Friday, June 16, 2017

The Art of Hate

I was having a philosophical discussion with a friend about the instinctive goodness of human beings that lurched toward the example of lynching. He thought it was just virulent racism and if you removed the racists things like that wouldn't happen. I said that while, yes, lynching in America was often about black people getting killed by a large group of white people, the idea of mob murder didn't start in America. The idea behind lynching is simple:it starts with a group of people who are 1) bored 2) angry but feel helpless and 3) want to focus their rage on something that is different from them (which often means race, religion, nationality, or ethnicity) 4) want something to rally behind. In Medieval Europe a group of people might be getting drunk and looking for something to do and they start doing what people do when they gather: gossip. And the most more outrageous, salacious, horrific gossip floats to the top of the cesspool, especially when it's about others in the community who are different. So a drunk might accuse a Jewish merchant of being behind the disappearance of kids. And then someone else might chime in that, speculate, elaborate into a horror scenario. The crowd gets lathered up and excited. They have someone to hate and possibly something to do. Over a series of nights the conversation may circle back to this one merchant as people get angrier and angrier. Finally someone makes the move: let's go throw stuff at this guy's house, break down his door, maybe drag him away. It becomes an event. Pitch forks, torches, a march from the pub to this poor guy's house picks up steam and followers along the route. People are swearing they saw this guy kill kids, drink their blood, do unspeakable horrors. Everyone is looking for an excuse to vent, rage, and be apart of something... even if they suspect the accusations aren't true. In America we just turned this kind of violence into an art form: picnic, carnival games, people traveling from miles around to enjoy a pleasant afternoon that will culminate in a black person being tortured and cut into pieces. People would take home souvenirs from that day: pictures in front of the desecrated body, a finger in a jar, or an ear. An event happened. That is what human beings are capable of, and we're not even talking villains or Hitler. Just 90% of humanity of a hot day or after too many drinks or just when they're desperate to be a part of something. 

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