Fighting Fear

Confronting phobias and other fears

Hate Mail: A Window into… What?

My first hate mail—and second and third.

A window into… what?

I was first read an example of hate mail by a college professor of mine who had received such a letter earlier that day. We were eating dinner at the time along with a few other students. The professor was a good-natured gentleman of middle-age, dressed conservatively and of a calm and judicious temperament as befit a distinguished student of philosophy. He was a pantheist, which I understood to be a vague religious point of view which suggested that God is all about us in nature—or something like that. I was not inclined at that rebellious stage of my life to interest myself in any great detail in anyone’s particular or peculiar religious ideas. Whatever those views were, he was not inclined to foist them on us. Yet, he told us, it was in response to his commenting briefly on that subject at a lecture to the public that had led, evidently, to the letter, which he had received and which he now quoted to us:

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“Dear Professor S…,  I heard your interesting talk today. But I wish to take this opportunity to express my dismay in your religious ideas. You leave out the Word of God. God is not a god of rocks or plants. He is the ever-lasting, merciful God of the bible. He is the God of kindness and love. His is the spirit that enlivens the world. He makes us all better. He is sweetness, and light, and sensitivity to others and everything good. I see that you do not understand any of this, so I pray to God that you be damned eternally to Hell. Sincerely…”

My professor laughed; and I have ever since been inclined to read such letters with an urge to giggle.

I myself never received any hate mail until I started to write this blog. I was not really surprised by any of the mail I received initially. When I suggested in an early post that there might be some medical circumstances, rarely, when it might be the moral thing to do to kill a patient (euthanasia would have been a less provocative term), I knew quite well that a number of people would be upset. Some of the mail went into great detail about the punishments they thought should be handed out to me. It was as if my correspondents were relishing the extent of my suffering to come.

In fact, the hate mail that I received subsequently was also when I took a stand, or seemed to take a stand, on highly charged subjects, such as abortion, or gun control. These are matters of such critical importance to some people that they are defined by those ideas. Sometimes their opinion grew obviously out of their religious ideas. Sometimes, as in the case of gun control, these convictions felt almost as if they were religious. Some men spoke of the Second Amendment as being the heart of the Constitution and as if the Constitution were God-given. In fact, some said explicitly that that was so. When I wrote about these relatively secular matters, the responses I received condemned me in derisive and contemptuous terms, but did not seem to reflect an actual malice.

Another set of blog posts, about dating difficulties—of all things-- also elicited angry responses. My general point of view about such matters is that men and women should not give up striving to meet someone, if that is what they really wish to do, even in the face of frequent disappointments. In fact, I feel the same way about making new friends or pursuing a professional dream or pursuing any purpose at all. But there are men and women out there who feel that their experience justifies their thoughts that everyone of the opposite sex is miserable in one way or another; and therefore they are entirely right to view dating as a puerile and pointless exercise. When I intimated something different, it was as if I had attacked them personally. In fact, that is probably the essential common denominator of all these comments. When, for instance, in a later blog written in the context of the Woody Allen/Mia Farrow farrago, I mentioned the well understood fact that children sometimes make up detailed accounts of sexual abuse—for instance, when they report that abuse as part of the rituals of a satanic cult—I was attacked, as if I were myself assaulting those young children. My correspondents were so closely identified with these abused children (of which, God knows, there are plenty) that when I doubted the children, I also seem to be challenging them. It was as if I had become the child abuser!

All of this seems straightforward enough. Although initially I felt appalled by some of these remarks, inevitably I became inured to them. Most of them were anonymous, and they all seemed impersonal, somehow. After all, nobody really knew me. But recently I received another comment, not evidently in response to any particular post:

You sir, are a traitor to humanity and an utter piece of human trash. FUCK YOU. I hope one of your captive experimental subjects does stab your traitor ass right in the jugular. They would be doing the world a favor. Fucking NAZI.

I had a number of reactions to this comment, which I report here. First, speaking as a writer, I think my correspondent has done a very good job in such a short space of communicating a really intense feeling. He hates and despises me. Of course, the mixed metaphors and ungrammatical structure detract in part from the effect, but not much. I regard the need to resort to capitals as another weakness, along with the expletive NAZI, which seems to be used nowadays in a general, non-specific sense to refer to everyone from President Obama to those scientists who believe in global warming. Still in this instance it is not out of place in communicating a very strong feeling of disapprobation. But I found myself distracted to an extent by the substance of what he was saying. What experimental subjects? Is he mixing me up with someone else who was reporting some kind of experiment? He was not referring to any particular post I had put up, certainly not my recent post about my dog Iris. I would hate to think I am getting somebody else’s hate mail.

What was the purpose of this brief but heartfelt comment? I don’t know. I find myself trying to picture the person who typed it sitting at his computer (his name evidently is Sal) and trying to accomplish… what? I am reminded about the man in the movie “Network” who yells out his window at the world in general, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” It is as if he, and my respondents, have too much venom to contain; and however misdirected, it has to be let out somehow.

Which reminds me of a short letter to the editor I came across many years ago. It appeared in the Daily News, as I remember. It said in its entirety:

“Dear Sirs,

When I met my wife she was thin. Now she is fat as a pig. Signed, Disgusted.”   

(c) Fredric Neuman. Follow Dr. Neuman's blog at fredricneumanmd.com/blog/ or ask questions at fredricneumanmd.com/blog/ask-dr-neuman-advice-column/

 

Fredric Neuman, M.D. is the Director of the Anxiety and Phobia Center at White Plains Hospital.

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