Ok, get ready for the haymaker right swing.
Jab. Jab. Jab. Here it comes!
Duck. Come back with a quick right.
What just happened?
Holy shit. I knocked him down!
OH SHIT! I KNOCKED HIM DOWN!!!
It was my freshman year of college. To ‘toughen up’ the offensive lineman on the football team, we had mandatory boxing matches in one of the racquetball courts. We had head gear. A coach facilitated. All of the defensive lineman loved to watch. Somehow I, the underweight freshman, got paired to box with a Senior from Southern California who had the current best NFL bench press test — 225 pounds something like 30 times in a row. It was the first time that anyone had been knocked down, let alone a freshman against a senior, so it was now his moral obligation to pummel me.
We don’t need to delve into the details. But to make a long story short, the next week I gave a talk to middle schoolers on the importance of staying away from drugs, alcohol, and violence with a BIG black eye.
I’d always been terrified of hurting people growing up. I was over 6′ tall in the 6th grade. People would run up and hit me because I wouldn’t move or blink. A gentle giant. After all of my conflict mediation training, I wasn’t one to hate much of anything or anyone either. About the only thing I’ve really ever hated in life was a sandwich a family member in Alaska made for me from stale white bread, bologna, butter, and 4″ green onions he’d grown in an old bathtub in front of his house — chemical terrorism.
I’ve known hate though. Growing up in Northern Idaho during the 80’s and 90’s, you could find hate if you looked for it. A few days after the Charlottesville white supremacist protest that left several people dead, I had the experience of sitting next to one of the participants on a plane. He was the real deal — iron eagle tattoos, shaved head, green military tactical hat, aviator shades, and death metal music. I know the music because after the plane taxied to the runway he put in his earbuds and I could still here the words to the music through my noise-deadening headphones. Think he’s hard to reach and empathize with now? Wait 10 years when he can’t hear you.
It’s hard to express how much hate he spewed. He swore after every announcement by the white pilot, or the cute white stewardess who had just started her training. He wanted to pick a fight with someone, anyone. Which was why it was all the more surprising to me when he pulled out his tablet and started playing a game where a Unicorn runs around in something like candy-crush. May’be it was a coping mechanism.
Hate is real. Terrorism is real. Much like violence and murders, it’s slowly going away, and not fast enough. Knowing the social dynamics to place hate into context will help us act effectively when we see hate and need to respond.
The value challenges of hate
Our value v-Meme taxonomy is just the starting point. Let’s go through the levels with specific respect to hate:
- Survival: depriving others of food, water, and shelter.
- Tribal: our tribe has always been at war with the other tribe. Read Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four.
- Authoritarian: Fascism, supremecy, anything that increases your power over others.
- Legalistic/Absolutistic: Anyone not following the rules. One religion/constitution necessitates fighting another.
- Performance: Anyone cheating the system or trying to limit gains.
- Communitarian: Capitalist pigs that will destroy the planet.
As we go down the list, it becomes harder and more contrived to find good examples of hate. Once you get to systemic, and realize the necessity of most everyone in the system, it gets really hard to hate. But these values sets alone don’t necessitate hate. Being more than two levels removed, per Dr. Chuck’s intuition, just means you have trouble communicating values to someone else — hate is something different.
Hate is an intense, passionate dislike for something. We don’t inherently dislike something or someone we don’t understand. But it’s not hard to teach us to hate it if we don’t understand something. All it takes is a friend to say that whatever it is, it’s against us. Then you fake it till you make it. Remember that the v-Meme levels are not opposed, but orthogonal (90°) to one another. And if we have no way to connect with the values of something, we have little capacity for the topic, and the math says it will take a lot of resources, and time, to change that. Lower down on the v-Memes it’s really easy to think anyone and everyone opposes you and your values.
Combine this values challenge with our bell-shaped curve grading system in education. When you realize 20% of the population is exemplary and 20% of the population has a diagnosable disorder, and there are 5 grades (20% As and 20% Fs), you can see how we do so much of this to ourselves. Teach someone that they don’t get it over and over again, that they are not valued or contributing, that they are not as important as the minority, and you’ve got a recipe for hate. Those who were abused continue the cycle of abuse.
The Nelson Mandela quote rings true, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” But why is it easier to love?
Hate and the anti-empathic
We’re born to empathize. Otherwise babies would never mirror that beautiful smile and laugh or play with others. But why are those filled with hate so difficult to empathize with? If you thought you were at war with someone else’s values, would you connect with them? The values of hate are locked in by teaching the anti-empathy cues of conflict: 1. Stonewalling — refusing to mirror or acknowledge, 2. Bullying — abusing someone else’s emotions, 3. Sociopathy — disrupting the empathic connections of other groups and individuals in order to isolate them, 4. Psychopathy/gas-lighting — re-construing events to create doubt and cause others to question their recollection of events.
This presents a problem. How are we supposed to help others not hate, to a happier life, to understand them and their cultures to ultimately enrich both of us, if they deliberately disrupt our empathy channels for connection?
Anti-empathy, or extreme movements, are inherently not sustainable due to the lack of required empathy. A neighboring community from one I grew up with in Northern Idaho had the unfortunate luck of having an Aryan Nation leader move to town and buy a compound. Neo-nazi marches ensued. The towns people got together and developed a strategy: 1. They would never attend an event in counter protest (the empathy disconnect is what fuels the anti-empathic), 2. They would have counter-rallies far away and form fundraising campaigns where the amount of money donated was directly correlated to the time the neo-nazis marched, 3. They would wait and let the legal system work. The strategy was a success. One day a car driving by the Aryan nation compound backfired, the security goons immediately opened fire on the car, nearly killing the African-American couple inside. Attempted murder charges ensued, the compound was seized, and problem removed — mostly.
Changing hate fast is as challenging as wealth-inequality. It likely takes a traumatic event associated with extreme neural plasticity. Given the value conflict proposition of hate, forcing or contriving traumatic events is not advisable, as you could permanently ingrain stonewalling and breach trust if discovered. But we can be ready to help when nature naturally causes it to happen. Just like all of our other social phase change problems, G = U + Pv -TS. when nature simplifies things to survival and ratchets up the stress and density, better be ready with resources and empathy.
Changing hate slowly, and persistently is much more pragmatic. Hate happens. Outlawing is merely suppression, but boundaries are essential. The strongest way to build foundational, core empathy values is in childhood. Want to solve generational war? Mix the children. Teach them how to empathize. Get them playing together before parents can imbue incompatible values and anti-empathy tendencies. Then rely on the combination of neural plasticity and empathy to place the different values they are taught into appropriate context.
We also need to change the performance metrics of our educational system. Everyone has value to our communities, the challenge is finding and cultivating it. I’m not saying everyone is equal by any means — we all have our strengths and weaknesses. But, in general, the more empathy we have for others, the harder it is to hate.
(Note: this post is one chapter of what could become a book someday. The other chapters can be found here: https://hydrogen.wsu.edu/dr-jacob-leachman/ )