Monday, July 24, 2006

Turning injury into hatred

It is human nature to hate the man whom you have hurt.
- Publius Cornelius Tacitus, historian (c.55-c.120)

Human nature easily qualifies as the most peculiar characteristic of nature. Whether or not we are the most sophisticated stage of evolutionary development in animals, we are the strangest by far.

Not the least reason for this is the fact that some people seem to exhibit behaviour or make personal choices that are to their own detriment. I say "seem" because we make choices based on a wider variety of input than most other forms of life.

The choice to take a hallucinogenic drug, for example, might be made as a release from psychological pain that is hidden from everyone else, even if taking that drug is known to result in another form of pain (discomfort of some sort) as the effect of the drug wears off. To most people, the long term pain (and potential health risk) is not worth the short term gain of the high.

Another example is the one noted by the Roman historian Tacitus. In our personal lives, even if we accidentally hurt someone, we may get angry at that person because it must have been his fault. Or so we rationalize. (It's a generalization, but sociology is about generalizations, not about 100 percent accuracy with every individual.)

On a macro level, the behaviour is similar among countries. One of the greatest ways that one country may learn to become the enemy of another is if the first country hurts the other. For example, did Hezbollah intend to start a war between Lebanon and Israel when it entered Israeli territory and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers?

In reaction, Israel finds reasons to hate anyone who happens to be close to where it believes Hezbollah members may be hiding out and where it drops bombs. Dropping bombs on civilians violates international law, but Israel found more reasons to hate Lebanese enough to continue to fire still more missiles into the cities of its northern neighbour.

Hezbollah, meanwhile, after likely intending only to annoy Israel more than anything else by kidnapping its soldiers, declares that the captives are prisoners of war. This causes Israel to accept that war has been declared and it proceeds to kill more Lebanese and anyone else its bombs happen to hit in Tyre and Beirut.

There is no doubt that many Muslim militants in the Middle East, most audible among them Hezbollah, want to wipe Israel off the map. And likely all Israelis (Jews, especially) off the face of the earth. What is questionable is the wisdom of attacking or kidnapping soldiers of a country whose military might overpowers that of Lebanon and all of its neighbours combined by many times.

The explanation we hear from the media is that they hope to rally all Muslims against Israel. This has never worked and could never work because most Muslims are peaceful people. Indeed, Israel's Muslim neighbours benefit from trade with their relatively wealthy neighbour and employment of its nationals within Israel.

Perhaps Tacitus was right, we develop a hatred for those we have hurt. With so much history of hurt in the Middle East over the past half century, there is lots of scope for hatred.

Where there is hatred, martyrdom rears its head. There always seems to be someone who receives a message from the almighty that martyrs will be welcomed eagerly into heaven. That someone (those someones) can rarely be found sacrificing his (their) own live(s) for their cause. They are always much too important for that.

Hatred is easily taught as an outcome of fear. Where there is fear, someone always steps into the middle to generate hatred. Fear and hatred are means by which otherwise average people may becokme leaders.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to help us keep our eyes open as we move cautiously into an increasingly dangerous future.
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