“If human beings can be trained for cruelty and greed and a belief in power which comes through hate and fear and force, certainly we can train equally well for greatness and mercy and the power of love which comes because of the strength of the good qualities to be found in the soul of every human being.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt, “The Moral Basis of Democracy.”
Hate. We know it when we see it. We know it when we feel it directed at us and we know what it feels like when we direct it at others. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines it as “intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury.”
These days, it feels like it’s everywhere. Unless you’re living under a rock – and I kind of hope you are, because it’s probably safer and you should just stay there – the first half of 2023 has basically been one big old glorious hate-fest, and the second half isn’t tracking to be any better. Something needs to change, but for that to happen, we need to figure out two things:
- What is going on?
- How do we address it?
Which, to be candid, is what I ask myself when I’m feeling intense hostility and aversion. In my case, it generally comes down to fear or anxiety. But in expanding the question outward, to what we’re all seeing every time we open a paper or turn on a news station, the answer is this: Over the past eight years, hate has acquired something it hasn’t had in this country since the beginning of the Civil War, specifically power. It’s got a national platform; it’s making laws and it’s figured out how to leverage social media. The result is Big Hate, which is impossible to stand up to on your own. Big Hate is a new phenomenon.
For anyone concerned about the welfare of Old School Hate, fret not. That’s the kind you encounter in a social setting when a friend tells a terrible joke, or you have to spend time with that relative you can’t avoid because you’re at the Seder table. OS Hate is still out there for you to call out and speak up about in real time (the best way to address it), and one of the best ways to prepare for that is by reading. A 2013 study by Emanuele Castano and David Kidd found that reading literary fiction improved a reader’s ability to understand others’ thoughts and feelings. It’s a safe and accessible way to engage with people from different backgrounds without invading anyone’s privacy.
Now, let us examine the recent history of Big Hate.
Once upon a time, if you hated members of a particular group or community simply for being part of that group or community, you kept it to yourself. But political discourse has changed in recent years. Whether thinly-veiled or loud-and-proud, hate has become an acceptable and even welcome mode of communication for far too many people in this country.
On a separate track, the Information Universe was undergoing a sort of Big Bang. Social media sites were becoming a primary source of information, and users were sorting themselves into siloed communities based on a range of common beliefs and interests. There was no way to tell on its face whether anything in a post was real. As for traditional news outlets, those relying on journalistic standards (verifying sources, fact-checking, not paying for information) found themselves competing with organizations that looked and acted like news outlets but operated under different rules and attracted different and equally devoted audiences.
Things haven’t gotten better.
The legal codes of multiple states have or are in the process of enshrining laws that restrict health care for transgender youth and adults, access to reproductive health care for women, and provide easier access to guns. Books are being removed from school and public libraries and at least one state and multiple municipalities are defunding their public library systems.
It has to stop. We deserve better. Our children deserve better. And theirs, should they choose to have them, do, too. None of us can stand up to Big Hate on our own. For that, we need, most importantly, to speak out and take action in whatever way we feel we can be useful.
The opinions expressed in this article, and in other commentaries in the Chronicle, are not necessarily representative of the views of the Chronicle. We welcome a diversity of opinions.