Hate is the New Sex
It occurred to me the other day that there’s a curious disconnect between one of the most common assumptions most of us make about how to make the world better, on the one hand, and the results that this assumption has had when put into practice, on the other. It’s reminiscent of the realization that led James Hillman and Michael Ventura to title a once-notorious book of theirs We’ve Had A Hundred Years Of Psychotherapy And The World’s Getting Worse. In this case as in that one, something that’s supposed to make things better doesn’t seem to be doing the trick—in fact, quite the opposite—and it’s time that we talked about that.
You know the assumption I have in mind, dear reader. It’s the conviction that certain common human emotions are evil and harmful and wrong, and the way to make a better world is to get rid of them in one way or another. That belief is taken for granted throughout the industrial societies of the modern West, and it’s been welded in place for a very long time, though—as we’ll see in a moment—the particular emotions so labeled have varied from time to time. Just now, of course, the emotion at the center of this particular rogue’s gallery is hate.
These days hate has roughly the same role in popular culture that original sin has in traditional Christian theology. If you want to slap the worst imaginable label on an organization, you call it a hate group. If you want to push a category of discourse straight into the realm of the utterly unacceptable, you call it hate speech. If you’re speaking in public and you want to be sure that everyone in the crowd will beam approval at you, all you have to do is denounce hate.
At the far end of this sort of rhetoric, you get the meretricious slogan used by Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful presidential campaign last year: LOVE TRUMPS HATE. I hope that none of my readers are under the illusion that Clinton’s partisans were primarily motivated by love, except in the sense of Clinton’s love for power and the Democrats’ love for the privileges and payouts they could expect from four more years of control of the White House; and of course Trump and the Republicans were head over heels in love with the same things. The fact that Clinton’s marketing flacks and focus groups thought that the slogan just quoted would have an impact on the election, though, shows just how pervasive the assumption I’m discussing has become in our culture.
Now of course most people these days, when confronted with the sort of things I’ve just written, are likely to respond, “Wait, are you saying that hate is good?”—as though the only alternatives available are condemning something as absolutely bad or praising it as absolutely good. Let’s set that simplistic reaction to one side for the moment, and ask a different question: what happens when people decide that some common human emotion is evil and harmful and wrong, and decide that the way to make a better world is to get rid of it?
As it turns out, we have a very good idea what happens in this case, because a first-rate example of the phenomenon finally completed its historical trajectory on the edge of living memory. The example I have in mind is the attitude, prevalent in the English-speaking world from the middle of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth, that sex was the root of all evil.
The Victorian horror of sexual desire has been mocked so mercilessly in recent decades, and not without reason, that a lot of people these days have apparently forgotten just how seriously it was taken at the time. During its heyday, people in Britain and America loudly proclaimed exactly the same attitudes toward sex that their great-grandchildren now display toward hate. If you wanted to define anything as utterly beyond the pale, you just had to label it as “immoral”—in the jargon of the time, this meant “sexual”—and the vast majority of people were expected to recoil from it in horror. No political campaign back in the day, as far as I know, used the slogan PURITY TRUMPS IMMORALITY, but then political sloganeering hadn’t yet decayed into the kind of empty mouthing of buzzwords on display at present. The sentiment was certainly there.
Continue reading at first link above.