Love letter to my fellow normal, decent human beings: Stop Hating

11 09 2006

From from our brave hero at BioLog:

(I first wrote this blog entry on my now-defunct blog, Mere Survival, on August 20th. I’m reposting it here, coincidentally but appropriately, on 9/11. It was inspired by many things, but most recently by the nauseating mainstream media obsession with “probing” why young Muslims of color in the U.S. and the U.K. are “turning against the countries of their birth” in favor of “terrorism”. Nuanced analysis: none. Ignorant comments designed to inspire yet more fear, loathing, suspicion and hatred of Muslims, particularly brown Muslims: plenty.)

We are each of us born into a truly astonishing and frightening amount of hatred. Emerging from the warmth of the womb, we take in from our first breaths an insidious pollution. The ubiquitous, toxic hatred into which we are born is millenia old yet newly refreshed, newly created, newly enforced, and newly heaped up high upon the same ancient, toxic junkpile every single day, every moment. It is as invisible and as pervasive and as normal to us as the air we breathe. We might find that we wouldn’t even recognize the world or ourselves if we no longer hated others.

Even for those of us who are lucky enough to be born into loving families and communities, this love and protection is often upheld by maintaining fear and hatred of those people somehow “outside” the family and the community. As a result, if any one of us took the sum of the many, many relationships, connections, and interactions we have in our lives, it is likely that the number and strength of our loving relationships would be far outweighed by the number and strength of our hateful (hating, hate-filled) relationships. This is true even for the vast majority of us, including myself, who consider ourselves decent, normal human beings. We feel we generally treat strangers and friends alike with courtesy and kindness. We have rich, loving relationships in our lives. We have a general sense of what is ethical behavior and we abide by that behavior. And, at the same time, we direct venomous hatred towards our fellow human beings on a daily basis.

I include among these relationships those connections we have with the many, many people of whom we are ignorant. As Marilyn Frye writes, “one need only hear the active verb ‘to ignore’ in the word ‘ignorance’ to appreciate that ignorance is not a passive state”. We actively ignore others (those who are “not like us”) all the time, which means we render them invisible, crazy, evil, unfathomable, or dead. The effect of rendering a human being any of these things is ultimately the same – we strip them of their humanity. We cause them harm. We make them subordinate (lesser, worse, unworthy, cheap, slaves) to ourselves. We sever them cruelly, violently, and irrevocably from ourselves. We hate them.

One who has far more than enough to live and to satisfy one’s material and spiritual needs may not consider oneself to be hating a fellow human being who is forced to choose which one of their children will have to die because there is not enough food to sustain everyone in the family. An ordinary “liberal-minded” white person born and raised in the United States would not consider themselves to be hating black people – after all, they rarely think about black people at all, so how can they be hating? However, these are both examples of hate.

I mean what I say when I use the word “hate”. I mean to invoke the entire force and weight of the word, its intentionality, its activeness, the sense that it is an action directed from one person towards another. “Ignorance” and “apathy” do not mean simply “I don’t know” and “I don’t care” respectively. These words mean “I hate”. I feel strongly about steopping away from the passiveness that is used to (a) dismiss responsibility for and (b) belittle the severity of the damage done by ignorance and apathy. Quite simply, I want to say clearly and boldly that we as decent, normal people spend the great portion of our lives actively hating most other people.

I can see no better explanation for the utterly horrendous state of affairs in our world, which is marked by war, famine, slavery, oppression, and destruction upon destruction upon destruction. These phenomena are not caused by the actions of a small minority – maybe a few hundred or even a few thousand among six billion – of people who are “evil” and who hate everyone else. They are the result of the collective hatred of billions of ordinary people.

For example, non-Jews who were “decent people” refused to turn Jews in to the Nazis. But what if they were Jews that these “decent people” didn’t know? Or Jews who had done them some harm in the past? What if they were not Jews, but Muslims? Homosexuals? Islamic fundamentalists? “Bitches” or “sluts”? Communists? Transgender? Blacks? “Japs”? “Terrorists”? “Criminals”? What then? Every generation has its object of hatred – all that changes is that a new flimsy veil replaces the last on the same scapegoat, the same repository for evil. For whatever reason, this old, tired trick seems to work. The flimsy disguise fools us every time, generation upon generation.

We are born into a truly frightening amount of hatred.

White supremacy, for example, exists and persists as a form of hatred – pervasive as air, deadly as gunfire. And you don’t have to be a KKK member to uphold it. The lifeblood of white supremacy is ignorance, apathy, and hate. White supremacy depends on the participation of – that is, active hating on the part of – millions of decent, ordinary people in order to continue to exist.

When the problem is framed in this way, new solutions become visible. Many of us decent ordinary people have every desire to love others. But because we recognize neither the thick, insidious hatred into which we were born nor the hate we actively direct towards other people, our efforts to understand, to communicate, to connect, to love across difference are often thwarted. That’s because we miss an essential first step: to STOP HATING.

Stop ignoring. Stop condescending. Stop dismissing people’s views as either stupid, crazy, or utterly incomprehensible. Stop believing that you can live other people’s lives better than they can – to paraphrase Audre Lorde, they cannot live without their lives. Stop “knowing” what is best for other people. Stop violently yanking them out of context, as if their beliefs, their behaviors, and their ideas dropped out of the thin air like meteors from another planet. Stop robbing them of their agency, their ability, their competence, their intelligence, their humanity, their lives. Stop pretending that they’re not watching you – look at yourself as they would look at you and do not immediately turn away from that new image of yourself. Do not dismiss the realizations, the truth, the ugliness and the flaws that that new image holds. Stop putting otheres into your rigid, stifling, preconstructed categories. Stop erasing their individuality, their uniqueness, by conflating their specific human self with a great mass. Stop acting like you deserve to live more than they do. Stop wishing them dead.

I’m amazed that I’m writing such basic requests of myself and of my fellow normal, decent human beings, but such is our condition. We are constantly wishing one another dead. We truly believe that the world would somehow be perfect, or at least a great deal better if we could just excise “those people” from the human race, just eradicate them from the planet. Most of us are not murderers. When asked to describe ourselves and our lives, we don’t remember actively wishing death upon anyone. But we believe that the world would be better if certain people were dead. We remain silent and complicit with behaviors and worldviews that kill. And we believe that we should be able to satisfy our smallest wants at the cost of the food, the water, the air, the shelter, the land and the simple peace that is necessary for others to continue surviving. Stop hating.

The Dalai Lama wrote something that astonishes me more and more the more that I think about it: “We inhabit the same universe because we share a common karma.” This implies that something essential to our development as beings requires us to inhabit this planet together. It means that, unfathomable as it may seem, every last one of us actually belongs here. It implies that we are not a random group of living creatures, we are a particular group of creatures thrown together, and there is some clue hidden in our togetherness, some great riddle that will take the collective energies of every last one of us to solve.

I have struggled my entire life to unlearn the hatred into which I was born and to stop hating my fellow human beings. I see this slow, constant, steady, and conscious recognition of and uprooting of hatred from my heart as a necessary first step to authentic connection and love. I have a hard time with it, despite effort. I don’t necessarily believe in a God who is transcendent to nature, so I don’t pray much at all. But when I do pray, it is often to gain strength and wisdom to create new habits, to dispel my ignorance, to stop inflicting hate and pain on other people. “Though I am born into hate, shaped by hate, steeped in hate, taught to hate, and actively hate, let it stop now. Let it stop here. Let it stop with me.”

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