“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”― James Baldwin
The first verse of a song by Kelsea Batterini goes like this;
There's a thin, thin line between love and hate Between a heart that's whole and a heart that breaks Between ending the world or saving the day There's a thin, thin line between love and hate
Thin it is. Turns out, love and hate are like near-identical twins. I won’t bore you with the role your putamen and insula contribute to love and hate, suffice to say they both trigger similar brain tickles. And if cruising social media and Thanksgiving family discussions over the last some years, you’d think humanity has concluded that hate is as much a virtue as love.
History is full of examples that when we share a love for something or someone, a strong bond is often formed. A love for hiking, for example, will soon find you among others who love to hike. More than one theatrical production has had success telling of multiple men seeking the affection of the leading lady. As the story goes, the men form a bond upon discovering each other leaving the beautiful temptress jilted. Then there is the human tendency toward mutual flattery posing as love. Since I love myself and you love me, then I love you. Let’s have twins.
Surprisingly, researchers believe the bond one forms with someone who shares a deep hatred for something or someone may actually be stronger than a shared love. If true, that goes a long way in explaining the poisonous divide we have in our country. It certainly provides some understanding of how so many apparently enjoy hating a fellow human being like Donald Trump or those who supported his presidency or justices who have thought long and hard about the rights of the unborn. It was an opportunity to bond with like-minded haters. Entire online communities are created on one simple emotion- the love of hate.
The love of hate has another interesting benefit. As long as someone has an object of hatred (i.e. Justice Alito or the next-door neighbor), that focus allows them to disconnect from the problems they have in their own life. Experts suggest that hate is a great distraction to those who are having difficulty in their relationships or suffer from low self-esteem. Some will find their way to ‘hate groups’ such as those found on both extremes of the political landscape. There, they will find simplistic memes and cliches which only serve to rachet up their hatred.
Unfortunately, one doesn’t have to be fringe or unhinged to fall prey to the benefit of hate. Observations of our political campaigns suggest that negative ads work. The selection of a chief justice turns into a character assassination turkey shoot. More than a few old ladies believed that one of the political parties wanted them to die. If not die, at least have their social security taken from them. To gin up rabid partisan hate, political strategists sit in air-conditioned government rooms audience testing memes and phrases which will stoke the most ‘ultra’ passion. “Love your neighbor as yourself” was not a finalist.
Perhaps that is why I found this essay by social media influencer and meme maker so fascinating. Christina Buttons, a young white children’s book illustrator from California, was neck-deep in the woke movement contributing what she could. According to her, she was heavily influenced by major media outlets such as the New York Times and the Washington Post. If they said it was so, then it must be so.
She too came to accept that life was mostly about racial injustice. So she loaded up the digital pipes with colorful simplistic memes (see below) to great success. Soon she had many thousands of followers filling her with a sense of purpose and accomplishment. You can read her essay here and you should. Refreshingly honest.
In retrospect, she has come to regret her contributions to the woke idea of a ‘new’ normal. That her memes were her attempt to “stripping complex social issues down to ideologically slanted but easily digestible bullet points.” She continued, “Text-based slideshow graphics on pastel backdrops were a particular hit. They often read like instruction manuals, feeding believers the exact phrases needed to dismiss counterarguments and “educate” their “ignorant” family members.”
But the actual effect was something different. It fed the empty stomach of anger and hate. What appeared to be harmless sugary banter was actually accusatory, bigoted, and racist junk food that lacked any appreciation for the complexity of important issues. Ms. Buttons closes her essay by writing, “My advice to others is this: Be wary of simple explanations, black-and-white thinking, and any ideology that presents the world as locked in a battle between good and evil. Take it from someone who once channeled this kind of simplistic thinking into popular memes for a living: Everything worth knowing is much more complex than any slogan can possibly convey.”
In the end, Ms. Buttons was eaten by her own tribe. Daring to point out the hypocrisy and bullying of her adopted movement, she was stripped of her ‘influencer’ status. Wisely, she rejoined the part of humanity that has more questions than answers. Free of her anger and hate, she has gracefully moved on.
Many continue to lament our political divide today wishing to find some antidote. Some are claiming real fear as to how this discontent will end. Seems nearly all belong to some tribe with each blaming the other for harboring undeserved hate. Deep hate has some taking revenge by killing with a gun or automobile just because they were black in a supermarket or white while enjoying a parade. Others, slightly less unhinged, spend much of the day looking for offense in our social media muck. There they pounce with such vengeance that some of our greatest thinkers are choosing to not participate in the poo slinging.
I started by suggesting our modern culture considers hate a virtue- something to be harbored, encouraged, and used when it benefits the agenda. But there is nothing new with this phenomenon. Hatred was such a major theme even in Biblical times that it led Paul to proclaim in Corinthians, “…the greatest of these is love.” Indeed, Jesus Himself admonished us, “But I tell you, love your enemies…”
Nearly all of the great religions recognize that hate, a natural human emotion, needs to be attenuated. If it continues to roam unbridled, some of our greatest fears may be realized. Like any number of other human impulses, hate is to be conquered- overcome.
A person well acquainted with hatred was Dr. Martin Luther King. Perhaps that is why he could speak so powerfully about the evils of hatred. I believe he came to understand that the root of the injustice of racism was ‘hate,’ and the antidote to hate is its twin, love. His dream was for all to live in harmony. To reach his dream, we each have a contribution to make.
“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, "Love your enemies." It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love, they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says, love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.