Thursday, September 09, 2010

Some thoughts about hate and intolerance...

I've been watching all the news coverage of the despicable plan by a so-called “preacher” to burn Korans on Saturday, the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001. I simply do not have words to say how utterly contemptible and horrid I find this man and his plans and, while I wish everyone would just ignore him, I know this has gone way too far for that to happen.

Over the summer I've read several novels that seem to have, as their theme, hate and intolerance. A couple of them (The Physik Book of Deliverance Dane and Susannah Morrow) were about the Salem Witch Trials in which a group of people, acting out of religious (Puritain) fervor, imprisoned and tortured dozens of their fellow citizens and ended up murdering (yes, it is murder when innocent people are killed) some of them. That was in the seventeenth century. I also read some books set in New Orleans during the era of slavery and the “gens de color”, people of color, the children of white slave owners and their black slave/mistresses. That was in the eighteenth century and the treatment, abuse, and murders of these people was ubiquitous and taken very much for granted.

This prompted me to get out a book I read some years back, Fire and Roses, about the burning of the Urusline convent right here in Charlestown by a group of Protestant laborers following a series of fire and brimstone sermons by Protestant preachers against the evils of Catholicism. The convent was burned, the grounds destroyed in a fit of enraged vandalism, and Catholics were persecuted in Boston for several subsequent decades. That was in the 19th century.

I don't even need to say anything more about the hate-mongering that led to the Holocaust in the 20th Century and now here we are in the 21st Century and Muslims are the current dreaded “other” chosen to be persecuted. Haven't we learned a damned thing? No, we haven't.

So the question is why does this keep on happening? I heard something very interesting on a news program today, something I hadn't thought about before. Two circumstances seem to be needed to precipitate such events – a population that is essentially fearful and basically ignorant, and a few hate-mongerers to whip them in to a frenzy. That's all it takes.

When I say that the people who follow these leaders are basically ignorant I am speaking literally. They are not stupid, but they are ignorant about the essential humanness of those they are being encouraged to hate and they know nothing about the reality of those people, be it their religion, their race, or their way of life. They have been fed lies which they make the choice to believe rather than searching out the truth. Because they are ignorant of the truth and because they have allowed the lies to influence them, they let their fears take control of them and they act out of a misguided belief that, if they do not crush those they fear, their own well-being will be at risk. The stunning thing is how tenaciously they cling to the lies rather than consider the possibility that they might have been blinded by lies.

But it is the fear-mongerers who are the most diabolical and I don't use that word symbolically. There is a certain sort of pathology that exists in certain individuals that feeds on being hated. They see themselves as bold and brave and seething with righteousness and, consequently, despised because they have the courage to “tell the truth” when others are too blind to see. I've met people like this throughout my life and they are twisted, but often dangerous, people. They revel in being despised because they see it as a mark of being superior to others. They can “take” the contempt of lesser beings because they are holding fast to their own supposedly moral code regardless of how demented or ridiculous it is. I once knew a guy who announced to me after his third day in a new job, “I found out today I'm the most hated guy in the office.” He said this with a big grin and a puffed out chest and a pomposity that he seemed to think I would be impressed by. I wasn't and steered clear of him after that.

I suppose it is easy to say that these are the people who, as children, discovered that getting negative attention from mommy was better than getting no attention but that's not much help when this type of negative grandiosity leads to hanging witches, beating slaves to death, burning down convents full of nuns, and attempting to annihilate entire groups of people including Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and, yes, Catholics, too.

So what can a civil society do when the hate-mongerers find a platform and an audience? I don't know, I wish I had an answer. But when a herd of sheep willingly follow the bleatings of a self-confessed “rodeo clown” or a bunch of religious zealots follow the hate-filled rantings of a Cotton Mather or a Terry Jones or a Fred Phelps or an Adolph Hitler, the rest of us need to stay vigilant. There is danger brewing and is history is any indication, it will get a lot worse before the rest of us come to our senses and stop writing them off as a bunch of nuts. These are people who cannot be shamed into decent behavior, cannot be made to face the truth, and cannot respond to logic. I don't know how we should respond to them but we have to stay aware of them – now more than ever.

Thanks for reading.

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