Why Americans Must Defeat the Right's Culture of Hate: Understanding the Science And History of Demonizing Hate

The recent poll showing how high percentages of Republicans cling to irrational beliefs is not surprising. It is the natural result of the rights' conscious choice to use dehumanizing hatred as its principal tool for recruiting and manipulating its followers.

For forty years after World War II hate was marginalized in Mainstream America. Ideologies of hate popular during the Great Depression plunged the world into a nightmare of death, destruction and genocide. Postwar conservative media was dramatically different from the hate-spewing Fox/Limbaugh variety. People of all political stripes and income tuned in to William F. Buckley's show, Firing Line, dictionaries in hand, for the pleasures of vigorous civilized debate between liberals and conservatives.

The early postwar years may seem backward to us now, and there were horrific acts of violence from both political extremes, but we owe our progress to that generation's love affair with civilization and loathing for the barbaric politics of demonizing hate.

Hate came back into style with a vengeance late in the Reagan years. The end of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 enabled an eruption of demonizing conservative talk radio. Ignoring hate's evil history, and eager to cement newfound power after decades in the minority, Republican politicians and conservative media rediscovered how useful hate is as a manipulative tool and how very profitable.

My father made me promise never to follow a leader who preached hate, a lesson I now regard as his greatest legacy. He also taught me Augustine's lesson to hate the sin and not the sinner, tough to do and, to put it cynically, not nearly as fun. But it doesn't destroy civilizations. It builds them. And it's all due to a critical difference in the way the two "hates" affect the brain.

In his 2003 book Why We Hate, Rush Dozier examined what science could teach. Chimps, like humans, engage in war and commit genocide, killing each other in raids eerily similar to terrorist attacks. Bonobos (pygmy chimps) don't kill. They scream and carry on and then get on with the business of getting along. Neuroscience provided intriguing clues. Dozier suspected humanity's heritage of hate was rooted in the more primitive parts of the brain, the parts we share with animals. Compassion apparently is, too.

The following year Dozier's hunch would prove right. Drew Westen and his colleagues sought out fifteen partisans from each party so they could study the effects on the brain.

It turns out hate does two very scary things to the human brain. Hate is powerfully, addictively "fun " and it shuts down reason. People in hate's grip accept or reject information based on whether the hate addiction is rewarded. Intellect plays no part. Those who do this are unaware of the difference. Hello, Dittohead.

Say hello to your inner chimp. Our natural weakness for demonizing hate is a kind of science-based original sin.

What nature created as a crude survival mechanism has spawned a more deadly dimension -- leaders who exploit this natural human weakness to gain wealth and power.

Hatemongering is historically associated with the worst political movements, ones that enrich and empower the hatemongers while spreading poverty and misery, ones that sing of freedom while destroying tolerance and civil rights. Those who embrace the hate are putty in the hands of the artful, flattering hatemonger, believing what they're spoon-fed, regardless of evidence. Addicted to their hate, they reliably return for fix after fix, swelling the hatemongers' wealth and power.

This is why the Republicans in that poll cling to such bizarre beliefs. Hate-based "reasoning" is rampant in the contemporary Republican conservative base, but its giddy, self-deluding savagery also lives in Republican leaders who do nothing to help in this crisis and expect to be rewarded for it in the polls; in business leaders who trashed the economy and expect the people to pay for it; even in Supreme Court justices who apparently think the Framers intended to sacrifice our rights on an altar of corporate power. Most disturbing are the old style Southern conservatives, longing for the elixir of hate that sustained the power structure of slavery and Jim Crow like old drunks nostalgic for their booze.

The United States was founded and the Constitution drafted as a rebellion against the tyranny of hate, and Americans are only true to the promise of our great nation when we stand against hate.

It is time for all good Americans to stand up to this dangerous culture of hate and say, "No More!"

It is time for us to hate the sin of hate.

If we don't, it will destroy us.