Tuesday, January 3, 2012

On Abusing Language & the Importance of Hatred

I hate Peter Popoff.

I hate Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

I hate most of the people facing off in the Republican primary in Iowa today: Michele BachmannNewt GingrichRick PerryRick Santorum and Ron Paul. Romney and Huntsman probably only escape my ire by standing among such a despicable rouges gallery.

I hate Joseph Ratzinger, better known as Pope Benedict XVI.

And I really hate Fred Phelps

This is by no means an exhaustive list.

When I express hatred like this to my fellow liberals and progressives, there are two basic responses:  "Yeah, me, too!" and "You [shouldn't/don't really] hate them."  I think the latter is becoming less common than it used to be, but I know some readers cringed at the first line, while some others made it to the politicians before they felt they had to object.

As part of the objection to my hatred I have several times heard the phrase, "Hate is a strong word...."

No, it isn't. 5 year-olds use it to describe their relationship with broccoli. Adults use it to describe how they feel about music that is not to their taste. Jerry Seinfeld has made an entire career out of expressing hatred for various inconsequential annoyances and asking his audience if they hate them, too. You know what, Jerry is going on the list.

"Hate" is a word diluted by so much use for so many unimportant purposes that it is one of the weakest words in the English language; by itself it conveys a murky and highly subjective meaning. Contrast this with a word like pancreas. I don't even have to use it in a sentence, everyone who read that word immediately contextualized it as describing a specific internal organ, with more or less detail depending on how well educated the reader is about anatomy. The key factor here is that by reading a single word - seeing 8 particular small symbols arranged in a certain order - you all immediately had almost exactly the same thought. That is the power of language - transferring thoughts from one mind to another. The currency of thought transference is meaning, and the primary unit of meaning is the word. The word pancreas is an example of well defined meaning leveraged to create uniformity of thought. That sort of thing does not happen with a word like hate.

I can feel your hatred...
Astute readers may notice that the date this blog was established greatly precedes the date of the first post. Originally I had planed to start a more narrowly focused blog with a comedic theme; pointing out and doing take-downs of instances of doublespeak, ambiguity, meaninglessness and otherwise deceptive or abusive language used in politics and pop culture. I will probably still do some of that. The title was supposed to be an indignant exclamation, decrying that language used in a meaningless way is language misused. I started a new job around the time I had the idea, so it never got off the ground. Also, I had not yet been asked a question provoking introspection that inspired me to write about social equality. I forgot that I had created this blog template, but Blogger had not forgotten, so when I was finally ready to get started it was here waiting for me with the title you see now. I can change it, but I see no need.

A big part of why the progressive movement is floundering on so many issues is a failure to communicate our values effectively. It has gotten to the point that we are perceived by mainstream political news outlets to be without values - the term "values voters" refers exclusively to social conservatives. We have tied our rhetorical shoelaces together and fallen down a hill so steep that when we reached the bottom the only things generally considered to be values in the political arena are opposition to gay rights, sex education and teaching evolution. Gay bashing and lying to children. Good old fashioned family values.

Which brings me back to hate, and the people telling me that I am either not doing it, or that I am, but should not. The rest of this post is addressed to you:

Hate is not a strong word, but the word can be used to describe a strong emotion. Hatred is a powerful force in the minds of some people that can lead them to commit acts of barbaric cruelty and horrific violence. When you say I shouldn't or don't really hate these people, do you think this is what I mean when I say I hate  Rick Perry? Do you also think the 5 year-old feels this way about their broccoli? Of course not, that's absurd. You know I am not going to fly into a violent rage and torture Rick Perry to death; you are deliberately misinterpreting me by equivocating. You know what I meant and you are making a passive-aggressive attempt to sanitize my language so "the movement" can be, I don't know, spiritually pure or something. "The conservatives are the ones with all the hatred and bile and because we don't have that, we are the good guys." Bullshit! You know why they hate things? Because they care. Whether they were manipulated into them by misinformation or brainwashing - or perhaps they arrived at them through reason and evidence (future post spoiler alert: they didn't) - but however they came by their anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-minority positions, they care about them. Their emotions get inflamed and they are frustrated that we contradict them and they see us as enemies and they hate us. That is why they are perceived as having values. It's not because they say they do - we say we do! - its because they clearly hate the people who oppose the things they value. That is the real test of values. Do you really care about corn-based ethanol subsidies? It is easy to say yes if you are towing a party line, but how upset would you be if they were really threatened? Would it be a tragedy if they were taken away? Would you even notice? 

God hates broccoli and, uh, doing the dishes
The same sorts of liberals that object to me saying I hate these people often object to the martial terminology of enemiesbattle and war because it doesn't adhere to the rules of rhetorical purity they have established, but the metaphors are apt. There is a culture war on. This is a war where words are the bombs, and the conservatives use lies. That's like chemical warfare... or... okay, maybe the metaphor isn't perfect. The point is the other side knows they are fighting it. I know I am fighting it. You need to get on board and admit you hate these people. Stop pretending you think hate can only mean pogroms and genocide. Hate means strong dislike. It means that not because The Great Webster, High Executor of the Lexicon has defined it to be so, it means that because that is how we use it. Usage is how all words get their meaning, and why words' meanings change over time. Right now the English language is stuck with having the same word describe a powerful and dangerous emotion, and mere distaste. We have other words like loathe and detest, but they are all basically synonyms with subjectively more or less (mostly more) intense connotations. Tough luck! We are smart, though, and have big brains and can tease specific meanings out of ambiguous words using context. Stop pretending you can't do that. Stop playing dumb and start hating these bastards.

1 comment:

  1. Hatred is, to me, more of an emotional reaction that helps us to determine how we wish to live by identifying the worst possible alternatives. It is an animating and energizing faculty of moral discrimination- which is another word that gets a bad rap. Discrimination is the ability to tell unlike things apart, and is a damn useful skill to have.

    We should all strive to discriminate and hate more than we do.