Monday, May 16, 2022

Hatred and the Social Network

The Massacre in Buffalo (NY Post)
Hate. If I had to choose one word that describes our word today, it would be hate. Not that hate is always bad. The bible is filled with things and people we are supposed to hate. Things which the Torah tells you are evil are to be hated. 

But what is happening in so many cases in our world today is motivated by an unprecedented degree of hatred of people and things unrelated to what the bible requires.  An irrational hatred that is now expressed in a variety of ways. Racism and anitsemitism is perhaps the most commonly expressed form of hatred. This has always been the case.  At least in my lifetime. But the degree to which that hatred is now expressed has risen to a level not seen since the days of the Holocaust for Jews and slavery for blacks.

The ultimate expression of such hatred once again reared its ugly head last weekend where a lone gunman – a teenager no less – shot dead 10 innocent black people in a Buffalo, New York  supermarket for no other reason than his hated of black people. Which – along with antisemitism - is the hallmark of white supremacists. These people have been around a long time. But in recent years they have come out with a vengeance against innocent Black and Jewish people who wish to do nothing more than live in peace with their neighbors.

With respect to the Jewish people – we get it from all sides. The white supremacists of the extreme right and the BDS supporters of extreme left hate us with similar venom. As does a variety of black antisemitic groups such as Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam and black liberationists. As do the radicalized Muslims of the world – the most prominent of which is Iran and their surrogates in Gaza and Lebanon. And their sympathizers. Which was recently highlighted in the Crimson, Harvard’s student newspaper. 

As I indicated, this hatred has always existed. But it is now more easily expressed in the most deadly of terms. 

Hate is not really what this country is all about. It is about tolerance. It is about equal rights for all. And the protection of those rights. 

While this is true, the current climate of hatred speaks louder than the American credo of tolerance. The question is why is there this unprecedented uptick in hate based violence in America?  And what can be done about it?

A lot of people think gun control is the answer. I wish it were. 

I do believe that if guns were not so easily available it would reduce incidents like the one in Buffalo. But it would not eliminate them. I hate to quote the NRA – but one of their slogans is true. If guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns. Criminals and racist extremists and the mentally deranged  will find ways to get their guns illegally. This is not to say that I don’t think there should be gun control. There absolutely should be.  A reduction in violence is still a reduction – even if it doesn’t completely eliminate it. 

The idea of ridding hate based ideologies such as those of white supremacist or the Nation of Islam is a pipe dream. You can’t just rip out hatred from the heart of a hater. Re-education might work in individual cases. But I don’t see it working large scale.

Better protection by law enforcement would help. The police should be fully supported and allowed to do their jobs. But there too, it is relatively easy for a lone gunman to slip through the cracks and do a lot of damage in a few minutes before they are subdued.

One of the sources of mass shooting is bullying. Many of the younger mass murderers were victims of bullying. To such an extent that they did not want to go on living and in a misguided sense of revenge and rage – would take out as many souls as they could before shooting themselves.

What is it that has changed in our day that has so seriously exacerbates the hatred? A lot of people blame the former President. I think there is a lot of validity to that. 

What Trump succeeded in doing is to make hate mainstream. Many people with differing political ideologies have always seen their ideological opponents in extremely negative terms. I can’t tell you how many times – long before Trump - I have heard friends of mine on both sides of the political aisle express sheer contempt for the other side. Until Trump (whose bombastic rhetorical style is probably modeled on Rush Limbaugh) those feelings were expressed mostly in private. Trump made it completely acceptable to express that hatred in public. 

That was followed by a right wing media that did – and continues to do the same. Which in turn was parroted by their viewers and listeners. Many of the  people who continue to support Trump are the ones that scream their hatred the loudest. Not to be outdone, the left has returned their hatred in kind – vilifying every Trump voter as an extremist .

There is not a doubt in my mind that the former President has some culpability here. But he is not the cause. He is only the accelerant. The hatred was always there only to be released when the former President normalized it 

The real culprit in my view  is the social network. 

There is not a doubt in my mind that social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tik-Tok and a whole host of other website like them have brought out the worst in us.  People that would otherwise never say a bad word about anyone else in public have been freed up by anonymity on those platforms to speak their minds and vehemently attack their opponents with impunity. That brings out responses in kind. It is almost as if it were a challenge to outdo each other with bigger insults than was hurled at them.

If there was one thing I could point to that is the most damaging thing about the internet, it would be the social network. It exacerbates the hatred that exists in a lot of people.

I have no idea how to fix this problem. Clearly there is also a lot of good that happens on these platforms, too. Lives have been saved. Whether the incidents of good outweighs the bad or vice versa is not a question I can answer. But a lot of people have died because of what goes on there. And I doubt we have seen the last of it. As was made clear by yet another mass shooting in California the next day. 

I see a lot of hatred expressed right here by some who comment on this blog. Hatred of the other. Hatred of those whose political ideologies are seen as evil by the other side. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I have had to censor some of the more egregious attacks by one commentator against another. By people on both sides of the political aisle as well and both sides of the religious aisle. 

I can’t stop people from holding dear their long held beliefs – whether I agree with them or not. But for God’s sake stop hating people you disagree with. That never ends well.