The ability to quickly separate friend from foe is an essential
survival strategy. This primitive skill forms the basis of hate. Because
mistaking an enemy for a friend can be deadly, mental processes are biased
toward doubt, caution, mistrust, and dismissal in evaluating others. Fortunately an
unbiased consideration of the evidence, correct
thinking, thoughtful dialogue, and
empathy can overcome the primitive urges of hatred and the
cognitive errors that sustain it. Today many
threats are psychological rather than physical, but the same primitive impulse
to destroy the offender often takes hold.
- Intense dislike
- Disliking an unappealing object
- The desire to eliminate the “Enemy”
- Naming “the beast”.
- Avoiding or eliminating the “dangerous other”.
Aversion, detest, disgust, dislike, loathe,
repelled-by, and revulsion are synonyms for hate. Terms, such as racism, white
supremacy, sexism, or ageism, that describe disparaging a particular out-group
also describe hate. Hate is the opposite of
Origins of Hate
The passions of hate arise from several features of our thinking process.
These include wanting to assign blame for misfortune, protecting our
self-esteem, a desire to strengthen our community, the need to avoid toxins,
alleviating our fears, and several types of errors in reasoning. The ability to
quickly separate friend from foe is essential to self-defense and safety and
provides the origins of hate. Each of these contributing factors are explained
in more detail below.
Who do we hold responsible when bad things
happen? If we want to affirm our stature, preserve our
self-esteem, avoid shame, and preserve our
pride, it does not help to blame ourselves. So we
conveniently assign blame to “them”, the “others”, the Enemy.
Since we don't like bad things to happen and since bad things are caused by the
enemy, we hate them for it. We frame the opposition as the enemy. It's the
victims versus the villains, good versus evil, us versus them, in-group versus
out-group, and friend versus
foe. It is often easier to reject the other than to work to understand their
Of course this line of reasoning is based on the fallacy of
disproportionate responsibly and the fallacy of
being right. Since many causes contribute to
each result, we probably share in the blame along with many others, including
unavoidable bad luck.
Strengthening the community
Hostility toward the out-group increases the cohesion of the in-group and
increases our sense of loyalty and belonging to our local
in-group always finds reasons to see itself as superior. Hostility toward the
out-group increases the solidarity of the in-group.
Disgust helps us avoid toxic substances.
Contempt distances us from unworthy people. Hate is
our defense against noxious behavior. We attempt to raise our self-esteem by
contrasting ourselves with the evil, subhuman enemy. Pain, including
psychological pain, mobilizes us psychically, mentally, and emotionally, to get
away from the source (run) or remove the source (fight) of the pain.
Alleviating our Fears
Because the feared other—the enemy—seems dangerous, we feel compelled to
escape the threat or destroy the enemy. Threat strongly arouses the simple and
primitive urge to “kill or be killed”. Revenge is
pursued with a vengeance to eliminate the threat.
Bias Toward Identifying Danger
When identifying a stranger as friend or foe, survival in primitive times may
depend on a quick decision that does not mistake a foe. The result is a bias
toward caution and the suspicion of danger. The safest assumption is that
members of the out-group are dangerous. In security screening the consequences of a
false negative—mistaking foe for friend—is much more dangerous than the cost of a
positive—mistaking a friend for foe. The resulting optimum decision
threshold results in an inherent suspicion of strangers called xenophobia,
even though this is based on the fallacy of
overgeneralization. As a result we often overreact against a suspected foe.
Permission to Destroy the Enemy
Empathy, compassion, and
cooperation are ubiquitous strengths of
However, various errors in reasoning can overcome compassion and give us
permission to destroy the enemy. This often involves seeing ourselves as the
victims of an evil other. This gives us permission to do good by killing off the
evil enemy and still regard ourselves as a good person. Because they are wrong,
bad, evil, or subhuman they deserve to be killed. An
asymmetrical view of the other, seen only from the
first-person viewpoint, fuels hate. Viewing the other as
very different from our self can allow hate to
emerge. What begins as the other quickly becomes the beast.
Denigrating the victim gives us permission to harm them.
Disrespect is the precursor to hate. Heed the
warning. Reevaluate the evidence, eliminate the
distorted thinking, correct the errors in reasoning, and
reject the temptation to dismiss the other.
Other Errors in Reasoning
A wide variety of errors in reasoning allow us to sustain hate.
Common stereotypes include a variety of
overgeneralizations about members of a group
based on race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, or religious belief, along with
profession and social class. These can create distorted and exaggerated negative images of the
members of particular groups. This dehumanizes and demonizes “the other” and
benign behavior to evil intent can make us suspicious and fearful of others.
Choosing to hate is an ineffective shortcut that avoids the hard work of analyzing
the problem in depth. It attributes blame incorrectly.
Egocentrism, the unshakable belief that “I am correct”,
self-justification, and the need to
be right leads us too quickly to the
conclusion that others are wrong, they are the obstacles, the source of our
problems, evil, and need to be eliminated. We deny contrary
Stress and fear can lead us to revert to simplified and often incorrect
primal thinking based on the fallacy of
Hypersensitivity to criticism can cause us to revert to simplified, but
incorrect rules governing other's behavior.
Our desire to go along with the group, including the
Ashe Effect and other
group-think tendencies, can compromise our good judgment.
Hate fuels the tragedies of genocide throughout history and continues today. Millions of humans
are murdered in pursuit of “ethnic cleansing” justified on the
basis of eliminating the disgusting, subhuman, others. Genocide often relies on
misattributing evil motives to an
out-group, establishing them as scapegoats, and transforming
these beliefs into a widely-accepted conspiracy theory.
Stories are told that reinforce,
popularize, and justify these distortions. The United Nations
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
Gregory Stanton, President of Genocide Watch, describes these
eight stages of genocide
development that are
but not inexorable”.
||People are divided into “us and them”.
||“When combined with hatred, symbols may be forced upon
unwilling members of pariah groups...”
||“Dehumanization overcomes the normal human revulsion against
||“Genocide is always organized... Special army units or
militias are often trained and armed...”
||“Hate groups broadcast polarizing propaganda...”
||“Victims are identified and separated out because of their
ethnic or religious identity...”
||“It is ‘extermination’ to the killers because they do not
believe their victims to be fully human.”
||“The perpetrators... deny that they committed any crimes...”
Here are several examples of the horror of genocide:
- The indigenous populations of the Americas dropped sharply, perhaps as
much as 97%, after the arrival of Europeans in 1492. Although some of these
deaths were the unavoidable consequences of disease, hardship, or severing social
ties, much of it was due to
systematic attacks on Native Americans
by the European settlers. The
Indian Removal policy of the
United States coerced the relocation of major Native American groups in both
the Southeast and the Northeast United States, resulting directly and
indirectly in the deaths of tens of thousands.
Armenian Genocide was conceived
and carried out by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923, resulting in the
deportation of nearly 2,000,000 Armenians, of whom 1,500,000 men, women, and
children were killed, 500,000 survivors were expelled from their homes,
which succeeded in eliminating the over 2,500-year presence of
Armenians in their historic homeland.
- The Holocaust was the
efficient and systematic attempt on an industrial scale to assemble and kill
as many Jewish people as possible, using all of the resources and technology
available to the Nazi state. It resulted in the murder of approximately 6
Million Jews between 1933 and 1945.
- Approximately 1.7-3 million people were
killed in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979 through execution, starvation and
forced labor. The
a communist group headed by
Pol Pot, sought to transform the Cambodian society
by wiping out any western influences and converting the country to the purest
form of socialism. To annihilate modern values, they attacked people in the
intellectual, commercial, and professional class in the cities, declaring them
enemies of the state.
- Between 1975 and 1999 as many as 180,000 people of East
Timor—approximately one quarter of the population—were killed by the
Indonesian military after invading and occupied East Timor. The Indonesian
military used starvation to exterminate the East Timorese,
according to a UN
report documenting the deaths.
Most of these killings took place in the years 1975-1979.
Bosnian Genocide was an
organized killing of Bosnians, predominantly Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) during
the war between 1992 and 1995 by authorities of Republika Srpska and its Army.
The Bosnian Genocide has been proven at the International Criminal Tribunal
for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) through the court case entitled Prosecutor
- During a period of about 100 days from April 6th through mid-July 1994,
937,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were
by Hutus in Rwanda
according to official estimates. The rate at
which people were killed far exceeded any other genocide in history. Bodies
were left wherever they were slain—usually by machetes, mostly in the streets
and their homes.
Darfur has been embroiled in a
deadly conflict for the past three years. At least 400,000 people have been
killed; more than 2 million civilians have been forced to flee their homes to
live in displaced-persons camps in Sudan or in refugee camps in neighboring
Chad; and more than 3.5 million men, women, and children are completely
reliant on international aid for survival.
Lynching is a form of mob violence and rush to justice, usually involving the
illegal hanging of suspected criminals. Perversely,
photographs and postcards
were often taken as souvenirs at lynchings throughout America. The mobs have
clearly given themselves permission to hate.
Reasoning errors sustain hate. The many constructive responses to hate rely on examining the
evidence more carefully, interpreting it from a more
point-of-view, correcting errors in our reasoning, and increasing our
understanding and empathy for those we have labeled
the enemy. Adopt a humanistic perspective, recognize the universal
of all humans, and let the empathy, caring, and
compassion in. Since hate can only be sustained by errors in reasoning, it
can be eliminated by reappraising and correcting those errors. Work to transform
your enemies into friends. Your own thinking
may be where the change has to take place.
- “Hate traps us by binding us too tightly to our adversary.” ~
- “War is not an insuppressible urge. It is an option.” ~
- “The deep foundation of security is based in transforming your enemies
into friends.” ~
- “Too often it is easier to hate than to understand” ~ Leland R. Beaumont
- “Evil gathers momentum by being uncontested.” ~ Nathaniel Branden
- “We all inhabit this small planet. We all breath the same air. We all
cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.” ~ John F. Kennedy
- “Man is, as man, redeemable.” ~
- “I am a human being; therefore nothing human is alien to me.” ~ Terence
- “The problem is not Other.” ~ Johan Galtung
- “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” ~ Abraham
Prisoners of Hate: The Cognitive Basis of Anger, Hostility, and Violence,
by Aaron T. Beck
Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty, by Roy F. Baumeister, Aaron Beck
Violence: Our Deadly Epidemic and Its Causes, by James
Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama, by Daniel Goleman
The Cognitive Structure of Emotions, by Andrew Ortony, Gerald L. Clore, Allan Collins
Field Notes on the Compassionate Life: A Search for the Soul of Kindness,
by Marc Ian Barasch
Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill,
by Matthieu Ricard
Our Inner Ape,
by Frans De Waal
United States Holocaust
Memorial Museum Web site
a web site for students, teachers, and others interested in the causes and
consequences of prejudice.