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Hatred Isn’t Fear

Hatred Isn’t Fear

I am a few chapters into a book called Hatred: The Psychological Descent Into Violence, and I may end up doing a full-length review of it in the future, after I have finished it. On the whole, it seems not worth reading, and not just because it is more or less the apotheosis of what I argue against in my own book on the subject. There are a few things I agree with, and a number of points where I disagree. As one might expect, our points of agreement are largely physiological — i.e., what is the purpose of hatred — but despite being a medical doctor, Gaylin does not limit himself to the clinical and physiological. Indeed, much of the book is philosophy and politics… and not particularly enlightening in this regard.

There is a particular conflation that is common among the critics of hatred, and an insinuation nested within that conflation. They confuse hatred with fear, and then imply (or simply declare with explicit clarity) that fear is tantamount to cowardice.

Although Yoda’s line is probably the most famous example of this (“Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering”), it lacks the philosophical gravitas of someone writing seriously and intentionally on the subject.

Here, Gaylin provides the actual argument behind the meme:

It is impossible to analyze anger without considering it in conjunction with fear. Fear and anger are usually so inextricably intertwined that a psychotherapist is likely to ask a frightened patient what he is angry about, and to ask an angry patient what is frightening him. Fear and rage are generally perceived as the two basic emotions that support our behavior in emergencies. They are part of an elaborate emergency response mechanism built into higher animals. Rage sets in motion the machinery for a frontal physical assault: Appropriate skeletal muscles are tensed; certain muscles are contracted and opposing ones are relaxed; the autonomic system moves to increase the supply of adrenaline and redistribute the blood flow of the body. All of this is to prepare the body as an assault weapon.

With fear, the same kinds of physiological responses are initiated, but with opposite distributions of neural stimulation and body chemicals, wiring, and the preparation of different muscles. This time, to facilitate escape. These reactions, wonderfully researched over the years, have come to be called “the fight or flight” responses, after the pioneering work of the American physiologist Walter B. Cannon almost one hundred years ago. A typical animal experiences these two emotions–and probably only these two–on those occasions when it, its territory, or its breeding rights are under attack. The zebra feels terror with the scent of the lion. He feels rage when the younger male zebra intrudes on his horde.

What he’s saying here is completely true. But he tries to hedge the moral implications of this fact with some rather dubious armchair historicizing:

These emergency emotions of fear and rage were established–biologically fixed through adaptation–into our physiology in those barbaric times that preceded civilized life. For prehistoric people, the meaning and nature of danger were unequivocal. A threat to survival was present. The danger was real and physical–a predatory beast, an enemy horde, a rebellious member of the clan. In these conditions, these emergency emotions served us well. We became an armed instrument for assault. But how about today?

In civilized society–even before the actual threats of terrorists made our culture seem devoid of civilized constraints–we continue to respond to perceived threats with fear and rage. We gear ourselves up for assault. But assault on what? In our civilized existence what dangers remain that are satisfactorily resolved by clubbing?


Fear and anger were designed to serve as responses to threats to our survival. To our survival–not to our pride, status, position, manhood, or dignity. Somehow we have developed in our minds a crucial linkage between even minimally measurable affronts to our status and the very fact of our survival.


These two emotions operate on a toggle switch, readily convertible, one to another. In cultures where fear is perceived as unmanly–and where is it not?–the emotion of fear is humiliating and must be repressed. Men, real men, do not eat quiche or show fear. Rage is the public face of fear in most men and many women.

In addition to the allusion to a present “end of history,” Gaylin makes two logical errors. First, in claiming that “fear and anger were designed to serve as responses to threats to our survival,” Gaylin is committing what is known as the naturalistic fallacy. He claims that because hatred arose for certain purposes, it is therefore immoral for hatred to be applied to other ends. This does not follow. Second, it is invalid to presume that pride, status, position, manhood, and dignity can have no possible bearing on our survival or odds of reproduction–which, in evolutionary terms, is more or less equal with survival in importance. It is well known that in honor cultures (prison, for example), allowing others to disrespect you in seemingly minor ways can encourage more dangerous predation later on. A stolen dinner role can become a shiv in the back, if you demonstrate that you won’t stand up for yourself even in the small things.

But that’s prison! the critique may protest. Yes it is. Civilized people usually don’t end up in prison. I don’t know to what degree liberals actually believe this, but it’s a comforting thought. The reality, however, is less comforting, which is this: civilization is only as close as the nearest cop. If the local P.D.’s budget drops, or if you become thought of as politically expendable (for whatever reason), or if you simply find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time, “civilization” will be of little protection to you or those you love.

It is worth mentioning too that civilization itself has a spirit and a tendency, which tends to support certain qualities in people, and undermine other qualities. What of those who love the qualities that are undermined? What about independence? What about courage? What about justice? What about charity? All of these are corroded by “civilization,” either because they are rendered unnecessary, or held to be undesirable by the authorities, or both. The “just” man is called a vigilante and locked up as a criminal. Is it wrong to hold this tendency — and its civilizational cause — in contempt? Is it a priori wrong to hate those who have brought about the ignobling of man? There is a tacit premise that material security is not just experientially preferable, but morally superior to alternative values, such as virtue. This is — to put it mildly — debatable.

But this is all a digression. What about fear? Is hatred comparable to fear?

As it happens, I addressed this in In Defense of Hatred:

Like every other definition of “hatred,” this one [“disgust towards mind”] might sound a little similar to “fear.” It feels like there might be some overlap. And as a result, many people have found it convenient to confuse hatred and fear, even overtly conflating the two. Hatred of gays is “homophobia,” dislike and distrust of foreigners is “xenophobia,” etc. A more sophisticated reader may ask why anger and fear were not combined, rather than anger and disgust. At first, this seems more logical and helpful, since the source of hatred is very often the source of fear—a sentient threat—while disgust is triggered by inanimate contaminants.

But they are threats experienced over different periods of time. Fear wholly and completely exists in the moment. Hatred can only be felt when someone recognizes that the conflict is in some way eternal, and will not pass with time. This is why anger and fear cannot be experienced simultaneously. Robert Plutchik puts anger and fear on opposite sides of his wheel of emotions, and the degree to which you experience the one, you cannot experience the other, just as you cannot simultaneously experience sadness and joy, interest and distraction, disgust and trust, surprise and anticipation. What inspires fear can later transform into hatred, but only once the feeling of fear dies away.

Hatred expressed as intimidation, or a call to combat, can easily become an act of provocation if the other side calls your bluff. Put another way, manifest hatred requires courage. If someone is fearful, acting with hate would not be acting on that fear, but overcoming it.

This difference is reflected further in how these separate emotions appear in behavior. Like disgust, fear only drives us to action (usually, “run!”). There is no showmanship in fear. We might even be ashamed if we show that we are afraid. Hatred, like anger, has an expressive side. Anger says “listen to me!” It is an appeal to the natural social instincts towards justice and fairness that we all share. Hatred, by contrast, says “fear me,” if it says anything. When hatred is most powerful, we do not want to show it at all; when fear is most powerful, we cannot help but show it, and often do not care that we do. Fear is unthinking and spontaneous, which is perhaps why we do not like to admit that we are scared. It might also be why the anti-haters like to conflate hate and fear: it makes hate out to be uninformed and non-rational, as we imagine fear to be.

I felt that it was a conclusive argument when I wrote it three years ago. Suffice to say, Gaylin has not changed my mind on the subject.

Nor has he changed my mind on the conflation of fear with cowardice, humiliation, and the whole Freudian theory of hatred being a projection of one’s own feelings of inadequacy or inferiority onto the rest of the world. Aside from being speculative, unparsimonious, unfalsifiable mind-reading, the theory simply does not match experience. That which is asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence, and that which defies subjective perception requires serious evidence simply to warrant consideration. The asides about masculinity and men not wanting to show fear is such an egregious misunderstanding of traditional masculinity that I’m increasingly believing the confusion is intentional. Men have always acknowledged fear, and defined courage not as an absence of fear (this was called “foolhardiness” all the way back to Aristotle), but rather, as the ability to act in spite of one’s fears. The medical and psychological profession’s depiction of the masculine ideal is a perverse parody of the real thing, and anyone who has ever bothered to read a single classic of Shakespeare, Homer, or the Bible would know this.

Progressives get men to do whatever they want by manipulating our fear of being afraid. When you recognize this manipulation, you’ll begin to see it in nearly every argument appealing to men and every progressive narrative written about men. Their strategy is to portray masculine men, even men who have demonstrated courage in battle or in legitimately heroic endeavors where they have faced and overcome fear, as being driven primarily by fear and a sense of inadequacy.

— Jack Donovan, “All They Have is Fear

In short, hatred is not fear. Nor is it envy, inadequacy, or cowardice. Ironically, hatred is actually far closer in nature to its assumed opposite — love — than it is to fear or cowardice, in terms of its chemistry, neurology, causality, and morality.

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