EMBRACE OF HATE: The gods of evolution at work!


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?

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.
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.

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


  1. I don't know if ad hominem hurts or helps, but it is certainly the order of the day here, and with more sadness than rancor, it is impossible to escape the fact Bob Somerby is an idiot.

    1. Sigh, just go quietly away now Greg.

    2. I don't know if sadness is the order of the day here but certainly it is impossible to escape the fact ad hominem hurts or helps Bob Somerby more than rancor.

    3. We don't need trolls who use other people's nyms and behave badly. Just ho.

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  2. Bob Somerby: Trying to dabble in evolutionary psychology is a fools errand.
    Firstly, pretty much any prejudice about human behavior can be rationalized in terms of evolutionary psychology. Pick any behavior, then pick the opposite behavior, and you can find two people to 'explain' it.
    More rigorously crutics (David Buller is an example) has shown how the much of the enterprise is ill-conceived.

  3. I realize this is a literary device, but it makes no sense to talk about "the gods of evolution" because hypothesizing gods implies purpose or intentionality, agency in evolution. There are none. There is random mutation and natural selection and these processes have no goals. That which enables survival is passed along. You need to be asking "how does hate enable survival" and "what is it good for" not why do we have it or why would gods of evolution have chosen it. This is a ridiculous discussion because throughout there is the assumption that selection is motivated, when it is not.

    Selection allows some ugly, horrendous solutions to exist, because it is not motivated selection but accidental, enabled by circumstances not purpose. Neither Somerby nor Fels get this, as is reflected by their choice of words and more importantly metaphor.

    Evolutionary psychology is bankrupt and although evolution is hypothesized as a mechanism in theories, proving them is extremely difficult. Plausibility of explanation seems to be the main criterion for evaluating a theory and that is not even close to doing science. As 10:24 notes, what seems plausible is that which confirms preexisting biases. The psychological perspective called Functonalism, which arose in response to Darwin, was abandoned in favor of better approaches. It is sad to see current psychologists and, worse, people who borrow selectively from it to confirm specious notions, using a long abandon approach in ignorance of the field and its methods of testing ideas.

    Somerby should stick to what he knows -- whatever that is. Dabbling in the field of emotion theory is making him look very foolish.

  4. We split the world into Us and Them on the basis of "race," a concept invented for this particular task.

    Racism may be innate. Two recent studies found six-to nine-month-old infants demonstrate bias in favor of members of their own race and against others


    Oscar Hammarstein wrote,
    "You've got to be taught to be afraid
    Of people whose eyes are oddly made
    And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade
    You've got to be carefully taught

    You've got to be taught before it's too late
    Before you are six or seven or eight
    To hate all the people your relatives hate
    You've got to be carefully taught"

    Unfortunately the reality may be more like
    "You've got to be taught to NOT be a racist"

    1. We originally split the world into us and them based on family group, not race. Then town or village, then city or county or other municipality, then duchy or fiefdom, then by language group or religion, then by nationality, then by alliance or treaty, then by empire, then by race, then gender.

      Race is a new invention based on the dubious science of the late 1800s emerging from genetics. Back in time, slaves were people of any color conquered in battle or via colonization. Romans made greeks slaves. The Irish were slaves to the British and vice versa. There were slaves of all colors in the American colonies. The idea of evolution coupled with notions of genetics and evolutionary fitness and the perfection of humanity produced Eugenics and the notion that some "races" were superior to others. Race in those terms was applied to what we now consider ethnicity and nationality (e.g., Italians versus British). There wasn't much actual "hate" to the rejection of "other" in the sense of emotionality.

      Hate comes from conflict over resources, threats to one's own survival. If a group is in firm control, there is no emotional hatred involved. Just condescension. Hate comes from threat.

      I think it is hard to blame people for protecting their sense of security in the face of threat. One of the supreme achievement of human culture is the ability to resolve threat (conflict) without violence. Diplomacy, not war, is the main achievement of groups everywhere. Ritualization of war through sports and similar competition is evidence of progress.

      David, that song is silly. It is about a man using race to rationalize his own reluctance to be with a woman he cannot talk to and knows nothing about. Many men in WWII married women from other countries regardless of difference. This kind of intermarriage has always happened, so being "carefully taught" has nothing to do with it. This is Hammerstein scolding his audience. South Pacific was notable because it was pop culture acknowledging racism as a social issue. It did it in a ham-fisted way, lacking in nuance and stupid on its face. Very safe, because most people in the audience were never going to meet anyone from a South Pacific island, so the idea could be considered from an emotional distance.

      Racism is not the same as preference for one's own group or finding difference scary or disliking difference. The latter, one's response to novelty, is an aspect of personality. Some approach it, some avoid it.

  5. Claiming that "race" was invented in the context of groups hating one another is absurd, especially if one accepts evolution by natural selection. Evolution frequently pits "races", that is genetically distinct lines, against one another. Evolution is actually inherently racial with respect to true lines of descent. When different races become distinct enough they are separate species - that's how evolution works.

    Of course the general perception of race is not always cladistic, that is strictly by descent. Not all black and brown people (going by perceived dominant color) belong to one race, and a given putative ancestral race, such as Caucasian, can have wide variations in skin color and other characteristics - a given characteristic such as skin color does not necessarily indicate true descent. Then there is a great deal of hybridization among lines which may otherwise be valid clades. No one has ever successfully correlated behavioral characteristics with race, even if it were possible to distinguish people by race in countries like the US.

  6. Pretty unseemly stuff even for Bob these days. Duh. Does he not get that the Russians were under surveillance when the Trump team was caught playing footsie with them? He probably does. And why does this matter? It matters because it chose that the way out is back, and that the future is a forward escape into the past. This is what the Maddow means. The Time cover signals we are leaving fools behind and might be able to salvage the felt presence of immediate experience. But that's what holds the country together. I would expect it won't be long before the stuff Daily Kos is running on the money laundering gets picked up, as we break out of the silly myths of Bob and the infantile obsessions of the New York Times, what we discover through my posts is that in the body-- in the body-- there are Niagara of beauty, alien beauty, alien dimensions that are part of the self, the richest part of life, perhaps dooming this insane person

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