Updated: Jul 6, 2022
The world is once again awash in self-righteousness, and its creating a very big problem for everyone. Why we need to choose love.
I like cat videos, funny memes, seeing what friends are up to and interesting perspectives on the problems that face humanity. Therefore I like social media, but increasingly I find myself being assaulted with posts where people are trying to provoke me into being outraged, hateful and condemning of others, and they think that doing this is a virtuous act that makes them a good person who deserves social approval and applause.
It's not. Hate is not a virtue.
Now don't get me wrong. I have all the normal emotional responses to prejudice, abuse, discrimination, violence and suffering. I am disgusted by abuse and corruption and the misuse of power. I am saddened by tragedy. I am heartbroken by the suffering of the innocent and the vulnerable, particularly children and animals. I get angry at unfairness and I fear tyranny. Same as you.
I want the world to be a better place, which is why I do the work I do to help people heal and recover from trauma and reclaim their lives and their happiness. I witness the worst of humanity on a daily basis in the stories I hear from my clients. I also witness the best of humanity on a daily basis, in the stories I help them discover about how heroic, courageous, clever, resilient and loving they have been in how they survived those abuses and thrived in spite of them. People amaze me and humble me with their magnificence.
I love my job, and my job is love. My job is to bring light to the darkness, but not the light of a harsh interrogation or a punishing condemnation. My job is to bring the light of love, of understanding, of empathy and of hope. This is the light that illuminates the pain that causes these abuses, and is caused by them, and provides a pathway out of pain to redemption and wholeness, for everyone.
The opposite of this is righteousness, the inquisitorial light-in-the-face shone by those who wish to find fault and persecute it. Notice I said persecute, not prosecute. Prosecution is a careful process of evidence and deliberation whereby a person's actions are investigated and held to account.
The purpose of prosecution is to discover the causes of a harmful behaviour, prevent it being done again, and to rehabilitate the person who did it as well as to bring healing to the victim. The purpose of prosecution is to heal, to correct, to make safe and to make right.
Persecution is the opposite of prosecution.
The purpose of persecution is to punish, to condemn, to vilify, to demean, to exclude, to control, to dominate and to destroy. It is not careful, or considered, or balanced or fair. It requires little evidence, no proof, no process of consideration and no hope of redemption. It offers no path to healing or recovery, for either the victim or the offender.
The world is awash in persecutors right now, who believe that they are prosecutors.
They have been told, nay, indoctrinated with the idea that persecuting people who they have been told are wrongdoers will make them a good person. They have been encouraged to be hateful, condemning, righteous, arrogant and spiteful to other human beings.
And not just to people who have done some type of actual offence, but people who happen to belong, by some physical characteristic such as race or gender, to a group that have been stereotyped as 'offenders' regardless of their individual guilt or innocence. Its not only acceptable and even laudable to hate those who have done wrong, but to hate anyone who looks like them.
Nor are they just being encouraged to do this, they are themselves being persecuted if they don't. They are being told that it is not enough to be a good person, but that if you don't actively participate in the persecution of the groups who have been deemed 'bad' you are a collaborator. They have been told that 'silence is violence', that empathy is endorsement, that people are guilty until proven innocent and that the only way to prove their innocence is to confess their guilt and repent, by accusing others.
They are told that having compassion for human wrongs is a violation of human rights. They are being told that if you do not condemn, and hate, and persecute the target group you are one of them, guilty of failing to do your moral duty to destroy the 'monsters' among us, even if those 'monsters' have done nothing monstrous.
Sound familiar? This is the logic of the the Spanish inquisition, of McCarthyism, of the German Holocaust, of the Patriarchy. This is the logic of moral tyranny. Either you cheer on the burning of the witch, or you must be a witch, and next in line for burning. Either you condemn, or you stand condemned by your refusal to condemn.
"You are with us or you are against us", and because we have declared ourselves perfectly righteous, if you oppose us you must be evil and will be persecuted for not doing what we demanded you do. To put that another way, you have to prove yourself innocent by joining us in persecuting those we have deemed guilty, and if you don't you will be socially excoriated and publicly condemned.
Lets be clear. This is mostly young people doing this, provoked to it by older people who should know better. This is the exploitation of ignorance, of lack of experience, of a failure to understand history and ethics and law and humanity and psychology and logic and emotions and life itself. This is the result of education having been replaced with indoctrination, and its happening at a university near you.
Mostly, this is the exploitation and egotistical perversion of the emotion of disgust. Again, don't get me wrong, this is an important emotion to have. Disgust is our organic response to things that are toxic, corrupt or harmful to life. We also call it distaste, dislike, disinterest, discrimination and discernment because it wants us to get distance from something that is harmful to us.
The purpose of disgust is to protect our physical and psychological integrity from the imposition of experiences, substances, behaviours and ideas that would harm us. We naturally feel disgust towards abuse, unnecessary violence, inequity, arrogance, corruption and anything that is toxic.
Like all emotions, disgust sits across a spectrum of intensity from the very mild (disinterest) to the extreme, which is hate. Hate is when we want to destroy something that we perceive as extremely threatening because we are unable to get away from it. Hate is meant to be an extreme response to an extreme threat, yet it is a word we use with casual ease. "I hate my job, the weather, the government etc". In fact, its the most used emotive word in the world.
When people can receive and listen to this important and intelligent emotion they are well informed about what to avoid in life, and how to avoid being toxic themselves. But when this emotion is repressed or rejected it can be distorted into what Freud called a neuroses. Freud described a neuroses as the ego (thinking brain) trying to do the emotional brain's (Id) job.
In short, the thinking brain is too limited in its capacity for dealing with most of life's complexities and the speed needed to make moment-by-moment decisions to keep us surviving and thriving. So our emotional brain does that for us, mostly in the background where we are unaware of it, and by the time it comes to our attention it is just telling us to do what needs to be done, which we experience as an impulse or sensation in the body.
Righteousness ain't Right
If we use out thinking brain for this it oversimplifies things and tries to reduce them to a set of simple rules of policies. This doesn't work, because you cant solve complex problems with simple ideas, so people then start trying to make the world be less complex, and the only way we can do that is to try to control and dominate it. We try to make the world fit into our philosophy, which is called ideology, rather than making our philosophy fit the world, which is called science.
Doing this makes people anxious and lacking in confidence because they become unable to access the emotional resources that empower them to live happy and safe lives. In turn, people get aggressive in response to this anxiety. In the extreme this becomes self-righteousness, or moral narcissism. It goes like this.
"Because I need the world to be simple, and I need to see myself as good, anyone who disagrees with my simplistic morality must be bad, and therefore I have to destroy them. Anyone who dares suggests that life is not that "black and white", or that I may be wrong (therefore not perfectly good), is now an enemy and I am entitled to persecute an enemy."
Disgust is an emotion, a real world response to a toxic threat. Our emotions are our natural moral guide to life. Do harm, feel guilt. Fail to do your best, feel shame. Create disconnection, feel sad. Our emotions naturally inhibit us from wrongful action, balancing our assertive emotions of anger and disgust with our vulnerable emotions that keep us connected.
Prejudice is a policy, an imaginary idea of threat projected onto others. When we combine a prejudice with an inflated sense of Self-righteousness, it allows us to hate others without restraint, to find fault in others without proof, to destroy others without good cause and to completely exonerate ourselves from any wrongdoing regardless of how we behave. We are morally perfect, and we prove it by attacking those we deem to be morally corrupt.
Self-righteousness frees us from the natural emotional restraints of guilt, shame and remorse by projecting all fault onto someone else. Its how we shift guilt and avoid the pain of heartbreak, powerlessness and despair by inflating our sense of anger and hate and trying to have power over others. It is emotional cowardice, which is why it always leaves us in shame when the outrage has settled down.
Revolution, again and again
There is nothing new about this. The world has always been full of self-righteousness and persecution. In fact, the self righteousness and persecution we are seeing today is a reaction to the self-righteousness and persecution of yesterday. It is a 'revolutionary' response to the wrongdoings of the past, but revolutions are so named because they do not go anywhere new, its just the same self-righteous hatefulness revolving around and around and around.
Evolution, a way forward
Martin Luther King Junior once said that "in order to do good in the world we have to be willing to absorb a certain amount of evil". I think he is correct. We have to be willing to take the pain the the world causes us and transform it into love that we use to heal the pain in ourselves and others. We have to stop reacting to our own pain, and start creating a world in which kindness and empathy are the way we respond to pain. We can't stop hate with hate.
The world is improved by 'evolutionary' actions, by people who choose to get off the mouse wheel of hate and vengeance and use love to create healing and redemption. The world needs healers who transform pain into love, not 'haters' who think they are 'heroes', who persecute and destroy others for the faults they will not own in themselves.
In Ghandi's words - "An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind", so we need to "be the change we wish to see in the world", not self-righteously demand that others be that change, while we commit violations to force them to do so. Condemning others does not make us virtuous. Persecuting others does not make us righteous. Hate is hate, no matter how you justify it.
Hate is not a virtue. Choose love.