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One day, in July 1941, half of the population of Jedwabne, Poland, murdered the other half-some 1,600 men, women, and children representing all but 7 of the town's Jews. Before killing them, the Poles tortured and humiliated the Jews. They gouged out their eyes with kitchen knives, dismembered them with crude farm instruments, and drowned the women in shallow waters. Infants were pitchforked in front of their mothers and thrown onto burning coals, all accompanied by the shrieks of delight, indeed the laughter, of their neighbors.
The slaughter of the Jedwabne Jews lasted a whole day. And their neighbors, the entire Polish population of the town, either witnessed or participated in the torment. Roughly 50 percent of the adult Polish males were later identified by name as active participants. Even in Nazi Germany whole communities of "normal" people did not rise up to destroy their neighbors. They mostly left that to the professionals while they passively assented-crime enough. In Poland an entire community voluntarily butchered their neighbors and delighted in the activity.
How can one explain such cold passion, such monumental hatred, such cruelty-not on the part of some insane and deranged madman-but by an entire populace in concert, and against the very neighbors who had previously shared their everyday community and life? Jan T. Gross, who wrote an account of the slaughter in his remarkable book, Neighbors, made no attempt to explain the phenomenon, having set as his task the meticulous documentation of this seemingly incredible event.
A distinguished journalist, commenting on this book in his column, addressed the question of motivation (always a treacherous and difficult assignment), which Gross chose to ignore. His answer to the question of why the Poles acted with such bestiality and hatred was "because it was permitted. Because they could." This response implies that given the opportunity, we would all delight in such pursuits; thus he denied the special impact of history, culture, religious passion, individual and mass psychology, and paranoia-and blamed it squarely on human nature.
As a lifelong student of human nature and human behavior, I know this to be wrong, dangerously wrong. All of us have the opportunity to torture animals, but the majority of us do not. We are disgusted and bewildered by that minority that takes pleasure in doing so. Surely, then, we would not all avail ourselves of the opportunity to torture our neighbors, given the opportunity. I would not pitchfork an infant merely because the opportunity presented itself ("because it was permitted"), nor would the journalist. I would not pitchfork an infant under duress, nor would he. I would like to think that neither one of us would do it even at risk of our lives, but of this I cannot be sure. And I suspect that the columnist himself, when not pressed by journalistic deadlines, would agree that this slaughter was not purely opportunistic.
To say that a massacre such as the one at Jedwabne is not normal to human conduct is obviously not to deny that it is within the stretch of human behavior. We know that it was done. But it was beyond normal expectations. A tsunami may occasionally devastate the coast of Japan, drowning thousands, but we do not consider it an expected or reasonable aspect of weather conditions. Human behavior is as unpredictable as, and more variable than, the weather. Such behavior could not have been anticipated by most of us and even now is not believed by many.
Still, while not "natural," hatred is a function of human nature. To understand hatred, one must understand the special qualities of human, and only human, life. Human behavior is famous for its plasticity and variability. As a result, we have witnessed such brothers in humanity as the grotesque Pol Pot and the glorious Saint Francis. Neither of these extremes expresses the expectations one has for ordinary people, but both are testament to the protean nature of the human species. I am not offering these two eccentrics as products of genetic determinism, as I might have with the examples of Newton or Mozart. I am merely acknowledging that conditions can exploit human plasticity to produce unexpected extremes even in relatively normal people. Had I been born in a Palestinian refugee camp and exposed to precisely the same conditions as a suicide bomber, I might have become a suicide bomber. But then again, I might not have. Culture shapes personality, but inheritance is also relevant. Not all of those raised in the camps are prepared to become suicide bombers.
Most animals-from the insect to the higher mammals-have few choices of importance. Everything essential is genetically wired in: how they live, where they live, what they eat, when they mate. This is not true of human beings: We live in tropical islands and arid deserts; in Arctic tundra and equatorial jungles; we control when we have children, if we have children, even how we have children. As a result, the differences among human beings in size, strength, imagination, intelligence, and temperament are unparalleled in the animal kingdom.
Penguins not only look alike, they are alike-not just in our eyes, but in actuality. They possess limited capacity to deviate from their nature. We, in contrast, share with nature in our own design. We were not endowed by nature with wings, but still we fly-and faster than the speed of sound. If a panda cannot find bamboo shoots, he dies. It is bamboo shoots or nothing for him. If we were surviving on bamboo shoots and ran out, we'd eat the panda.
We are more variable because we possess more traits that can be modified; we use our highly developed brains to adapt to the widely diverse environments our imagination drives us to explore. Our lifestyles, conduct, and very physical appearances are so alterable that we might appear to an outside observer as multiple and varied species. This capacity to redesign ourselves, to slip the yoke of instinct and genetics, is a cardinal element of human nature.
The result of this variability is that we are capable of developing into saints or monsters. Still, both of these extremes are alien to the average person leading his ordinary life. Terrorists, sadists, and torturers are the evil examples that define the borders of normal human behavior. We must not trivialize the tragic extremes of their hatred by assuming that they are commonplace representatives of human variability. Such a judgment is an attempt to deny their depravity and contain our anxiety. These people are different from you and me. We are capable of feeling transient extremes of rage that we call hatred, but the true haters live daily with their hatred. Their hatred is a way of life. It is, beyond that, often their raison d'être. They are obsessed with their enemies, attached to them in a paranoid partnership. It is this attachment that defines true hatred.
When we confront the true hater, he frightens us. Too often we struggle to avoid facing this extreme hatred by emotionally distancing ourselves from it. One way to do this is through denial, a mental defense mechanism that permits us to cope in the presence of the unbearable. Its classic embodiment is in the denial of death that is part of the universal human condition. Human beings are burdened with the awareness that their lives must end, independent of anything they may do. We handle the existential dread of death by denying its presence. We go on living as though there were no end. We must do that. We are "in God's hands." It is all part of "a grand design." Our dead child is "safe now," "in a better place."
I do not believe that it is mere coincidence that during a period in which terrorists purposely targeted buses of schoolchildren for maximum effect, the American public embraced a novel like The Lovely Bones, in which dismembered and murdered children are portrayed as living in heaven, sucking lollipops, and playing in fields of flowers in perpetual bloom. We must find ways to avoid facing the abominable and incomprehensible.
Another way of distancing ourselves from horror is by romanticizing it. The right to a "death with dignity" is a recent shibboleth of medical reformers. What they really want is a death without the dying. Not the retching, puking, pained, and bloody death of the intensive care unit, but the romantic death of Love Story and La Traviata. Of course, we all wish for a "proper" and "dignified" death, but we are unlikely to get it. Dying is rarely dignified, and death is the ultimate indignity. Still we dream of a painless and peaceful death in our sleep, in the comfort of our homes, with the companionship of our loved ones. We create a romantic and rarely achievable illusion. We treat hatred the same way.
A startling and unexpected example of romanticizing an act of hatred appeared in an article in the New York Times on April 5, 2002. Unexpected, because it was after 9/11, and in New York City. The article was entitled "2 Girls, Divided by War, Joined in Carnage." It featured large side-by-side, strikingly similar, pictures of two lovely brunette teenage girls.
"Two high school seniors in jeans with flowing black hair, the teen-age girls walked next to each other up to the entrance of a Jerusalem supermarket last Friday....
"The vastly different trajectories of their lives intersected for one deadly moment, mirroring the intimate conflict of their two peoples. At the door of the supermarket, Ms. Akhras detonated the explosives, killing Ms. Levy and a security guard, along with herself."
The total effect of the article, whether intended or not, was to equate the two in tragedy, like star-crossed lovers drawn to a common cataclysmic end in a romantic movie like Titanic. As the article indicates, they were drawn to their deaths via the irony of "two vastly different trajectories." But what distinguished the two was not simply their differing orbits, but their purposes, their reasons for being in that particular grocery store at that particular time. As the article itself succinctly stated: "Ayat al-Akhras, 18, from the Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem, was carrying a bomb. Rachel Levy, 17, from a neighborhood nearby, was carrying her mother's shopping list for a Sabbath eve dinner." Rachel's purpose was to prepare for celebration of the Sabbath. Ayat's mission was to kill Rachel and as many more of her kind as she could. One was a murderer and the other her victim.
I am not denying the tragedy inherent in the life of the bomber. I admit to being touched by the frustration, the poverty, and the deprivation of the Palestinian refugees. But this story, occurring only seven months after the World Trade Center bombing, indicates the peculiar distortion that remoteness allows, the romanticizing made possible when identification is mitigated by distance. Can anyone imagine the New York Times running a similar article with the pictures of Muhammed Atta side by side with a New York City fireman of his age and general appearance? Would the reporter do an extended comparison of their youth and backgrounds, and then describe them as "two young men drawn together by different trajectories," thereby erasing all distinctions between murderer and victim? We want the fireman to be a tragic hero; we do not want to hear of his foibles and imperfections. Muhammed Atta is the identified villain; we are not prepared to hear that he loved dogs and was kind to his mother.
All of us are more capable of distancing ourselves from hatred when we are not bound to the victims in a community of identity. Even in the wake of the World Trade Center bombing, in a city like New York, with great affinities to the Israelis, we do not truly identify with them. They are not of us and we will not "feel their pain" for long. We set different standards for Israeli activities of retribution or self-defense in an assault on the Palestinians than we do for our own pursuit of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
We are reluctant-unwilling-to acknowledge and condemn hatred, to confront evil head-on. Evil is the Medusa's head. To see it directly might turn us to stone. So we "rationalize" it. We make it comfortable, by explaining it in everyday terms of sociology and psychology. We look to politics and economics to explain why and how hate-driven acts occur, forgetting that hatred is ultimately a pathological mental mind-set. In such a way we trivialize the acts of terror and in the process romanticize the terrorists, supplying them with ready defenses.
In an article in the Nation magazine, Patricia J. Williams bitterly anticipated the eventual distancing from evil in relation to a once-notorious hate crime, the murder of Matthew Shepard, a twenty-one-year-old man who, on October 6, 1998, in Laramie, Wyoming, was severely beaten and then bound to a fence and left to die. Apparently Matthew Shepard was viciously killed only because he was gay.
So here we are, at two minutes after the funeral of Matthew Shepard. The media are awash in earnest condemnation. But mark my words, after three and a half minutes, someone will casually suggest that hatred is just a matter of "ignorance" and "stupidity" and there's no sense in analyzing it too much, because the killers were "just a couple of rednecks." If you're still talking about Matthew Shepard after four minutes, you will be urged to shut up and get on with the healing process. After five minutes, you'll be accused of "magnifying" an isolated misfortune. After six minutes, you will face charges of "exploiting for personal profit what has already been laid to rest."
Williams is arguing against a moral relativism that has been pervasive in modern culture. Moral relativism denies absolute evil. It abandons strict moral rules, judging behavior in terms of motivation and life history. As a result, we are reluctant to condemn a crime or a criminal. Instead we attempt to "understand" and "treat" the criminal, as we are reluctant to commit what the eminent psychiatrist, Karl Menninger, called "the crime of punishment" in the 1950s. This moral relativism has been supported by a psychoanalytic view of behavior that perceives all present-day behavior as the inevitable-and therefore nonculpable-product of our developmental past. We commit abominable acts because we were conditioned to do so. Since we have no choice, it is not our fault. This reasoning is an imaginative and useful way of treating mental illness in a health setting. I earn my living that way. But it is no way to run a country.
Psychoanalysis erased the formerly rigid distinctions between normal and sick behavior and expanded the definition of mental illness beyond anything imaginable in the nineteenth century.
Excerpted from HATRED by Willard Gaylin Copyright © 2003 by Willard Gaylin
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
|1||Confronting Evil Head-On||1|
|Hatred as an Emotion|
|3||Rage: The Emotional Core of Hatred||33|
|5||Envy: Locating an Enemy||63|
|Hatred as a Thought Disorder|
|6||Understanding "Normal" Behavior||75|
|7||Understanding "Sick" Behavior||89|
|8||The Paranoid Shift||107|
|9||The Psychotic and the Psychopath||121|
|Hatred as an Attachment|
|10||Identifying the Self||151|
|11||Identifying the Enemy||173|
|The Cultures of Hatred|
|12||A Culture of Hatred||195|
|13||A Community of Haters||217|
|14||Confronting Hatred Head-On||237|
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Posted July 25, 2004
The inside cover advertises that Willard Gaylin takes us ¿to the very roots of hatred¿ in this book. After reading the book cover to cover, I beg to differ. While Gaylin does an excellent job of elucidating the clinical distinctions between related emotions, such as hatred and anger, and of defining various clinical disorders, such as psychopathology and psychosis, he never does get around to exploring the ¿roots of hatred.¿ In his rush to dismiss it as a psychological disorder, Gaylin offers no scientific explanation for the origin of hatred or why we still struggle with it today as individuals and as a society.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.