Republishing this post. I think it is a good one for the recent events. It was originally from my other blog at I’m Not Dead Yet…
The capacity to hate lies within all of us. The capacity to dehumanize the “other” in order to be rid of people we consider dangerous or deviant or difficult or just plan stupid is universal. To a large extent, the only progress humanity has made since we were a bunch of Naked Apes hunting, gathering, and scavenging on the African savanna has been our increasing willingness to tolerate each other.
Even that is an on again and off again proposition. The protests inspired by the murder of George Floyd show that many millions of people care. The fact that they were needed show that millions of people still don’t care.
Hate can easily be turned into public action. That’s why politicians use it so much. Take a dab of fear or even legitimate anger, mix in a convenient target and a bit of adrenaline, and whip well. It is a powerful emotion that suspends the logical thought process. It is a tool in the trade of every despot and demagogue from Stalin and Hitler to Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden and more than a few who are still in power.
And sadly, the American presidency does not seem immune. Recent events have shown how easy it is to stir up a populace to violence, even in a liberal democracy like the US. The attack on the Capitol can only be viewed as mob insanity. There was no practical effect other than to unify their opposition. There was no benefit to them except the joy of destroying a symbol of their hatred. The act receives massive publicity and Trump gets to show he still retains some power even as he loses the White House.
Does this remind anyone of another incident in recent history? (Sorry, but I consider the entire 20th century to be recent history.) Do some research on the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 by none other than Adolph Hitler. The parallels are eerie.
The right hates the left, the left hates the right, and the majority of people who sit somewhere in the middle look on in confusion. I found this perfect description of the situation:
- How has it come to this? The right feels like it’s fighting for its very life against a left that’s waging a scorched-earth campaign against it. As far as the right is concerned, progressives don’t just want to win. They want to grind conservatives into the dust, humiliate them, force them to jump through public hoops, and confess their sins before the world. And the list of sins grows ever longer — on race, on religion, on sex, on gender. The goalposts always shift further. Each triumph for the left is followed by the opening of another front in a rolling cultural revolution. The right feels desperate — and understands every one of its own moves as an equal and opposite reaction to a prior offensive on the part of its political and cultural antagonists.
- The left, meanwhile, views things exactly in reverse. The story of the country is one characterized by unjust domination by a narrow class of white, male, heterosexual, cis-gendered oppressors, and then a slow, grinding fight toward greater liberty and equality for every identity. Yet instead of giving up its exclusive privileges and conceding the justice of continuing with progress toward ever-greater democracy, the right has mounted a counter-assault that aims to reverse the progress America has made, with the ultimate goal of propping up its remaining power and then actively narrowing the circle of citizenship in the hopes of turning back the clock to a time when white, heterosexual, cis-gendered men were in charge of everything. That poses an existential threat to all that’s worthwhile about the country and fully justifies uncompromising acts to thwart its realization.
Neither of these points of view are logically – or practically – true. Enough people believe them to drive us apart instead of focusing on our common humanity. The middle, that great hump in the bell curve, doesn’t see why either side is so heated up. And so the hatred, born of a struggle for dominance and the fear of being dominated becomes just another tool to be used in the game we call politics. It is a fertile field in which to sow madness.
I spent an amazing 6 hours watching Steven Spielberg’s 2019 documentary, “Why We Hate.”You can also catch it on Discovery Channel, Hulu, Youtube TV, and Amazon Prime Video.
I’d like to make it mandatory for every high school student. Good luck on that.
First aired October of 2019, it is still available.
Spielberg gives us a no punches pulled overview of hate, starting with likely genetic roots in our ancestors and following it to this day. It is not for the squeamish. The scenes from the Holocaust, the Cambodian killing fields, and the Rwandan genocide of 1994 are particularly gruesome. Yet somehow, every episode manages to end with a note of hope.
The capacity to hate is human. It is hard-wired into our DNA. At the same time, empathy is hard-wired into us. Most people are quite capable of being hateful or compassionate or anything in between. Hate comes from the amygdala, that little bit of reptile brain we all still have. Empathy comes from a more recent addition, the supermarginal gyrus of the cerebral cortex. Your life largely shapes how you respond but you can also decide to walk a different path.
Time to find a better way.
When you see someone mistreating someone because they are different, that’s a completely human behavior. Just as human as rising to that person’s defense.
There is an apocryphal story that succinctly tells us how our lives will go:
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.
One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other is Good. It is joy, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
The next time you see someone spewing out hate, which of the wolves inside of you will you feed?
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
February 7, 2021 at 17:57
There’s a elephant in the room and I can’t see how any of this left-right split is going to be resolved. Arguments are often obliquely framed as opposing ideologies with equal validity. Unfortunately, that is not reality.
The right, as whole LIES … repeatedly …
A simple example- Masks: Surgeons have been wearing masks for how many decades? Why? Because it reduces patient deaths. Why does this happen? Those pesky laws of physics that operate independently of people. The material of the mask reduces the number of pathogens in the surgeon’s mouth that escape into room air and settle into the patient’s open body. Thereby reducing the chances of post operative infection and increasing the chances of a successful recovery. To suggest that this is opinion is a lie. It is anger. It is attack. It is aggression. Why? Because unless you have a cognitive impairment you are fully aware that it is not opinion.
So when you claim mask wearing is a “personal choice” you are either attacking me or you are announcing you have a cognitive impairment. Or, I suppose, it might be possible that you actually WANT to kill your friends and family.
I could go on with dozens, if not hundreds of example like this.
One funny thing is that the left understands that we have no control over the virus. It’s a like car the police are trying to catch. They have no control over the car. All they can do is shut down roads to reduce the possibility of escape. So when people on the right scream at or about people on the left, they are not actually addressing the virus. By and large, people on the left are aware that our beliefs have no affect on the virus. The virus transmits more successfully between two people not wearing masks and not social distancing than it does between two mask wearers standing 6 feet apart. The difference between left and right is that most people on the left don’t think our value system changes this. Most people on the right give the impression that they do.
But it’s not just Corona. Two guys getting married does not affect heterosexual marriages. When a person behaves in a way that suggest it does it’s either a lie and an attack OR a display of cognitive impairment. A family of of the Muslim faith moving into your neighborhood does not threaten it. And if you act like it does, you leave the rest of the planet to choose between lie & attack OR cognitive impairment to explain your behaviour.
One last thing: The left really isn’t concerned with the right. We’re too busy with our lives in the real world. Problems arise when you get it into your heads that you have the right to foist your beliefs onto us.
Soooooo….. step one: Stop lying.
January 16, 2021 at 20:56
Well-stated. There is something really messed up about the state of political discourse on social media these days.
January 9, 2021 at 15:49
Fred, you are a brilliant writer. This is an excellent post. And I love the story of the old Cherokee and his grandson. Thank you.
January 9, 2021 at 18:51
Thank you for saying that. I feel pretty tarnished most of the time. A feeling of being a stranger in a strange land.
January 8, 2021 at 19:04
The thing that mystifies and frustrates me the most are automatic responses that are almost “programmed” into people I knew before politics and right/left thinking changed them. Most of the ones that turn on me in ways I don’t understand, like my own son who went into the Marines, or my high school friends who went into the Navy and the Air Force, have been programmed with the paranoias and the prejudices that are apparently used to turn them into fighting men. I find myself trying to defend on Facebook the kids who survived the shooting in the Florida high school and became famous by speaking out against gun violence, or Greta Thunberg who speaks out on climate change issues. I am confronted by numerous hateful things being said off the cuff about people whom they somehow see as a liberal threat. I am programmed as a former public school teacher to come to the defense of kids who are brave enough to speak out on important issues that directly affect them. I am getting used to being seen as a really bad commie-Antifa-libtard whenever I let slip the fact that one of my all-time favorite students was a black kid, a refugee from Eretria. You can eventually bring such friends around to a less toxic point of view by patiently arguing that it isn’t really a good idea to threaten violence against children on social media. But you have to subtly lead them to realizing that that is what they are saying in their comments. I don’t expect that I will ever get them to forgive me for being a teacher in Texas that doesn’t believe in carrying a gun in school to protect my classroom from “bad guys with guns.” But I continue to try. And I will probably lose my patience more than the thirty or so times I already have. But all people are worth trying to understand and reason with.
January 9, 2021 at 20:09
I don’t think it was the military service that changed them. I believe that they had a predilection for it prior to joining. I was in the military and there was no political indoctrination for one side or the other. We probably had more conservatives in the unit than liberals but that is because liberals disdain military service as beneath them while conservatives revere it as a civic virtue.
I remember clearly going to college after having enlisted (National Guard) and having an English teacher totally rag on me for being a mindless tool of the military-industrial complex. NOBODY came to my defense and I left the class. I never really felt comfortable talking about the military experience with anyone on campus. I guess that even if I didn’t fit their stereotype, that’s where they were going to put me anyhow. From my perspective, it is the cultures of most higher education institutions that are pushing the paranoia and prejudice. This bias dates all the way back to Vietnam.
January 9, 2021 at 21:09
You may be correct. I never really hung out with the radical liberals back in my college days of the late 70’s. My father was a Korean War Navy veteran. My Great Uncle Harry was in the third wave that landed in Normandy and was disabled by a German grenade fighting in France. My military heritage left me with a deep respect for the armed services. And I do remember being ostracized from certain groups because I wasn’t willing to take the liberal line towards what was happening in Iran during the late 70’s. But I was also a pacifist. I can’t own a gun. I can’t take a life, even as a hunter. I supported my son’s wishes to go into the Marines after high school. And I listen to what he says about security and gun ownership. But we have an understanding that I refuse to bear arms myself. Especially in school. He didn’t vote for Trump in either election he was in. But he was unwilling to vote for Hillary or Biden either. We are at peace about that. And he has even lightened his stance on slapping the scowl off Greta Thunberg’s face. I was against the War in Vietnam, but I have great respect for anyone willing to soldier for this country. It is War I am against, not our military. I try hard never to promote paranoia or prejudice. But I admit to being prejudiced against politicians I believe are corrupt. And certain politicians on the conservative side have very visibly hurt us for the benefit of corporations and the wealthy. Examining my own prejudices is something I do a lot of. I am certainly not proud of everything I once believed.
January 10, 2021 at 15:42
I am willing to bear arms for the defense of the Republic. Nothing else. And I probably own enough firearms to start a banana republic revolution.
I have a deep and abiding dislike for any politician who places their party loyalty or their reelecton chances above the good of the country. It seems the GOP is full of cowards.
January 8, 2021 at 17:53
“Beer Hall Putsch ”
That’s more than a little terrifying.
There are two things about this whole situation that are insanely frustrating.
I have seen through the right/left false divide. It exists, but not in the way it’s portrayed. The concept’s a tool used to control. I figure if it didn’t exist, folks with money would come up with another. But what’s frustrating about this is that once you see through it, neither side’s opinion of the other makes sense. The people I know on the left don’t want to grind the right into dust. Most of the people on right right I know don’t honestly think that those on the left are demon-worshipping, blood drinking pedophiles (though some think that). What they’re screaming about makes no sense.
The second thing is that once you see past the left/right control mechanism, you’re left with a handful of independents who know the facts — but lack the numbers to do anything. Once either side learns I’m not in their tribe, they discard what we independents say.
Not everyone, of course, but without the numbers, we can’t move the needle.
unpopularpoplar’s right — neither political party in the US has the answer. And the answers are right freaking there. We’re just too distracted to do anything about it.
January 9, 2021 at 00:25
I think the instrument that made this polarizaration possible is none other than our beloved internet. It has this fantastic ability to create opinion bubbles. If you are surrounded by other people with the same opinion, there is nothing to keep your opinion from getting ever more extreme. One is encouraged to do so by your fellows. It turns into an “us v. them” fight and “they” get dehumanized.
Modern political strategy has shifted. When I was a kid a Republican would push their conservative credentials up to the convention but the rest of the campaign would be a shift to the center. Democrats would do the same thing with liberal positions. The reason was that the biggest donors and most ardent activists were always on the far end of the spectrum but the mass of voters was the middle, the hump in the middle of the bell curve.
The hump of the bell curve has flattened and more people are squeezed towards the ends. We’ve segregated ourselves into right and left bubbles and there’s no crossover. The parties take the most extreme position they can that they think will pull in 51% of the vote. Or 49% if they can play the electoral college game properly. The parties encourage polarization because it pulls people out of the middle.
January 7, 2021 at 18:04
It’s the oldest political trick in the book: “Keep the common folk fighting amongst themselves so that they don’t notice us as we laugh our way to the bank.” One would think that should be enough to unite the majority against the real threat, but we do love our petty squabbles, don’t we? I forget who it was who first pointed out to me the irony of “fighting for world peace,” but that was an important revelation for me when I was a teen. Have you heard of the essay by Thoreau called “Civil Disobedience?” That would be my choice for prescribed high school reading.
I think the one thing that’s been made abundantly clear over the Trump presidency is that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats are the solution to that problem. Politicians and the media moguls who support them have an invested interest in keeping the plebs at each other’s throats. There is great danger in making political positions profitable, and this is what has led America to where it is now. In a perfect world, a desire to become a politician should disqualify you from the role. But, as our world is quite demonstrably *not* perfect, we need to find imperfect solutions. So much of what little progress we’ve made was the product of trial and error. And the reason why we’ve made so little progress is because people seem intent on making the same errors twice, thrice, and so on. I’ve seen what fascist and Marxist uprisings look like, and I know how each story ends. But the only reason they begin in the first place is because the majority of us allow them to. I say it’s high time we start making new mistakes.
January 7, 2021 at 18:08
I suppose in many ways this comment was just a very long way of saying “I agree,” but I hope I said something interesting amidst it all.
January 7, 2021 at 23:06