Dislike and Anger: The Slippery Slope to Fascism

by Saul Levine, M.D., Professor Emeritus in Psychiatry at UCSD November 6, 2018
 

 

Closeup side view of mid 20's couple having an argument at a coffee place. She's spitting fire because of something he might have done and he's quietly looking down and listening.

None of us is genuinely liked by absolutely everyone. Similarly, none of us likes everybody without reservation or exception. We are a complex species, some might even say perplexing.

Each of us is capable of experiencing and expressing inspiring warmth and love, as well as harboring and displaying antagonism and hate.

Even the most benevolent and altruistic among us have faults and frailties, which might rub people the wrong way. We have some personality traits or behavioral habits, which can get on others’ nerves. And some misguided individuals, hopefully very few, might even dislike us intensely.

In contrast, there are people we find annoying from time to time, and others whom we find unappealing most of the time. There may even be a few individuals whom we simply cannot abide by.

Nobody is immune to the discomfort of being targeted by the slings and arrows of others. It is painful to sense negative “vibes,” or perceive nastiness emanating from some individuals towards us.

Even the persona and habits of family members – or teammates, colleagues, or roommates – by virtue of the time in close proximity, can bother us. But we usually (not always) learn to “give a pass to” or tolerate those with whom we share bonds of history, affection or common goals.

But what if you are criticized or disliked by others who don’t even know you? What if they show antipathy towards you based solely on their preconceived notions of where you’re from or what you’re like?

What if your mere appearance is enough to set some people off? Your ethnic group or skin color might rile them, or your social status or chosen gender, or your religious or political affiliation…That would feel very upsetting, wouldn’t it?

Surely you don’t mistrust or detest others simply because of their differences from you. You don’t secretly hold prejudiced opinions about total strangers. Or do you?

Have you ever been the target of other people’s negative beliefs about the very group you identify with? Have you felt the sting of enmity, or been discriminated against because of your ethnic group or religion?

Have you or your family encountered bias because they were immigrants to these shores? Have you ever felt rejected because you are black, or Jewish, Asian, Muslim, Latino, gay, elderly, or indeed any group which someone, somewhere happens to find objectionable?

I’ve been fortunate to know many wonderful people from widely diverse backgrounds: Worthy souls all, creative and productive, loving family and friends, courteous, generous and seemingly tolerant.

But even these individuals at times let slip derogatory comments, which reveal ingrained negative perceptions and stereotypes about certain “others.”

The cavalier use of the words (and feelings) of “dislike” and “anger” towards others too easily slide down the slippery slope into intolerance and hate and xenophobia towards the stranger, the foreigner, the lesser.

My parents were hated in Europe simply because they were Jews and lost family in the Holocaust at the hands of Nazis and other anti-Semites. The history of blacks in this country (and others) is replete with examples of racist prejudice and brutality. The treatment of indigenous peoples here and in other countries has been abominable.

Muslims have faced hateful campaigns by Hindus in India and by Buddhist citizens of Myanmar. Followers of Islam in Pakistan and elsewhere have waged violent campaigns against other faiths. Hutus and Tutsis were engaged in bloodbaths in Rwanda and elsewhere. The Japanese were mercilessly brutal against Korean and Chinese citizens less than a century ago. The list goes on and on…

No nation, religion, ethnic group or race has escaped these terrible experiences. People teach their children how their particular group has been wronged and victimized by others, but these “others” portray the former as being cruel perpetrators.

Authoritarian leaders and rabid followers have emerged in many countries, and have encouraged anger and hate-filled rhetoric. Expressions of dislike and rancor are now commonplace, with heightened conflict, and proclamations of nationalism, chauvinism and nativism: Hallmarks of nascent and even burgeoning Fascism.

Fascism inevitably “breeds” a Negative Emotional Footprint: If we citizens cannot reclaim our civil discourse, our mutual respect and tolerance, and our democratic processes, I shudder at the consequences.

But I know that we can; I know that we must.

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