“Sometimes I wonder whether I should envy them. Sometimes I wonder how they do it: how they hate the way they do. How they can be so sure of themselves. Because the haters have to be at least that: sure. Otherwise they would not talk the way they do, hurt the way they do, kill the way they do. Otherwise they could not insult others, humiliate others, attack others the way they do. They have to be sure of themselves. Beyond all doubt. You cannot hate and be unsure about hating at the same time. If they doubted, they could not be so beside themselves. Hating requires absolute certainty. Any ‘maybe’ would be a disruption. Any ‘possibly’ would undermine their hatred, sap the energy they are channelling into it.
Hate is fuzzy. It is difficult to hate with precision. Precision would bring delicate nuance, attentive looking and listening; precision would bring that discernment that perceives individual persons, with all their diverse, contradictory qualities and propensities, as human beings. But once the sharp edges have been ground down, once individuals have been blotted out as individuals, then all that is left are indistinct groups to serve as targets of hatred; then they can hate to their hearts’ content, and defame and disparage, rave and rage: the Jews, the women, the unbelievers, the Blacks, the lesbians, the refugees, the Muslims, or perhaps the United States, the politicians, the West, the police, the media, the intellectuals. Hatred distorts the object of hatred to suit itself. It forms its object to fit.
People now hate openly and without restraint. Sometimes with a smile on their faces, sometimes without, but, all too often, shamelessly. The threatening letters that used to be posted anonymously are now signed with the sender’s name and address. Violent fantasies and hateful comments are often expressed online without the cover of nicknames. If anyone had asked me a few years ago whether I could imagine that people would use that kind of language again in German society, I would have thought it impossible. For public discourse to become so brutal again, for people to stir up such unbounded hatred against other human beings – that was unimaginable. It almost seems as though the traditional conventions of conversation have been turned upside down. As if the standards of social behaviour have been reversed: as if a person should be ashamed of showing respect as a simple and natural form of politeness, and proud of refusing others respect and spewing vulgarities and prejudices at the top of one’s lungs.
Yet the rise of aggressive populist parties and movements in Germany, and across Europe, is not the most disturbing development. What is much more threatening is the climate of fanaticism, at home and abroad. I, in any case, do not think uninhibited shouting, slandering and insulting represents an advancement of civilization. I do not consider it a sign of progress that every inner baseness may be turned outwards just because exhibiting resentments is now supposed to have some public or even political relevance. Like many other people, I refuse to get used to it. I do not want to see the new, unbridled appetite for hatred becoming normal.”
Carolin Emcke is a prominent journalist, academic and author. Her contribution to public life has been recognized with many awards, including the Otto Brenner Prize for Critical Journalism and the Peace Prize of the German Publishers’ Association, Germany’s most prestigious literary award.
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