Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Humans can hate objects, but not other humans

Do you hate someone? Have you ever really hated someone? How well did you know that person before you decided you hated him or her?

Yesterday, I read a fascinating analysis on the psychology of hatred. The subject is a bit complex, but the takeaway for me is that once we see the eyes of another, it's pretty hard to hate them. To hate another human, we have to make them less than humans in our minds.

All human beings want love. They need companionship and shelter. We see someone cry and we can empathize with them. We hear someone laugh and we laugh with them. One person yawns in a quiet classroom and everyone yawns with him. We all know that in some way that we are connected.

To hate someone, we must ignore that connection. To hate someone, we reduce the human that we think we know, into an object. In short, hatred is objectification. There is no other way I can see for one human to dehumanize another. Unless we perceive another human as an object, someone who is less than human - less feeling, less thinking, less empathy for how we feel - we cannot hate them.

In a past life, I was an investigator for people in trouble with the IRS and the Franchise Tax Board in California. I worked with people who hated the IRS and wanted nothing more than escape from their very clutches. My job was to use the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act to help uncover what was going on behind the scenes of these two agencies.

I worked directly with disclosure officers, people responsible for answering my requests and determining if there was merit to them. They ensured that the disclosures they made followed the laws. While working with the IRS, I learned that I might not like what they do, but I could not come to hate them. I began to see that they were people who just wanted to go to sleep at night knowing they did the right thing. I had compassion for them.

I developed this compassion by developing a professional relationship with each of them. I talked with them and learned what they liked about their job. One disclosure officer said that I should not move to Sacramento if I were considering it. It was a dust bowl to him. In addition to that, he seemed to have really bad luck at his residence. First someone drove their truck off the street into his living room. Then the next year, a tree fell onto his house. He was thinking of moving. All of this was volunteered information because I went into it with an open mind. I was willing to see their human side.

There is a lot of talk about class warfare in politics these days. Any kind of war is wrong and it doesn't really matter who started it. Nobody ever really wins a war. But in order to foment a war, a common enemy has to be identified. In recent months, some very wealthy people have complained that they are being singled out. Tom Perkins has likened the Occupy movement against the 1% to the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis. Lately, it seems that the wealthy are really, really unhappy about how they're being perceived.

I suppose that if I had crashed the economy with dubious business practices, made out like a bandit with a few government bailouts, and continue to make more money during a very difficult recession for everyone else, I could expect the perception that greets me now. But that series of events seems to come as a result of the perceptions of the affluent about the rest of us.

I note with interest that Gore Vidal and Chris Hedges, two well known authors and writers, who have spent time with the very wealthy have a lot to pass on about this subject. They have seen first hand, the contempt that very wealthy people can have for others less fortunate.

They are not the only ones to notice, either. We see it in Congress, open, unadulterated contempt for the poor, the disadvantaged and it doesn't stop there. We see in Conservative television and newspaper commentary. The most interesting part of the phenomenon is the language that is used. The people being so denigrated by the media, by the so-called leaders of the right, have reduced the people they have castigated...to nouns. Objects. Mindless beings who will only reproduce and multiply if they are not stopped now.

I have noted before in previous articles that the Conservative agenda is not about creating jobs. If that were true, now that we are hip-deep in neoliberal economics, we'd have full employment with unemployment well below 5%. But that's not what is happening. What I see of the conservative agenda is an effort to create distance. They hate the rest of us, and we mirror them, so they want more distance, psychologically and physically.

They created distance with a super punitive justice that has captured more people in prison than any other justice system in the world. They bail themselves out when they make mistakes, but when the rest of us make mistakes, they cut unemployment, food stamps and other social programs to get everyone focused on one thing: working for them. Whatever it is that "they" do, they are still humans who want love and probably can't fully explain how they came into so much money. But here we are.

Until both sides see each other as humans rather than just "the 1%" or "the Occupy Movement", I doubt either side will gain very much traction. It's clear that the 1% have an economic advantage, but in order to maintain that advantage, they need the consent of the rest of us. To get that consent, they will have to set aside their contempt and see the rest of us as humans. Just as we must see them as humans, too.
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