“Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” Eric Hoffer
Hatred is an amazing emotion. I was noticing this week in the comments of a number of people on my Facebook page a tremendous amount of hatred against other people. Most of these were directed against Blacks, immigrants, Gays, women and Moslems.
Sadly, as one of those people messaged me it was about “they.” They being the blacks, immigrants, gays, and Moslems. You see “they” is a wonderful term to use to blame a group of people for the ills of society, and I might add for personal failure and petty jealously. You see it is far easier to blame “them” for problems than to take responsibility for treating others decently and maintaining our own humanity.
You see the terms “they” and “them” are terms used not just to divide, but to demonize. Mass movements love them, especially when using them against those of other races or religions. It does not matter if it is an unrequited White American Southern Christian who still to this day regrets losing the Civil War and that that allowed blacks to be granted equity under the law and finding redemption in the myth of the Lost Cause. It does not matter if it is the disappointed and disillusioned German Monarchist seeking to find answers for the loss of the First World War and finding them in the myth of the “Stab in the Back” which ensured that Jews, Socialists and others were blamed for the loss of that war, and finds his answers in the lies of Adolf Hitler. It does not matter if it is the pundits, politicians and preachers of the American political right who constantly blame blacks, gays, women, Moslems and immigrants for problems that they and their policies brought about.
None of this matters, but then it does. It does’t matter to the people who need scapegoats, or who need a “devil” in order to have meaning for themselves and the movements that they find their salvation in. No, not at all. Hoffer was quite correct that “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” The really successful leaders of such movements understand this. For Hitler it was the Jews and other untermenschen. For American Southerners of the Lost Cause it was the Blacks and their white supporters. For the “Know Nothings” of the 1840s and 1850s it was immigrants, especially Irish and Germans who were Catholic. For the leaders of the Islamic State, it is Jews, Shi’ite Moslems, less than “faithful” Sunnis, Christians and well for that matter anyone who does not line up one hundred percent with them on every issue. The examples are so plentiful to support this fact that it is almost overwhelming.
The problem is that when any of us lump others into the categories of They and Them, and in the process then demonize those people to the point that they become less than human we have reached a tipping point. We reach the point where we are just one crisis away from Jim Crow, pogroms, ethnic or religious cleansing, and even genocide.
Sadly, we human beings are not nearly as evolved as we think. In the movie Gettysburg Jeff Daniels playing the role of the amazing Colonel Joshua Chamberlain quotes Shakespeare’s Hamlet to an Irishman of the Twentieth Maine:
“What a piece of work is man, in form and movement how express and admirable. In action how like an angel.”
The Irishman, Sergeant Buster Kilrain replied: “Well, if he’s an angel, all right then. But he damn well must be a killer angel.”
Sadly that is the case all to often. Those that follow my writings on this site know how much I love the various Star Trek television series and movies. There is an episode (The Siege of AR-558) of Star Trek Deep Space Nine where the Ferengi bartender Quark, makes a truly astute observation during a battle for survival at an isolated outpost :
“Let me tell you something about Hew-mons, Nephew. They’re a wonderful, friendly people, as long as their bellies are full and their holosuites are working. But take away their creature comforts, deprive them of food, sleep, sonic showers, put their lives in jeopardy over an extended period of time and those same friendly, intelligent, wonderful people… will become as nasty and as violent as the most bloodthirsty Klingon. You don’t believe me? Look at those faces. Look in their eyes.”
I don’t think that we are too far from some tipping point where the Trinity of Evil, the politicians, pundits and preachers, especially of the political right and the media whores who are more concerned about market share than truth, decide that their “devils” must be exterminated. Of course when they will do they will claim a higher moral, religious, or racial, purpose; or perhaps use the language of Manifest Destiny, the Lost Cause, or the Stab in the Back or some other historical myth that suffices to justify their actions.
In a Star Trek the Next Generation episode, one called The Drumhead Captain Picard has to warn his security officer, Lt Worf about the dangers of rampant paranoia. Worf starts: “Sir, the Federation does have enemies. We must seek them out.”
Picard pauses and then notes:
“Oh, yes. That’s how it starts. But the road from legitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia is very much shorter than we think. Something is wrong here, Mister Worf. I don’t like what we have become.”
To claim Picard’s words for myself I have to admit that I don’t like what we have become either.