Monday, 17 June 2019

Making Hate Solely Generic -- and Thereby Avoiding the Issue

The Nazis yms"z not only were virulent anti-Semites but they hated across the board -- although their view of Jews was especially vile. It is not by coincidence that we can speak of Anti-Semitism as the 'canary in the coal mine' in regard to a society's view of others -- for how a society treats Jews can often indicate how it will, in general, treat others. Hate can be a generic response to any other. The challenge, though, is that it also may not be -- and there can be a problem if we see hate as solely generic.

One group’s hatred towards another emerges either from a perceived perception of the group being hated or of the group expressing the hate. In the former case, the explanation of the hatred flows from a presumed fault in those being hated which is deemed deserving of this response. In the latter case, though, the focus of the hate does not emerge from a perceived fault in those being hated but, rather, a presumed superiority in those hating. This type of self-perception can then lead to a generic hate of all others.  It is not simply that my group is better than the other group because of a fault in the other group. The argument is that my group is inherently better than the other group. This can then be extended to a generic argument that my group is better than all other groups.

In recent times, we seem to be seeing a movement towards defining hate much more in this manner, as a generic expression of superiority of one over all others. This is not to say that this person of generic hate does not also make distinctions between the individual others that this person may hate. It might still be that this person will still define certain people as more deserving of hate than the others. This was clearly the case with the Nazis. They hated Jews more than they hated the other 'others' but the essence of their hate was in their perceived superiority over all others. They had generic hate that then broke down into different degrees of hate depending upon an other's specific grouping. Their hate, though, was generic; its essence was the hate of all others. It emerged from a bloated sense of self-worth. This form of hate obviously still demands our concern. There is, however, a problem if we see hate only in such generic terms, as reflecting solely this type of motivation. Hate emerging from the specific attack on a particular group through the demonization of that group can then be ignored. 

This problem was reflected in various statements made in response to the tragic shooting at the Chabad synagogue in Poway. The gunman, upon being arrested, was also charged with attempting to set fire to a mosque a month earlier. He obviously not only had hatred toward Jews but also possessed hatred toward Muslims -- and that is something which clearly should not to be ignored. But rather than describing him as someone who had negative emotions toward these two distinct groups of the other, his hatred for Jews and Muslims became one. There were those who were trying to define his hate as solely generic; Antisemitism and Islamophobia became one and the same. The pathology of the gunman was defined by his feelings of superiority. He was a White Supremacist. There was, of course, some truth in this assertion. What was lost, though, is that people could thereby ignore the Anti-Semitism - the perceived perception of specifically Jews as negative -- in what happened. By highlighting generic hate, people could avoid addressing the problem of the specific negativity towards Jews.

We saw this in the recent Congressional statement on racism which began as a specific rebuke of Anti-Semitism. The argument was made that it should be a rebuke of all forms of racism -- and, on the surface, there would seem to be merit in such a demand. We should be against any type of such hatred. What is lost, though, in this development is the recognition of these different motivations for hatred. By grouping all hate together, by focusing on generic hatred, we are actually thereby only focusing on one motivation of hatred -- the feeling of superiority. This is not just a quantitative distinction: let's join all the victims of hate in the resolution. A qualitative distinction is also thereby enunciated; we lose sight of the specific roots of hate towards a particular community. The full problem of Anti-Semitism is, thereby, not addressed. It is being swept away with the effort to define any problem of hate as generic.

A further example of this issue also surfaced more recently. Members of the U.S. Congress recently formed a Black-Jewish caucus to deal with issues in the relationship between the Black and Jewish community. I saw this as a positive development. My understanding was that the purpose was to address negative emotions that exist between the two groups. The attainable goal was to find a solution, to deal with the root causes of these negative emotions. Then we heard someone stating that the purpose of this new caucus was to deal with hatred towards Blacks and Jews. The argument was again being made to make the issue generic hatred and, thereby, avoid the real issues facing the relationship between these two communities. This person was, perhaps, afraid of the findings if these issues were actually investigated. My hope is that this caucus does not fall prey to such an argument. I am not saying that it should not deal with the issue of generic hate. It should not, however, allow those who wish to promote this issue of generic hate to prevent any investigation and discussion of the other issues.

All hatred -- or tensions -- between groups are not the same. There may be, indeed, a generic factor but not every problem of hatred necessarily shares the same roots. There are those who are attempting to avoid the specific problems of Anti-Semitism by defining any act of Anti-Semitism as a reflection of generic hatred. This creates its own problems including the creation of a shelter for the specific Anti-Semite. We cannot just ignore the problem of generic hatred. We also cannot accept the created attempt to define all hatred as generic to thereby allow for specific forms of hatred to be ignored.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

1 comment:

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

It should be obvious that in addressing this issue, I am also touching upon how people interrelate in general. Friction occurs between individuals and groups; hate is but the extreme negative consequence of such encounters. The real challenge is how best to respond to this friction. This demands a truthful investigation of the issue(s) between the parties including the honest appraisal of self. In such an environment, solutions can be found. Hate is then often the result when one does not truly wish to look at oneself in the pursuit of the common good. The only concern is the self. The desired solution is thus the one that only serves the self.

One interested in this topic may also wish to look at the following:

Insight 5757-22: Defining Sinat Chinum (Part One)

Insight 5757-23: Defining Sinat Chinum (Part Two)