The Book of Human Emotions: From Ambiguphobia to Umpty - 154 Words from Around the World for How We Feel - Tiffany Watt Smith 2016


A burned-out car. Police sirens wail in the distance. Abdel, a local youth from the banlieues, the poor, multiethnic housing estates on the outskirts of Paris, has been beaten unconscious by neo-Nazi policemen. In the unrest that follows, three friends roam the streets. Vinz and Said fantasize about taking revenge, while Hubert, the quietest and most thoughtful of the group, fears the effect of tit-for-tat violence. “Hatred breeds hatred,” he says, summing up the CLAUSTROPHOBIA of their world, where hatred sticks in the throat, and then flares up in flashes of cruel and apparently random violence.

Mathieu Kassovitz’s film La Haine (Hate, 1995) was released at a moment when hatred loomed large in the headlines. It was in the 1980s that American journalists first coined the term “hate crime” to describe a wave of attacks on people of marginalized groups, their homes and places of worship. In the 1990s, western Europe experienced a similar outbreak of violence fueled by intolerance and prejudice, and introduced its own “hate-crime legislation.”

We might, when we get indignant or exasperated in day-to-day life, say that we hate something or someone (“I hate it when people leave food wrappers on the street!” “I hate people who don’t replace the photocopy paper!”). We might speak of the line between love and hate being paper thin. Or the frustration that drives the “I hate yous” hurled in rage by teenagers at their parents (and sometimes right back at them too). But in the last twenty years the meaning of the word “hate” has also narrowed, describing a prejudiced attitude that can be objectifiably quantified, and even argued over in court. Hate has become a state of mind—part emotion, part attitude—for which it is now possible to be held legally accountable.

The link between hatred and prejudice is not entirely new. It can be traced back to Aristotle, who thought hatred was very different from an emotion such as ANGER or RAGE. Anger, he argued, was a painful, short-lived desire to inflict pain on an individual. Hatred, in contrast, was a more abstract concept, always felt toward groups of people, or types. “For if we believe that someone is a certain kind of person, we hate him,” he wrote. It was also “incurable,” and annihilation was its goal. So rather than simply wanting to hurt or argue with the person we hate, we wish simply that “he should cease to exist.” One crucial difference between Aristotle’s definition of hatred and our own, however, is that Aristotle believed hatred was an ethical emotion, one we are naturally predisposed to feel toward people who behave unjustly. “Everyone hates a thief and an informer,” was Aristotle’s example. It was for this reason that, according to Aristotle, hatred was not painful to experience. In fact, it left one with a rather pleasing feeling of moral superiority (see also: INDIGNATION).

The current language of “hate crimes” has flipped Aristotle’s definition on its head. Rather than hating transgressors, it is the haters themselves who are now thought morally deficient. Many legal scholars think the word “hate” has no real place in the rhetoric of crimes motivated by prejudice. The word “hate” does not appear in the legislation itself; more neutral words like “bias” are used. It is governments, police spokespeople and journalists who speak of “hate-fueled violence.” Some legal scholars say this emotive language is deliberately inflammatory, making it possible to give tougher sentences: it is, it seems, easier to punish someone for their irrational emotions than for their beliefs. Those who defend the terminology argue that it’s precisely the emotional content of a prejudice that is most harmful. It’s the hatred that is toxic and that inflames the desire to humiliate victims, not some reasoned belief. Can you punish an emotion? Is there even an objective measure for it? Hatred may be the focus of legal and philosophical argument, but in the meantime, for many, it has become a byword for all that is contemptible, intolerant and antisocial in our societies.

And yet, and yet… Even the most polite and respectful among us do continue to enjoy a certain kind of hating. The Victorian critic William Hazlitt characterized hatred as a rather refined enjoyment. In his essay “On the Pleasure of Hating,” he describes how a shared hatred gives a frisson of camaraderie at a dinner party, bringing people together in the shared delight of tearing others apart.* Hatred draws clear lines around oneself in opposition to the disliked object, he wrote. It gives one a feeling of being temporarily much greater than we actually are. “We grow tired of everything,” wrote Hazlitt, “but turning others into ridicule, and congratulating ourselves on their defects.”

For more on emotions in court see: JEALOUSY; CONTEMPT.

See also: SMUGNESS.