hypocritical right-winger who’s insensitive to homelessness, murder, and poverty.
In psychological parlance what we have in this instance is a case of projection. The writer’s own anger is being attributed to his adversary.
It’s annoying when an individual labels you a hater based purely on opinions that don’t coincide with his own. It’s positively destructive for society, however, when it becomes a common political tactic to smear opponents as “haters” simply because their views don’t agree with passionate beliefs on the other side.
The most obvious recent example of this tactic concerns the phrase “Proposition H8”—a coinage used to vilify anyone who dares assert that the male-female definition of marriage is part of a longstanding familial ideal that’s worth preserving.
One can make arguments for or against the proposition, but when an opponent is labeled a “hater,” all rational exchange is undermined. One need not listen to the words of a “hater” because his views are presumed to be outside the realm of civility—regardless of how civilly and thoughtfully his positions are expressed.
Progressives are particularly apt to use the h-word (or other ad hominem labels) to marginalize arguments they don’t wish to consider. Liberal columnist Ellen Goodman, for example, likened global warming dissidents to Holocaust deniers.
Other terms regularly employed to squelch rational debate include sexist, homophobic, racist and bigoted.
Even the term “tolerant” is inadequate for the crowd that demands ideological conformity. What we need, I was once told in a teachers meeting, is “acceptance,” not “tolerance.”
This passionate ideologue may or may not have known that “acceptance” in his scenario obliged opponents to “accept” views they didn’t share. Meanwhile his political allies weren’t even expected to “tolerate” ideas that differed from their own.
In short, “acceptance” means everyone must get with the progressive program or risk being labeled a “hater.” That’s not a good prescription for a democracy.