The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that the number of hate groups operating in the U.S. has risen to a record high.
Why is there so much hate in the world? Is hatred ever morally justified? Or does hate just breed more hate? What exactly is hatred anyway? These are some of the big questions we’re tackling on this week’s show, Why We Hate.
Tragically, this subject is very timely right now. Since 2016, the number of hate groups, which openly advocate violence, terrorism, and murder, increased dramatically. And in 2018, violent hate crimes reached a 16 year high in the US. This is a serious problem that we should not downplay.
However, we can acknowledge this problem and, at the same time, question whether hatred by itself is necessarily a bad thing. For example, I think hating things like racism, injustice, and inequality is a good thing. I also feel completely justified in hating my so-called “smart vac,” which repeatedly gets stuck under the same bookshelf, and when I pull it out, it just goes right back under there and gets stuck again. Seriously, I hate that thing! Now maybe that’s not exactly a good thing to hate, but it’s at least morally harmless.
Of course, there’s a big difference between hating ideologies, like racism, or objects, like my stupid vac, and hating people or groups of people. It's not clear that "hatred" really captures what we feel in all these cases. We often say "I hate that thing!" when really we are just very annoyed or angry by something. Do I really hate my vac? And when your teen screams "I hate you!" before slamming the door, is hatred really what they're feeling? We all use words like "love" and "hate" in fast and loose ways. Despite this, we still know there's a big difference between truly loving or hating a person, and "loving" or "hating" something, like a new haircut.
So let's focus on genuine hatred of other people. Is that kind of hate always wrong? Think of some of the worst people from history, cruel tyrants who slaughtered thousands and oppressed more. Shouldn’t we hate those kinds of people? Certainly, hate seems more morally appropriate than, say, admiration or indifference.
If you're like the person pictured above with the protest sign, then you think hate is never appropriate. Only love can drive out hate. We can condemn tyrants and fight back against everything they do, but we should do it without hating them. We ought not to add anymore hate into an already hateful world. Love is the only right response.
Maybe. But do we really have much control over how we feel, especially how we feel in response to acts of cruelty, terror, and violence? Kant argued that the “moral law” requires only that we ought to do things that we are actually capable of doing. This is known as the ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ principle. There are philosophers who dispute this moral principle, but setting aside their skeptical worries, as a purely prudential matter, it strikes me as—at best—a waste of time to tell anyone to do something that is not within their control to do.
Even if we can’t control how we feel, we do have some control over what we do and say. Maybe the focus should be on how we act based on our feelings, and not on the feelings themselves. So, if we say that “we ought not to add anymore hate into an already hateful world,” what we really mean is that we should never act on our feelings of hate.
But is this true? We should never act on hate? There is an assumption here that any action stemming from feelings of hate are morally wrong. But can’t hatred motivate us to do good things too? We sometimes talk about the necessity of righteous anger in motivating the fight for justice. Without such intense feelings, we might not fight for what’s right. We might just shrug our shoulders and give up. So, if righteous anger is sometimes necessary for change, maybe righteous hatred is sometimes necessary too.
Look, don’t get me wrong. I'm not saying it's ever good to hate someone (or a group of people) for their race, religion, gender, sexuality, nationality, etc. But if we hate people for joining hate groups, using hateful slurs, spouting hateful ideologies, and advocating violence and terrorism against others, then this strikes me as entirely morally appropriate. The difference is that no one deserves to be hated for their race, religion, gender, sexuality, nationality, etc., which is why these are considered “protected characteristics,” whereas hateful people deserve to be hated.
The person holding the sign might say that the consequences of hate, even "well-deserved hate," are bound to be bad and therefore we ought not to nurture or encourage it. Hate, even righteous hate, can lead people to behave badly. It can confound problems and lead to greater injustice. And hate is like a poison that eats you up from the inside. We should never encourage or condone hate.
I don’t find that argument compelling because sometimes we need to become extremely uncomfortable to fight for change. It might be all zen and groovy to only think positive thoughts all the time, but positive thinking isn’t going do anything about bigotry and racism, other than pretend it doesn’t exist.
That’s not to say that pathological hate, hate that takes over your life, is to be encouraged. Neither should pathological love, or pathological anything. There should be balance and moderation.
The point is that the reasons why we hate are important and we should not treat all hatred in the same way. Some hate is morally justified, some is not. Some hate is healthy, some is not. Some hate should be strongly discouraged, some should not. (Featured contributor David Livingstone Smith makes a similar argument very persuasively.)
So, what do you think? Does hatred only sow division and distrust, increase polarization, and make oppression, intimidation, and violence more likely? Or can hatred ever be a good thing for society?
Ray and Josh are joined this week by Berit Brogaard, who has a brand new book out called Hatred: Understanding Our Most Dangerous Emotion. Last time she was on the show was to talk about her book on love. Tune in this week to find out what happened in between love and hate!