For as long as the human race has existed, there have been events of senseless violence and incomprehensible acts of cruelty we never like to imagine ourselves capable of. In our time, we have been witness to countless instances of brutality such as the atrocities faced by Jews and Palestinians, mass killings in Bosnia, attacks on the US during 9/11, the massacre in Rwanda, and an event that has defined who we Bangladeshis are today, the genocide during our Liberation War of ’71. These instances are not random, nor are they the result of temporary insanity- they are carefully planned and successfully implemented acts of murder, motivated by the single most hazardous human emotion, known as hate.
The dictionary definition of hate is, an intense, extreme hostility and aversion towards something or someone. This emotion is generally known to stem from fear, insecurity, anger, injury or a sense of injustice. We use hatred to cover a large range of feelings and circumstances starting from a child who hates doing his homework, to two leaders of opposing political parties exterminating civilians and crippling a country to settle personal scores, all the while claiming they are fighting for the “greater good of the nation.” What we must remember is that hatred is distinctively different from fear and anger and far more harmful.
There have been many attempts to explain this emotion. The limited research on this subject suggested that our ability to hate may actually be an adaptation to evolution. Hate made it easier for early humans to fight for food which was quite scarce at the time. Disturbingly enough, as life became easier over time through agriculture and technology, we were never really able to shed off this venomous urge and continued to squabble and deprive each other of resources which could easily be shared, thus compromising the peace (and sanity) of our race.
In 2008, an experiment was conducted in London which included 17 subjects who strongly hated someone (colleague, ex-wife etc). Their brains were mapped with an MRI scanner as they looked at photos of people they despised. Researchers noticed that two regions of the brain (putamen and insular cortex) would light up whenever they looked at the photos. Interestingly, these two regions also lit up when the subjects were shown photos of loved ones. As the putamen also prepares our bodies for movement, the researchers hypothesised that this area alerts the brain for action when protecting a loved one and to prepare for self-defense against attacks from those we hate.
While this research showed to an extent that the saying that love and hate are separated by a thin line, may be true, it also showed a distinct difference between these two complex emotions. When the subjects looked at a person s/he loved the areas of the frontal cortex, which is associated with judgment and critical thinking became more relaxed than usual but the sight of a hated person triggered an alarm in the brain which caused the frontal cortex to be on the alert. This shows that hatred involves a certain amount of reasoning on our part and isn’t just instinctive.
In Medieval times, it was so common to hate that there was a legal term for it-inimicitia (unfriendship) and this gave birth to a European custom called vendetta, which obligated generations of descendants to seek revenge, no matter how long it took, a custom, which spread to our part of the world where it seems, it is still popular today.
Although hatred has been condemned by many religions such as Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, it has not stopped even those who claim to be closest to God from committing heinous crimes in the name of faith. Haters rarely hate alone. They feel compelled to convince others to hate as they do. Political leaders, religious extremists and leaders of hate groups often tend to sow abhorrence into a group of followers by exploiting their needs, frustrations and insecurities. They convince them that the source of their problems is the rival party, who are trying to take away their rights or are a threat to their safety. The support from their followers often gives the hater a sense of self-worth and at the same time prevents introspection and self reflection which often reveal personal insecurities. Instigating others to commit hate crimes on their behalf also helps diminish accountability.
In modern times, it has become easier to exploit people through media and social networking websites, to promote hate and recruit new haters, keeping this culture alive and strong.
Psychologists perhaps do not research the subject of extreme hate as much as they should, treating it as just an emotion rather than a distortion of the psyche. Many mental health professionals tend to believe that hate is a short term condition that cures itself with time. Nevertheless, there are some forms of counseling that can help overcome deep- seated hatred. “Unfortunately, in most cases of profound hate, the two parties are never willing to come to an understanding,” says a psychotherapist who wishes to remain anonymous. “The key to overcoming hatred is understanding the person you hate, the way they think and feel, and that can be only be achieved through extensive dialogue over a long period of time, which requires willingness and dedication,” he explains. “If the two parties are stubborn and believe they alone know best, they are unlikely to ever come to an understanding. They must at least be willing to co-exist peacefully if not on friendly terms. I believe they are reluctant to do this because it will require a certain amount of self reflection during which they may realise they have held on to their anger for so long, they either do not even remember the reason they started hating in the first place, or discover that they do not feel as strongly about the reason as they once did. Hate is such an emotion that can destroy not only the haters but those around them as well,” he elaborates.
Research shows that hatred can also cause health problems such as high blood pressure, increasing heart rate and at times, can weaken the immune system and aggravate existing health issues.
People who are overcome with hate often do incomprehensible things such as defacing religious idols, torturing, and killing. Hate can also drive a head of state to claim in a speech to the public that the opposition leader is a “blood sucking witch.” Despite this, there are those who believe that hatred is not inherently evil. Some say it has the capacity to be used for good as well. Say for example, hatred directed toward a pitiless dictator or those who commit monstrous crimes against humanity can help create revolutionaries who will fight for justice. Therefore, intense aversion, when put to good use can be a positive tool for all of us.