To Hate A Little Less

“Hardly anything is evil, but most things are hungry. Hunger looks very like evil from the wrong end of the cutlery. Or do you think that your bacon sandwich loves you back?” — The Doctor (Dr. Who, Season 10, Episode 1)

The person that I love the most is an immigrant. She is now a legal permanent resident but the last three years navigating the immigration process have been hell for my wife and I. And her home country isn’t exactly the most liberal place on Earth, so we had looming anxiety and fear about what would happen to us if she ended up being deported. Deportation may as well be a death sentence and I could not have gone on living without her. Policies that Trump wanted to put in place may have made it impossible for her to stay here legally. Furthermore, Trump did successfully implement regulatory changes that made it more difficult and anxiety-inducing for us. Trump’s proposed immigration reforms would have killed us both; so, of course, I am angry at Trump-supporters. They did something wrong! They — in their ignorance — voted for the worst President in history and, consequently, caused a lot of suffering for a lot of people.

Trump proposes a “merit-based” immigration system. Of course, merit would be determined largely by wealth. You would get points for having money, for earning higher wages, for having an advanced degree, yet poorer people would be less likely to meet the criteria to legally immigrate. Since neither of us are especially rich, this means that my wife would likely have been deported if Trump’s immigration reform proposals had been put in place. She would have been sent to one of the deportation concentration camps. Hundreds and hundreds of women have disappeared from these camps. ICE refused to tell their lawyers or their family what happened to them or where they went. Now we are in the middle of a pandemic, half of those tested in ICE detention are positive for covid19, and ICE has a well-known history of denying detainees access to medical care. Need I remind you that Anne Frank was not put in a gas chamber? She was deported and died of Typhus Fever in a concentration camp! My wife and I found ourselves facing the same fears that Jews faced in Nazi Germany. Because some of you chose to vote for Trump, people are dying in concentration camps. That is the reality that I have to face!

Deaths in ICE detention camps were already happening before Trump’s time in office, but now immigrants in ICE concentration camps are dying of covid19 because they aren’t being allowed to social distance or being given access to healthcare. Trump is an awful person and a terrible President. If you support Trump, you are morally culpable for the damage he is doing! I understand that it was ignorance rather than malice that made you vote the way you did, but I need you to educate yourself and do better going forward. At the same time, it’s extremely hard for people like us to not get angry at those of you who chose to support a President who has made our lives hell.

A year ago, a close friend of mine died. He was a veteran and had volunteered with us at the local Food Not Bombs kitchen. He was also my personal bodhisattva, a light that guided me in the direction of Buddhism. He died as a direct result of local anti-homeless policies that treat homelessness as a crime. Trump has been pushing the same sort of anti-homeless policies on the national stage. The policies that Trump supports killed one of my close friends, so I have a right to be upset at people who support Trump as if there is nothing wrong with being a Trump-supporter.

I draw a parallel between Trump stans and Nazis for a reason. It is not because I think that Trump supporters are “evil” in any supernatural sense. It is because I recognize that the supporters of Hitler and the Nazis during the rise of the Third Reich were actually perfectly nice people. They were good brothers, fathers, daughters, neighbors, employees, and such. They weren’t all-around horrible people. Nevertheless, they were behaving horribly insofar as — in their ignorance — they made bad decisions and collectively enabled the most horrific event in human history! I draw the parallel because the situation is essentially the same. There is a difference of degree but not a difference of kind. The whole German populace during the rise of the Third Reich was not evil, demented, and psychotic beyond compare. They were perfectly nice people, but they were ignorant and they let their ignorance and fear inform their politics. As a result, they caused the Holocaust to happen. In the same way, Trump fans are, like Nazis, behaving unethically as a result of ignorance and hurting innocent people as a consequence. If you are a Trump stan, you have to admit that you would hate me if the shoe was on the other foot: if I supported a politician whose policies threatened your spouse with death and killed your best friend, you would hate me!

Photo by Sebastian Hages on Unsplash

And this has been my struggle for a while. How am I supposed to deal with the anger and hatred I feel as a result of other people’s ignorance. I think it starts by going down the Buddhist path. As a Buddhist, I believe that self is an illusion and that who we are is a result of conditioning and is dependent on things outside of our control. Trump-supporters cannot be essentially evil because essentialism is wrong about the nature of reality — there is no essence there to be evil. All there is is a constantly changing, moment-by-moment, je ne sais quoi. Who I am today is not the same person as I was ten years ago. The way I think has entirely changed and not even one cell in my body remains the same. There is nothing left of that old me. My whole mind and body have been transformed and replaced. I used to be further to the right than most Trump fans but I am no longer the racist asshole that I used to be. I have been reborn, only to be reborn again and again constantly until the day I die. If I can change so drastically, so can anyone else. This, perhaps, can give us hope for the Trump stans. They too can come to our side eventually. But that je ne sais quoi that we call “self” — that thing lacking essence at the core of our being — is conditioned! The doctrine of not-self (anātman) does not mean that the self does not exist in any sense but rather that the self lacks essence. The self is not some immutable divine spark within us, not an unchanging Platonic Form at the core of our being; rather, it is a thing — just like all other things — with an existence that is conditioned. The essence or nature of the self is mutable, constantly changing, capable of reformation. Who I am is the result of my biology and my experiences. I am who I am because of the chemicals in my body and because of the environment in which I was raised. Yet, every day the conditioning changes (or has the potential to be changed). Every new book I read is adding to the experiences that conditioned me to be me. Every action I take and decision I make changes who I am.

This, I believe, is how we can start to hate Trump-supporters a little less. We can start by recognizing that they cannot possibly have believed or behaved any differently given that their beliefs and behaviors are entirely determined by factors that boil down to a combination of nature and nurture. I am well-informed and read infinitely more than most people, so I cannot help being anti-Trump given the information I have available. The average person does not read that much and, consequently, cannot help being uninformed about a lot of things about which I am more informed. People form beliefs on the basis of information that they have available and then act upon those beliefs. I used to be religious and hated Darwin because I had a limited perspective, but then I read dozens of books on Darwinism and that expanded my view. I learned new information and could no longer persist in my old beliefs. I didn’t choose to stop being Christian or to become a Darwinist. I also never chose to become a Buddhist. It just happened as a natural consequence of me learning more. Trump fans are coming from a place of ignorance. They lack information. The task, then, is to better inform them.

I will not go so far as to say that Trump-supporters are not doing something bad by supporting Trump. Ignorance and immorality are entangled phenomena. It’s impossible to be good if you don’t know how to. Burning women alive at the stake is wrong, regardless of whether you do it because you think it’s fun or because you think the women are using witchcraft to harm the children. I reject the notion of a fact/value dichotomy — there is no is-ought problem. Yet, I think it is important to divorce the idea of the “morally bad” from the “evil.” The term evil carries a different connotation. It makes it sound as if the badness is some essential characteristic of a thing (like of the Devil). To say something is evil is to say that it is worthy of our hatred. To say that it is morally wrong is merely a pragmatic judgment. And when we say that so-and-so is a bad person, we mean that they are evil — that there is something essentially wrong about them. The badness is characteristic of their being rather than merely a peripheral fault. So it may be wise to avoid thinking of people as “good people” and “bad people.” Instead, we should judge individual beliefs and behaviors as right (good) or wrong (bad). This, I believe, is the first step towards getting past the anger and hatred we feel towards those who have wronged us. The racist isn’t a “bad person” — he isn’t evil by nature. The robber isn’t either and neither is the cop. These are just people that are doing bad things. The notion that “I am not my sin” and “my sin does not define me” goes two ways. Others are also not their sins.

This recognition is theoretical at best and it does little to make us feel any better about the situation, but it does give us a place to start. From here, we can try to understand where the Trump-supporters are coming from. When talking to Trump stans, it is so easy to get upset because they will appeal to some fact or argument to “prove” their point yet more well-informed individuals can point out the flaws in their arguments and the millions of pieces of evidence that disprove the thesis the Trump stan is making. Listening to “dumb” arguments is irritating. Yet, what if we put ourselves in the other person’s shoes for a moment? Listen to the best and most rational arguments from Trump supporters and assume that you don’t know any better than the Trump apologists do. All the counter-arguments and the counter-evidence that pops into your mind, just assume for a second that you are unaware of it. That’s the position that they are in. Here we can begin to understand why people believe stupid things. Unfortunately, you are unlikely to convince someone that they are wrong through debate most of the time. There are psychological factors at play that often make people immune to logic when you are telling them that they are wrong. This is just another of those conditioning factors that I mentioned before. This essay isn’t to help us break through to them and change their minds. That is out of our control. We can keep having discussions and debates with them, but we must recognize that the conversion of the sinner is out of our control. We can’t change people. All we can do is try to understand them and try to minimize the damage they can do to others. The true purpose of this essay is therapeutic. It is to explore how we can better ourselves by coming to a point where we can let go of the anger we feel towards others and start to reach a place of understanding. I understand why I am angry and why my anger is rationally justified. I understand why the people who are upsetting me are doing stupid things. I understand that it is out of my control. A closer examination of our emotions and their causes usually shows us how to cope with them better.

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Radical centrist, functional finance, universal healthcare, social dividend, universal basic income, land value tax, nominal GDP targeting, social democracy

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