Oh world, but that thy strange mutations make us hate thee


Do you sometimes use words you do not really understand? Words that swirl around you like autumn leaves in the wind; words that come to you as innocent as children, playing; as strangers, lost? Words can be like that: splashing against you by accident then sticking like mud. Sometimes, they are only substitutes for something else; sometimes serving a purpose you did not intend, or  causing actions you did not mean. Words can be mistakes. Hate can be like that, too.

Saint Augustine is reputed to have said ‘What then is Time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know’. I feel the same about Hate. I read about it frequently, but it seems to wear different clothes each time -sometimes disguised, sometimes blatant; sometimes it is expected, but occasionally it is unprovoked, unforeseen. I do not understand Hate; I do not understand why -or even if- it is different from something that may only provoke anger or contempt in someone else. What leads someone to hate, but another to rage -or are they both merely matryoshka dolls embedded in one another and dependent on how completely each is unwrapped?

Is Hate a stable thing, or is it merely a means to an end? Is it a force that aims for the capitulation of its object, or its elimination? Is it possible, in other words, to soften Hate into, say, anger or even avoidance if the target acquiesces sufficiently? As with Augustine, I do not know.

It would seem that there is no agreed-upon definition of Hate that accurately and consistently describes it -no sine qua non to rest on. Still, although it may be a difficult concept to pin down, most of us think we can recognize it when we witness it… but can we? Are we sometimes merely judging Hate by what it’s not -like Canadians apocryphally defining themselves as not-Americans?

Along those lines, some have suggested that to understand Hate, we must first understand Love -as if the two of them were direct opposites. Even if that is the case, however, another problem arises: how do you define Love? How would you differentiate it from infatuation, or attraction, or even lust? Is it the degree of involvement? The length of involvement, or perhaps the type of involvement? So many unanswered questions -too many, in fact…

Still, it seems more acceptable to write about Love; to have opinions about love -whether positive, negative or even indifferent- is understandable. But not so with Hate. And while I can’t imagine anybody praising the value of Hate -or for that matter ever wanting to experience it, and searching for it like others might do for Love- I find it puzzling why the very idea of considering Hate as a valid topic for unbiased investigation and thoughtful discussion should be so unpopular, so distasteful. Could it be a concern that too intimate an examination of Hate may turn out to reveal something more than an emotion; something we cannot blame on alterable physiological changes; something not amenable to argument or medications? Could Hate be more akin, say, to overly avid patriotism, or blind political preference? More akin to a religious belief rather than a feeling: something that perhaps cannot be educated away? It reminds me of something James Baldwin once wrote: ‘I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.’
Hate is a topic I have wondered about for many years, and for which I am still in the St. Augustine stage, I fear, but I did come across an interesting, albeit complicated paper titled ‘Why We Hate’ in the Oct. 2018 journal Emotion Review (a peer reviewed, quarterly published journal associated with the International Society for Research on Emotion). https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1754073917751229

In it, the four authors try to summarize various published opinions characterizing Hate. So, ‘hate is different from anger, because an anger target is appraised as someone whose behavior can be influenced and changed… In other words, hate is characterized by appraisals that imply a stable perception of a person or group and thus the incapability to change the extremely negative characteristics attributed to the target of hate. Its appraisals are targeted at the hate target itself, rather than at specific actions carried out by that target.’

‘[O]ne of hate’s core characteristics is that it generally lasts longer than the event that initially evoked it. The enduring nature of hatred is based in the appraisals that are targeted at the fundamental nature of the hated group. Given that hate is often not a reaction to a specific event, and not limited to a short period of time, the question is raised whether hate actually is an emotion, or rather an emotional attitude or sentiment.’

In summary, it would seem that ‘Hate is elicited in reaction to very negative transgressions by another person or group… generalizing from just one event to the nature of a group or person.’ And further, Hate may be a self-defence to eliminate the target of the hate so that one’s own in-group identity is not threatened. There is little room for constructive change: unlike us, they are bad…

I can’t help but compare all of this to unbridled patriotism though, or unwavering religious convictions; education is unlikely to change many minds about it, and indeed may well provoke a righteous backlash. So, how to solve the problem of Hate…? I don’t have a good answer, except to suggest that the more we understand about what causes it, and the more we learn about why its perpetrators feel threatened, the more we might be able to alleviate the perceived risk. After all, religions have been known to find common grounds and search for beliefs they both hold sacred: things they both can agree are worthy of veneration; countries can agree to terms for peace -often because by doing so, they both realize a benefit; even disparate political parties can come together if it can be demonstrated to be of mutual advantage. Surely this is what we should be searching for in our dealings with Hate.

Like Augustine, I still don’t know the answer, but it reminds me of a poem I read when I was young by the Irish poet James Stephens, a friend of James Joyce:

My enemy came nigh,
And I
Stared fiercely in his face.
My lips went writhing back in a grimace,
And stern I watched him with a narrow eye.
Then, as I turned away, my enemy,
That bitter heart and savage, said to me:
“Some day, when this is past,
When all the arrows that we have are cast,
We may ask one another why we hate,
And fail to find a story to relate.
It may seem then to us a mystery
That we should hate each other.”
Thus said he,
And did not turn away,
Waiting to hear what I might have to say,
But I fled quickly, fearing had I stayed
I might have kissed him as I would a maid.

Am I being too naïve about it? Too metaphorical? Or is every winter really followed by a spring?

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