The Sunday Magazine

Why do we hate? - Michael's essay

"What is it in us that causes us to hate a fellow human being or group of human beings? It is a disease from which no one is immune."
(The Canadian Press/ Sean Kilpatrick)

Why do we hate?

What is it in us that causes us to hate a fellow human being or group of human beings?

It is a disease from which no one is immune.

In this country we have, by turn, hated Catholics, Japanese, Chinese, Sikhs, women, the Irish, gays, francophones, indigenous people, anglophones,  Muslims and Jews -- although hatred against Jews seems to be a forever thing.

On Tuesday, Statistics Canada released figures from 2015 which give numerical reality to our hatred of others.

Overall, hate crimes increased by five per cent over the year before. Muslims suffered a 61 per cent spike over 2014, with 159 incidents.

Canadian Jews remain the most targeted religious minority in the country.

A Winnipeg family found a rock covered in anti-Semitic slurs left on their front steps. (Submitted)

The sharpest rise in hate crimes occurred in Alberta but you can find them in every corner of the country.

The Ontario city of Thunder Bay, for example, recorded almost one-third of all hate crimes in the country against Aboriginal people and communities.

StatsCan reports that the numbers likely reflect undercounts and that the reality is much worse. Also the data released this week are two years out of date.

The numbers give us a sketchy outline of hate but tell us nothing about the core workings of hate, how and why we use it.

Explanations abound. We hate the other, we hate difference, we judge others when we can't understand their perspective on things. We can't feel empathy for them.

When we feel threatened by perceived outsiders we turn back to our in-group, those with whom we identify in a kind of survival reflex.

The American psychologist Bernard Golden writes: "Acts of hate are attempts to distract oneself from feelings such as helplessness, powerlessness, injustice, inadequacy and shame."

We ascribe to strangers and others those qualities in ourselves which we find abhorrent. It's called projection.

Anti-muslim messages were scrawled on the Cold Lake Mosque in October, 2014.

Hatred is learned, we weren't born to it, there is no gene for it. But it is aided and abetted by the internet, especially in social media.

Social media is a perfect petri dish for cultivating and disseminating hatred of others. In earlier days, the haters were reduced to scrawling on walls or handing out crude pamphlets on street corners.

An American study looked at the presence of hate groups on Twitter. It found that the number of likes and comments on hate group accounts grew by 900 per cent in the last two years.

In fact there are, by one count, 917 organized hate groups in the United States.

Is education the answer, an answer? If we can tell our children early enough that hate is anti-life, that it achieves nothing, accomplishes nothing, will that stem the rising tides of hate?

On the eve of the Second World War, W.H. Auden in his poem September 1, 1939, wrote:

"We must love one another or die."

We really don't have any other choice.

Click 'listen' above to hear Michael's essay. 


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