Why are there Hate Crimes in America?
by Peter Mermin
Suffolk County Community College
Because about twenty percent of us live at or below the poverty line, and
media and government tend to ignore that situation, except to continuously portray
images on television of everyone else doing very well, and to imply that people
who are poor must be poor because they are lazy, or immoral, or worse. And because
being unseen, scorned, and marginalized breeds hatred.
Because we Americans eat an awful diet, consisting of way too much sugar, fat,
and meat, and not enough fruits, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates. And
because the food industry in this country consciously markets junk food to children,
without anyone making enough of a fuss about it.. And because poor diet is a
major contributing factor in restlessness, mood swings, and irritability. And
because those emotional states are a big first step on the way to hatred.
Because as a culture we value stimulation, action, and domination, we have
trouble with the virtues of self-restraint. It is hard for us to meditate, go
within ourselves, and find a peacefulness in our inner worlds. We feel frustrated
when we cannot control and dominate our environments. We do not value patience,
and find delay of gratification intolerable. And because continuous frustration
is a common precursor of hatred.
Because our culture was so strongly shaped by our Puritan heritage, we tend
to have strong ambivalence about sensual pleasure. We are particularly confused
about interpersonal touch. Compared to most other cultures, we are inclined
to interpret touch as signifying only sexual intent. Being touch-phobic except
when sex is involved, we become touch-starved. And touch-starvation leads to
a hunger for human contact that may lead to aggression and hatred as a distorted
version of our need for physical affection and closeness.
Because of our strong religious heritage, we are also inclined to judge human
actions morally, as either right or wrong, Good or Evil. This breeds intolerance
for behaviors that may stem from other cultural contexts. It breeds an ethnocentrism
and a self-righteouness that may lead to our judgment of the behavior of people
in other cultures as intolerable and worthy of elimination and hatred.
Because of our rigid focus on personal achievement as the measure of human
worthiness, we are rather unmindful of the "collateral damage" that
our projects may engender as a by-product of our missions. Our failure to notice
aggression and hatred simply because it is not visible to us on our own radar
screens does not mean that it is not really hatred. It is a hatred born of obsession
with goals that are abstract, and thus careless of the concrete and often unconsciously
hateful consequences of achieving those goals.
Because we value "objective and scientific" intelligence over what is now called "emotional" or "empathic" intelligence, we prefer to dwell on the statistical aspects of events. This is our continuation of our assessment of life as a kind of sport, in which the winners amass statistical superiority over the losers. By avoiding the prospect of having to grieve over the emotional consequences of our endeavors, we can avoid acknowledging that our own hatred played any role at all in what we did.
Because modern life is often tense, we look for explanations for our fears and anxieties. Because weaker and /or vulnerable groups in society provide scapegoats for our frustrations, we can easily displace the blame for our problems away from their real sources and onto these groups. It is easier to strike out against an outside group than it is to confront the fact that that group may possess qualities that are disowned as "bad" in oneself and therefore worthy of demonizing and destroying. A hate crime can represent a purging of one's own supposed demons in a magical, misguided attempt at personal purification.
Because we are so crazy about owning and using guns. Because we prefer cognitive
simplicity over cognitive complexity: if those who we designate as an enemy
do something bad to us, we explain it by describing their actions as the work
of inherently "bad" people. If we on the other hand do something bad
to them, we describe our action as justified by the situation that they have
put us in. Cognitive simplicity allows us to ignore that our enemy is framing
their own action in the same way that we framed ours: they attribute their action
towards us as one called for by what we did to them.
Because we often feel isolated and alone, we are susceptible to the comforting
aspects of inclusion through conformity. If a lonely, frustrated person can
join a mob that is united in its goal of destroying some other person or group
that is seen as the devil incarnate, then the cleansing that will be felt by
that previously lonely person will be a shared cleansing. Each member of the
mob will rejoice with the others when Evil has been defeated. People will no
longer feel isolated. Unfortunately, once the evil outside force has been defeated,
the victorious group will now have to deal with whatever individual unconscious
blockages originally led to the lynching party that served as a temporary purging
of their internal demons in the first place.
Because we as a culture have never faced, grieved, and worked through, the
horrendously destructive aspects of our conquest of the Native Americans, our
enslavement of Africans, and our exploitation of immigrants and other foreigners
in the sweatshops of our economic domination of the world. Because we see ourselves
as endlessly good, and God's special favorite in the world. Because we think
that our culture, our language, and our relentless ravishing of the world's
natural resources is some kind of Manifest Destiny. Because we have chosen comfort
over awareness. Because we are just too scared to admit our kinship with all
the world's peoples, and our spiritual connection to the survival of life on