I have learned something about the United States of America in the past month or so.
We believe that we hate each other, and that is a major problem.
I would like to say that I am not sure where this idea came from, but I’m pretty confident I know. We are constantly fed the line that the right wing hates women or the left wing hates Christians. We are told that Republicans don’t care about anyone unless you happen to be a fetus while simultaneously being told that Democrats don’t care about any of your rights and want to become the thought police.
We’ve all heard these kinds of things. I didn’t provide you links, but you know it’s true. And you also know that it does not feel good when you think that someone hates you. For those of us who happen to be on the right, we get pretty defensive when people say that we hate women because that isn’t true almost all the time (there are probably a few horrible people who do legitimately hate women on the right). For those of you on the left, I’m pretty confident that most of you don’t hate Christians either, so it is probably quite easy for you to become defensive when this charge is brought against you (although, again, I’m sure that there are a few on the left who legitimately do hate Christians).
However, that’s the problem. Most of us are not these stereotypes. Yes, I am a pro-life man and oppose abortion. Yes, I do not hate women. I just happen to think that the unborn child is deserving of protection just like any other individual life. That does not mean I hate women by any means.
Here’s the fascinating thing though. I do not believe I hate women, but you might think I do because I do not support the right to an abortion. Therefore, by your definition, I must hate women, but by my definition, I do not hate women because I don’t feel any type of active animus towards half of our population.
We are enamored with this idea that if someone does not agree with us, they must hate us. It is really a case of verbal imprecision. You can think that I am a terrible person for not supporting a woman’s right to choose. You can think that I am wrong in my conclusions regarding the personhood of the unborn child. You can think that I am old-fashioned and not in touch with 21st-century morality. You can say that my policy position contributes to the oppression of women. You can think all of that, and I am okay with that. Those are legitimate claims that you can make about my position. I think they are all false, but at least they are claims that address my argument.
Making a conclusion about my internal feelings about other people seems to be impossible. Hatred is one of my emotions. I decide to hate someone else (and, as a Christian, I should never make that decision). Nevertheless, hatred is something that comes from me and is applied to something else by me. I am the only one who’s really in a position to know if I hate something unless of course I tell you that I hate something. In that case, you will know that I hate something, but the only way that you know is if I tell you.
As a result, it really irritates me when I hear political arguments that come from people claiming to be inside my mind or claiming to have the ability to speak for me. It simply is not possible, and it is an imprecision of language at best and a malicious attempt at behavioral modification at worst.
I mentioned above that we tend to get defensive when people say that we hate them. We immediately recoil and say that we don’t hate women, Christians or anyone else. Our guard goes right up. I just did it in the past few paragraphs after all.
There is big money to be made on people who are defensive and outraged when they are being attacked in what seems to be an unfair manner. It is really nice to be able to turn on TV and hear that just because somebody says that I must hate women because I oppose abortion doesn’t mean I actually hate women. It is reassuring to hear the talking heads on TV tell me that I am not the only one that opposes abortion and doesn’t hate women.
That being said, how do they keep me turning on the TV and needing that reinforcement? After all, that is their business model. They need my eyes on their channel to generate advertising revenue to keep the lights on. To pay their bills, they need me coming back for more. They need me coming back to reinforce that I’m not crazy. They want to be there for me and provide that reassurance.
The problem is that I do not need that reassurance every day. On a normal day, I go to work in my office, and none of my coworkers tell me I hate women because I oppose abortion. I have yet to tell any of my coworkers that they hate me because I know they are on the left and I am a Christian. Therefore, they must hate me because that is what people on the left do. Those kinds of things don’t happen every day to me. In fact, I find that even when discussing sensitive topics with people who actually know me, there is some sense of goodwill. We may not agree, but we are at least civil and genuine.
That doesn’t serve the needs of the TV channels or the Internet media outlets though. I come home from work, and I don’t feel like people hate me. In fact, I feel like they may actually be my friends despite our differences as hard as that may be to believe. I don’t really need that reinforcement then to remind me that I’m not crazy because I don’t feel crazy. I don’t need them to build me up and make me feel better that there are lots of people who think like I do because it really doesn’t bother me that much. No one seems to hate me in my everyday life based on my policy positions even though I know tons of people who will disagree with me (I tend to lean more conservative in general, although not exclusively, and live in Vermont after all).
Therefore, what do these media outlets need to do? They need to remind me that people hate me. If I’m not getting that constant perception of hatred in my everyday life, I’m not going to buy into the arguments they push unless they are able to convince me that the other side genuinely hates me. Otherwise, what do I care about their political commentary? They talk about all of these crazy people on the left who must hate Christians, but I have run into very few of those in my time in real life. They don’t really seem to concern me.
These outlets then need to convince me that these people actually do hate me and that it actually matters to me. Therefore, they don’t just talk about people who hold these positions that we disagree with. They make it feel like that guy could be my neighbor. There may be one person in the world who holds a particular opinion, but they have to make it sound like that person is a threat to me. I have to believe that that insane level of hatred is going to hit me tomorrow. Then, I start to get nervous, so I need to be reinforced in my beliefs. Then I go back to the talking heads and commentary to make myself feel better that I am not the only one who feels the way I do.
You can see the cycle at play. It is a cycle of outrage. In my everyday life, I really did not find all that much to be outraged about unless someone tells me that I need to be outraged. There are times when I do come across things that are insanely problematic. There are times where I could be an eyewitness to an act of racism for example, and I realize that there are people who hold incredibly sick ideas in our society. I see these things happen, and I respond to them in my own life. However, in general, things that outrage me don’t happen on ideally basis. In general, most people are pretty decent, and even though we disagree, most of us have the ability to get along.
Maybe I’m just really lucky and I am in a situation where my life goes this way. Maybe you are going to use this as evidence of my privilege and therefore discount everything I say as evidence of further white, male privilege. Maybe I need to be more sensitive to realize everything that is wrong with the world around me and get outraged more on my own accord. Maybe if I just opened my eyes more, I would see why everyone gets so angry all the time about everything and see injustice everywhere.
I don’t think I am naïve though. I realize there is a great deal of injustice in our society, and I realize there are tons of things that are not perfect. Then fact, there are plenty of things that are downright bad. We can make a list if you want to, but I don’t think I am looking at the world with unnecessarily rose-colored glasses. Rather, I tend to think that I have a rather realistic view of the world.
There are plenty of things that are wrong and deserve outrage. I’m fine with that. However, I also do not believe that every interaction I have is somehow hiding some type of secret agenda. I refuse to buy into the myth that entire groups of people, with sometimes millions of members, magically fit into a particular mold that all hate me. In addition, I refuse to cave in and allow someone else to define my own emotions about them. I am the one who knows how I feel towards people or groups, and I can tell you if I hate them or not. If I say that I do not hate them, then I’m really the only one who is in the position to know that.
I don’t know about you, but it seems rather obvious to me. We are intentionally manipulated to believe that the other side hates us. It keeps the outrage machine spinning, and it gives us a common enemy to unite against. It is interesting that when you watch let’s say Fox News or MSNBC, they never tell you to go out and hate Democrats or Republicans respectively. Instead, they tell you that Democrats or Republicans hate you. You see how that works. You still get to hold onto your belief that you don’t hate people, which is most likely true if you are a decent person. However, you get outraged over the fact that other people unjustifiably hate you. That’s all it takes to keep the cycle going.
I am writing this article, admittedly, exhibiting a degree of frustration with the way the world is, but I think that implicit in this argument is a way to make it better.
You must talk to real people. When you go to work, think about what the people around you actually believe. Odds are they don’t hate you and you don’t hate them despite the fact that you very well might be at opposite ends of the political spectrum. When you go to the grocery store, you very well might not agree with the person running the cash register, but that doesn’t really impact anything about your transaction.
I’m convinced that, at the end of the day, the problem is not really that most Americans hate someone else. I think a larger part of the problem is that most Americans are convinced that someone else hates them. Let’s do what we can to break that habit.