The Nature of Hate

By James Lim Zhong Zhi, from Singapore. Please read his article and leave thoughts and comments down below.

Hate. Revulsion at an entity, from the very fibre of your being. Deep breaths. Rejection, from within the depths of your subconscious. Reconciliation seems to be an impossibility. Like matter with antimatter, the only solution would be annihilation, in the form of radical action. The initial impulse passes away. It settles into the depths of your mind, you defined the object of your hatred as your mortal enemy.

Hate has been bandied around as a catch-all term for ‘dislike’ or ‘disinterest’ in popular culture, diluting the severity it once had in the lexicon, reducing it to a mere hyperbole used to express an over-reaction towards something. It would be facetious to treat such a flippant use of the word as an indication of the true meaning of hate. The etymology of hate comes from the Old English wordhatain, which means to ‘treat as an enemy’, giving us a glimpse into the gravity of the emotion required to truly hate. Hate should be treated with the due severity it deserves – we need to be able to recognise when hate begins to creep slowly into our lives.

Hate is not an emotion by itself, but the extremities of more baser emotions. Fear, ignorance, envy, the whole plethora of negative emotions, when brought to the extremes, morphs itself into the destructive impulse of hatred. Hate is the consequence of our emotions running out of control, subverting our rational mind to irrationality, driving us into radical action. Having just pure emotions alone does not constitute hatred. It would have been no concern if radicalised individuals held intense distaste of our society, so long as the distaste is confined within the boundaries of their mind. When that distaste convinces them to act out in a destructive impulse, driving them to commit acts of terrorism, the emotion becomes hate. Emotions by itself do not harm, it is the action that does harm.

Hate can be established against all kinds of entities, from the hate of a person, to the hate of a system, to pure hate itself. J’ai la haine, as the French would say. What drives emotions to become hate comes from perceived fundamental differences in the entity you disagree with. When that emotion of fear, envy, disgust, or any number of negative emotions, fail to find an outlet to express themselves, the mind begins to seek reasons to alleviate the prolonged emotionality. Why would that person irk me so much? Why is the system causing me to fear? Why do people constantly hurt me? Such questions can easily be answered by hate. It must be because the person is evil. It must be because the system is evil. It must be because of the immigrants stealing my jobs.The solution, consequently, becomes easy. There is no need to understand the complex nuances behind any number of situations. To hate someone requires little to no effort, all it requires is a willingness to reduce the other entity to the category of an enemy. Towards an enemy, the primitive solution becomes appealing. Power and violence is the default answer.

The object of your hatred loses all sensibilities as a person or an entity that could be reasoned with, his entire person or group now defined by hate. To an enemy, there can be no attempts at reasoning. Or, to paraphrase the words of George W. Bush, we don’t negotiate with terrorists. The only solution is to utterly eliminate the threat from existence. The struggle becomes a primitive struggle for existence itself. Extreme prejudice is used in our methods to remove the object of hatred. Any number of actions start becoming justified under the banner of self-defence. They have hurt me as the enemy, I could hurt them back. That was how the Cental Investigation Agency justified the use of illegal torture techniques against suspected terrorists. That was how Guantanamo Bay still exists until today, illegally detaining dozens of suspects simply because of who they are. That was how drone strikes are carried out daily in Afghanistan, bringing death to dozens everyday.

Some would argue that hate could be, in some instances, be justified. Just War Theory, for example, attempts to lay down the moral and philosophical foundations for conducting warfare. Warfare is justified, for instance, when we are protecting human rights. There are certain exceptions where we can be justified in hating. After all, we hated the Nazi’s and fought them to liberate Europe. Hating the Nazi’s could not possibly be wrong, can it? Perhaps, there are instances where it would be morally right to hate.

The problem with that viewpoint lies in the fact that violence does not justify violence. Someone committing an act of violence against you, or against anyone else, does not justify retaliation against them. A fine line has to be drawn between defending yourself and actively assaulting others. The principle of self-defence, even in legal terms, distinguishes between appropriate violence and excessive violence. However, when we have allowed ourselves to be driven by hatred, that line becomes increasingly hard to delineate. Rational considerations of consequences becomes difficult to accomplish when emotions are in control. Soon, self-defense becomes murder.

Such was the instance during the end of the Second World War, when USSR soldiers ransacked the German countryside and pillaged their way to Berlin in 1945, before subjecting the capital to days of atrocities, committing hideous war crimes in the name of revenge. Is it justified to commit such atrocities, simply because they have been committed against us? This is the price of hatred, the consequence of our emotions running unchecked. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you, to use a common aphorism by Nietzche.

On further inspection, there seems to exist a peculiar sort of affinity between hatred. Actions committed under the influence of hate is precisely the sort of actions that would eventually be hated. Those acting under the influence of hate behave exactly like caricatures of those who hate them. For example, the actions amongst certain extremes of the Antifa movement, including radical counter-protest against alt-right groups, furthered narratives amongst the alt-right that the liberal left behaves as they feared. This poses a problem for individuals seeking a compromise between both sides, making it harder to keep a narrative of non-hatred among an increasing animous climate. When hatred spirals out of control, even those who do not hate are forced to hate, as actions taken by both parties escalate, each justified by the other. Hate attracts hate by justifying the acts of hatred itself. The natural inclinations of those who have hate directed against them are to hate back. Both sides, so desperately hating each other, almost seem to collaborating in their mutual hatred to further inflame hate.

Crucially, the path to hatred diverges when one choose what they are going to do in the extremes of their emotions. Carl Rogers, the founder of the humanistic approach to psychology, advocates for empathy as a solution to hatred. Seeking to understand why you hate requires you understanding the object you are hating. Rather than using emotions as a justification for forming caricatures of other individuals, a far better approach would be to attempt to understand that which you feel strong emotions against. While a disagreement may still exist between you and the object of your dislike, understanding now prevents you from simplifying the nuances inherent in the other position. That makes it harder for you to resort to acting out in hate. Often, alternative solutions can be found that do not rely on power and violence. When you realise that the other object you hate exist as a multi-dimensional entity with nuances, power and violence become unappealing as a solution to the problem. After all, there are also children and elderly amongst the Nazi’s. Individualising and rationalising the positions of those you hate drives out the emotive response towards hatred.

Importantly, hate has to be understood as an emotionally-driven choice towards the abuse of power and violence, directed at an object that has been reduced to an enemy. Hate contributes to actions that are hated, making it easier for others to hate back in retaliation. It tends itself to extremities, often escalating tensions within societies as it self-immolates. The only way to stop hatred is to not hate in the first instance, preferably adopting a different approach to resolving extreme emotions. Once we have begun to hate, it becomes harder for us to turn back. Hate attracts hate, even within ourselves.

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