Hatred has been having a boom time. No insult cuts us more deeply than “you’re a hater”. It means that you are intransigent, intolerant, bigoted and probably a secret nose-picker. “You’re a hater” (or its close cousin, “you’re a bigot”) shuts down all dialogue and turns the alleged hater into a pariah.
It was not always thus. Back in the 30s, for instance, hatred was almost fashionable in some quarters. Fascists boasted of their hatred for Bolsheviks and Jews; Communists boasted of their hatred for Fascists and the bourgeoisie. In democracies, love-your-neighbour was always more respectable, but there were pockets of hatred amongst racists. No one was scandalised by hatred; it was just another reeking garbage dump in the political landscape. You detoured around it.
How can you prove that someone is a hater? Some cases are easy enough. When someone commits a violent crime which was motivated by hatred, as the Christchurch gunman did recently. Or when he openly declares that he hates Jews, or blacks, or Muslims, or Christians.
But what about so-called haters who deny that their actions or speech are motivated by hatred? For example, the Southern Poverty Law Center (see accompanying article) has tagged the Family Research Council and other organisations as “hate groups”. The FRC vehemently denies this designation. And, in fact, the SPLC cannot produce evidence that the FRC has engaged in murder, arson, or assault. Nor have its employees uttered hate speech inciting people to violence.
What there is, is disagreement. The SPLC claims that “The FRC often makes false claims about the LGBT community based on discredited research and junk science. The intention is to denigrate LGBT people…” The FRC denies that its claims are false and that its intention is to vilify LGBT people. In other words, the old adage advising Christians “to hate the sin but love the sinner” has been thrown into the dustbin of history. Sinner and sin are one and the same. What I perceive as a hateful action must be the work of a hateful person.
What explains the leap from disagreement to hatred? This is a question which has a complex philosophical history. But here are a few pointers.
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