In these times when irrational hatreds erupt in such terrifying tragedy, Rodney King’s nearly 20-year-old question re-echoes. Hard experience answers: No, not really. Not in this fallen world. Neither in ancient times (Hebrews and Philistines, Athens and Sparta), nor recent times (Korea, Viet Nam, Iran and Iraq). Not between semi-literate tribes (Hutus and Tutsis), nor among highly educated countries (England, Germany, and France). Certainly not between liberals (Bill Maher) and conservatives (Ann Coulter). Not even members of the same family (Cain and Abel). Nothing in mankind’s recorded history says we can all get along. But why not?According to one school of thought, we hate simply because we are taught to hate. In the bitter, despairing words of one of the songs of the 1949 Broadway musical, South Pacific:
You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
Before you are 6 or 7 or 8
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught
If hate exists solely because it is passed along from one generation to the next, who taught Cain to hate and murder his brother Abel? Adam and Eve? Who taught them? And who, pray tell, teaches furious toddlers — presumed by romantics to be innocent of all evil inclinations — to scream “I hate you” to their parents on occasions when they are unable to get their own way?
Still, there is one aspect of the song from South Pacific that is worth pondering. Anger and fear are often reflexive, spontaneous emotional responses which normally fade away over time in a healthy person. What distinguishes hatred is the added element of ratiocination involved. If properly “cultivated” by repeatedly digging up the memories of the offense, hatred can last a life time — even generation after generation. Hatred is a sort of congealed version of anger or fear; rather than just a temporary emotional state, it often is more enduring, like an attitude or disposition. One way we preserve negative emotions such as anger, fear, or envy so that they acquire an unhealthy degree of permanence is by stirring resentment into the mixture, much as we add cement to sand and gravel to make concrete.