Why Is Hatred Viral?


In the days following 9/11, the news has been filled with images of angry riots, supposedly over depictions of the Prophet Mohammad shown in a mysterious film on YouTube.  News reports this morning indicate this anger has spread from Egypt to Libya and now Yemen and Iran.

The storm of stories churning around these riots include:

  • Who made the film?
  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of religion
  • Were Romney’s comments out of line?
  • Should Obama have returned to the campaign trail?

But as I go into overload listening to the swarm of opinions, the one question that lingers in my mind is:

Why does hate go viral?

Maybe it’s a naive question, to wonder what it is in human nature that attracts us to hate, causes us to want to spread it. I see signs all over the Internet. Rarely do I see love spread so virulently.

Here is an example. Someone on Twitter posted this photo:

I love this photo. It is a reminder that the rioters were extremists and did not represent all of Islam. However, following is a snippet of the conversation that occurred over the photo:

READER #1: Nice attempt but he spelled Prophet wrong!
TWEETER: I know! A little “authentic” touch lol

READER #2: Nice that you used “Profit” as in $$$$ which just dried up…Good luck with whomever takes over your country next.
TWEETER:  What the hell are you talking about?

I’ve seen this photo in several places on the Internet this morning, and this isn’t the only instance of someone making a comment on the spelling. Who cares if “Prophet” is spelled wrong? I wouldn’t know the first letter of the word for “Prophet” in ANY foreign language, yet we criticize that this man spelled “Prophet” wrong?

But even worse was the comment by READER #2.

Clearly, when I look at the distance between where the riots have occurred, I know that the anger, the hatred, must have spread via the Internet.

What is it about human nature that attracts us to anger or hate, and why do we feel such a need to spread it?

In this excerpt from THE RED KIMONO, Nobu is in the hall of his high school. He and his class have just listened to a broadcast of President Roosevelt’s Day of Infamy speech, following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

EXCERPT:

The end of the day couldn’t come soon enough. When the last bell rang, Nobu rushed down the crowded hall toward doors to the outside. The passage was a gauntlet of words that punched like fists.

“Hey, Nobu! Japs aren’t the only ones who can carry out an unprovoked and dastardly attack. Better watch out!”

Another snickered and said, “Yeah. Watch out, all right. The President has declared war. That means open season on Japs.”

The taunts were suffocating. He had to get out – had to get away from the bumping and pushing.

“Hey,” someone else yelled from the crowded hall. “Isn’t your brother at Pearl Harbor?”

Nobu turned to find the voice. Dozens were gawking, but he couldn’t tell who had spoken.

“Just think,” the same voice called again. “One day Taro Kimura is our star player on the ball team, the next day he’s a Jap attacking Pearl Harbor. Maybe you should think twice about wearing your traitor brother’s letterman jacket.”

Someone grabbed him. The last straw. He turned around, fist clenched, ready to belt the jerk who called Taro a traitor.

“Hey, hey. It’s just me,” said Kazu, holding up his hands in defense. “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”

“Yeah. Let’s.”

This entry was posted in Excerpt, Hate, Prejudice, The Red Kimono and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Why Is Hatred Viral?

  1. Jan, I couldn’t agree more about hatred being “catching” as my mother would’ve said. We get it from each other much the same as we can “catch” a disease. It’s almost like humans have no control over passing on hateful remarks. I so admire your ability to tie today’s news into your book that takes place during WW II. Shows we haven’t changed much, huh?

    • Jan Morrill says:

      Velda, I love that your mother called in “catching,” using a disease metaphor, like the word “viral” today. Sadly, you’re right, that things haven’t changed much in that regard, and the fact that now we have the Internet, makes it a much more worrisome “illness.”

  2. Jan you brought up the topic that bothers me so much about all this. It makes me ashamed to be human to see how hatred spreads so easily. On all sides. I even have to keep giving my sons reminders of my stance on these sorts of things because they, too, fall into the mob mentality from time to time. It saddens me. I loved the sign that man is holding up. Who cares if he spelled the word wrong? Did the commenters not see the message?

    • Jan Morrill says:

      That’s the scary thing, Madison, that for our children’s generation, 90% of what they see and hear comes from the Internet, where there is little balance. I’m curious about why we’ve latched on to hate. Unfortunately, I guess bad feelings stir us up more than good feelings — makes our hearts beat faster.

      • The mob mentality my son falls prey to comes from his friends and they get it from the general prejudiced attitudes of the people all around us.

        This is the mindset the locals of my area have had for many generations, so what’s happening in this case is that he’s slipping into an entrenched attitude and not a new one at all. So I can’t say I blame it on the internet. I blame it on the tendency to be ‘followers’ rather than independent thinkers. And I think as a society (all society – ours, theirs), we favoring raising followers.

        Where it crosses into zealot behavior is interesting to me. I know sport zealots who will defend their favorite sports team nearly to the death, at least to the point of throwing punches, in this way, too. And I think you’re right, it has to do with racing the heart.

    • keliwright says:

      Madison, this shouldn’t make you ashamed of being human. Hate leads to, and sprouts from, INhumanity, and has nothing to do with our shared biological condition.

  3. I think I prefer my heart to beat at a slow and steady pace, Jan. There are so many good things to know about people. So many gifts to share. Pity we look for things to hate.

  4. keliwright says:

    A phrase I remember from my mom: “Love is contagious. We get it from one another.” It was printed on a bread board that hung on the wall in our kitchen. Wouldn’t it be great to switch the trend and try that principle out?

    • Jan Morrill says:

      That’s my thinking, too, Keli, but I don’t know how to get “love” viral. Any ideas?

      • keliwright says:

        Love may require too much nurturing to go viral. It often requires us to forgive and to fight our auto-responses. Hate is easy. Things of real value–love and becoming a good writer 😉 –require work and patience. My only idea is to keep spreading it around, one person at a time. It won’t be quick, but hopefully it will be chronic.

  5. I too saw those photos of middle eastern Muslims holding signs trying to distance themselves from the extremists in their own religion. I understand the impulse. Now it looks like the low-budget movie that sparked the latest spewing of hatred may have been produced by our own extremists. Seriously. Jesus IS coming. And boy is he pissed.

    • Jan Morrill says:

      I heard bits and pieces of that on the news this morning, too, Pam. What’s up with people purposely trying to add fuel to the fire? We’re all connected now, and sadly, it puts us all in a vulnerable position these days.

  6. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good (wo)men do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)
    We lovers need to get off our butts and jump (lovingly) into the fray. (scary – can we all hold hands while we do it??)

    • Jan Morrill says:

      Kim, I was just telling Stephen yesterday (only half-jokingly) that we need to get rid of men and let women rule the world. I rarely see women out there rioting and beating their chests. 🙂

  7. Jan Morrill says:

    Madison, I agree that part of the problem is that we are followers. It takes courage to stand up against the crowd, and now, with so much “political correctness,” it’s even harder to be courageous. Unfortunately, the Internet makes it easy to be “courageous” for those who want to express hate. It’s easier when you don’t have to look the person in the eye.

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