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on hatred (& freedom)

Updated: Nov 13, 2020

I feel more and more alien and isolated in US culture and politics. It's like the world stopped making sense. I think others feel this way for a variety of reasons. This presidential election has done little to change that for me.

Social media erased the veneer of civility that once defined human interactions. It's almost old news by now. Dehumanized and mediated by screens, faceless debates on Facebook and Twitter have awakened and revealed our true human nature. Like a wished-for superpower, we can read each others' minds unfiltered. Social media has become a voyeur's window into what others really feel and think without the self-restraint and mutual respect of civility. I don't believe social media has actually changed us. I think it reveals what we really are and have been. Removed from physical proximity and eye contact, most of us are easily self-righteous, reactive, unkind, easily triggered and manipulated. Social media has affirmed what theological-types like me learned from Christian theology. Human nature isn't necessarily good. We are broken, unreconciled, alienated and self-centered creatures. We are self-interested, and secular politics reward this. Winning, getting what we want, and control are emerging unadorned as US's highest 21st century values.

All this has caused me to stop and reconsider some basic things I thought I understood growing up. Hatred is one of those things. Hate used to be an extreme word limited to extreme people and behaviors. Not any more. It's everywhere. But it's not "my problem"; it's always "theirs."

Politically speaking, "hate" has become an almost meaningless term. "Hate" is everywhere. It's something "they" do, but "we" don't. It has other names: stupidity, intolerance, brainwashed, ignorant, racist, libtard, etc. In fact, some of those labels are accurate. But, we'll never know or agree. Why? The meaning of hate has lost almost all objectivity. It's almost a completely subjective term.

Please don't misunderstand. Hate and hatred are real. For some in our country, hate is the way it's always been for them. That is what makes hatred so familiar and prevalent. It's a great American tradition. We have always excluded and dehumanized groups, races, genders and classes from our country's "universal" freedoms and Constitutional protections since our beginnings.

So, a better question is, "How is this situation even possible?" The answer is victimhood.

Victimhood and outrage have taken over the logic and interactions of partisan politics and our cultural divide. It's what makes disagreement, offense, and rage turn from creative forces in democracy into the hatred of the republic. Hatred always has a victimology, consciously or unconsciously. And, it has almost completely taken over. To make things worse, hatred creates and recreates victims. Its circular logic is self-reinforcing and reproducing.

Hate doesn't need to be loud or violent in order to be hatred. Hate only occasionally needs to look like rage. That kind of hate stokes fear. Hate also lives simply as calm or militant close-mindedness. It keeps a memory like a scar left behind by unanswered suffering and deep-seated fears. Hardened, this kind of hate creates invulnerable, self-righteous, and potentially dangerous people. That is what I find on partisan news and social media.

Hatred thrives in prejudice under the appearance of common-sense enmity and unquestionable assumptions. This is the kind of hatred I see overwhelming US politics. When hatred becomes a character trait or disposition of a person, debate, or ideology, its worldview becomes unilateral. Proponents become unable or unwilling to question, think deeper, or to respect another as you would want them to respect you. In biblical terms, hatred is stiff-neckedness (see Deuteronomy 10:15-16; Proverbs 29:1, Nehemiah 9:29) and hard-heartedness (see Exodus 8:15, Psalm 95:8-11, Isaiah 63:17, Mark 8:17). The telltale sign of such hatred is that it renders us functionally deaf. Hatred strips us of the ability to listen, whether to God, human suffering, or difference. Hatred also makes us deaf and blind to the past. We forget who we are and where we came from. This is the way hatred deprives words of any power except as bulwarks or weapons.

Sound familiar?

The only way for hate to cease is to stop its cycle of victimization There are multiple ways to do that. But each path takes some level of vulnerability, openness, and self-examination. That's in short supply in the US.

Naked self-interest is acceptable, even rewarded in 21st century US politics and culture. Self-interest is essential to consumerism and partisanship. Vulnerability, openness, and self-examination are countercultural in a world obsessed with winning, getting what it wants, and authority to control. Vulnerability, openness, and self-examination require personal and shared risk. Hate calls such things stupid.

Not everyone can, should, or is ready to face the hate because hate harms. It does create victims. It is a force of death in culture and politics. It is a Leviathan.

I fear that if some don't sense the call to rise above the reactions of hate to embrace something better and something more, what Hobbes imagined of human nature will take over: Bellum omnium contra omnes, "the war of all against all." That's the other side of freedom. Freedom in its natural state. Perhaps, the US has become so privileged, self-righteous, and hateful we've forgotten about this aspect of freedom. That's the fate of empire.

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