Part 1—Professor wonders why: According to the New York Times, Anna Fels is "a psychiatrist and faculty member at Weill Cornell Medical College."
Last Friday, Fels published an intriguing column in the hard-copy Times. Her column appeared beneath this headline:
"The Point of Hate"
Fels began by describing two recent suicide bombings in Egypt. In her second paragraph, she stated a basic premise and posed her basic questions:
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. Like most people, I’m horrified by this outpouring of venom, but as a psychiatrist who tries to understand feelings, I also find myself asking: What is the underlying motivation? And what is it about hate that makes it different from other reactions like anger or frustration? Clearly evolution has preserved hate as a powerful motivating force. Is there perhaps a benefit to experiencing hate?According to Fels, it seems that hatred, and hate crimes, are on the rise in the United States. She seems to be talking about political hatred—about the hatred of targeted groups, rather than the hatred of one's spouse or one's boss.
Is such hatred on the rise in the United States? As with Fels, so with us—it seems to us that it is.
Fels seeks "the underlying motivation" for such hatred and for such acts. More specifically, she wants to know why evolution has preserved this type of hate in our world.
(In hard copy, her boxed sub-headline said this: "Why has evolution preserved such a destructive emotion?")
To our mind, it doesn't seem hard to understand why hate of the type Fels describes is on the rise. Beyond that, we're puzzled by Fels' puzzlement concerning evolution.
Quickly, let's explain:
In our view, it's easy to see why the gods of evolution would have selected for this type of hatred during the vast sweep of prehistory. Consider the surroundings:
Your tribe lived in your mountain pass; our tribe lived in ours. There was no order of any kind. There were no laws, no policemen.
In that environment, fear of The Other might well have been a survival skill. If you feared (and therefore avoided) The Others, you would have lived long enough to pass on your genes.
Those who didn't fear The Others may have wandered over for a visit. These more trusting, less fearful souls may not have made it back.
In such a world, fear and loathing might well confer an evolutionary advantage. Today, such instincts tend to be less socially useful. Beyond that, these instincts confer no evolutionary advantage on the suicide bomber, who takes his own life in the pursuit of his hatred of The Others, who now live close at hand.
The suicide bomber removes himself from the gene pool. For this reason, Fels wonders why the gods of evolution have preserved this unhelpful emotion.
To us, that question seems puzzling. The answer seems fairly simple: evolution takes a long time!
Indeed, evolution typically takes a very long time. By removing themselves from the gene pool, suicide bombers may be tilting the evolutionary frame away from the love of hate. But changes like that only take place over a vast expanse of time.
Whatever! We're somewhat puzzled by Fels' puzzlement over evolution's preservation of this type of hate. Beyond that, it doesn't seem gigantically hard to speak to her other question, which is a bit more basic:
Why would hatred of this type be on the rise in the U.S.?
Is it true that this type of hatred is on the rise in the United States? We'll agree with Fels—that's how it seems. To us, though, this apparent rise in hatred of The Other doesn't seem real hard to explain.
We'll start with a possible meta-point—the loss of the Soviet Union as an object of hate. To the extent that we're all inclined to hate The Other, the Soviet Union tended to "bring us together," to use the Nixon-era phrase.
We all got to funnel our instinct for hatred Over There. When the Soviets went away, we lost a beloved hate object.
That strikes us as a relatively minor point. There's a more obvious reason for the (apparent) rise in this type of hate: the selling of this type of hate is now a very big business.
The selling of hate has become a big business! With the rise of talk radio, cable and the Internet, everybody can take part, and almost everyone does.
Back in the day, we had a half-hour of news every night. Basically, you could watch Walter Cronkite for this half-hour, or you could watch David Brinkley.
Lesser groups were peddling versions of hate at this time. But for the most past, it was fairly hard to access these groups. You had to go looking for the types of specialized hate which Walter and David weren't selling.
Today, the selling of hate is a 24-hour, seven-day per week business. For ourselves, we'd be inclined to say that this type of peddling mainly started on the right. But today, it's also being directed at us, Over Here in our own liberal tents.
Over and over and over again, we're being taught to loathe The Others, the very bad people found Over There. We're sold this product in various ways. This constant peddling is done for profit, for fame and for fun.
Important note to Professor Fels—the selling of hate tends to work! Prehistory wired us for it, and some of our biggest media stars have happily jumped in the game.
Tomorrow: Levels of hate