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02/09/2006 Archived Entry: "The hate contingent"
For years now, I've been musing about a strange political demand that I frequently encounter. It is the demand that I feel hatred toward some person or group -- a demand that is almost immediately followed by a backlash of denunciation when the requisite hatred is not manifested. (The most common denunciation is that you are a hypocrite for not feeling hatred or that you are showing 'your true colors.' Presumably, the accusation means you actually agree with the person you've just meticulously debunked -- thus debunking yourself?) The latest cause for this line of musing is Tuesday's FOX News/ifeminist column "A Different Look at Betty Friedan's Legacy" in which I questioned various assumptions about Betty Friedan; for example, I presented Daniel Horowitz's excellent expose of her ideological (Marxist) background; he explodes the popular idea of Friedan being an apolitical housewife who just stumbled across a 'great truth' that became The Feminine Mystique. I ended my column by rejecting the possibility of providing a eulogy for Friedan....I don't believe she deserves one. Instead, I stated that all I could honestly say is "rest in peace." Because I did not say "burn in hell," or the equivalent, I've been receiving the predictable blasts of rage from those on the extreme edge of the men's rights movement who seem to have a lot of time on their hands. The response is nothing new and hardly worth mentioning except for the fact that I am prompted once more to wonder: why is it not enough to disagree with someone and vigorously rebut their arguments? Why do some of those who similarly disagree deem it necessary to feel and express personal hatred?
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.