Hating ourselves into paralysis
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Robert Frost is on to something. His poem “Fire and Ice,” from which I’ve culled the lines above, contemplates the end of the world by ice: hatred. But how about a nation? Especially one whose self-proclaimed narrative includes cooperation, collaboration, compassion and plain decency? Can a nation’s citizens hate one another into a civic, social and political paralysis, impaired and indistinguishable by its own acrid juices … the bitter brew of enmity?
Will we work to keep ourselves safe from war or terrorist attack or natural calamity, but succumb to hate? Will we skip pestilence, plague or contagions still only a nightmare under the microscopes of epidemiologists or in the minds of science fiction writers because we simply refuse to stand one another?
Please excuse my negativity in this season of light, but I’ve grown weary of dinners with Nazis, of simple disagreements erupting into threats of violence, of cancel culture and gunfire, of civic discourse a causality of lying liars and the general malaise of menacing.
Case in point is the recent rise in antisemitism, a staple among haters. According to the Anti-Defamation League, “attacks against Jewish institutions, including Jewish community centers and synagogues, were up by 61 percent in 2021, incidents at K-12 schools increased 106 percent, and incidents on college campuses rose 21 percent.” The White House held a meeting of Jewish leaders earlier this month in an attempt to address the growth in antisemitism — expressed both as hate speech and in violent acts.
More numbers tell a similar story. According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State-San Bernardino, in 15 major U.S. cities incidents of hate-fueled crimes went up slightly. I suppose that would be good news if in the same cities the number hadn’t climbed 30% in the last two years. Brian Levin, the center’s director, said anything but a dramatic decrease needs perspective. “If you’re flat [compared with] the highest year in 20 years, you’re still bad. Any way you slice it, there’s a lot of meanness in the pie.” And a lot of ice, too.
Statistics on hate crimes vary from state to state and according to the most recent numbers from the Nebraska Crime Commission, our numbers actually went down about 25% between 2020 and 2021. The upshot of lower numbers does not diminish that those crimes remain part of the landscape, however.
We ignore the “meanness in the pie” at our own peril, too, as hate marches toward normalcy. We’ve watched as a candidate for president breaks bread with a couple antisemites. We wonder if Twitter’s new owner truly understands the power of speech, however free, amplified millions of times. For years we’ve counted the dead at synagogues, LGBTQ+ nightclubs, Walmarts and Black churches where hate-fueled murders have become common, leading the news cycle for a day or two, then fading into the din of modern information dissemination. When that happens, we normalize such acts … and the hatred behind them.
Baked into our hatred are outsized responses, too: bitterness, anger and sometimes violence from hate speech and trafficking in racist and antisemitic tropes to armed cosplaying complete with body armor and the requisite face coverings because God forbid we recognize haters.
Yes, we are free to hate here as long as we don’t infringe on the freedoms of others or turn our animosity into violence.
But wise is the person who said hate is too valuable an emotion to waste on someone you don’t even like. Save your hate for the really detestable: war, famine, disease and catastrophes to which our abhorrence can perhaps fuel a positive response.
To that end, blessed are those among us who keep and promote peace, who feed the mouths and the souls of the hungry and who toil in the science of cures. As is our custom during the holidays, we pause not simply to remember our brothers and sisters beset with troubles but also to find ways to lessen their burdens.
Meanwhile, even in a month ostensibly filled with compassion, unless we dial back the animosity and hate, we edge closer toward a type of cultural immobility.
Hate, like love, is an inside job, so hearts and minds must change. The good news is that in humans hearts and minds are inextricably linked.
That is great … and would suffice.
This commentary was originally published by the Nebraska Examiner, a sister publication of Arizona Mirror and a member of the States Newsroom network of local newsrooms.