08/22/2014 09:20 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why Hate Is Historically Transformative

Contrary to what you might think, it is hate, not love, that makes the world go around.

Even though "love" is mentioned more often than "hate" on Google and in the major religious works, most of the major historical events you know about are based on humans expressing, or being exposed to, the emotion of hate in all its many forms.


Human brains and "hate circuits" (credit:

Our history is replete with famous wars that veterans often take pride in recollecting, our children forced to learn their many facts, the names of generals etc. Every war in human history is propelled forward on the battle field through acts of hatred for another human. Never mind that the cause of the battle might be considered a just one. The enemy is dehumanized to make the killing a personally palatable act. Modern technology also allows a soldier to kill the enemy from such a great distance that the act becomes completely sanitized, unlike in ancient Roman sword battles, where you literally stood toe-to-toe and looked into the enemy's face one man at a time. We humans have such a long history of this form of hatred that one can hardly say that our natural and desired state is one of peace.

All state and national boundaries stem from a hatred of the party or group living on the other side. You build a fence on your property line not because you love your neighbor but because you are marking a territory that you are prepared to defend legally, or at the point of a gun if necessary. Often these boundaries are guarded by organized security forces that are not interested in loving you but will do you bodily harm if you transgress. State boundaries are generally invisible to the traveler, though they achieve enormous prominence when it comes time to vote.

Political parties increasingly segregate voters into "us" (majority/winners) and "them" (minority/losers). The majority are prepared, through the niceties of the legal system, to create laws and programs that the minority must adhere to. This is an act of aggression and intimidation that is used as a constructive force by the majority but always has a hateful response by the minority. For example, abolishing slavery and segregation in the South by the majority did not relieve or reeducate millions of voters in the minority, who continue to be racists and bigots today and have nothing but enmity for the North. After the Civil Rights Act was signed in 1964, many Southern Democrats left the party and moved to the Republican or Independent side, causing the Democrats to lose the South "for a generation," as President Lyndon B. Johnson predicted. There are few examples of any political action that has not been experienced as a hateful act against some portion of the citizenry who were in the voting minority that "lost."

Every religion is also based on the principle of "us" vs. "them." Without exception, all religions have the blood of hatred on their hands at the same time that they preach love for members of their religious group. Some religions such as Islam call for the nonbeliever to be punished or even killed, in much the same way that Christianity does not suffer a witch to live, and in much the same way that a Hindu is told to destroy infidels. Yet to cover this underlying hatred for others, religions usually preach some form of love, but most often it is directed at their fellow believers, or revering their prophets, saints or gods.

Hate is the most common newsworthy story and headline, whether it be examples of murder, robbery, political disputes or international tensions. Hate brings out aggressive, extroverted behavior that some segments of society (e.g., sports, politics, business, gun lobby) value, and which has high entertainment value. Stories based upon love, with positive and hopeful characteristics, are considered unsophisticated, naïve and Pollyannaish, except during natural disasters and heroic rescue attempts.

The problem is that hate has a genetic and neurological free ride in the way humans are built and have evolved. Hate is hardwired into the primitive mammalian limbic system, which powerfully activates the flight-or-fight response. The "hate circuit" involves two brain regions called the putamen and the insula. Apparently, the putamen plays a role in the perception of contempt and disgust and may be part of the motor system that's mobilized to take action. The amount of activity in the hate circuit correlates with the amount of hate a person feels.

Hate has enormous survival value that is enormously more adaptive than love if you want to survive as an individual or as a group in nature. Hate fires up the adrenal glands, makes the heart race, heightens the senses and does all the things that need to be done physiologically to make sure that you survive the current existential challenge like fighting for a mate, fighting for property or fighting for food.

In order for love to be more historically transformational, it has to demonstrate some victories along the way. Sadly, our history books fail to emphasize the non-weaponized, boring examples where brotherhood, love and diplomacy triumphed, preferring instead to make history an exciting romp from one war and political conflict to another with exotic technology.

To prove to you that hate is more historically significant than love, I would challenge you to try to cite historical events based upon love that have been as transformative as the major historical wars or the steady march of genocides and pogroms that everyone can enumerate at the drop of a hat. For example, if you mention vanquishing the scourge of slavery, you need to demonstrate that there are no longer any economically oppressed people. If your religion advocates love, you have to demonstrate a major historical example of how nonmembers of your religion were loved.

I think you will find it far easier to find historical examples of hate than of love, and for me that is the most discouraging thing to consider as a template for future history.