Normal and abnormal hatred

The hater suffers from a pathological, obsessive, preoccupation with the object of disdain.

angry cartoon man 88 (photo credit: )
angry cartoon man 88
(photo credit: )
Here's what I hate (in no particular order): computer spam, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Jerusalem taxi drivers, a persistently annoying colleague, and the NIS 417,900 Hummer now being advertised in the newspapers. I tried turning to the Bible for solace. But last week's Torah portion had Simeon and Levi slaughtering every newly circumcised male in Shechem. And this week, Joseph's brothers, seeing that Jacob loves him the most, hate him so passionately that - as the narrative begins - they can't even bring themselves to greet him. There's no ignoring hate, but do we understand it? Our sages were aware of the problem. They surmised that the uneducated riffraff hated the scholarly class even more than the gentiles hated the Jews. Just as the Eskimos have a nomenclature for snow, Jewish tradition categorizes all sorts of hatreds: hidden hate, hatred of justice, gratuitous hatred, and the particularly despised - self-hatred. Maariv reported last week on a survey which found, not surprisingly after five gruesome years of Palestinian Arab belligerence, that topping the "most hated" list for nearly all Israelis were Palestinians. But 67 percent of leftists hated "settlers" even more than Palestinians. Besides settlers, the Orthodox, haredim, leftists and Arab Israelis also scored high on being despised. William Hazlitt, in an irreverent homage to the subject, The Pleasure of Hating (1826), says that "Love turns, with a little indulgence, to indifference or disgust; hatred alone is immortal." For Hazlitt the pleasure of hating eats into everything. "Nature seems made up of antipathies: Without something to hate, we should lose the very spring of thought and action." The contemporary Romanian-born French philosopher E.M. Cioram agrees: "You are done for - a living dead man - not when you stop loving, but stop hating. Hatred preserves; in it, in its chemistry, resides the 'mystery' of life. Not for nothing is hatred still the best tonic ever discovered, for which any organism, however feeble, has tolerance." And for the writer Minna Antrim "To be loved is to be fortunate, but to be hated is to achieve distinction." THEN THERE is hatred of an entirely different order. Psychiatrist Willard Gaylin, in Hatred: The Psychological Descent into Violence, posits that the truly hazardous variety is not "normal to the human condition." Laypeople often confuse rage, prejudice or bigotry with authentic hatred. A key criteria, Gaylin says, is whether the hater suffers from a pathological, obsessive, preoccupation with the object of disdain. Hatred is more than an emotion. Gaylin believes that most of us have never really experienced genuine clinical hatred. "We are not one with the terrorists. We do not experience that which they feel, nor are we likely to do what they do. The hatred that requires a defined enemy - the hatred that seeks the humiliation and destruction of that enemy and takes joy in it - is blessedly a rare phenomenon." For Gaylin, genuine hatred is a quasi-delusional condition, a mental disease. It's the sick flip-side of love in that it, too, requires an object of attachment. "Obsessive hatred is by definition irrational. The choice of the victim is more often dictated by the unconscious needs and personal history of the hater than by the nature, or even the actions, of the hated." So, by Gaylin's criteria, the intense dislike I have toward Jerusalem taxi drivers, or - I'd like to believe - the disdain some haredim feel toward Reform Jews, or the revulsion many American Reform Jews feel toward George W. Bush are unlikely to inspire real trouble. These "hatreds" are too mild, too ephemeral. Ahmadinejad's hatred, in contrast, is durable and relentless. By claiming that the extermination of 6 million Jews during World War II was a "myth," by urging European countries who "claim that they have killed Jews in World War II" to "provide the Zionist regime with a piece of Europe," and by advocating that Israel be "wiped off the map" - I'd diagnose him a genuine malevolent, obsessive, quasi-delusional hater. In Iran, as in the dysfunctional Palestinian territories, hatred appears to be the societal norm. Ahmadinejad's hatred needs a self-reinforcing cultural milieu in which to incubate. Teheran's ruling circle presumably provides that environment just as Palestinian society has long nurtured the pathological, self-defeating, hate manifested by the various Fatah groupings, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It's no accident that Ahmadinejad spent part of last week conferring with Hamas's politburo chief, Khaled Mashaal and heard that "The Palestinian nation, Hamas movement and the Islamic world appreciate the stands adopted by the Islamic Republic of Iran against the usurper regime of Israel." Nor does it surprise that left to their democratic druthers, Palestinians gave a landslide victory to Hamas in Thursday's municipal elections, or that Farhat Abu Nidal, proud mother of two shahids (martyrs) is number 22 on the Hamas list for the Palestinian general elections. Instances of profound hatred occurring among normal individuals or societies are regulated - by super-egos, parents and police. Civilized societies remove individuals whose pathological hatred can be certified as posing a danger. But what do you do about entire polities mobilized by hate? You start by recognizing their abnormality, and then you quarantine the madmen who rule them.