The Psychology of Hate

The Psychology of Hate

The Psychology of Hate

Behavior Expert Patrick Wanis PhD answers questions about the psychology of hate following The Unite the Right rally (also known as the Charlottesville rally) August 11-12, 2017. Also read his other article “The Psychology of Hatred ” 

1. Emotions have a positive intention
Every emotion that we have has a positive intention when used appropriately and in the right proportion!  We developed anger, aggression and hatred as a means of survival – to protect ourselves from predators. Of course, we choose love. However, we need anger to protect ourselves in certain siutations. If we removed anger and hatred how would we protect ourselves from all types of predators?

So for example, if there was someone in your group, someone in your family, that was being attacked and you needed to protect them, you would need anger, aggression and hatred. You couldn’t protect someone that’s being attacked, assaulted or raped unless you have enough anger and hatred to protect them from the attacker.

The Nazis hated the Jews, and when the Allies fought the Nazis, they did so with love for humanity and hatred for the evil acts and hatred for the Nazis. You can’t kill someone and say, ‘I had no hatred towards them.’

The above two examples create 2 distinctions – using anger and aggression for individual survival is different to premeditated hate towards a group.

Hate can lead to heroic acts or evil deeds.

We give medals to people who fight in wars and kill the enemy to protect us. They don’t and can’t do this without the very emotion we wish to eradicate – hate!

Hatred and love share two common brain structures!  A Study in 2008 found that “The ‘hate circuit’ is distinct from those related to emotions such as fear, threat and danger – although it shares a part of the brain associated with aggression. The circuit is also quite distinct from that associated with romantic love, though it shares at least two common structures with it.” N.B. This study focused on hatred for an individual (such as an ex lover or partner), not hatred towards a group, so the findings relate to hatred towards someone who has wronged you versus hatred towards a group whom you may fear, resent or hold in contempt.

2. We all have the capacity to commit both good and evil
This is probably the one that’s more controversial and very hard for people to accept, we all have the capacity to commit both good and evil; when placed in the specific situation we can all commit acts of evil. We can all do things that we say are not within our character. Whether we look at what happened at Abu Ghraib, whether we look at any cases of torture, any cases of genocide, they weren’t done by one particular person, one particular type. They were committed by Americans, by Europeans, they were committed by Germans, they were committed by white people, by black people, and they have been committed throughout history. So unfortunately, we do all have the capacity to commit both good and evil.

“Why do people join hate groups?”
– Freud’s warning about hidden unconscious drives of aggression

Hate, possibly also has an evolutionary explanation in the sense that again we needed that emotion to protect ourselves, to protect ourselves from being attacked.

Having said that, Sigmund Freud identified what he called irrational subconscious forces or unconscious forces. And he specifically pointed to aggression and libidinal forces. With the latter, he wasn’t talking so much about sex as he was about the lust, a desire.

I wrote an article and recorded a video, comparing the political strategies that Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler used for their rise to power, and they were identical political strategies.  And these are what were first identified by Sigmund Freud, and later demonstrated by a an Iowa teacher, Jane Elliot in 1968.

So what Freud presented was what we now refer to as  “In-group and Out-group.” That means we establish for ourselves a tribe and we say this is the tribe, this is the ‘in-group’, this is the group for which I have a love, and with whom I identify and they are the characteristics of XYZ.

So my positive emotions are directed towards the in-group. The in-group is determined by me. I can say my in-group is white people, black people, conservative, Democratic, Republican, left-right, interested in sport or interested in this or not interested in that.

And so then I create these characteristics that become my tribe or it becomes my in-group. Then if I start to feel threatened in any way, my in-group unites against the out-group. The out-group is anyone that we or I perceive to be different or a potential threat.

And this teacher Jane Elliot, in 1968, conducted a study the day after Martin Luther King was murdered and she got a group of 7-year old students together in the classroom. And she showed them how easy it is to create the in-group in and the out-group, to have hatred for people that are different. And she did it by putting the students together and grouping them with blue eyes and brown eyes. And she showed how easily it is for suddenly the people who have blue eyes if they’re guided, led and taught, they will discriminate and believe ‘we’re superior, and the people with brown eyes are inferior’ – and vice versa.

Why do people join a hate group?
One reason is that they believe that their tribe, their people, their in-group is being threatened, that the survival of that group is being threatened or that it’s being harmed, or that it’s now powerless. So we will respond to threats and feelings of powerlessness, by fighting for the in-group against anyone that we perceive or deemed to be an outsider.

Steps to generating hate
There are a number of factors and there are various researchers that have identified various steps. One of my colleagues Dr. Philip Zimbardo, who’s written a lot about the psychology of evil which is also different than the psychology of hate, says you’ve got to take that first step whatever that first step is. And then you have to begin to dehumanize others, you make yourself anonymous, you form part of this big group, you forego any personal responsibility and now you have a blind obedience to authority. Listen to my interview and conversation with Dr. Philip Zimbardo about good and evil –  The Evil In All Of Us – Virginia Tech Massacre, Holocaust, Abu Ghraib Prison, Idi Amin and Saddam Hussein

The tipping point to hate and hatred – Permission
If we’re looking for one answer to explain why people join a hate group, I would say it’s the permission.

The turning point is the permission to express hate and hatred.

That simply means ‘I am being given permission to do this by whomever.’

It’s not just an individual choice; yes, I can give myself permission to do anything I want. But what about if there is a perceived larger permission or a societal permission? What about if suddenly I believe that it is okay – I’m authorized, I’m permitted to join this group and start spreading hate or separation or trying to gather people together to attack the target of outsiders?

When I wrote the article about the comparison of the strategies by Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler for their rise to power, I also explored identity – we each have an individual identity; yes, we form a tribe.

Once though we start to gather together, we lose our individual identity; our identity becomes part of the mass identity.
We now displace our moral center of consciousness, we hand over our power to a charismatic leader, we now say, ‘I’m going to devote myself to this leader, I’m going to create love for the leader and what the leader stands for.’

Perhaps the leader stands for a country, or a group. ‘And now I’m going to build aggression and hatred towards the outsiders who are threatening our survival and our power.’

I wrote the article in March 2016, and notice the words and phrases that the White Supremacists used. Note first that The Unite the Right rally (also known as the Charlottesville rally) also featured signs of Trump/Pence as a display of devotion to their leader.

“You will not replace us! “
“Jews will not replace us!”

The turning point is permission to form this group and to create to start to publicize the hatred, to make it known.

The Unite the Right rally (also known as the Charlottesville rally – August, 2017 USA)

The turning point must be preceded by helplessness or powerlessness
‘I feel helpless because I believe my group is being threatened and I feel powerless, and yet the permission and the gathering of the people have empowered me now to promote and express the hatred.’

And remember, too, that we will often tend to go with the group, whoever the group is. So whether it’s white supremacists or even the Black Panthers, if I believe that it is okay to join this group, and I’m being accepted by the group, now I also have a new identity, and I have a new purpose – right or wrong is irrelevant.

Permission Granted – Social media
People can also receive permission to join a hate group through social media.
Social media has a lot of power.

A movement begins with two people, not one.
There is a viral video from a music festival in 2009 that demonstrates this. detailed explanation and voice over by Derek Sivers –

A person goes out and starts dancing in front of hundreds of people. He hasn’t begun the movement, the moment the second person goes and joins them then people will follow. It just takes the second person. Within a matter of less than 19 seconds, the second person joins in dancing, then within another 60 seconds, 20 more people join the dance. Within another 20 seconds, the entire crowd has run down the hill to join in the dancing.

So if someone already has a thought in their mind such as ‘I hate this particular group’, then they go on social media and someone has articulated in writing or video their thoughts and beliefs, then that person becomes emboldened: I can see it. And maybe I can hear it now; I feel yes, I feel safer, I feel emboldened or empowered to go-ahead and take that step and become part of this group or support this group or start to state my feelings.’

Remember, too, we are not necessarily talking about rational forces, we’re talking about irrational forces – even though I did also say hatred could be part of evolutionary psychology in the sense of it might have evolved to protect us from the threats, to protect us from the animals or other predators that might attack us.
And yet we can also use it against ourselves, against humans.

Does watching video footage of the Charlottesville protest and violence make people commit more evil?
Yes and no.

Watching the video of the occurrences or the events of Charlottesville doesn’t mean I’m going to become evil; it means it’s going to force me to consider “With whom do I identify?”

Do I identify with the predator or do I identify with the victim? With whom am I identifying?

If I identify with the person and I say I belong to that white supremacy group or I look at them and I say I believe in what they believe, I relate to that person for whatever is going on in my individual life I might feel that I lost my job and it was taken by an immigrant or I lost my job and it was taken by a black person. Or I’m suffering in my life and I’m already in a victim mode so I have to find someone to blame. When I look at this white supremacy group I might think, ‘Oh maybe they have the answer, maybe my bad life is the result of other people’s actions.’

So I’m identifying with the predator, the perpetrator, the persecutor. If though, I’m a person that already has-been developing self-compassion, acceptance for others, equality, understanding, forgiveness, etc., then I’ll identify with the victim. So a lot of it depends on where am I in my life: What is my consciousness? What is my mindset?

And I also believe if people already have a purpose and they have a greater meaning in their life than hurting others, there’s less chance that they’re going to identify with people that are committing evil.

Hatred can often, is often driven by fear because ‘I’m afraid that I’ve lost my power or I’m afraid that I’m helpless or I’m afraid that I’m under threat or my survival is under threat.’ So a lot of the hatred is driven by fear.

Do we have people that engage in hate because it’s projection?
Projection is ‘I am condemning something that you’re doing that I actually hate within myself.’ That was what Josh Duggar – he went out and was condemning infidelity and condemning pedophilia and yet he was engaging in infidelity and pedophilia himself. So that’s what we call projection where you are publicly condemning something that you already know exists in yourself and you can’t accept it and you hate it within yourself so you project it onto others.
Can projection be part of hatred?

Is fear of the unknown another motivating factor?
Yes. If I’ve never been exposed to a white person, a black person or an Asian person, and because they look different to me, my brain can respond with fear. The amygdala in our brain is our alarm. It’s an alarm that says there’s a danger, there’s imminent threat here. We often feel threatened by the unknown, by the different.

Children don’t see that because if children are exposed to black and white and different religions at a young age, then they tend to become more accepting because they see beyond the superficial. They connect at different levels or connect by playing, by laughter etc.

The more that we get exposed to other ideas, other types of people, other cultures, the more accepting we can become as long as those other cultures don’t threaten us or try to change us.
And I think that this is a cycle and I think this is one of the main reasons that we have additionally so many problems, is that you can have lots of different cultures intermixing as long as one culture isn’t trying to change the other.

White Supremacy or White Nationalism?
The concept of white supremacy goes back to the Aryan or Hitler’s era, whites believed they were superior to everyone else. If, though, we talk about white nationalism, then they’re saying that this country actually belongs to white people. ‘We’re not saying that the whites are superior, we’re saying that the whites have ownership.’

Wikipedia defines white nationalism as the movement that “seek to ensure the survival of the white race, and the cultures of historically white states. They hold that white people should maintain their majority in majority-white countries, maintain their political and economic dominance, and that their cultures should be foremost.”
If we talk about nationalism, we’re saying, ‘this is our nation, we have ownership, we have dominion, we have power, we have authority over this. Of course, if we go down that path of saying, “Well, to whom does the country belong?”, we go back to the original argument which is, well the country actually belongs to the Native Americans, to the American Indians.

Is Donald Trump giving permission to hate groups?
People are now criticizing President Donald Trump for saying that there were “fine people on both sides” at the Charlottesville rally. Trump has now been labeled as a Neo-Nazi sympathizer.

“There are no good Nazis. Or Klansmen, or terrorists.”
– James Murdoch, chief executive of 21st Century Fox and son of Donald Trump ally Rupert Murdoch. August 17, 2017

What was the primary drive or the emotional drive in Donald Trump’s campaign?

There was a lot of anger and there was a lot of hatred. So if there’s anger and hatred in the actual presidential campaign, then that is a way of saying to people that it’s okay to express anger and hatred. So even if Trump argues and says, ‘well look I’m not promoting nationalism or white supremacy’, okay you’re not, however if you’re promoting anger, hatred, aggression, acts of violence, then you are indirectly saying to society, ‘I the embodiment of this country, the most powerful man in this country, am doing this, so therefore, I’m also saying to you it’s okay.’

You’ll recall that in the beginning I compared the strategies that Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler used: raising your hand, giving an oath to vote for Donald Trump, believing in him, expressing your love and devotion to him, making him the charismatic leader and then expressing very overt, very blatant, very clear hatred, aggression, passionate dislike for anyone deemed to be an outsider – the Mexicans, the Chinese, the immigrants, the Muslims whichever groups that they identified. So whether that was his direct intention or not, he has created that culture and he’s been tilling the land, fertilizing that sentiment, that emotion.

Also read Patrick Wanis’ other article “The Psychology of Hatred “

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