Why Hatred is More Complex and Troubling Than We Realize

Why do bad people do bad things? The easy answer is “They’re bad people.” Someone once posted a pie chart of the reasons for the American Civil War. The majority said, “Slavery.” The other little slice? “Slavery.” The person who posted it commented, “Just in case any of you [expletive deleted] still think the Civil War was about anything but slavery.”

According to this view, an entire section of the U.S.A. was populated by sacks of hate. They loved slavery for slavery’s sake and would kill anyone who tried to take it from them.

But that’s the easy answer. And it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

The truth is much harder and more horrifying. Confederates didn’t wake up and say in their hearts, “How can I ruin black lives today? I know! Slavery!” They said, “How can I make life better for me today? I know! Slavery!” Slavery wasn’t some fun hobby. It was an evil that was justified so that a class of people could live in opulence and status.

That’s not hate. That’s love, self-love. And it’s much scarier.

Gunning for Glory

Why did that man kill those people in El Paso? So far, the answer seems like an easy one: racism. He wanted to kill Mexicans because he feared they were “invading.” (source)

But hatred is the fuel, not the engine. The engine was self. He didn’t kill Mexicans merely because he enjoyed it. He killed Mexicans because he was terrified of them. Some sources say he adhered to the White Genocide Conspiracy Theory that Hispanics were “replacing” whites. (source) They were a threat to his Glorious Self.

What’s a Glorious Self? It’s the golden idol that says “You are more special than anybody. Your race, your class, your gender, your religion, your ideas, they’re all superior to other contenders, not because they’re so good, but because you’re so good.”

Yes, it is hatred on the surface, but the surface is not the whole picture. Dig deeper and the answer is love of the Glorious Self.

Why, you ask? Why is hatred the disguise for self-love rather than self-love being the mask for hate? Let’s look at a little more history.

Patterns of Evil

What do you think of when I say, “Whites siccing dogs on blacks; whites using fire hoses to knock black crowds over; white cops arresting blacks left and right for no discernible reason?”

I bet you answered, “The Civil Rights Movement.” Why? Why not the 1910s? Why don’t we picture whites shooting fire hoses at black jazz bands in the roaring 20s? Those things might have happened, but they happened a lot more in the Civil Rights Movement. Why is hate oddly clustered at certain points of history?

Because certain points in history threaten the status quo’s Glorious Self more than others. When blacks mobilized to demand the love and equality they were due, it made many whites think, “They can’t have that! It’s mine!” Selfishness, the desire to be superior, opened the floodgates of hate.

If hatred was automatic, if some people were just evil for evil’s sake, it would be a lot more random, a lot more dispersed across time and demographics. Did the El Paso shooting occur in 1999? No, it occurred in 2019, when one man felt his Glorious Self being threatened.

Obviously, there are other mitigating factors: encouragement, desensitivity, bad beliefs, mental health, the list goes on forever, but they’re the incentives, not the reasons. Anyone with full control of his body does evil things because he perceives, real or not, justified or not, a threat to his Self.

But the thing about the Self is…we all have one.

You. Me. Them. Us.

This is why we love easy answers. “He’s a racist.” “She’s a psycho.” Those things might be true, but the underlying idea of, “They were born that way and have no choice but to be evil,” is not.

Oh, it’s a comforting idea. If some people are just born bad, you don’t have to go through the hard task of loving them, seeing the potential good in them, hoping that they redeem themselves somehow. What’s more, if some people are just born evil, then some people are just born good, too, right? And if you’re not doing any really bad things…then you must be one of them!

Alas, when you pick the reasoning apart, when you look at the real world, human beings are far more complicated. Hatred doesn’t spring from nowhere. It springs from the Glorious Self.

And every one of us has a Glorious Self, a glittering idol with our faces on it. The only difference between good people and bad ones is how much incense we offer on its altar.

I fear this message will be despised. It implies that every one of us could be a shooter, a slave owner, a demon. As a white man, I often hear other whites acting like the white men who eliminated the Native Americans were just Neanderthals. “I would never have done that.” But we say this with a modern context. Back then, when such things were normalized, would you or I have acted differently? Perhaps, perhaps not. The point is we can’t hide behind our own goodness because it is not an automatic, it’s something we had to cultivate.

We’re all human, which means we all have the capacity for selfishness, which means we all have the capacity to perform terrible acts of hatred.

No Excuses

Hear me clearly: human weakness is no excuse for injustice. I am not saying, “The El Paso shooter is just human, so let’s all just let him off the hook.” To quote my late aunt, “Not just no, but HELL no!” That man did a horrid, malicious, bigoted thing and must be brought to task for it.

But this is not hatred; this is justice. Love is not the absence of justice, it’s the backbone of justice. It’s saying, “You are to be punished because you did this or that,” not “You are to be punished because I’m angry and want to destroy you.”

We think loving the hateful is being soft on them, but love and firmness do go hand in hand. A battered wife can love her husband and call the cops on him at the same time. A Christian can love a Muslim without agreeing with them on any point.

Why? Because true love is realizing the other person is not an automaton, a machine that cranks out ideologies, actions, or of course, hate. They’re a human being with a complex web of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual factors, all of them tied to a Self that is either Glorious or Humble, and it can change on a minute-to-minute basis.

Love is not accepting wrong or excusing it; it’s accepting that the humanity in them is just as difficult to categorize as the humanity inside you.

The End of Hate

You are not an evil meatsack pumped full of hatred. You have a Self, and a tendency to glorify it, but you know what else? You have a pull towards goodness. I call it God, you might call it conscience, but the point is you’re a human, able to do good or evil. I beg you to choose good today.

I know it’s hard to do, to even think about. I mean, saying you should hate no one means you can’t even hate those who deserve it most, like racist murderers. Wouldn’t it be justified this one time to whittle him down to an inhuman target to be destroyed by pen or sword?

I understand, and your emotions are completely valid. I only ask you not to give them lordship of your life, but rather to consider this: that mass-shooter in El Paso, did he see his victims as humans? Did he consider them complex creatures of varying personalities? No, he saw them all under one label: threat. Threats that had to be eliminated, not loved.

Do we really want to take our cues from him?

Only when we see how vile we can be will we take every possible step to make sure we never are. Only then will hatred end.


3 thoughts on “Why Hatred is More Complex and Troubling Than We Realize

  1. Wow. Some powerful thoughts. This actually helped to reflect on some events in my own past. It has been a few months and I cannot reconcile myself to make sense of “how can people do such things against others?” And yet, I saw that it was just that easy. It is this Glorious Self. They weren’t against anyone. The Glorious Self is just the most deserving of the biggest piece of the pie even if others starve. Especially when it comes to racism, sometimes I feel like people are not getting any closer to identifying with other cultures more than going to an Indian or Mexican restaurant.


  2. Interesting post, Michael. Thanks for sharing your insights on this challenging subject. I agree it’s easy to blame some other devil when the devil is really just us looking out for our own interests. While I do think some people—because I’ve met them—are evil to the core, I agree that isn’t the case for the big majority of us. We get up every day with a choice to do good or not to do good. To lift up or to destroy. You’re spot on, I think, when you say that selfishness–or self-interest—is at the core of what motivates us to certain things, just as selflessness or the desire to do something for others–motivates us to put the needs of someone else ahead of our own. Good read. Thanks for posting. Lots to think about and unpack.


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