Part 2—Their treatment of love versus hate: Anna Fels wrote an intriguing column in last Friday's New York Times.
Her column bore an intriguing, somewhat fuzzy headline: "The Point of Hate." The column turned on an impression—an impression that's hard to quantify.
Fels is a psychiatrist and faculty member at Weill Cornell Medical College. She has the impression that political hate—the hatred of targeted groups—is on the rise in the United States.
We have that impression too! In her column, Fels wonders why evolution has "preserved such a destructive emotion." Indeed, that was the boxed sub-headline of her piece as it appeared in hard copy:
"Why has evolution preserved such a destructive emotion?"
As we explained yesterday, we're puzzled by Fels' puzzlement concerning that basic question. It doesn't seem surprising to us that evolution has "preserved" the human instinct to hate certain targeted groups.
That said: as we look around the world, it does seem clear that the gods of evolution selected for this destructive instinct in the annals of prehistory.
Good lord! Everywhere we humans roam, we seem to display the instinct to split the world into Us and Them, and from there to start loathing The Others. We split the world into Us and Them in every conceivable way.
We split the world into Us and Them on the basis of "race," a concept invented for this particular task. We also split the world on the basis of ethnicity, geography, religion, social class, gender.
In her column, Fels specifically notes the hatred being directed at women in these highly cyberized times. She points to highly loathsome behavior, but political hatred/loathing/ridicule is currently being directed at a wide array of groups.
An impulse which is so widely displayed was surely "selected for." Presumably, we're all inclined to such reactions, to greater or lesser extent.
As a general matter, responsible people in high-profile positions ought to try to avoid triggering such destructive tendencies. Instead, the triggering of otherization has become a big business in recent decades. The impulse to create and hate The Others is currently being pursued for gain all through the political world.
Tomorrow, we'll return to such destructive corporate behavior in the (highly) present tense. We're thinking of a heinous bit of sleight-of-hand we saw on cable just last night!
For today, let's continue to examine the ways this kind of political hatred might have been selected for in prehistory. In particular, let's consider Fels' review of the way the gods of evolution treated love versus hate.
As a general matter, the gods of evolution have always wanted the individual to pass on his or her genes. Early in her column, Fels describes one result of this preference:
FELS (4/14/17): Lately it seems like hate is in the air, including in the United States, where hate crimes are reportedly on the rise...Clearly evolution has preserved hate as a powerful motivating force. Is there perhaps a benefit to experiencing hate?Doggone it! According to Fels, the gods of evolution have given the lover the impulse to swoon. At the same, they've let the hater retain the capacity to calculate.
A 2008 study of the human brain experiencing this emotion confirms that there is a distinct “hate circuit” of activated neurons. Several of the brain regions involved are known to generate aggression and to translate that aggression into action—in this case, revenge.
Strangely, other parts overlap with regions of the brain engaged by feelings of romantic love. Love is accompanied by the deactivation of areas that generate reasoning and judgment. As any poet can tell you, the critical faculties of an infatuated person are lost or at least attenuated.
Individuals experiencing hate, on the other hand, retain nearly all of their capacity for evaluating a situation. Neuroscientists have suggested that rational planning is maintained because “the hater may want to exercise judgment in calculating moves to harm, injure or otherwise extract revenge”—hardly an encouraging conclusion.
Professor Fels calls this differential treatment "strange." To us, it doesn't seem strange at all.
The lover will be inclined to swoon, while the hater will calculate? Why would the gods have created that world? To us, it seems fairly basic:
When the lover swoons, he or she will move to pass on his or her genes. With reasoning power swept away, reproduction is likely to follow.
(We believe Shakespeare first said that.)
The lover who swoons passes on his genes. As a general matter, this is the outcome these gods consistently favor.
But uh-oh! In the annals of prehistory, the hater who swooned, who failed to calculate his behavior, might get himself killed by The Other tribe. AS a result of impulsive behavior, his or her genes wouldn't enter the gene pool at all.
As a general matter, these gods have always had just one thing on their minds. They wanted the individual to pass on his or her genes.
Presumably, they created the alternate wirings Fels describes to facilitate such outcomes. The lover would swoon and leap into action. The hater would be more careful.
None of this seems especially hard to us. Beyond that, it doesn't seem especially hard to understand why political hatred—hatred of targeted groups—seems to be on the rise.
Long ago, the gods of evolution created a world in which we're all so inclined. Giant industries now exist to encourage us in that direction.
We're all inclined to create and loathe The Others. In the past few decades, along have come the hustlers, the corporate suits and the music men.
We're all inclined to create The Others and loathe Them. Mugging and clowning and weirdly grinning, big corporate stars are only happy to push us in this direction.
Tomorrow: Hatred trumping truth