While we’re on this popular subject of hate…
August 26, 2010 2 Comments
Part of the problem is the hatred of hate. Too many people hate hate, see it too frequently, and plunge into their own protracted virulent hatred of “hate” and alleged “hatemongers.”
I have felt hatred at times in my life. I’ve never hated my hatred – just found it impossible to sustain beyond a brief indulgence. And I’ve never hated anyone else’s hate – just found it perplexing. Actual hatred is an emotional black hole. I honestly don’t know how people perpetuate it without growing tumors the size of baseballs. In fact, I suspect that actual protracted hate might be physiologically impossible, or at least very rare. What instead occurs might be a kind of tepid surrogate “hate” that secures an important psychic benefit: the definition of oneself in opposition to the hated abstract “other.”
It’s not really “hate” so much as a kind of comforting pseudo-hatred that has much more to do with negative-self-mythology (what I am absolutely categorically not) than with any actual external reality of the hated object.
Sadly, of course, hate – and hating hate – suffocates inquiry. The paramount project for the hater and the hater of hate is self-definition. I am so not this hateful other. The psychic benefit thus secured, any further exploration actually threatens the paramount project. Exploring the real-world nuance and ambiguity of the object of hatred undermines the comfortable self-definition in opposition to the object of hatred.
For example, the person who hates the “racists” who oppose the mosque near Ground Zero is typically refusing any actual inquiry into the nuanced dialogue concerning the proposed mosque. The paramount project is the hater’s reinforcement of his or her self-image as a zealous opponent of “racism.” If any particular object of that hatred were not in fact racist, then the hater of hate loses a psychic benefit, surrenders a comforting source of his or her negative self-mythology. “They must be racists” – not really because any inquiry has occurred that would warrant that conclusion objectively, but because “I need them to be racists for me to feel energized by my righteous opposition to racism.”
Consider this disturbing exchange at a protest of the mosque near Ground Zero, where an enraged man repeatedly cursed and insulted an 82-year-old Holocaust survivor – including this unconscionable “explanation” of his rant after the fact: “he obviously didn’t learn his lesson … because right now he wants to do the same g–d— f— thing to the Moslems that had to happen to him.”
Watch the video. Quite apart from the merits of the spirited debate about the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, we can agree that hatred, including quite vile and irrational hatred, is not the exclusive province of the right or opponents of the mosque.
My recent focus on leftist hatred, on the cynical rush to characterize mosque opponents (or proponents of the Arizona immigration law) as “racists,” and on the concept of tolerance reciprocity has been precisely to challenge the leftist narrative that “hatred” is a defining feature of the right. Too many leftists indulge racial politics at its worst by using racism to shut down any rational discussion and to consign their opponents to unredeemable illegitimacy.
There is racism in America – but not in the proportions shouted at us by anti-racist haters. There is Islamophobia in America – but not in the proportions shouted at us by anti-racist haters. As a people, we do not condone actual racism. In fact, we are less tolerant of it, given our amazing diversity, than any people anywhere else. The racism in virtually every other country dwarfs our own. In most Muslim countries, shocking anti-Semitism is state policy and incorporated into educational texts. America has been an enlightened beacon by comparison. Why is this not a cause to celebrate our American culture? Why does dialogue routinely deteriorate into simplistic condemnation of American “racism”?
On this critical issue of dialogue in America – dialogue that should persist constructively beyond the pernicious trump card of easy “racism” smears – we have urgently needed President Obama’s promised post-racial leadership. But he has been so sadly silent.
UPDATE Aug. 28, 2010: In his latest column, Charles Krauthammer ably summarizes the concern that has animated several of my posts: the abortion of dialogue when conservatives and moderates are recklessly dismissed as bigots. From the column:
Promiscuous charges of bigotry are precisely how our current rulers and their vast media auxiliary react to an obstreperous citizenry that insists on incorrect thinking.
– Resistance to the vast expansion of government power, intrusiveness and debt, as represented by the Tea Party movement? Why, racist resentment toward a black president.
– Disgust and alarm with the federal government’s unwillingness to curb illegal immigration, as crystallized in the Arizona law? Nativism.
– Opposition to the most radical redefinition of marriage in human history, as expressed in Proposition 8 in California? Homophobia.
– Opposition to a 15-story Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero? Islamophobia.
Krauthammer’s tone is a touch more triumphant than I feel, but his trenchant style is worth the read.