Part 3—Leaves other Others alone: Is political hatred on the rise in the United States?
Professor Fels says it is. We're inclined to agree.
Professor Fels discussed this phenomenon in an intriguing if murky column in last Friday's New York Times. She built large parts of her discussion around the role evolution has and hasn't played in selecting for the impulse to hate in this manner.
Before long, Fels was discussing "altriusm punishments"—hate-fueled behaviors like suicide bombing, behaviors "that don’t provide a genetic benefit to the individual or even to his or her immediate gene pool." She says a wide array of eggheads "have all studied this puzzling impulse to extract revenge and have come up with a surprising theory: that such punitive actions may have evolved to protect the complex communities in which humans live."
Muddily, Fels proceeds to discuss the way political hatred can serve the interests of various "communities" and groups. She starts with the helpful role hatred can play at time of overt war:
FELS (4/14/17): In its most extreme form, hate motivates the altruistic punishment of organized warfare—a necessity for the defense of any society. In his trilogy on the Allies in World War II, the historian Rick Atkinson describes it as the emotional engine needed to drive troops into battle for that “just war.”In 1952, campaign buttons said "I Like Ike," and that candidate won. A few years earlier, at time of war, Ike had said he liked building hate!
Allied officers were constantly fretting that the troops’ hate levels weren’t high enough. A memorandum urged commanders to “teach the men to hate the enemy—to want to kill them by any means.” George Patton’s aide praised him as “a great hate builder.” Dwight Eisenhower bragged, “I am not one who finds it difficult to hate my enemies.” In war, hate is celebrated.
It's obvious that hating The Others might be a boon during war. As she continued, Fels described a similar process which might obtain during peacetime:
FELS (continuing directly): But there is a more subtle aspect to the impulse for revenge. Researchers have found that it often arises to curb perceived infractions of cultural norms: It may help hold societies together by punishing those seen as breaking the social contract.Fels writes a bit murkily here, but her prose can be dumbed down. Her stress on evolution has largely flown at this point, but she seems to be describing a fairly simple dynamic.
Altruistic punishment flares when there is an inequitable allocation of resources or a transgression of cultural traditions—all threats to social coherence. Such acts of retribution appear to activate the brain’s reward center, presumably generating a sense of satisfaction and even pleasure.
According to Fels, political hatred may serve to punish despised groups within a peacetime society. This political hatred inspires members of some aggrieved group to "punish those seen as breaking the social contract."
These acts of hatred may help hold the aggrieved group together. Such acts "appear to activate the brain’s reward center, presumably generating a sense of satisfaction and even pleasure."
This matter seems bone simple. For good or for ill, we humans are inclined toward hatred of other groups, even at times of peace and even within our own societies. According to Fels, hatred of this type is currently "on the rise."
As she continues, Fels is quick to state another obvious point. The fact that someone holds a hate-fueled sense of grievance doesn't mean that his or sense of grievance is justified or right.
Fels cites two examples of this type of misguided hatred drawn from our own recent history. The examples she cites are entirely obvious and perfectly right. We'll only suggest that you note the fact that other possible examples have maybe perhaps been left out:
FELS (continuing directly): This, of course, doesn’t mean the punishment is just or directed at any justified target. Dylann Roof, after opening fire on a group of African-Americans during Bible study, said, “I have to do this, because you’re raping our women and y’all taking over the world.” In his mind, his community was the one being victimized.In that passage, Fels describes political hatred as directed against African-Americans and against women.
A feminist journalist I know sent me some of the hate mail she routinely receives. Here are a few of the printable lines: “If you try telling a man what to do you’ll get punched across the face.” “I’ll go house to house shooting feminists like you.” One characterized her as an “omni-reptile-doglizard-piranha kin.”
The point is to hurt and humiliate. Those who hate want to make the objects of their hate suffer as they have. It is this that makes the attacks so personal and lends them their crude, violent and often sexual nature. The intent is not to challenge opposing beliefs but to destroy those who hold them.
The men who wrote these emails undoubtedly feel threatened by the changing role of women, and their hatred of feminists provides an organizing principle and an outside focus.
She describes the killings in South Carolina, in which a person who was deranged murdered nine people who very much weren't. She describes the types of heinous conduct which is routinely directed at women on line.
(Fels says the people who behave in these ways "want to make the objects of their hate suffer as they have." We'll suggest that she should change that "as they think or claim they have.")
By now, this is blindingly obvious stuff. People who succumb to political hatred are likely to behave in heinous ways toward the groups they loathe.
Still, their behavior may provide internal rewards, Fels says. Their hate "converts a sense of helplessness into one of action," Fels writes. "It can even be the impetus for the formation of new communities in which people share grievances and plans for retribution, relieving their sense of isolation or powerlessness."
Fels also notes the psychic and intellectual downsides of their group hatred. "As a consequence, though, there’s a loss of empathy," she writes, "and beliefs become simplified and rigid."
By now, what started as a search for deep knowledge has become a recitation of the obvious. Hatred of Others can be a powerful force, not just during time of war, but also within a peacetime society.
We'll only ask you to notice one thing about Fels' formulation. She correctly identifies two targeted groups. Is it possible that there are other targeted groups she has neglected to name?
Everything Fels says about Dylann Roof is correct. So too for her comments about men who hate women on line.
That said, these examples form a powerful part of the current liberal worldview. Fels is describing political hatred which, at least within the liberal framework, comes from the "conservative" world, from Those People, the ones Over There.
We'll leave today with a set of questions:
Is it possible that political hatred is also being sytirred up within our own liberal world? With political hatred "on the rise," is it possible that liberals are being encouraged to "relieve their sense of isolation or powerlessness" by loathing some otherized groups?
Is it possible that we liberals are being encouraged to surrender our "sense of empathy" at the current time? Is it possible that we're being handed types of hatred as a way to "provide an organizing principle and an outside focus?" Is it possible that our sense of empathy left us a longtime ago?
Are we being given "a sense of satisfaction and even pleasure" by the hate-fueled things we're told? Can it happen Over Here?
We agree with Profesor Fels; political hatred seems to be on the rise. The loss of empathy is manifest too. Tomorrow, though, we'll return to that question:
Can this sort of unfortunate conduct also be found Over Here?
Tomorrow: Empathy abandoned