When I was doing my undergraduate, I took a political theory course that covered a number of books that are now classics in the discipline. One book that I was particularly struck by was The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt. Arendt was a complicated and interesting woman who, as a Jew, left Germany after the rise of the Nazis. What made her life a bit of a head-scratcher (well, one thing among many) was that she was romantically linked to one of the members of the Nazis’ intellectual class, Martin Heidegger. Heidegger was also a complicated person, whose philosophy was not easy to comprehend and equally difficult to read because of the ever-persistent feeling that you were reading the thoughts of a man who fundamentally agreed with the ideology and actions of Adolph Hitler.
But I’m not going to blog on Heidegger. Rather, I wanted to bring up something that Arendt wrote about in Origins of Totalitarianism: dehumanization. According the Arendt, what made it easier for humans to torture and kill other humans was the process of dehumanization. Once you render your enemies into “things,” it makes it easier (psychologically speaking) to destroy them. An emotion that rallies large groups of people to begin the process of dehumanization of othe people is hatred. Ever since I read Arendt’s book, I’ve been very conscious of keeping that emotion at bay. It’s not easy, because there are people out there who make it very easy to hate. Off the top of my head, I would say that bigots are right there at the top of my “people I hate” list. But even those people I can’t fully hate because I know that there’s more to them than just the one-dimension psychological state of bigotry. I fundamentally disagree with the things our government and those who hold political power do in our name. But I don’t hate the individual people because I don’t know them. I only know how they act using the power of their office.My daughter once asked me if I hated George W. Bush. I told her that I didn’t. She persisted and said that I didn’t like his politics or his policies. I said that was accurate, but I still didn’t hate him. She asked why, and I basically recounted a simple version of Arendt’s analysis of the dehumanization of the Jews in Germany. I said that it’s important that we have our own opinions, but if we meet others with whom we disagree, we should use the force of our arguments to defend (or criticize) points of view. We shouldn’t fall into the trap of hatred because someone disagrees with us, or says something stupid. She said it wasn’t an easy thing to do (i.e., not toÂ hate), because people can say and do hurtful things. I agreed because, really, how can you disagree with that. But I held my ground and said (in a Yoda voice) that hatred leads to the dark side.
With all that said, I have to say that when one of our countrymen, who served as a speechwriter for the Bush Administration, publicly starts to name people he hates, it makes me wonder who the real “America-haters” are. And it makes me angry that someone who knows of power of certain words uses them in such a way to send a not-so-subtle coded message that’s it’s open season on those on his “enemies list.”