I had no idea when I read George Orwell’s 1984 as a teenager, how it would turn out to be an even more important book towards the end of my life than it was at the beginning.
He warned of how a state setting out to control its citizens would do it by manipulating language. He called it doublethink. And the media would follow the same pattern with what he called ‘Newspeak.’ Slowly but surely the reality of things would be hidden by language that covered the truth with a fog.
Each week the news brings more of what we experience as doublespeak in the media. Hate crimes are one of the most corrupting and dangerous ones.
At first sight, it seems almost beyond belief that a police force could decide that thought crime was more important than actual crime.
But in England, that’s what’s happening.
Take for example South Yorkshire police. They have a particularly poor record of dealing with real crime. It was that force that decided to humiliate Cliff Richard by calling in the press helicopter to cover their break in on his house, even though he was innocent. It was they who covered up over the true record of the Hillsborough disaster. And currently, it was they who ignored the mass rape of the Rotherham teenage white girls, by predatory groups of men from one distinctive faith community (known amongst some commentators as the ‘Voldemort community’ – the faith that the media dare not or will not name.)
So it’s particularly odd that they should start to invest resources in examining hate crimes that don’t even pass the threshold of crime. What should these incidents be called? ‘Unverified incidents of existential bruising causing inconvenient emotional tenderness to people who victimised by them?’
The police used their official Twitter account to spread this new message and change in policing priorities, saying: “Hate can cause a range of emotional responses, including fear, anger and shock. People experience mental and physical wellbeing issues such as problems sleeping, depression, anxiety and paranoia. ‘Hate hurts’ and no one should have to tolerate it.”
Hate does indeed hurt. But should we invest our social resources in a group of highly mobile psychotherapeutic hit squads, tasked with responding to social and personal insults, and the upset they cause on twitter and elsewhere with urgency? It looks as though S. Yorkshire police want that role; but should they be allowed to move from real crime to thought crime. And if they do, what happens to real crime?
On a phone-in for Talk Radio recently, the Crime Commissioner for S. Yorkshire was asked about Rotherham. More than 1500 girls were gang-raped by members of the Islamic community. It’s a matter of public record that the police turned a blind eye to it. Might not people prefer it, he was asked, if police protected their their daughters from being gang-raped rather than policing people ‘feeling hurt’ on twitter?
The Commissioner went as far as acknowledging that both personal hurt and mass gang rape were both important. Perhaps that should come as some relief.
The madness is that this change in culture and attack on freedom of speech goes unchallenged; at least by most of the media.
It’s not as if it’s just happening in S. Yorkshire.
The police get to make it up as it goes along now it seems. Manchester police claim: “Greater Manchester Police now recognises alternative sub-culture hate incidents. These are incidents based on someone’s appearance and include Goths, Emos, Punks and other similar groups. This means they will also record any such incidents as a hate incident. “Other similar groups” What does that mean? Anything the police want it to mean.
One of the practical problems with pursuing issues of private hate is that you can’t get inside someone’s head to test if it really is hate you are dealing with. What if it’s just dislike, antipathy, fear, distaste, misunderstanding or shyness?
What we are developing, with some speed is the idea and practice of ‘thought crime’ where the police set out to criminalise your feelings and your thoughts. Actually, it’s not even that. It’s what other people feel your feelings and thoughts and opinions are.
Which is where Orwell comes in again. Because hate doesn’t mean hate. It means attitudes the state doesn’t want you to have or express. Hate crime is thought-crime; and thought-crime is state censorship of thought and the expression of thought, which in other places is called ‘free speech.’
Of course, like all doublethink and its public expression doublethink, the words used in public are nice and attractive ones designed to cover up nasty and oppressive actions. Who can be against hating? But it isn’t hating at all that is being criminalised, it’s freedom of thought and speech. Sometimes it is well and honestly meant critcism; sometimes it is horrid. But it can’t all either be classified or stopped by calling it ‘hate’.
It raises a further and more difficult question. Is there anything that can be done about anger, vitriol, hatred and unforgiveness?
There are some small steps that can be taken. One would be to try to avoid wilful misreading or mispresenting of ideas you are uncomfortable with. But that’s just about being civilised and fair.
At the deeper level of human rage, anger and hatred, neither therapy nor the law have had much effect. For real change of heart and lives that are turned around, the thing that works best, looking back in history is a healthy religious conversion. Looking back at the examples ranging from Italian St Francis of Assisi to the English slave trader John Newton, all the scientific statistical evidence is that conversion to a religion that believes in and practices forgiveness will be more effective that police, therapy or pills.