The concept of “homophobia,” like that of “sexism” and “racism,” is often a crude one. All three are essentially cookie-cutter formulas that try to understand human impulses merely through the one-dimensional identity of the victims, rather than through the thoughts and feelings of the haters and hated.This, I should add, is Oakeshottian conservatism at its best—paying attention to the breathing, teeming rustle of what actual people do and go through, rather than organizing life under a vapid ‘ism.’ Sullivan continues:
This is deliberate. The theorists behind these isms want to ascribe all blame to one group in society—the “oppressors”—and render specific others—the “victims”—completely blameless. And they want to do this in order in part to side unequivocally with the underdog. But it doesn’t take a genius to see how this approach too can generate its own form of bias.Here Sullivan does what an Oakeshottian does best—and remember, Sullivan’s bio tells us that his thesis on Oakeshott won all sorts of awards—he presents us the infinite variability of hate. Gay men are assaulted because of jealousy, or insecurity, or sheer repulsion. Motives multiply endlessly. Victims become haters. Blacks brutalize whites. And so on.
The truth is, the distinction between a crime filled with personal hate and a crime filled with group hate is an essentially arbitrary one. It tells us nothing interesting about the psychological contours of the specific actor or his specific victim. It is a function primarily of politics, of special-interest groups carving out particular protections for themselves, rather than a serious response to a serious criminal concern.Which leaves me, the reader, here, trying to rack my brain, thinking of why I ever supported hate crime laws in the first place. Some groupthink, no doubt. I’m a liberal, and my first reflex is always to err on the side of minority groups, women, gay people. The reflex works well most of the time, and in the case of hate crimes, I saw no reason to think otherwise. But in this case, Sullivan is right: the liberal party line really does condense a whole world of viciousness into a mere excuse for petty politics, and what’s more, it obscures our understanding—our hope of understanding—what actually drives hate. Liberals refuse to understand hatred, or prejudice, as something nuanced, and complicated.