One of the most powerful ways in which a society shapes thought and behavior is through the cliché and the stereotype. Cliché and Stereotype have a life of their own and act like conceptual gatekeepers ordering the flow of thought. The violence implicit in cliché is amazing because most of us internalize it. Populism, however, rules not only through stereotypes, it creates a secondary policing ritual through hate speech. If stereotype forms the kernel of idea, hate speech targeting particular communities created a second round of defense. Hate speech emphasizes and projects the irrational and the paranoid and it caters to deep seated insecurities. But one must emphasize that hate speeches are not merely performative utterances but deep seated attempts to organize society in a particular way. They demand not only particular modes of thought but codes of conduct. The rituals of hate speech are linked to a populist or a majoritarian idea of law and order, where hate attempts to create an imaginary lowest common denominator utopia. Instead of an organized system of physical surveillance as in a prison or an asylum, hate speech creates a system of targeting, where hysteria and threat substitute for general surveillance.
Ironically, hate speech which creates a law and order problem, is at another level a policing aspiration that seeks its own vision of law and order. Hate speech and moral policing go together. Behind their dictatorial threats is always a love for a preferred form of law and order. They suppress sexuality, freedom because they prefer a certain form of patriarchy. Vigilante groups pride themselves to be annexes of the police station, guarding any threats to a majoritarian morality. They enact a legislative world through diktats, backed by threat. They raise the bogey of patriotism to make sure that any dissent is seen as sedition and therefore a threat to patriotism and security. They see their vigilantism as an act of duty. They raise the bogey of threats to the sentiments of a community and use this, to police acts of history, writing, culture, cinema. They police food to make sure minorities lose their claim to livelihood. Their vigilantism is deeply totalitarian. As Bezwada Wilson told me, that it is interesting that Dalits are beaten up because they are impure and also, when they refuse to clean up carcasses.
Hate speech threatens to impoverish the sensorium by ensuring food, dress are all policed. What they want is a suppression, humiliation or exclusion of their object of hate. In a deep and fundamental way, hate emerges out of insignificance of the slighted, the ignored, the anxious. When these collective acts of insignificance coalesce we get the politics of hate, of vengeance. Indians by now should understand the danger of creating such fictions. As a minority migrant community in USA, they should understand how fictions and stereotypes create hate and envy. The epidemic called Trump is basically an attempt to create a bogey of neglect. Neglect create its own script of imagined anxieties, paranoia, a seed for vengeance for imagined insults and suddenly a community known for hard work, for disciplined industriousness confronts threats from groups which see them as threats. The white middle class and the hard hats create a politics of hate which in fact, is the real post truth society. A post truth society is a world which take little anxieties and magnifies them into large threats. Nothing expands like hate in today’s society. An excess of violence both symbolic and physical have their uses. One sees a comparative use of inflated world of hate. Hate speech is difficult to refute because it does not appeal to the empirical, the factual. It caters to the imaginary which is more real than the empirical. Trump demonstrated that caricatures look more real than hard facts. Trump knew that Hard hats had their own sense of Hard facts. Hate overplayed by the media creates self-fulfilling realities. Hitler created such a self-fulfilling reality around the Jew, Trump around the migrant, and Modi and the BJP around the Muslims. Hard working migrants were seen as vampires, a threat to a mainstream way of life that they too were committed to. In fact, the sad irony is that it is these groups which are aspirational, work hard but are projected as threats. Those most committed to the American dream and way of life are suddenly dubbed anti-American. Hate works as a venom destroying the democratic aspirations of these people.
Yet one must be careful in seeing all forms of hate speech as equivalents. Hate is organized in different ways to target different people. Minority hate in India was built around the bogey of secularism. Minority hate in USA was built around a threat to the American way of life. Each act of hate has its own etiology, style, strategy. Each works to create a different pattern of violence, One needs to map the varieties of hate to understand and they speak a variety of dialects, each potent in their difference. In fact, democracy today has to understand that hate and evil and violence are often more inventive and variegated than goodness. The danger is that goodness not only gets simplistic but standardized. The impotence of goodness is in its pomposity or its naivete. Either way, Tyranny can arise by playing the victim. Hate speech as a performative act is one of the most potent dangers to democracy. One needs to unravel and deconstruct it, with a ruthless ethnography because it is hate that creates the dark world of post truth politics where violence becomes excessive and stereotypes more devious. Hate speech is like a virus that can destroy democracy by pretending to mimic it, using anxiety to create vulnerability. Language as a casualty becomes early warning threat to the danger of a demagogic society. In fact, one needs a new form of scholarship that studies hate, anxiety, vulnerability as psychological and economic facts to understand why a society cannot be caught flatfooted by a Trump or a Modi. Democracy has to understand it has possibilities of evil different from a dictatorship which will threaten life and liberty in its own way. If ‘Newspeak’ is the language of a totalitarian society, hate speech is the lingo of populism, of a demagogic society which seek to subvert the democratic process for its own ends. We need a different warning system to understanding such dangers. One needs to reinvent language, create new ethical experiments to challenge the regime of hate. One has the examples of Gandhi, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Vaclav Havel available before one. Democracy need not despair over the politics of hate.
(Shiv Visvanathan is a Social Science nomad)...