In his latest response to my criticisms, Ta-Nehisi Coates oddly compares Alec Baldwin to Strom Thurmond in a way that inadvertently makes my case for me. Thurmond adamantly and openly opposed desegregation and civil rights, even as the political winds were shifting the other way, while Baldwin adamantly and openly supported gay rights, long before this was the majority opinion in the United States. Do you see? That’s an important distinction: it’s one that our language ought to reflect.
This distinction is related to another, between one’s considered beliefs and one’s dispositions (or habits, impulses, tendencies toward certain emotional reactions, unconscious thoughts, and so on). It’s a distinction important to many philosophers and psychologists: lots of interesting consequences rest upon it. Coates conflates belief and disposition once again when he reiterates his view that Baldwin, if he uses language demeaning to gays when he’s upset, must be “refusing to accept another group of people as humans,” even if he supports gay rights. But when Alec Baldwin was upset in these instances, it was individual members of the press toward whom he was directing his hate. And in such moments, the (universal) temptation toward dehumanizing generalizations – as a tool for one’s hatred of a particular person – is enormous: many people have not learned how to suppress such tendencies when enraged. But this does not mean that they affirm such dehumanizing generalizations in their saner moments.