We’ve been hearing a lot about hatred lately. Actually, that’s not accurate. We’ve been hearing a lot of accusations of hatred lately. So let’s stop a minute and think about hate.
Not so much the accusations or whether or not they’re accurate as about the word itself, because I think part — maybe a big part — of the problem is its overuse.
Our tastes and views toward just about everything fall somewhere along a continuum that extends from love beyond all reasoning to strong liking to favorable feelings to neutrality to unfavorable feelings to strong dislike to, finally, irrational hatred. The number of points along the line is infinite.
Yet our discourse, our communication, too often does not recognize all those possibilities, particularly on the dislike side of the scale. It remains possible to love something or someone, or to have generally favorable feelings, but in modern parlance (especially when we’re characterizing the views of someone else), the first stop after “I-can-take-it-or-leave-it” is hatred.
I remember first becoming aware of this a decade or so ago, when I happened to hear the television personality Larry King in an interview, when he asked someone (I don’t remember who), “But what about the haters?” The context was such that it imputed hatred to anyone who disagreed in any fashion with the person being interviewed. But it was possible, I remember thinking, to disagree with the person, even to strongly disagree, without hate entering into it. Larry King could have as easily asked, “What about those who have a different view?” As it was, the interviewee launched into a fiery denouncement of others as being despicable. Had the question been different, it might have lead to a discussion involving thought and useful argument.
Nowadays, such usage would be entirely unremarkable. Anyone who disagrees with me (whoever I am) is guilty of hatred and is therefore hopeless and to be discounted. This cannot be good, as our national discourse has proved. Once you have ascribed hatred to your opponent, communication isn’t possible anymore. After that, it’s just knock down and drag out.
It’s epidemic now, in just about every issue, every part of life. Not long ago I saw a photograph of an actress I generally like. She had shown up at an awards show wearing a gown that had the phrase “No H8” emblazoned across its front. Is there some new hydrogen isotope of which we should beware? No. It turns out (an Internet search informed me) that this has to do with the California referendum banning same-sex marriage. “H8” is supposed to be pronounced “hate,” in the fashion of the old “Far Side” cartoon that had a monster driving a car with the license plate “I 8 NY.” It is supposed to mean that anyone opposed to same-sex marriage is guilty of hatred.
Reasonable people of good will can have differing views, even widely differing views, on the subject of same-sex marriage. No hatred is required. The insertion of “hate” into the discussion does nothing but eliminate the possibility that those differences be discussed and some accommodation reached.
Overuse of the word “hate” is insidious. It leads us to believe that the range extending from mild distasted to blind, irrational loathing is all “hate.”
The result is actual hatred. If one is led to believe that all negative opinions — of Brussels sprouts, of the New York Yankees, of a political view — are hatred, then hatred will be one’s first and last stop once one discovers he does not like Brussels sprouts or the Yankees or some political view. A little thought will tell us that this is unreasonable, that brussels sprouts and political thought have their virtues, even if we do not like them. The Yankees are on their own.
Thus what we have today: all hollering, no reasoning together. This isn’t to say that all disagreements, discussed by people of good will, can result in agreement. What it is to say is that discussion by people of good will can result in understanding of each other. When you accuse someone with whom you disagree of hatred, you’ve announced that you do not care to understand them. You have committed yourself to battle. You have also announced that you are not a person of good will, and demonstrated that you may well be the one doing the hating.
It seems to me that we have less a problem in this country of actual hatred than we do of people accusing each other of it. As you watch or listen to the news or read news publications, pay attention to the use of the word “hate.” It’s almost always part of an accusation.
I think you’ll find that it never advances the speaker’s point, or adds to the discussion or generates any understanding.
If we’re interested in a more civil society, as it seems most of us are, a good first step would be to stop accusing each other of hatred.
Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large to Open for Business. Powell was an award-winning reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio and becoming a full-time crackpot. You can reach him at email@example.com.