It’s been said that all of us have our prejudices. Perhaps that’s true. But few of us gain pleasure or gratification from causing people physical pain, psychological torment, humiliation and fear for their lives just because they belong to a group we choose to persecute.
That sense of gratification from causing pain in others is called sadism. And it’s a principle characteristic of haters and their organizations. Those who gain satisfaction from hurting someone else have a psychopathology that’s a danger to everyone around them. And when a whole mob of people share those same feelings about a despised group to be victimized, the mob becomes a danger to all of us. Once hate is tolerated it spreads. And cruelty and hate are inseparable.
The Albuquerque Journal last week, in an informative and deeply disturbing piece by Rick Nathanson, reported that anti-Semitism is on the rise in New Mexico in 2016 and 2017. The 18 reported incidents so far, Nathanson wrote, included two bomb threats to Jewish community centers, “cyber threats of violence against Jews, anti-Semitic graffiti, an anti-Semitic radio broadcast in Santa Fe, and anti-Semitic bullying and slurs in schools,” according to Suki Halevi, New Mexico Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League.
It seems to me that the principal motive for these acts is to cause Jewish people pain in the form of intense insecurity and fear. The pleasure this brings anti-Semites is a moral sickness that has the menacing power of a contagion once let loose. It is driven by the same evil as sadistic acts of bullying, as drawing hangman nooses on the doors of African American students at UNM and enflaming fears of Jim Crow such as happened a few years ago, or as believing that the “only good Indian is a dead Indian” and acting upon it. It’s motivated by the same indifference or excitement at the torments of others as the prejudice aimed against Asians that runs deep in our culture since the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the first law to keep people of a particular ethnic background from entering our country. That was especially galling at the time since Chinese labor was instrumental in building transcontinental railroads so important to our national identity and economy.
The Chinese Exclusion Act, and its profound callousness and brutality, foresaw modern Islamaphobia and the detestation it spawns, the hatred of Mexicans who our President has branded as rapists and criminals despite Latin American immigrants contributing honorably in their millions to all aspects of our national life, including paying billions in local taxes.
This hatred, and the cruelty that comes with it as surely as burning coming with fire, is also at the rotten core of homophobia and misogyny and the immense suffering they bring, the horrible physical violence, the date rapes, the muggings, the snickering and sneering, the institutional prejudice that make women second-class citizens, the intimidations and brutishness that have stalked LGBT people for centuries.
Haters don’t inflict monstrous brutalities because they are forced to or because they have no other choice. They do what they do of their own volition and, I think, their own pleasure. I know there are people who will complain that I’m misusing the word sadism, a concept that was recently removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). But I can’t think of any other descriptive motivation for cruelty by an individual or on a group level. Cruelty of all sorts by individuals and hate groups against whole populations of people because of the identity and labels imposed upon them by the haters themselves is the ultimate form of mind f..king, whether by a whispering campaign or with a cudgel, it doesn’t matter.
Hating is on the fringes of the spectrum of political response and action. It is an extreme and certainly not a “necessary” component of aggressive and effective political action by those who feel that forces are working against their interests. Hate is not a mandatory political strategy. It is not even an optimum kind of political motivation. The insanity of sadism, induced by propaganda and peer pressure, or evolving in character, falls apart, flailing and futile in the end. But the damage it causes is incalculable.
Explanations for hate behavior abound. And so do questions. Are hate groups filled with people who gain pleasure from harming others? Or are they filled with people driven mad by peer pressure and a mob mentality to release into the world their worst and deepest sins? Some psychologists feel haters fear themselves, or don’t have enough compassion for themselves, or are using the easy distraction of hate to avoid dealing with their own problems and troubles in effective ways.
That may be true of people who are torn by prejudice but not to the point of the hateful infliction of pain on others. Most bigoted people, I think, keep their aversions to themselves, knowing they are shameful in the light of the moral code they were raised to embrace either religiously or Constitutionally.
But haters and hate groups are very different. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPL) estimates there are some 917 hate groups currently operating in the United States, ranging from neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and black separatists to anti-government “patriot” groups and white supremacists. These groups act as if they were in a war. And in a war, no holds are barred. Enemies are created to be hated and to be “defeated” by any means available.
There’s a case to be made that many members of President Trump’s inner circle fall to the level of advocating policies of hate – either Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, alt-right bullying and verbal terrorizing, white nationalism, Hispanophobia and the crudest kind of misogyny. The SPL has a thorough rundown on haters in the White House in an online exposé called “100 Days in Trump’s America.”
Psychology Today in March 2011 laid out the “Seven-Stage Hate Model” in a piece on the Psychopathology of Hate. It’s filled with frighteningly familiar definitions. Briefly it goes like this: 1. the haters gather; 2.the hate group defines itself; 3. the hate group disparages the target; 4. the hate group taunt the target; 5. the hate group attacks the target without weapons; 6. the hate group attacks the target with weapons (preferred are broken bottles, baseball bats, blunt objects, weapons that require the attacker to be close to the victim); 7. the hate group destroys the target. “The ultimate goal of haters is to destroy the object of their hate,” says Psychology Today.
The ultimate and perhaps universal result of hate is the infliction of some kind of pain. Can hate then legitimately be called a form of sadism? What’s the difference in not minding causing pain and in taking pleasure causing pain? For the victims, there’s no difference at all.
*Nullius in verba: take nobody’s word for it