The Irresistible Power of Hatred


The recent increase in both bigotry and unfounded accusations of bigotry compel me to point out that this essay is written using a rhetorical style that ascribes to me, personally, qualities that I see within society.  Therefore, when I say “I love to hate,” what I mean is that society loves to hate.  I wrote the essay in this manner to make its points more immediate, less theoretical, and therefore more poignant.  You would be incorrect to assume that I am referring to bigotry or hatred within me.

Having to clarify this point is as dispiriting as having to explain the punchline to a joke, but given the tenor of today’s political dialogue, I don’t have much of a choice.  


I love to hate.  God, what a rush.  What an overpowering, magnificent emotion!  No confusion about what is right or what is wrong.  No vacillation about whether I should or shouldn’t.  No need to muster my own motivation.  Hatred drives me forward like a locomotive.

If I’d lived in England during Richard the Lionheart’s reign, I would have joined the Crusaders to free Jerusalem from Saladin so I could hate Muslims.  Or sailed to France so I could hate the French.  If I’d lived in Virginia during the US Civil War, I would have hated the Yankees so ferociously I would have been willing to die for my hatred.  If I’d lived in Maine, I would have volunteered so I could give vent to my hatred of confederates.  And then it would have been the native Amercicans.  Or the Irish.  The Chinese.  The Japanese.  The Jews.  The Germans.  Uppity negroes.  Hippies.  War protesters.  There is always someone to hate, and plenty of reasons to hate them.

Unfortunately, I’ve been civilized.  And civilization has placed conditions on my hatred. I can’t just hate anyone, no.  They have to do something wrong, first. Doing something to me isn’t quite enough.  It might make me angry for a while, but civilization has trained not to value myself too highly, so I get more satisfaction from sulking and feeling sorry for myself than from hating someone who has wronged me.  If they do something to someone I love, that’s more motivating.  I can get pretty high off that.

But neither of those match the potential for hatred toward someone whom the people I trust have deemed worthy of my hatred.  Yes, please find me someone whom the press, political leaders, or anyone I respect believes has  wronged something I care about.  My school, my neighborhood, my town, my state, my country.  My beliefs.  My religion.  My institutions.  My values.  My sense of fairness.  If you can find such a person, they are, by definition, evil.  Wow.  Hating someone who is evil is like an entire train of locomotives on a track as long as Siberia.

Unfortunately, hatred makes me sick.  I can’t manage it very well.  A little bit feels good, but I can’t stop at a little bit any more than an alcoholic can stop at a little bit of booze.  I need more.  So I get more.  And soon, I’m sick.  I feel awful.  So I try to dial it back.  But I can’t.

Fortunately, I have learned a trick.  When my over-consumption of hatred makes me sick, all I have to do is share it with someone else.  I let them drink from the same cup as me, and if they start feeling my hatred, I suddenly feel so much better!  Brotherhood makes hatred much more bearable.  Plus, we can then stoke each other’s hatred.

Inevitably, we make each other sick.  But now we’ve learned the trick: get more people to share our hatred.  Get a dozen friends to feel what we feel.  A roomful.  Attend a rally full of people who hate what we hate.  That’s fantastic!  Fantastic!  And now that there are so many of us, we can’t possibly be wrong.  And, when our hatred has made us all sick enough, we know what the remedy is: we need to do something about our hatred.  We need to destroy what we hate.

How we destroy what we hate doesn’t matter.  Anything we do to destroy evil is, by definition, good.  Our destruction of evil not only makes us good, it makes us loyal to our values, courageous patriots fighting the good fight, willing to sacrifice our very lives if need be.  In fact, if we don’t seek to destroy that evil, we are supporting it.  We cannot, as we have been taught, serve two masters.

Once we reach that point, we will follow anyone and do anything.  And because the rush of destroying evil is a thirst that can’t be quenched, we will seek more evil to destroy.  And then more after that.  No amount of greed, lust, or other human need comes close.  And certainly not love.  The power of hate is overwhelming and irresistible.

There is a way for us reduce our susceptibility to this human frailty.  The world’s great religions, even though they are conscripted into the service of hatred, include many suggestions to help us avoid succumbing to it.  Here’s one from the Christian Gospels:

But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Sadly, until you recognize how susceptible you are to the power of justifiable hatred, these suggestions make little sense and seem, in fact, ridiculous.  Since most of us can’t even imagine that we are susceptible to justifiable hatred, and are certainly loathe to admit it, we are vulnerable to its power.  We have a great big ring sticking out of our nose, just waiting for someone to tie rope through it.

Jonathan Liau explains this phenomenon in more academic terms in his essay, Words of War, which analyzes how the  rhetoric of Joseph Goebbels convinced good, loyal, patriotic Germans to hate “undesirables” with such fervor that they were willing to tolerate atrocities and even their methodical extermination.  The Holocaust Encyclopedia adds more insight in its piece: Defining the Enemy.

People accustomed to wielding power are very aware of that ring in our nose.  Fortunately, most of them recoil from that ring the way they recoil from using nuclear weapons.  But every so often, someone who craves power by any means comes along and, as Joseph Goebbels did, chooses to tie a rope through that ring, and yank.