There is a car in the parking lot outside my workplace that bears a bumper sticker that says “Fight Hate.” I presume the owner of this automobile is one of those sanctimonious simpletons who imagine that this is primarily a fight between social factions, between white hats and black hats, between angels and devils. If I haven’t met the owner of this automobile, I have met many like him, sweet and sanctimonious simpletons for whom hate is an shameful psychosis that that afflicts other people.
I take hate to be a profound sense of injury and a profound thirst for revenge, and I accept that hate is a natural human emotion. Like every emotion, hate must be curbed round with self-control and social sanctions, but there is no escaping hate, and those who claim to have done so are liars.
Have you ever smashed your thumb with a hammer, and then thrown that hammer on the ground with a curse? If you are not the hammering kind, insert whatever tool you please. That sudden and rather ridiculous flash of anger was hate. You sensed an injury and you slaked your thirst for revenge by throwing the hammer on the ground. Humans differ only in the drama with which they express such flashes of hate.
I mention this example of hammer and thumb only to indicate the ubiquity of hate. In one of his short stories, Evelyn Waugh tells of a man named John Verney who had an acute sense of injury and a powerful but repressed thirst for revenge.
“In all the annoyances of army life that others dismissed with an oath and a shrug, John Verney’s eyelids drooped wearily, a tiny grenade of hate exploded and the fragments rang and ricocheted round the steel walls of his mind.”*
I believe every honest man will appreciate this metaphor of a “tiny grenade,” and my experience with women suggests that their grenades are not always tiny. But these tiny grenades do not make John Verney into John Verney. What makes John Verney into John Verney is the “steel walls of his mind.” These steel walls close the mind of John Verney, but not, I hasten to add, in the way that many sanctimonious simpletons may suppose. These steel walls aggravate the damage by confining the blast.
Here is Waugh describing Verney’s flaring hate with another striking metaphor. You will see that Waugh once again emphasizes Verney’s dangerous capacity for containment, and also that he lays his finger on the root causes of Verney’s hate.
“During the war he passed among those he served with as a phlegmatic fellow. He did not have his good or his bad days; they were all uniformly good or bad; good in that he did what had to be done. . . . . bad from the intermittent, invisible sheet-lightening of hate which flashed and flickered deep inside him at every obstruction or reverse.”
Every human has a will, and every will wishes to have its way. When your will is blocked by obstruction, or thrown back by opposition, you naturally feel a profound sense of injury and a profound thirst to assert your right to have your way. This, as we will shortly see, is the root meaning of the word revenge.
We should first observe that injury is properly a moral rather than a medical term. We certainly use the word injury when we mean wound, but the root meaning of this word is “wrong” or a negation of what is right. The roots jur and jus have an identical meaning, so that injury and injustice are one and the same thing. This is evident when we consider that, in our legal system, justice is ultimately in the hands of jurors, or that the highest legal degree is the Doctor of Jurisprudence.
Thus we can say that a man begins to hate when he senses that his will has been thwarted unjustly, and that his consequent thirst for revenge is really a thirst for justice. This becomes clearer when we recognize that a thirst for revenge normally disappears when a man sees that he was not injured, but was instead wounded by accident or justly punished for his own misdeeds. Hate is an enduring sense of injury, a sense that one has suffered intentional harm that one has in no way deserved.
This sense of injury may be groundless, but there is no doubt that people are often injured, which means intentionally harmed in ways they do not deserve. The will of man is thwarted by accidental wounds, just punishments, and unjust injuries. And in the last instance, it is sheer immorality to condemn his cry for justice by condemning “hate.”
In fact, you cannot be “for justice” and “against hate” because, as I have just argued, hate is the natural human response to a sense of injury or injustice. Injury is a moral category and hate is a moral emotion. It is, to be sure, a primitive emotion that must be kept on a very short leash, but to “fight hate” as such is to fight our natural instinct for justice. Justice is not opposed to “hate.” It is opposed to hating the wrong things in the wrong ways at the wrong times.
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This obviously creates a difficult quandry for Christians who claim that they are working for justice and loving their enemies at the same time. The most common solution to the quandry is expressed this way:
“Hate the sin but not the sinner.”
While this formula may have some practical utility, it also seems to propose a separation of ego and action that is gnostic rather than Christian. On the Christian understanding, an unrepentant sinner is his sin. His sin is not an accident that we can choose to overlook, as we might choose to overlook his unfortunate taste in socks. So long as he regards it as no sin, it has entered into his essence and he has no being separate from that sin. Christians of course believe that the sinner can repent and extrude this sin from his essential being, but until he does this, others cannot do the extruding for him. He is what he is, and he is what he does—and if what he does is injure others, we would seem to have a duty to hate him.
I welcome solutions to this quandry, but will not accept the gnostic solution and will not pretend that the quandry does not exist.
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In addition to the sense of injury (a.k.a. injustice), hate entails a thirst for revenge. In many instances this is the impetuous revenge that “lashes out” with a blow or an insult. The great objection to impetuous revenge is not that it is revenge, but that the impetuosity precludes examination of the injury to see whether it is, in fact, an accidental wound, a justified punishment, or a true injury. A second objection is that impetuous revenge tends to be disproportionate to the injury, even when the injury is a true injury. But I find it impossible to believe that there is anything wrong with revenge as such.
The word revenge means at root to assert a claim or righ. If you have, for instance, injured my reputation by spreading the false and vile rumor that I am a uniquely bad man, I am right to assert my claim to a good reputation by taking revenge on you. I may, of course, do this in a injurious or disproportionate manner, and that would be wrong, but to oppose my thirst for revenge is to oppose my thirst for justice.
There is no real difference between revenge, reparation and restitution, since all describe the means by which justice is restored and injury is made right. If you steal my bicycle and I assert my claim and ask for its return, I am taking revenge for an injury. And this is no less true if I assert my claim in a way that causes a justified about of embarrassment, inconvenience and discomfort for you.
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We should, of course, “fight hate” that is unjustified. We should recognize that hate is a primitive emotion that is easily corrupted by egotism. We should be aware of our tendency to magnify injuries and mete out disproportionate revenge. Justice demands all of these things. Beyond simple justice, we should also temper our hate with a good dose of mercy, tolerance and forbearance.
But we should not “fight hate” as such, because there can be no justice where there is no hate.
*) “Tactical Exercise” (1947)