Anatomy of Hate

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Dear friends,

For the last month, I’ve been taking a crash course in hate. Strangers send me hateful messages and comments often several times a day. My social media has become a hate lab.

Here’s what I’m observing.

1. The essence of hate is the desire for the other not to exist. Hate may use language, exclusion, and/or force, but the core of hate is always the same: the desire for the other to disappear – whether through silencing, expelling, or killing. When someone says, “I hate you,” what they really mean is, “I wish you didn’t exist.”

2. The root of hate is fear. We heard it proclaimed in Charlottesville: “You will not replace us!” People who hate are afraid of being less than others or simply not being all there is. In this way, hate is a kind of optical illusion: it looks strong, but it is weak. It is fueled by a sense of insecurity and danger. The strong don’t need to hate; they have enough self-esteem to coexist with others.

3. Hate is most common among those who see themselves as the owners of culture. When their cultural monopoly is challenged, they feel threatened and persecuted. To the frightened guardians of power, anything moving toward equality feels like oppression and must be hated. This produces ironies like white fragility. I will say more about victimhood below.

4. Racism and hate fuel one another. For the hateful, all that’s necessary to hate is a different skin color – something no one chooses for themselves, including the hater. (It’s like hating someone for being right-handed and worshiping yourself for being left-handed.) Your difference will be smashed like a hammer hits a nail or like a bee attacks honey. In many cases, no further reason for hate is needed or offered: if you’re different, you’re the enemy. Repeat: “f*ck you” and/or “I/we will kill you.”

5. Religion and nationalism are a dangerous combination, like drinking and driving. The hateful people who send the most brutal messages have profiles filled with images that fuse religion and nationalism. The two are like hydrogen and oxygen for the hateful, producing a poisonous but addictive water. Sadly, when I see religious and nationalistic symbols, the next thing I’ve learned to expect is “f*ck you!” or “I/we will kill you!” This combination is so dangerous because religion and nationalism are often the same thing: tribalism or group identity that forms itself by negating the other and affirming supremacy.

6. Hateful religion is scared of theology. Hateful people cover themselves in religious symbolism, and they clearly have a religious ideology: “We are perfect; you aren’t one of us; so you’re the enemy.” But theology is the practice of thinking clearly and critically about your religion. And thinking is the enemy of hate. Thus, theology is the enemy of hateful religion and condemned as apostasy. All hate knows is dictation and repetition; thus, thinking is betrayal and suicide. Hannah Arendt is one of the most insightful analysts here. The irony is that hateful religion is a form of narcissistic nihilism: it nullifies its own moral teaching about telling the truth, valuing others, and behaving respectfully.

7. Hate + identity = totalitarianism: “Either you must be(come) us, or you must be hated – silenced, driven away, or destroyed; we are all.” Of course, identity is one of the untouchable idols of our age; everyone claims their “identity” as an inviolable, even sovereign, status. But for the hateful, identity literally mean identicalness, sameness, totality: “Our identity is that we alone must exist here; thus, our identity is that everyone who is not-us is an evil enemy.” Here demonization – representing others as inhuman forces of evil – is normalized. Hateful identity is the seed of genocide. It fuels the dehumanizing language and imagery that makes genocide not only possible but a holy obligation for members of the group.

8. Hate erases facts and fuels an anti-fact machine. Hateful people don’t double-check the stories they hear. Fake news is like a match for their gun powder. They simply start burning and explode. The cause of their hate can be entirely fabricated and absurd, but considering that possibility is impossible for them. This again points to the totalitarian logic of hate: to think is to betray the group and its ideology.

9. Haters are often smiling, professional-looking people. I’ve gotten vicious hate messages from many people who claim to have advanced degrees, work in universities, and minister in churches. Their profiles have sweet slogans like “God is love” and “Think outside the box.” They post pictures of their kids and colorful holidays. They seem like family people. But beneath the surface, you find a volcano of anger and violence.

10. Character assassination is the nuclear weapon of the hateful. Their technique is surprisingly simple: associate the person you hate with someone you know your audience hates. For example, they say you’re gay or a friend of someone they despise, and voila, hundreds of people will rush to attack you. Again, there’s a logic here: their leaders know that their followers have been trained not to think, so character assassination works like magic.

My parents have trained their dog to bark when they say “speak”; likewise, these people have trained their followers to explode when they say “gay” or an individual’s name or a group. Whether it is true doesn’t matter; it works. In other words, hate is often guilt by association festering in a tribal mind – that is, a mind that defines identity by negating the other to affirm itself.

11. Heroism is a powerful host for the parasite of hate. When people hate, they don’t feel like they’re swimming in a vile sewer of sickness and death. They feel noble, proud, strong, devoted – like they’re part of a great tradition. They feel like heroes, which points back to the fusion of religion and nationalism. This is why their profiles are also full of pictures of people they consider heroes. There are five “heroes” – past and present – that show up over and over in these people’s profiles, like Osama bin Laden or Abubaker among Islamic extremists.

12. Manipulated history is the handbook of the hateful. Hateful people love to use events from the past to justify their hate. They will associate you with characters from hundreds of years ago to vindicate themselves – even if you come from a different continent, religion, or way of life. They will identify themselves with historic events to disguise hate as heroism. History is a half-lit room full of dynamite, and these people carry torches. Though hateful people use smart phones and the Internet, their minds are trapped in distant ages.

13. *Some* of the most hateful people live outside their countries. The irony is that they claim to love and defend their country, but they don’t even live there. Here we see the complexity of hateful psychology: is their hate driven by envy, guilt, a strangely fermented grief, identity crisis?

14. For haters, hate speech is free speech. It doesn’t matter how poisonous or ridiculous their speech is; if you challenge it, they will start shouting about how they are being oppressed. The shift from screaming death threats to crying about being wronged is remarkable. Accountability is condemned as censorship or hate-speech. This shows the fragile complexity of democracy and freedom of speech where hate-speech is normalized.

15. The claim of victimhood is hate’s shield. In today’s world, being the victim is code for unquestionable authority and impunity (which is sickening because there are many real victims in our world). Thus, haters will go from threatening to kill you and sending you graphic pictures, to bemoaning how badly treated they are and how they are freedom fighters for justice. Their hate-fueling leaders are portrayed as crucified messiahs whenever someone points out that what they are doing is wrong. Thugs become martyrs.

Here we see that haters are infantile, like the bully at school who threatens everyone and then breaks down in tears when someone tells him to stop. Think of people carrying military-grade weapons who claim to be oppressed victims.

16. Hate kills dialogue. Ask hateful people honest questions; point them to obvious evidence; express kindness; bless them – they will respond with mockery, cursing, and cruelty. Any attempt at connection is perceived as threat, aggression, attack, war. This points back to the totalitarian, anti-thinking nature of hate and forward to my next point.

17 . The siege mentality is the brain of hate: “Everyone is out to get us; we must rally and attack before it is too late!” The siege mentality fuels conspiracy theories and self-confirming slogans. Like ideas of freedom and victimhood, “truth” is weaponized here. But this is an auto-immune, viral “truth.” It can only think its own thoughts, like a mentally ill person who manically repeats the same sentences over and over.

18. Hate is a form of psychological terrorism. Most haters are cowards. They safely hide behind screens and fake identities, and publish their ignorance and arrogance for the world to see. But they’re clever enough to understand that hate-speech is poisonous and sharp – like darts that struggle to penetrate your emotional nervous system. Nietzsche analyzed active and passive nihilism. Terrorism also has active and passive forms. ISIS are active terrorists. Hate-mongers are passive terrorists. But the core is the same: the desire for the other not to exist.

19. Many Christians in our world today are terrorists. Of course, many Christians grew up hearing that “Muslims” are terrorists. Especially after 9/11, every Christian knows something about the Taliban, al-Qaeda, al-Shabab, Boko Haram, the Islamic State, and other similar groups. Muslims have been sickeningly stigmatized. But Christian groups around the world have a similar ideology, and they style Jesus as their leader and use the cross as their black flag. Their religious heroes are weaponized archetypes of domination. The fact that they use Jesus, Bibles, churches, and other “Christian” symbols makes them invisible to many Christians. Perhaps it is similar for some Muslims in recognizing their own terrorists.

20. Hate is painful. This makes sense because the essence of hate is murder. To be hated is to be psychologically murdered – to know that someone wishes you were dead and may actively try to kill you. This points back to hate as a form of psychological terrorism.

21. The only thing worth hating is hate itself: the desire for others not to exist. Hate as it fuses with other vices is the root of violence, poverty, and destruction. We should hate hate; we should desire for hate not to exist. But this is extremely dangerous: without great caution, the hater of hate will become a hater of others. As Nietzsche said, don’t become a monster to defeat a monster.

22. Hate must be met with empathy, focus, and creativity.

Empathy: Hateful people are hurting like everyone else, but they haven’t found a constructive way to manage their pain. Humans typically flee, fight, or freeze in the face of a perceived threat. Hate is the fight instinct, which triggers people to curse, condemn, and attack. This is a primitive drive in human physiology and psychology that lives in all of us.

Focus: Haters want to derail your sense of self, your values, and your mission. Remember: the essence of hate is the desire for others not to exist, and hate has a complex psychological capacity to convert others into itself: the hated become haters. Reacting to haters and allowing them to dominate your attention is what they want. Stay focused. Live your values. Do work.

Creativity: The best response to hate is to love others. Let hate fuel your energy to practice kindness, compassion, and service. Let it expand your awareness of others who are suffering, and find creative ways to care for them. This was the creative nonviolence of Jesus: when they curse, bless. As Paul, a former terrorist, said, “Don’t be overcome with evil but overcome evil with good.”

23. The non-hateful majority among us are largely silent. For every ten hate messages, you will maybe get one message of dialogue and solidarity. The loudest voices dominate the stage and hold the microphone. Perhaps it is time for their counterparts to raise their voices, condemn hate in their community, and demand peaceful dialogue and respect for difference – unless they too secretly wish for others to disappear. Silence allows hate to fester. Ordinary people need to start saying, “Hateful people do not represent us. We demand accountability and a culture of dignity.”

PS: I hope to see all you haters in heaven. Why not? “Love hopes all things.”

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