Random rumination on hate

Updated: Feb 19, 2020, 07:45 IST | Mayank Shekhar | Mumbai

Can we rid ourselves of individual biases? No. Deep-seated prejudices/hate? Really hope so

Common word for troll is 'hater'. Conventional wisdom suggests, a person generally hates you for three reasons: A) They want to be you. B) They hate themselves. C) They see you as a threat. Representation pic
Common word for troll is 'hater'. Conventional wisdom suggests, a person generally hates you for three reasons: A) They want to be you. B) They hate themselves. C) They see you as a threat. Representation pic

picLadka Punjabi hai. Par hai kaafi padha-likha (The boy is Punjabi. But he's rather well-read)," said the Philadephia-based psychoanalyst Salman Akhtar, of a conversation he was having with his aunt, about a boy who was getting married into their family. Salman, for those who might not know, is writer Javed Akhtar's Indian-American brother.

At a talk I attended of his many years ago, he was explaining the difference between bias, and prejudice. "Punjabi; par padha-likha," is a bias. Which, he said, is an inevitable human trait. You can't escape it. That the bias had no bearing on the aunt accepting the boy into the family, showed lack of prejudice.

What's the distance between bias and prejudice, exactly? Presuming it's hard to measure. That we're naturally inclined towards relishing/believing the worst about people is something you can gauge from an endless human delight/appetite for gossip — mostly about folk we hardly know.

What's the more public, modern equivalent of a gossip-monger? The social-media troll. Have you actually met your personal troll? I have, once, at a party, where I casually went up to say hi to this fellow — giving him no inkling of how he'd been bothering the hell out of me, making up crap for the sake of cracking jokes/innuendos, at my expense, online.

What did that 'social-media handle' do, standing opposite a real person he'd been maligning for pleasure? Behave like the best friend at that party — engaging in conversations, deeply interested in points of view, over-compensating for past indiscretions, pretty much fetching my drinks all night. Social plus physical distance, explains the personal troll. Bridge that even for a second, I suspect, the cowardice disappears.

Common word for troll is 'hater'. Conventional wisdom (all of which I acquire from the Twitter handle @fact) suggests, a person generally hates you for three reasons: A) They want to be you. B) They hate themselves. C) They see you as a threat. The other popular gyaan is that the opposite of hate isn't love. It's indifference.

What these criteria don't recognise enough though is the seductive power of hate itself — to amalgamate/unite. Where did I first learn this? At an advertising agency, Lowe Lintas, headed by filmmaker R Balki about a decade ago, while we were trying to put together an innocuous, city-wide day, designed around multiple outdoor events, for readers of a newspaper I worked for.

The agency suggested we call the event, 'No TV Day'. Why? Because a negative slogan would galvanise people more positively towards doing something together. The advertising thought worked. The caption had a recall. The event was a success alright. Glad the villain was TV. The only fallout was no TV station advertised for it!

Would the same marketing/advertising principle apply if the imagined 'other' were groups of people running into millions/billions? You see this happening with race, caste, religion all the time. This "wholesale hate" is what Salman's brother Javed terms "fascism."

How does this occur? Guess from lack of personal exposure first — when individuals create perceptions en masse about other individuals, they have not personally met/seen/experienced. They let these perceptions pass through their small minds into big mouths to perpetuate some sort of myths to justify their prejudice — tending towards extreme hate.

Art's responded to this phenomenon widely. This is how the little boy Jojo Rabbit in the recent Nazi comedy comes up with inane theories about wild creatures called the Jews. Likewise, Kashmir kids in Vidhu Vinod Chopra's Shikara are dumbstruck, staring at a Kashmiri Pandit, who's returned from exile, in 2018. These children have never seen a Kashmiri Pandit. They're probably surprised he looks/behaves no differently.

There's also the pain of shared history — or 'racial memory,' as Karl Gustav Jung calls it. Actor Naseeruddin Shah, 69, who never thought of himself as a Muslim growing up in India, says in an interview to The Wire, "[Collective hate directed on the basis of religion] has a lot to do with people of my generation, or decade or two younger — affected by memetics of what they heard as children.

"This clouded us for a little while. In school, we did toss around insults and epithets at each other. But this was never followed up with anything by way of action. Partition wounds inflicted on the parents' generation affected our psyches somewhere. Luckily the generation that is not scarred by such memetics is [the one] coming up!"

Why am I bringing up this popular weapon of mass distraction? Because it gets brought up 24x7 in public discourse, chiefly by the generation Naseer speaks of. Note that I am not referring to politics/politicians here. For, the Roman philosopher Seneca, who died in frickin' 65 AD, has already said all there is to on that subject: "Religion is regarded by the common people as true. By the wise, as false. And by the rulers, as useful." What else to say. Beware, I guess! No?

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14 Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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