10/16/2015 11:06 EDT | Updated 10/16/2016 05:12 EDT

Understanding Hate Groups and Haters

New journeys often create surprises. Over the last few months, as I've gotten increasingly stuck on issues of Islamophobia and the fringe, extremist xenophobia in the Muslim world, this journey has been true to form. I've been struck by both the similarities between the two hate camps and their sheer resilience.

Spencer Platt via Getty Images
PULASKI, TN - JULY 11: A member of the Fraternal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan participates in the 11th Annual Nathan Bedford Forrest Birthday march July 11, 2009 in Pulaski, Tennessee. With a poor economy and the first African-American president in office, there has been a rise in extremist activity in many parts of America. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2008 the number of hate groups rose to 926, up 4 percent from 2007, and 54 percent since 2000. Nathan Bedford Forrest was a lieutenant general in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War and played a role in the postwar establishment of the first Ku Klux Klan organization opposing the reconstruction era in the South. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

New journeys often create surprises. Over the last few months, as I've gotten increasingly stuck on issues of Islamophobia and the fringe, extremist xenophobia in the Muslim world, this journey has been true to form. I've been struck by both the similarities between the two hate camps and their sheer resilience.

My recent experiences with such haters (for that is the right word) fuelled my further research. And surprise surprise, I learned that the methods used by these hate camps are curiously similar to those used by many of their hate camp brethren across the world.

As with other symbiotic hate relationships, Islamophobes and Muslim extremist xenophobes share a spectacular commitment to seeing the "other," in the worst possible light. They employ double standards in assessing their group and the other. They both purposefully ignore huge chunks of history and sacred (secular or religious) texts. And that which they don't ignore, they spin in the most surreal fashion. Select events or statements are taken out of context, hideously re-wrapped and repackaged and distributed as "proof."

In their narratives and analysis, both hate groups dehumanize the ordinary men, women and children who constitute the "other" while rolling out self-fulfilling prophecies by fueling a vicious cycle of threat and counter-threat, attack and counter-attack. Am I saying that they conspire to feed each other? Do they brainstorm on a weekly basis at a mutually convenient Starbucks? No, definitely not, but they sure need each other.

So why do they do this? Why do they frame reality in such a skewed fashion? Why would somebody choose to dehumanize other folk, make an effort to ignore all of their good (to the extent of even misrepresenting some of that good as evil), make just as much of an effort to focus on all their bad, and provoke them with threatening accusations? Why do haters sign up for the consensual paranoia? Why do some people set things up so that they can ... hate? It's an unusual palette, if I may note.

It's important to get a better understanding of this, the patterns to hate group methods, to give us insight in tackling a problem that is growing, and has an increasingly worrying internet-supported dimension. For the first time, naked hate designed for maximum appeal is easily available to the mainstream world-over at several thousand websites, many of which have elements designed to attract children.

For a start, hating makes some people feel good. It reinforces the idea that, "we are good, they are bad." The more they are bad, the more we are good. In which case, it becomes important to find, stress and share their being bad while at the same time, and perhaps more subtly, find and share our good. Carl Jung and T. W. Adorno are just a couple of thinkers who took this idea a step further by suggesting that those with insecure childhoods often develop strong hate tendencies later in life.

Parallel to this, hating simplifies the world, reduces complexity, makes the world easier to understand and thus work with. In a world where "we are good, they are bad," in contrast to one in which "some of us are good, some of them are good," it's clear how we must deal with others. We don't need to fight any prejudices. We don't need complicated research. We are nice to "our" group, hopefully easily identifiable. Meanwhile, we hate the "other," who are again, hopefully easily identifiable. And in doing so, we reaffirm our worldview. We reaffirm everything we've ever been taught about our social universe. Hence the problem of Western Muslims -- they're tricky because neither hate camp can easily categorize them as the "other."

I may not be a professional psychologist, but I do wonder if hating actually soothes the mind a sickening sort of way. In the 19th century, lynchings of Afro-Americans were so popular in the American South that people even made and sent postcards to mark the occasions. Our limbic systems want us to suppress or hurt a potential threat, irrespective of whether that threat is real or absurd. In the 19th century, that absurd threat was that Afro-Americans would rape white American women. Today the absurd threat is that Muslims are violent. And hurting isn't simply about guns and bullets -- there are multiple ways to hurt. This opens the possibility about whether we feel some kind of equilibrium when we dwell in any of our many natural emotive states, of which one is hate and another is love.

And perhaps parallel to that thought, I further speculate that those who hate have poor neocortex development, given that it's our neocortex that suppresses the primal neural system's impulses and emotions. I'm not suggesting that haters have something wrong with their brains. I am however saying that hate comes from the limbic system, which is programmed to be simplistic, emotive, and change-resistant. In contrast, the neocortex is programmed to engage complexity and have self-control. It reins us in from groping a stranger's sexy butt, which our limbic system might otherwise pounce for. And it is poor neocortex development that prevents some people from challenging the stupidity and emotional rawness of their limbic systems.

I can't be sure which of these four possible insights is more valid than the other. It's more than likely that there are other explanations out there, as it's likely that the haters need to hate for different underlying reasons, in different contexts. As we continue to sail into an era of unprecedented yet increasing global connectivity, an era where the hate camps can so easily feed off each other, it is vital that we get a better handle on tackling haters, that we understand them to impede them. If not for our sakes, we must at least stop hatred that originates as far as thousands of miles away from hitting our children in just a few seconds after it is spewed out.


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