“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” ~YODA
Perhaps mankind’s oldest and most primal emotion. If you can name one emotion most mammals share, it is fear. Fear is what kept our species alive for hundreds of thousands of years. Fight or flight. A survival mechanism to deal with immediate threats. Fear differs from anxiety as anxiety is a seemingly random response to unspecified stimuli. Fear deals with the confrontation with or avoidance of an immediate, identifiable threat. Anxiety seems to trigger without any notable stimuli and persist for long durations since the person finds the subject of their anxiety unavoidable or uncontrollable. Though fear manifests during seemingly hopeless situations as well, that fear is still identifiable. Fear is very much a learned response from interaction with stimuli causing pain or the immediate threat of survival. But still fear is a part of human nature. I don’ t think it is surprising that numerous tests have shown that 2 of humans beings top fears are animals and heights. This is known as preparedness. It may have had a strong effect on our evolution through natural selection since human beings who were quicker to fear dangerous situations wee more likely to grow up and make little humans of their own. “Knowledge” of these fears is in our genes. Natural fears that spring up over the course of human history have great effects in our culture. Not too long after human beings were granted the gift of awareness, they immediately became aware of one thing: They were going to die. Fear of death is a common reason given for the influence of religion. The fear of a distant slightly ambiguous death could probably be better classified as an anxiety though. If you are being held at gunpoint, then you are fearing death. If you’re thinking ahead 60 years, you have an anxiety. Fear is also taught though. In tests conducted on fear, the same area of the brain that responded to “scary faces”, the amygdala, also responded to pictures of faces of other races. Fear can instill deep paranoia that many times lead to extreme dislike and distrust. Fear clouds certain conscious and subconscious processes that are involved with reason. After this, it is a short walk to the next stage.
Anger has existed basically as long as man has feared the unknown. And been angry about it! Anger and fear are considered 2 of mankind’s primal, innate emotions, along with joy and sadness. Anger is defined as: a strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by a wrong. Anger can often times be about perception, which can be problematic since anger tends to skew your perspective. Lab tests have shown that the processes in the brain that increase anger also short changes our ability to objectively reason. But, like fear, anger can be productive. Anger can be considered cathartic. In a supervised setting, most commonly a psychiatrist’s office, anger can be used to effectively and productively sort through emotional turmoil. The problem is controlling the anger one unleashed. Not every person is equally capable of controlling it. Anger moves along a sliding bar from annoyance to absolute rage. The more it increases, the less we retain objectivity and self control. Anger seems to literally hijack the mind. When it reaches levels of rage it becomes incredibly difficult to subdue and wholly destructive not only to those around the person but to the person directing it. It drives the circulatory and neurological make up of the body to extremes and can very often result in heart attack and stroke. Anger seems to take a far greater toll on the body than most any other emotion. Still, anger can be productive. Anger has lent a hand in human survival. Anger can be mobilized to correct mistakes and address certain unacceptable grievances. Anger is not wrong. It is in fact healthy in measured doses. But anger is intoxicating. Anger appears to be a much more layered and dynamic emotion than fear. Fear can run deep and become progressively worse with extended exposure to the object of the fear, but seems to quickly dissipate when this object is removed. Anger can build to incredible heights even if the cause of this anger appears to be resolved. The anger can coalesce and become hatred.
Fear, anger, humiliation, and envy can all lead to hate. Hatred is a deep and extreme dislike of an object or objects, animate or inanimate. Various philosophical and psychological descriptions of hate have been written over the centuries by everyone from Aristotle to Sigmund Freud. Hate, like love, can cause you to form attachments to a person or object. But instead of wanting to insure their well being, you wish for their destruction. Since hate seems to persist for long periods of time, like love, some psychiatrists believe hate to be an attitude or disposition more than a temporary emotional state. Hatred of one’s self can also form in people with severe depression or psychological trauma. Hatred turned inward is terribly destructive emotionally, mentally, and physically. Many a person has left a suicide note claiming an intense hatred of the world and their place in it. Hatred, like many other emotions, can be taught or put in place artificially. Racism is a strong form of learned hate. An attitude in which a subject’s anger at a seemingly unconnected social or economic problem is directed toward a particular race of people, reinforced with negative stereotypes, and allowed to ferment into hatred. Hatred can be distinguished from rage. Rage often times leads to a state of severely decreased reason and decision making. Hatred can be manipulative, coordinated, and very focused. Most people hate for seemingly unsound reasons but they are still, for the most part, in control of their emotional faculties. Rage most often leaves some sort of immediate mental or physical trauma in it’s wake. Hate can arise and persist for long periods of time without a single incident. But, where as anger can be directed toward moral goals, hatred seems to be solely destructive on any level. Even if the hate is directed at a commonly agreed upon wrong, the bond becomes so strong that destructive means are often sought to obtain the goal, causing more harm than the original “evil”. Hatred at it’s strongest and most severe leads, more often than not, to intense suffering.
Suffering is a state of severe mental or physical unpleasantness brought about by harm or the threat of harm. Suffering is hatred played out to it’s ultimate conclusion, but it can also be brought on one’s self through your own actions, or the indirect actions of others that may have meant no harm. Disease and the pain of injury can also lead to great suffering. For the purposes of this piece we will focus on suffering brought about by hate. Hatred can naturally lead to a desire to see someone or some group suffer pain. Emotional or physical. Torture and torment are the two most common tools used to inflict this suffering. This may involve physical pain inflicted to the body or emotional pain caused by a feeling of dread and hopelessness. Torture is a common tool of many military organizations and despotic regimes. Hatred has most likely already torn away any ethical or moral problems the person has with inducing this suffering. Even in military cases, a sliver of hate enters the proceedings when dealing with the recovery of information from “the enemy”. Suffering serves two purposes to the person inflicting it. It weakens their target mentally and physically, but it also ties into psychological warfare or the effort to spread dread through a large group. Many people have committed atrocious acts with the coolest of demeanor. Sometimes though, the attachment of hate can lead to great sadness in an individual when the target of that hate has been wounded or eliminated, causing them to question their motives. It’s just a shame it usually has to come to that.
So when we address societal issues regarding hate and suffering are we really addressing what needs to be addressed? For the longest time I felt education and knowledge was the key to ending hate. Now I’m not so sure. We are talking about deep primal emotions here. The wiring of our brains and the history buried in our DNA. How can we apply rational solutions to an animal that, despite our most boastful claims, can be VERY irrational at the drop of a hat? We are attempting to control emotion. Willpower is a good thing but it is not equal in all people. Haven’t you ever felt fear or anger for no reason? At least one you couldn’t fully describe? A sudden rush of emotion that just sweeps over you and literally alters your whole way of thinking?
Are the Buddhists right? Is suffering a natural stage of existence? Even when we grow angry at the “right things” we lose a bit of our reason. As that anger grows our intellectual capacities decease. Anger is a very necessary emotion though. It mobilizes us more than any other emotion. What is the balance? Is it silly to think we can achieve it? Our deep social attachments keep things from reaching a tipping point, but far too often these bonds fall away when intense hatred is introduced. And it is easily introduced my friends. Maybe technology is our answer. The day we no longer have inequality at any level, maybe the hate and suffering will end. Or maybe it will just become easier to hide. It is hard to walk away from thousands of years of programming.