Why Hate Towards a Group of Certain Political Opinions, Institutions, Give People a Sense of Purpose in Life

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Throughout history, we’ve seen how powerful it can be when people unite against a common enemy—whenever there’s a clear enemy, whether a person or a movement, it tends to rally people together. This is true in politics, culture, and beyond.

But even though we’re taught to avoid hate, it still thrives in our world. Hate has caused immense harm through wars, terrorism, and hate crimes.

It can make people feel better about themselves by shifting blame away from them or by projecting their insecurities onto others. Hate can also bring people together, forming strong bonds based on shared dislike for someone or something.

Why does hate stick around? Turns out it serves a few purposes. Hate satisfies individual instincts and makes people feel better about themselves by deflecting blame or projecting insecurities onto others. It also brings people together forming strong bonds through shared animosity towards a common enemy (be it someone or something). Hate, it seems, has various appeals.

But there’s more to it than that.

A recent study, featured in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, explored the role of hate in providing individuals with a sense of purpose, particularly when directed towards collective entities such as groups or organizations. In the study, 847 participants were surveyed about their emotions and their targets of hatred. They discovered that hate, not just mere dislike, heightened individuals’ behavioral activation systems, connected with feelings of enthusiasm, eagerness, and determination, while simultaneously reducing their behavioral inhibition system, linked to feelings of anxiety, frustration, uncertainty and confusion.

Abdo Elnakouri, the study’s lead author and a Ph.D. candidate in social psychology at the University of Waterloo, reflected on the findings, suggesting that prominent cultural figures or political movements often gain momentum when they have a clear adversary to oppose. This observation led him to conclude that having an enemy to hate might energize individuals.

More interestingly, it’s not the case when it comes to hate towards an individual compared to a group—the twist here is that the study also noted that hatred towards individuals didn’t evoke the same sense of purpose among participants. Speculations arise—maybe because it feels petty or less significant compared to hating a whole group. Or perhaps it’s harder to sustain hatred towards one person compared to a collective. Still, more research is needed to answer these questions.

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The prevalence of hatred towards institutions founded on patriarchal principles, governed by neurotypical norms, favoring the socio-economically privileged, or discriminating against marginalized groups is evident and, to a large extent, justified.

This sentiment often serves as a driving force for activists committed to fostering a more inclusive society.

We often see hatred directed towards institutions that uphold unfair values or discriminate against certain groups. This feeling is understandable and often drives activists to fight for a fairer society. In a way, having a sense of purpose, and sometimes feeling anger, is important for making positive social changes. Hate, as it is, can push people to work towards a goal, giving their lives meaning.

But not all hate is good or helpful. Some hatred can be harmful and make things worse instead of better. Abdo suggests that we should focus our efforts on fighting against the right things in life. He wants people to think about whether they are fighting for the right reasons or just to feel good about themselves. Being aware of our motivations and making sure they’re based on principle rather than just getting a thrill out of conflict is more important.

Is Abdo advice sound? Yes. Does that make it realistic, no

This advice may be sensible, noble even, still it’s not easy to expect people to carefully choose what they hate. In a world where self-reflection isn’t common and many lack self-awareness, hatred often thrives unchecked.

There’s also been instances, news showcasing how the media is filled with questionable or distorted stories that fuel hatred, from historical events to modern-day controversies. These messages, often received via messaging platforms and social media, urge retaliation and offer little hope for reconciliation. Haters tend to view their enemies as irredeemably evil, leaving no room for positive change. This highlights how hate’s strength lies in its destructive nature.

Experts also warn about the physical effects of hate. While it can stimulate brain regions involved in planning and action, it can trigger aggression. This leads to increased levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, resulting in long-term health issues such as insomnia, inflammation, anxiety and weight gain.

Even though hate might sometimes serve a purpose, and be a powerful force, it’s worth exploring other, less risky sources of motivation as well.

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Such as comparing hate to other things that give life meaning, like love, as Abdo mentioned. Is hate stronger than love when it comes to making people feel fulfilled? Perhaps hate feels safer because it doesn’t require vulnerability like love does. You can feel a sense of purpose by fighting against something without having to open up to another person.

 

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