Mini-Feature: Where Hatred Grows

What is the most fertile soil for hatred? Fear, ignorance, jealousy, or something else entirely?

Envy, hands down. Most things we fear we do not envy, but things we envy instill us with a specific kind of fear. Ignorance really is bliss when it comes to those we would otherwise envy.

Now it’s really a close call when envy is stacked up against revulsion. People really get down to some powerful and primal hating when they encounter hideous monstrosities, especially ones that do not strike fear in them but rather an ultimate kind of nausea and a sense of sacred duty to eliminate the repulsive thing from the universe before it taints all things any more than it already has.

But! This hatred of the revolting, however potent, is harder to gin up than it seems. People or things really have to be true abominations against the most basic natural order to produce such violent existential hatred. Just being gross or uncouth or nasty or ugly is not enough. Faced with ordinary insults to their senses people reasonably enough just look, or perhaps run, away. If they are trapped in the intimate vicinity of the everyday disgusting, hatred may truly deepen and grow. But someone, ultimately, has trapped them there, and toward this person, unless they themselves are a cosmic-tier monstrosity, the imprisoned likely above all feel envy.

And the fact is that envy is something we are primed to feel every day, certainly not toward the rare hideous but toward the apparently handsome who we feel to make the rule. Of course we are apt to feel even more envy toward the really exemplary, in one sense, but in another, what gnaws most at our hearts is when those who we feel to be just like us enjoy a superior station and seem to savor superior satisfactions, even if that elevated position is a hair’s breadth from our own. Hateful circumstance! What could justify it? Nothing! What a crime this cosmos is! If only, if only…! These are stock thoughts for us, and our whole sense of what hatred is is bound inextricably up with them.

-James Poulos, executive editor of The American Mind


Hatred in the sense of personal enmity is likely due in large part to psychic chemistry. There is a premise that given any group of people, you will like one-third of them, feel neutrally about one-third of them, and dislike one-third of them. 

But if you iterate the process, the same results will occur. That is, you could take the third you dislike, apply the same formula, and wind up with third you like, a third you don't, and a third about whom you feel nothing.

That scenario implies a group of strangers, though. Hatred between acquaintances is probably due to repressed feelings of inferiority and the projection of unpleasant characteristics in oneself onto the other. Or jealousy. Or resentment. As the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. That's probably why most murders are intraracial and between people who know each other--it's some perverse way of enacting one's own self-hatred, perhaps.

Personal antipathy is one thing, but national hatreds are the real problem because they cause much more collateral damage. But even here we find similar issues of familiarity and identity. Consider the most entrenched and bitter national enmities, and pretend you have no understanding of the underlying "causes" for their disputes. Northern Irish Protestants and Catholics; Jews and Palestinians; Kashmir Hindus and Muslims; Rwandan Hutus and Tutsis, etc. Unless you know the history, the parties are basically indistinguishable to outsiders.

Which indicates that a lot of what we consider essential to self-identification is largely a pretty thin fiction.

-Seth Barron, managing editor of The American Mind


The best recipe for hatred is equal parts shame and recognition. We may dislike, condemn, or even pity failures in others when we love them and wish them to improve. But the violent antipathy that carries us far beyond reason or altruism—that is what we call hatred, and it has another source entirely.  

James is fond of quoting the cartoonist Walt Kelly: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Jesus was fond of asking, “How can you say, ‘brother, let me take the speck out of your eye’ when you fail to see the beam in your own eye?” Our own worst hatreds are also filtered through the nagging awareness of our own worst shortcomings. We hate when we see our sins reflected back at us in someone else. 

“Hatred has its pleasures,” wrote C.S. Lewis’s devil Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood. “It is therefore often the compensation by which a frightened man reimburses himself for the miseries of fear.... And Hatred is also a great anodyne for shame.” It makes no difference whether the person we hate really is contemptible. When we take pleasure in despising him, when we would rather he not improve so that we can go on despising, then our fury is more about ourselves feeling better by comparison, than about brutal honesty, which is how we usually justify it to ourselves. 

We humans tend to be very attached to this kind of hatred. We make up all sorts of reasons why it is actually a virtue. As I have been writing this I have thought of all sorts of people I hate—Gavin Newsom, for instance—and I have hemmed and hawed to myself about how my hatred is justified because he really is that bad. Maybe, but my enduring hatred of him wins me nothing except daily indignation, which is a cheap and sickly pleasure indeed. Perhaps as you’ve been reading you, too, have been making excuses for continuing to gnaw on hatreds of your own. A word of advice: stop that. 

-Spencer Klavan, associate editor of The American Mind