The ability to quickly separate friend from foe is an essential survival strategy. This primitive skill forms the basis of hate. Because mistaking an enemy for a friend can be deadly, mental processes are biased toward doubt, caution, mistrust, and dismissal in evaluating others. Fortunately an unbiased consideration of the evidence, correct thinking, thoughtful dialogue, and empathy can overcome the primitive urges of hatred and the cognitive errors that sustain it. Today many threats are psychological rather than physical, but the same primitive impulse to destroy the offender often takes hold.
- Intense dislike
- Disliking an unappealing object
- The desire to eliminate the “Enemy”
- Naming “the beast”.
- Avoiding or eliminating the “dangerous other”.
Aversion, detest, disgust, dislike, loathe, repelled-by, and revulsion are synonyms for hate. Terms, such as racism, white supremacy, sexism, or ageism, that describe disparaging a particular out-group also describe hate. Hate is the opposite of love.
Origins of Hate
The passions of hate arise from several features of our thinking process. These include wanting to assign blame for misfortune, protecting our self-esteem, a desire to strengthen our community, the need to avoid toxins, alleviating our fears, and several types of errors in reasoning. The ability to quickly separate friend from foe is essential to self-defense and safety and provides the origins of hate. Each of these contributing factors are explained in more detail below.
Who do we hold responsible when bad things happen? If we want to affirm our stature, preserve our self-esteem, avoid shame, and preserve our pride, it does not help to blame ourselves. So we conveniently assign blame to “them”, the “others”, the Enemy. Since we don't like bad things to happen and since bad things are caused by the enemy, we hate them for it. We frame the opposition as the enemy. It's the victims versus the villains, good versus evil, us versus them, in-group versus out-group, and friend versus foe. It is often easier to reject the other than to work to understand their point-of-view.
Of course this line of reasoning is based on the fallacy of disproportionate responsibly and the fallacy of being right. Since many causes contribute to each result, we probably share in the blame along with many others, including unavoidable bad luck.
Strengthening the community
Hostility toward the out-group increases the cohesion of the in-group and increases our sense of loyalty and belonging to our local community. The in-group always finds reasons to see itself as superior. Hostility toward the out-group increases the solidarity of the in-group.
Disgust helps us avoid toxic substances. Contempt distances us from unworthy people. Hate is our defense against noxious behavior. We attempt to raise our self-esteem by contrasting ourselves with the evil, subhuman enemy. Pain, including psychological pain, mobilizes us psychically, mentally, and emotionally, to get away from the source (run) or remove the source (fight) of the pain.
Alleviating our Fears
Because the feared other—the enemy—seems dangerous, we feel compelled to escape the threat or destroy the enemy. Threat strongly arouses the simple and primitive urge to “kill or be killed”. Revenge is pursued with a vengeance to eliminate the threat.
Bias Toward Identifying Danger
When identifying a stranger as friend or foe, survival in primitive times may depend on a quick decision that does not mistake a foe. The result is a bias toward caution and the suspicion of danger. The safest assumption is that members of the out-group are dangerous. In security screening the consequences of a false negative—mistaking foe for friend—is much more dangerous than the cost of a false positive—mistaking a friend for foe. The resulting optimum decision threshold results in an inherent suspicion of strangers called xenophobia, even though this is based on the fallacy of overgeneralization. As a result we often overreact against a suspected foe.
Permission to Destroy the Enemy
Empathy, compassion, and cooperation are ubiquitous strengths of human nature. However, various errors in reasoning can overcome compassion and give us permission to destroy the enemy. This often involves seeing ourselves as the victims of an evil other. This gives us permission to do good by killing off the evil enemy and still regard ourselves as a good person. Because they are wrong, bad, evil, or subhuman they deserve to be killed. An asymmetrical view of the other, seen only from the first-person viewpoint, fuels hate. Viewing the other as very different from our self can allow hate to emerge. What begins as the other quickly becomes the beast. Denigrating the victim gives us permission to harm them.
Disrespect is the precursor to hate. Heed the warning. Reevaluate the evidence, eliminate the distorted thinking, correct the errors in reasoning, and reject the temptation to dismiss the other.
Other Errors in Reasoning
A wide variety of errors in reasoning allow us to sustain hate.
Common stereotypes include a variety of overgeneralizations about members of a group based on race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, or religious belief, along with profession and social class. These can create distorted and exaggerated negative images of the members of particular groups. This dehumanizes and demonizes “the other” and invites hate.
Misattributing benign behavior to evil intent can make us suspicious and fearful of others. Choosing to hate is an ineffective shortcut that avoids the hard work of analyzing the problem in depth. It attributes blame incorrectly.
Egocentrism, the unshakable belief that “I am correct”, self-justification, and the need to be right leads us too quickly to the conclusion that others are wrong, they are the obstacles, the source of our problems, evil, and need to be eliminated. We deny contrary evidence.
Stress and fear can lead us to revert to simplified and often incorrect primal thinking based on the fallacy of polarized thinking.
Hypersensitivity to criticism can cause us to revert to simplified, but incorrect rules governing other's behavior.
Our desire to go along with the group, including the Ashe Effect and other group-think tendencies, can compromise our good judgment.
Hate fuels the tragedies of genocide throughout history and continues today. Millions of humans are murdered in pursuit of “ethnic cleansing” justified on the basis of eliminating the disgusting, subhuman, others. Genocide often relies on misattributing evil motives to an out-group, establishing them as scapegoats, and transforming these beliefs into a widely-accepted conspiracy theory. Stories are told that reinforce, popularize, and justify these distortions. The United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948.
Gregory Stanton, President of Genocide Watch, describes these eight stages of genocide development that are “predictable but not inexorable”.
||People are divided into “us and them”.
||“When combined with hatred, symbols may be forced upon unwilling members of pariah groups...”
||“Dehumanization overcomes the normal human revulsion against murder.”
||“Genocide is always organized... Special army units or militias are often trained and armed...”
||“Hate groups broadcast polarizing propaganda...”
||“Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity...”
||“It is ‘extermination’ to the killers because they do not believe their victims to be fully human.”
||“The perpetrators... deny that they committed any crimes...”
Here are several examples of the horror of genocide:
- The indigenous populations of the Americas dropped sharply, perhaps as much as 97%, after the arrival of Europeans in 1492. Although some of these deaths were the unavoidable consequences of disease, hardship, or severing social ties, much of it was due to systematic attacks on Native Americans by the European settlers. The Indian Removal policy of the United States coerced the relocation of major Native American groups in both the Southeast and the Northeast United States, resulting directly and indirectly in the deaths of tens of thousands.
- The Armenian Genocide was conceived and carried out by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923, resulting in the deportation of nearly 2,000,000 Armenians, of whom 1,500,000 men, women, and children were killed, 500,000 survivors were expelled from their homes, which succeeded in eliminating the over 2,500-year presence of Armenians in their historic homeland.
- The Holocaust was the efficient and systematic attempt on an industrial scale to assemble and kill as many Jewish people as possible, using all of the resources and technology available to the Nazi state. It resulted in the murder of approximately 6 Million Jews between 1933 and 1945.
- Approximately 1.7-3 million people were killed in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979 through execution, starvation and forced labor. The Khmer Rouge, a communist group headed by Pol Pot, sought to transform the Cambodian society by wiping out any western influences and converting the country to the purest form of socialism. To annihilate modern values, they attacked people in the intellectual, commercial, and professional class in the cities, declaring them enemies of the state.
- Between 1975 and 1999 as many as 180,000 people of East Timor—approximately one quarter of the population—were killed by the Indonesian military after invading and occupied East Timor. The Indonesian military used starvation to exterminate the East Timorese, according to a UN report documenting the deaths. Most of these killings took place in the years 1975-1979.
- The Bosnian Genocide was an organized killing of Bosnians, predominantly Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) during the war between 1992 and 1995 by authorities of Republika Srpska and its Army. The Bosnian Genocide has been proven at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) through the court case entitled Prosecutor vs. Krstic.
- During a period of about 100 days from April 6th through mid-July 1994, 937,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutus in Rwanda according to official estimates. The rate at which people were killed far exceeded any other genocide in history. Bodies were left wherever they were slain—usually by machetes, mostly in the streets and their homes.
- Darfur has been embroiled in a deadly conflict for the past three years. At least 400,000 people have been killed; more than 2 million civilians have been forced to flee their homes to live in displaced-persons camps in Sudan or in refugee camps in neighboring Chad; and more than 3.5 million men, women, and children are completely reliant on international aid for survival.
Lynching is a form of mob violence and rush to justice, usually involving the illegal hanging of suspected criminals. Perversely, photographs and postcards were often taken as souvenirs at lynchings throughout America. The mobs have clearly given themselves permission to hate.
Reasoning errors sustain hate. The many constructive responses to hate rely on examining the evidence more carefully, interpreting it from a more compassionate point-of-view, correcting errors in our reasoning, and increasing our understanding and empathy for those we have labeled the enemy. Adopt a humanistic perspective, recognize the universal similarities of all humans, and let the empathy, caring, and compassion in. Since hate can only be sustained by errors in reasoning, it can be eliminated by reappraising and correcting those errors. Work to transform your enemies into friends. Your own thinking may be where the change has to take place.
- “Hate traps us by binding us too tightly to our adversary.” ~ Milan Kundera
- “War is not an insuppressible urge. It is an option.” ~ Frans De Waal
- “The deep foundation of security is based in transforming your enemies into friends.” ~ George Ellis
- “Too often it is easier to hate than to understand” ~ Leland R. Beaumont
- “Evil gathers momentum by being uncontested.” ~ Nathaniel Branden
- “We all inhabit this small planet. We all breath the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.” ~ John F. Kennedy
- “Man is, as man, redeemable.” ~ Martin Buber
- “I am a human being; therefore nothing human is alien to me.” ~ Terence Afar
- “The problem is not Other.” ~ Johan Galtung
- “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” ~ Abraham Lincoln
Prisoners of Hate: The Cognitive Basis of Anger, Hostility, and Violence, by Aaron T. Beck
Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty, by Roy F. Baumeister, Aaron Beck
Violence: Our Deadly Epidemic and Its Causes, by James Gilligan
Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama, by Daniel Goleman
[OCC] The Cognitive Structure of Emotions, by Andrew Ortony, Gerald L. Clore, Allan Collins
Field Notes on the Compassionate Life: A Search for the Soul of Kindness, by Marc Ian Barasch
Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill, by Matthieu Ricard
Our Inner Ape, by Frans De Waal
Detection Theory, Wikipedia article
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Web site
UnderstandingPrejudice.org, a web site for students, teachers, and others interested in the causes and consequences of prejudice.