The Demand to Hate
Having asked the question, I can provide a better answer than those who write obscenity laced emails under pen names as acts of moral courage. The task is not difficult, I admit. One answer I could advance: given the harm that 'bad' ideas have caused to real and innocent human beings -- e.g. racism 'caused' slavery or Friedan 'caused' the breakdown of the American family -- how can a decent, caring human being NOT feel rage when encountering such 'bad' ideas? Is not the recognition of any worth or the expression of any human connection toward the adovcate of such ideas actually an act of support for that advocate?
In a word"no." There are so many ways in which my answer is NO that I have to pick and choose the ones to expand upon or else I would blog all day. First of all, I rarely"hate" ideas. Even bad ideas -- as long as they are well presented -- can be fascinating. Indeed, one of the most intellectually interesting experiences I've ever had is to find out exactly where Foucault and I begin to disagree: the starting-gate idea where we part ways and never meet again. At no point in the discovery process did I hate Foucault as a person even though I believe his impact on the world has been horrible.
Several factors contribute to my response. For one thing, I am firmly committed to meeting ideas with ideas and this commitment makes me focus on the truth or falsehood issue rather than upon emotion. Moreover, I don't believe it is fundamentally wrong to say or ask anything; indeed, the progress of knowledge requires us to consider and discuss every possibility. If you express certain ideas, then we will not be friends and I may assiduously avoid your company. But this is different than hating you. And, yes, I extend this principle even to very 'bad' ideas.Take racism or sexism. I reject both but I actively support a world in which there can be active discussion on whether Asians are racially superior to whites, men to women, dogs to cats... I don't fear the truth and I don't think free speech endangers our understanding of what is true -- quite the opposite. If someone says something patently false or derogatory, then the way to meet it is a knock-down argument. Those who revert to attacking the person rather than the argument are usually a) not up to the task or b) wrong on some particular.
Another reason I don't hate those with whom I disagree is that words are words are words are words. I believe that a mugger who attacks someone in an alley has committed more wrong than anyone who merely says anything. Perhaps partly because of political correctness, which views ideas and words as acts of violence (e.g. sexual harassment), society seems to have lost all sense of what childhood wisdom once taught us: sticks and stones may hurt my bones but words can never hurt me. Unless someone acts to implement and impose vicious ideas -- or uses law and government through which to act -- then they have done no harm. They may be offensive and I may devoutly wish his/her mouth was a radio so I could change stations. But that is a different matter than hating them.
Aha! I hear the reaction. Friedan did use government to implement her ideas and, so, shouldn't hatred be the appropriate response? After all, she crossed the line I've just drawn. Well, you'll get no argument from me about Friedan using the law as a gun. But, evenly so, I don't feel rage. Much or most of the reason is that I find it difficult and exhausting to go through life with rage storming within me at every word and act. So many people use the law to impose awful and self-serving principles that I could easily be hate-filled 24/7. That wouldn't stop the injustice but it would ruin my life and my ability to take any pleasure. I wouldn't be more effective in countering the injustice; arguably, I'd be less effective. But I suppose it would convince the"let's hate" contingent of my sincerity. But I am not attracted to doing so even if it means being taken off mailing lists. I mean, can you imagine how much fun a"let's hate" conference would be with its penciled-in 'shooting-the-bile' coffee klatches, its scheduled 'who do we hate most?' panel discussions and its 'why we are right to hate' late night bull/beer sessions?
Rage is like a drug to some advocates of X or Y or Z. It is not enough to say to them"I agree with your position and I will argue my agreement to the best of my ability BUT I don't share your emotional response." It is not enough because what is important to them is not the truth or falsehood of the position but the rage it inspires. Thus, my agreement is irrelevant. My lack of rage is the entire point because their rage is the entire point to them. They advocate X or Y or Z in order to feel the surge of adrenaline that comes from wanting to bash in the face of whoever disagrees. What is the origin of their sanctimonious hatred? I don't know. I think some people are so filled with anger that they naturally gravitate toward the political causes that allow them to express hatred as moral imperative. I think others are so embittered by their experiences that hatred develops. There are probably a thousand other explanations and shadings of explanations at work.
Whatever. The bottomline remains: I don't hate easily. Part of the reason is my personality; part is ideological. I remain convinced that an individual who raises his/her hand against another commits an act that is different in kind than an individual who raises their voice. An idea doesn't 'cause' anything. Words are not actions. If I have anger toward Friedan it is because she promoted laws that constituted acts of violence against innocent people. Using this guideline, however, I am equally angry at Christian zealots, advocates of the war in Iraq, politically correct pundits...hell, I may as well be angry at everyone.
Only, I'm not. I know that's a hanging offense.
comments powered by Disqus
Paul Noonan - 2/11/2006
A good post, Wendy. I sometimes wonder if anyone actually simply "dislikes" a person or idea anymore, it always seems to be "hates". Likewise people are "outraged" by this or that where I am simply "offended", if that. I wonder if that is simply rhetorical inflation or other people simply have stronger negative feelings than I do.
And I find it impossible to hate or even dislike Betty Friedan. First, when push comes to shove she was at bottom an equality feminist. Second, to the extent she was a male-basher she was practically a comic harridan. I think of her as almost as a universal Maggie to all the male American Jiggs of her time, practically chasing us around with her rolling pin. To those who don't understand my outdated cultural reference go to:
When someone like Andrea Dworkin says something like "All men are potential rapists" I, as a man, am deeply offended (I say "someone like" AD because I don't want to reopen the issue of whether she ever said that -some gender feminists believe it and that's the point I am making). When Friedan said "Starve a rat -don't make dinner for your husband tonight" I'm not offended, it's just too funny. Friedan was ultimately responsible for one of the best jokes about feminism that went around in my youth in the 1970s:"A feminist is a woman who believes that housework is a soul killing form of torture that no woman should ever endure and who therefore wants her husband to hire a maid."
I'm even inclined to give Friedan a pass on her concealment of her Marxist past. I've only read short excerpts of her writings, so I'm not really qualified to discuss them, but from what I have read I don't get the sense she was still promoting a Marxist agenda. (I've read polemics from Marxists pretending to be "just folks" and they usually don't fool anyone.) Hell, she even was involved in starting a BANK in the 1970s. If we find someone who is opening a liquor store had been active in the Prohibition Party a decade or two before we'd probably say his views had changed. Assume for a moment that Friedan had really ceased to be a Marxist in the early 1950s. In 1963 to identify yourself as a former fellow traveler (I assume there is no proof she was actually a CPUSA member) is essentially to consign what you have to say on any subject other than why Marxism and Communism are bad to the rubbish bin. America at that time was essentially only interested in an "ex" Marxist if they were now an "anti" Marxist. Jessica Mitford, who published the great THE AMERICAN WAY OF DEATH exposing the funeral industry also in 1963 had been an actual CPUSA member, she was now an "ex", but not an "anti", and she more or less concealed her past for as long as she could so her book could be discussed on its own merits.
Aeon J. Skoble - 2/9/2006
Excellent post, Wendy! (Some of these folks need to see Star Wars again -- hatred leads to the dark side, and all that.)
- Raleigh Trevelyan, Chronicler of a Notable Family, Dies at 91
- Former spokesman of B.C. anti-immigration group wants UBC history prof fired
- Harvard's Steven Shapin Wins History of Science Award
- Middle East Studies Association Fights a Rising Tide of Critics
- Juan Cole says the postwar Middle East governments were modeled on the Soviet Union, though not communist (interview)