Why We Hate

Republishing this with additional commentary.

The capacity to hate lies within all of us. The capacity to dehumanize the “other” in order to be rid of people we consider dangerous or deviant or difficult or just plan stupid is universal. To a large extent, the only progress humanity has made since we were a bunch of Naked Apes hunting, gathering, and scavenging on the African savanna has been our increasing willingness to tolerate each other.

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Even that is an on again and off again proposition. The protests inspired by the murder of George Floyd show that many millions of people care. The fact that they were needed show that millions of people still don’t care.

Hate can easily be turned to public action. That’s why politicians use it so much. Take a dab of fear or even legitimate anger, mix in a convenient target and a bit of adrenaline, and whip well. It is a powerful emotion that suspends the logical thought process. It is a tool in the trade of every despot and demagogue from Stalin and Hitler to Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden and more than a few who are still in power.

And sadly, even the American presidency does not seem immune. Recent events have shown how easy is is to stir up a populace to violence, even in a liberal democracy like the US. The attack on the Capitol can only be viewed as mob insanity. There was no practical effect other than to unify their opposition. There was no benefit except the joy of destroying a symbol of their hatred. They get massive publicity and Trump gets to show he still retains some power even as he loses the White House.

Does this remind anyone of another incident in recent history? (Sorry, but I consider the entire 20th century to be recent history.) Do some research on the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 by none other than Adolph Hitler. The parallels are eerie.

The right hates the left, the left hates the right, and the majority of people who sit somewhere in the middle look on in confusion. I found this perfect description of the situation:

  • How has it come to this? The right feels like it’s fighting for its very life against a left that’s waging a scorched-earth campaign against it. As far as the right is concerned, progressives don’t just want to win. They want to grind conservatives into the dust, humiliate them, force them to jump through public hoops, and confess their sins before the world. And the list of sins grows ever longer — on race, on religion, on sex, on gender. The goalposts always shift further. Each triumph for the left is followed by the opening of another front in a rolling cultural revolution. The right feels desperate — and understands every one of its own moves as an equal and opposite reaction to a prior offensive on the part of its political and cultural antagonists.
  • The left, meanwhile, views things exactly in reverse. The story of the country is one characterized by unjust domination by a narrow class of white, male, heterosexual, cisgendered oppressors, and then a slow, grinding fight toward greater liberty and equality for every identity. Yet instead of giving up its exclusive privileges and conceding the justice of continuing with progress toward ever-greater democracy, the right has mounted a counter-assault that aims to reverse the progress America has made, with the ultimate goal of propping up its remaining power and then actively narrowing the circle of citizenship in the hopes of turning back the clock to a time when white, heterosexual, cisgendered men were in charge of everything. That poses an existential threat to all that’s worthwhile about the country and fully justifies uncompromising acts to thwart its realization.


Neither of these points of view are logically – or practically – true. Enough people believe them to drive us apart instead of focusing on our common humanity. And so the hatred, born of a struggle for dominance and the fear of being dominated becomes just another tool to be used in the game we call politics. It is a fertile field in which to sow madness.


I just spent an amazing 6 hours watching Steven Spielberg’s 2019 documentary, “Why We Hate.”You can also catch it on Discovery Channel, Hulu, Youtube TV, and Amazon Prime Video.

I’d like to make it mandatory for every high school student. Good luck on that.

First aired October of 2019, it is still available.

Spielberg gives us a no punches pulled overview of hate, starting with likely genetic roots in our ancestors and following it to this day. It is not for the squeamish. The scenes from the Holocaust, the Cambodian killing fields, and the Rwandan genocide of 1994 are particularly gruesome. Yet somehow, every episode manages to end with a note of hope.

The capacity to hate is human. It is hard-wired into our DNA. At the same time, empathy is hard-wired into us. Most people are quite capable of being hateful or compassionate or anything in between. Hate comes from the amygdala, that little bit of reptile brain we all still have. Empathy comes from a more recent addition, the supermarginal gyrus of the cerebral cortex. Your life largely shapes how you respond but you can also decide to walk a different path.

Time to find a better way.

When you see someone mistreating someone because they are different, that’s a completely human behavior. Just as human as rising to that person’s defense.

There is an apocryphal story that succinctly tells us how our lives will go:

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.

One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is Good. It is joy, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

The next time you see someone spewing out hate, which of the wolves inside of you will you feed?

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
Mahatma Gandhi

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