📆 December 4, 2022 | ⏱️ 3 minute read

Understanding Precludes Hate

The premise of this entry is simple: Understanding precludes hate. Ignorance causes hate. Specifically, ignorance of the prior causes of another’s actions causes hate.

I’ve used this example before and I’ll use it again. If a bear mauls to death someone you love, you don’t hate the bear. Although losing a loved one would have a big negative consequence on your life, you couldn’t hate that bear even if you wanted, because you know it’s just a bear doing what bears do. It’s not responsible for what happened.

What I find extremely fascinating is that when it comes to humans, unlike with bears, we do assign responsibility. It’s not just that if a human did the same as the bear, we would send that human to jail. Even if we didn’t see the human as ultimately responsible, we’d still have incarceration in order to rehabilitate them, or at least protect the rest of society from them. Blame in the sense of culpability is valuable. We need to know who to put in jail.

But here I’m using the word “blame” to mean an assignment of ultimate responsibility for one’s actions, of the sort that seems to justify punishment for its own sake. This ties in with my previous entries titled “Free Will is Incoherent”. In those entries, I agree with Sam Harris that not only does free will not exist, but it’s incoherent. That is to say it’s impossible to imagine a universe in which it does exist. If you want to understand why, refer back to those entries.

How is free will related to hate? Well, free will underpins the idea that each person is ultimately personally responsible for everything they do. This kind of thinking justifies hatred. If you think that “bad” people “deserve” to suffer for what they’ve done, you’re confused about free will.

Now it’s fully possible to understand this at an intellectual level, but still hate people emotionally. The more we can see the prior causes of people’s actions, the less we’re emotionally capable of hating them. This is why we can’t hate bears. We know why they do what they do: animal instincts.

What I’ve noticed about hateful people, those who hate others for being a different race, nationality, religion, gender, whatever other reason, is that they’re frustratingly incurious about what it is they hate. And that makes sense because it’s hard to understand the perspective of others, to see the prior causes of their actions, and hate them at the same time. This truth has practically useful ramifications.

We all know hate is an unpleasant unhelpful emotion and it would be nice not to feel it. We assume it’s outside of our control, but viewing it as a symptom of ignorance suggests that we can hate less simply by making an effort to understand others more deeply. Instead of hopelessly hating other people, we can take responsibility for our hate. Instead of viewing “bad” people as decision-making agents ultimately responsible for their actions, we can view them simply as malfunctioning robots in need repair and not fault them.

That’s a far more compassionate way of seeing the world and other people. Just imagine how much better the world could be if everyone understood this and lived by it. I’ll leave you with that thought.