Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Two Minutes Hate

No one hates people. They only hate ideas. In order to hate other people, a person must first dehumanize them in his mind. By turning them into something quite apart from (and especially beneath) himself, he regards himself as free to treat them as something other than a person—a demon or an animal, for instance.

In perhaps the most famous scene in 1984, George Orwell describes the "Two Minutes Hate." This odious piece of propaganda is specifically crafted to whip the crowd of Party Members into a mindless, furious lather. It depicts the anti-Party icon, Emmanuel Goldstein, spouting ideologies that run contrary to what the Party Members have been told to believe.

While the "hero" of the story, Winston Smith, secretly harbors a hatred against the Party, even he cannot deviate from the frenzy of the mob around him. Intense images of the massacre of Oceana's enemies in Eastasia (Oceana had always been at war with Eastasia), provoke peals of laughter and applause from the crowd. The image of advancing enemy soldiers elicit cries of hatred. The enormous face of Goldstein (the ultimate heretic) is even described as morphing into the face of a sheep.

Despite the absurd exaggeration of this scene, Orwell hits the nail on head in spirit. The periodic "Hate" is a reminder of the inhumanity and heresy of their enemies. The strength of the Party Members' hatred of people's they have mostly never met, keeps them loyal to (or at least under the influence of) the Party in Oceana. As long as the Party can maintain irrational hatred and fear, they maintain power over every aspect of the citizens' lives.

The reality of present culture is much less obvious, even to the purveyors of today's "Two Minutes Hate" (AKA: political pundits). Regardless of the name of the party they support, these pundits engage in not-so-subtle slander of their ideological opponents that bears a striking resemblance to the "Hate." The primary protocol is to dehumanize and even demonize their opponents. Upon this foundation of filth, they build themselves a reputation as political idols.

The difficulty with the real version of the "Hate" is that it is not as obviously false or objectionable as Orwell's version. In a recent article at the Center for Social Leadership, blogger Dave Wilson sums it up this way: "[Pundits] use accurate half-truths to demonize 'the others' and make them seem less than human so that they can justify hating them."

These "half-truths" are based upon the primary lie that all their opponents, without exception, are wrong and evil. From the starting point of believing in this lie, fans necessarily see the pundit's opinion as truth. Every thing he says is based upon what his fans have chosen to believe. Their mutual hatred for their ideological opponents keeps them from straying from the "straight and narrow." They each fear the other will suspect them of doubting the faith.

But speaking in terms of legitimate religion, what a pundit says cannot fall outside what is technically accurate in reality, or the whole edifice will be shaken. When the fans begin to believe unrealistic lies, the pundit becomes a cult leader. And while most people can fall into irrational partisanship, most won't cross this line. People want to be ethical, and therefore want their spokesperson to be an ethical person as well. They want an easy truth, but they don't want fantasy.

The trouble is, there is no easy truth. The real truth is always more difficult to live by than the accurate half-truths of an extreme position. It takes more energy to spin a top than to let it settle to one side or another. The scary thing is that we have to decide for ourselves (yes, each of us!) what the truth is. There is only one truth, but we all arrive at it from different starting points.

Hatred builds a wall between you and a vast source of perspective on the truth.

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