a blog about philosophy in public affairs

Experiencing and responding to hate

This post has been published anonymously to protect the identity of its author, who is still receiving messages of hate.

Recently I did a radio interview in which I argued for equal access to certain social services, such as health care, for migrants and refugees. I did not focus on the instrumental value migrants have for countries – I did not focus on the economic and health benefits everyone has if people on the same territory are able to work, and are healthy and sane. I focused on the broader ethical arguments for equal access, even though I mentioned the instrumental arguments too. Perhaps I should have expected that not everyone would agree with my views. But nothing could possibly have prepared me for the hate mail that I received after the interview. In this post, I try to describe the experience and make a plea for greater solidarity in standing against such hate.

I must say I did not know what hate is until I became victim of hate mail after this interview. The short and ugly wave that hit me was enough to let me understand the dimension of hate in a way that I couldn’t before. It is awful. It is emotionally dangerous, as a friend told me. This kind of hate can reach you. It can reach the most inner part of you, it can let you feel entirely vulnerable to all sorts of violence, to insecurity, you fear for the life of your next of kin for no factual reason, you feel poisoned. Just because you suddenly understand that all of this is completely out of control, and that they are seemingly taking control on a wider scale.

This kind of hate is combined with ignorance towards facts and basic reasoning. It feels as if we have no weapons against this kind of hate. No weapons at all. I mean – weapons that a more or less reasonable and peaceful person would like to use. There is no way to argue, explain, discuss, debate. They picked on the “ethical arguments” but in a distorted, disturbing, ugly way. It seems as if there is no way to reach that complex web of hate with our tools of communication we usually use. Inside – outside, two separate worlds.

And the haters currently find successful parties and people they can vote for. They feel empowered, they feel strong, connected, mirrored by those politicians who jump onto this wave or initiate them. Nigel Farage lied during the Brexit campaign? Donald Trump’s speech is almost entirely wrong according to fact checkers? Followers don’t even seem to care. It is not about truth. It is about systematic hate and ideology. That is so comfortable, so lazy. And so dangerous. Is hate the new normal? Is anti-reasoning the new normal?

The Brexit was one of the great big wake up calls. So many other voting patterns are too. Turkey is. Terrorist attacks are. What else do we need to get our acts together and strategically think about what to do? We are heading towards something really really ugly, or are already right in the middle of it. Help, you, me, everyone. You can read in an excellently written blog about the Republican National Convention: “Shell-shocked members of the press stumble out into the street. One journalist from a major mainstream outlet breaks down in tears. ‘It’s just — there’s so much hate’”. I relate to that. It brings you to tears, you feel paralyzed, helpless, powerless, stripped from everything that you believed in that can make this world function. You might want to leave the world for a moment. I felt all this, and maybe that is the intention of this wicked, fanatic, cowardly and dumb game: To paralyze you, to mute you, to discourage you, to scare you, to make you feel singled out and alone.

What are we doing against hate? What should we be doing? It seems that our constant reasoning, fact checking and arguing helps us but doesn’t do anything with the haters, maybe except for giving them more reason to laugh at, or just ignore and hate. Shouldn’t we find better ways to pull the emergency break?

I wish we could wear a button: ‘I received hate mail’. And to be able to wear this as a trophy, to show haters that we don’t care, we are proud that we reached their souls, stole their time because they had to sit down and write this f*ing email. The more button wearers, the better. Signals of solidarity. Show them and by that empower ourselves that the hate won’t get to us. That we will go on fighting for those who are said to have little or no voice. That we will fight for better education, more reasoning, more critical thinking, more cooperation towards justice and peace, more inclusion of so-called minorities.

There must be something beyond fear, paralyzation and powerlessness. Something with sustainable effects like education, research on hate, programs for more social equality, etc. but also something that can start right now. The visible and publicly outspoken bond and solidarity of all of those who do not want this to happen? Strategies how to legally punish haters and define clear limits of what is acceptable and what is not?

At the very least we need to firmly believe, publicly show and live that justice, inclusion and peace are stronger than hate. And that fear can be overcome by connectedness, hope and courage. Everyone of us can do that right now. Everyone can reach out to those who are (potentially) being hated, and strengthen the message that we can and should do more to counteract what is happening right now. Maybe this is the sad truth, but maybe this also carries a certain power we haven’t recognized yet: All of us who are pro-inclusion, justice and peace, we can probably count ourselves as being hated. We should wear our buttons with pride.


TTIP – What we’ve learned in the debate


Moral Progress – An Illusion?


  1. Simon Philpott

    Post-evidential politics is pretty well established and has been for some time I think…how long? Hard to say, isn’t it? The weapons of mass destruction justification for invading Iraq may qualify? Does Ronald Reagan’s ‘great communicator’ discourse? Somewhere along the way and between the two? Over a decade ago, the US political theorist, William Connolly, wrote an article called ‘The Evangelical Capitalist Resonance Machine’ (it’s in Political Theory in Dec 2005 from memory) and it has stayed with me. The basic argument is to refute conspiracy theory but to recognise the way that despite their major differences evangelical Christianity, cowboy capitalism, the shock components of the electronic media and the right wing of the Republican party resonate with each other on particular issues and set up wider resonances that work in affective fashion. The left, progressives, call them, us, what you will, have not travelled the path of affective politics to the same degree. Hell, what would progressive affective politics even look, or feel, like? It’s not clear to me that broad spectrum contempt for those that work actively against the kind of world progressives want is any kind of solution. But I am confident that the battle to be won is in the realms of affect and emotion and careful, reasoned appeal to facts and data are not going to work especially well. Piling up facts in the face of hatred is not a politics that is going to win back the haters for the reasons you so eloquently outline in your post. But having people feel something akin to revulsion at their actions (not themselves) may be a necessary component of at least reeling in what seems to be a growing and obnoxious part of our politics.

  2. Wouter Peeters

    Call me ridiculously naive, but I believe that love is the answer to hate. And if it isn’t, it should be. In each case, the author should know that I love him/her for posting this thoughtful piece. Her/his indignation is mine.

    This might be much in line with the last paragraph, but the following thoughts are rather intersubjective than political. Most importantly, I think it is not only to those who are being hated that we should reach out to (although them first), but we should also try to love those who hate, how frustrating and difficult this might be.

    Sartre pessimistically believed that the co-existence of the Other and myself always ends in hate of the Other’s existence as transcendence of my own transcendence. However, even my hate clearly fails, since I cannot ‘undo’ the existence of the Other, thus proving its futility.
    Much more optimistically, Merleau-Ponty said that I should not strive for the supremacy of my own freedom/consciousness (which would be empty and lonely), but to experience myself and others equally as living bodies. In this way, the Other and I enter a dialectic relation in which we both concurrently are object and subject for one another, a relationship in which we coexist together. This is hard, but it will benefit the both of us in our being and self-development.
    Nonetheless, this dialectic relation requires one of the partners to set the first step, to make him/herself vulnerable, as an object to the Other (the attitude Sartre calls love). This seems risky: the Other might not love me back and I might become a pure object for him/her. However, this is impossible since it is I who decided to offer myself as an object; the Other cannot negate my subjectivity (although she/he might forcefully resent this fact). The Other thus has no choice but to enter in the dialectic relationship in one way or another, except when she/he negates her/himself (which is as futile as hate).

    In other words, if we can find it in us to love those who hate, maybe they might become aware of the futility of their hate, of the similarities with us and others, and of the mutual benefits of coexisting with the Other. This is hard: it will require them to make themselves vulnerable as well (which is probably the whole problem to begin with), but maybe our love and our vulnerability might convince them.

  3. sarah

    what a brilliant piece of writing.. i share the sense of dismay.horror..i think of germany pre-nazism..the inability to act, to speak out,i think about jo Cox,,,i wonder how it is for Musims who are anti-ISIS, for people in fear all over, for people who dare not comment,,i salute your writingall very best indeed

  4. Thank you for writing this. And for doing the original interview: it’s such an important argument to be getting out there, and I’m really sorry to hear about the consequences for you. I don’t really know what else to say because I’m also struggling to get my head around this phenomenon. I wanted to share this story about writer Lindy West, though, who confronted one of her hate mailers and got some sort of explanation, and an apology. Who knows if this particular case is representative of many others – and it definitely seems different from your own in significant respects – but perhaps a small reason for some hope: http://arstechnica.com/business/2015/01/how-an-internet-trolling-victim-bonded-with-her-worst-troll/

  5. cinnamonb

    Wonderful and thoughtful post. Sorry you had such a an experience. That idea of wearing “I received hate mail” buttons is great. Something such as that which would show solidarity and the notion of standing together to get beyond this. Good comments from sarah and Simon Philpott, too

    It also makes me think of as Megan Blomfield mentioned, internet trolls. The one African-American actress who was in the remake of the movie Ghostbusters was inundated with hateful tweets. The Guardian just has an article about the gal who curated the Ireland twitter feed got hit with some very racist tweets (and thankfully, some supportive ones as well). I don’t comment at The Guardian often now; the thought of getting some very uncivil replies can be a damper. We certainly all won’t agree – but is it really necessary to call names and be rude?

    I also think Wouter Peeters has something with saying LOVE is the answer. That and how about something called “The Golden Rule?” Keeping those things forefront might go far in helping us out of the abyss.

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