Robert J. Landy, Ph.D

Robert J Landy Ph.D.

Couch and Stage

Why Is There So Much Hate in the World?

A modest attempt at imagining an integration of hate, love, and hope.

Posted Oct 26, 2017

When I returned from a roots journey to a small village in southern Poland, I felt a sense of satisfaction. I stood on the land where my grandfather grew up. I breathed in the air that my ancestors breathed. I felt clear and proud that my roots extend to peasants who struggled to make a living.

I came home wanting to believe that people everywhere are well-intentioned; caring for their families and helping out their neighbors, respecting the law and the golden rule. So many kind and generous people guided me on my journey to and within Poland and helped me find what I was looking for.

Truth be told, I am no longer certain what I was looking for. Certainly the satisfaction of connecting to the past, of communing with my grandfather’s spirit, of locating myself better in the present. And yet, as a Jew who has struggled to let go of inherited holocaust trauma, all the trips in the world to Germany and to Poland, even those shepherded by compassionate and gentle guides, do not and cannot release me from the awareness that once upon a time, people just like me were hated so much that many believed our kind should be exterminated. And they did just that, transforming a population of Jews in Poland from 3,200,000 in 1939 to 100,000 in 1950. As of 2015, it numbered about 3,200—.01 percent of the population.

For the third time, I visited Auschwitz and stood on the ashes of those murdered and tortured. For the first time, visiting my grandfather’s village in Galicia, I walked along the streets that once were ghettos where Jews were rounded up for slaughter and among the many old homes once belonging to Jews who were exiled or murdered. And I visited the museums and monuments, the old, disheveled cemeteries of the Polish Jews, slowly coming back to life due to the benevolence and funding of Jews around the world, as well as local politicians and ordinary citizens who recognize the wisdom in revisiting past brutalities. In the 21st century, there is indeed a reckoning and a reconciliation on the part of many within the German and Polish communities to remember, restore, and re-story a devastating narrative. 

And yet I ask: Do these reparations matter? Do they play even a small part in transforming the apparent human need to hate another and to act out that hate by humiliating and destroying the other? The latest headline in the continuing narrative of ethnic cleansing is about the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority in Myanmar, who continue to be brutally raped, tortured and killed by military militias for no apparent reason other than hate. And this is in a primarily Buddhist culture ruled by a gentle woman, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991.

I don’t have to remind readers of all the killing fields that have existed, internationally, within recent memory. Their existence reminds us all of the veracity of hate. In the United States, gun violence has become a public health nightmare. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on an average day, 93 Americans are killed by guns. Almost every day since the 2016 presidential election, the ideal of America as benevolent has been stretched beyond credible limits. In the wake of destructive episodes of natural disasters, mass killings, racism, and xenophobia, the putative leader of the free world spouts narcissistic bromides which he tosses like so many rolls of paper towels at all those reaching out for hope and sustenance.   

There is ample evidence in historical records, art, and artifacts, that hate has very deep roots and that it stands tall, often pushing aside its counterparts, love and hope. As such, it is archetypal in nature, suggesting a biological and/or cultural origin that transcends history and geography. This idea is well articulated by Carl Jung whose archetypal psychology has a prominent place in intellectual thought as well as clinical treatment.

The archetypal nature of hate can be understood in Jung’s conception of the shadow, the darker, repressed parts of the psyche that resist the pressures of self and society to conform and, when acted out, often assume violent forms of expression. In considering the case of the latest worst mass shooting in American history, at a music festival in Las Vegas on October 2, 2017, it might be clarifying to understand the motivation of the shooter, hitherto unknown, as based on acting out his hatred, which, if archetypal, may well be a predisposition of all human beings. This simplistic explanation takes on a greater complexity when such psychological factors as mental and neurological status, accompanying psychosocial stressors and family dynamics are taken into consideration.

Robert Landy
Source: Robert Landy

Was the shooter mad or simply bad? Was he similar in profile to those mass shooters, defined by shooting or killing four or more people in the same general time and location, who have acted out in America 273 times from January 1 to October 3, 2017? Is violence a learned behavior, often sanctioned or enabled by a political order, motivated by hate and serving a dark purpose once it is enacted?

I think of the song, “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught,” from the musical, “South Pacific” by Rodgers and Hammerstein, written just after the Second World War. The song ends with this:

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!

Its ironies reverberate deep into the 21st century.

Drawing from theatre, archetypal psychology and cognitive behavioral therapy, I have developed a role theory of drama therapy, envisioning behavior as a system of roles, dramatically based archetypes, similar to the roles actors have played in the theatre throughout history. In creating a taxonomy of roles, stemming largely from repeated role types, I define the role of the killer as violent and immoral, committing murder as a method of resolving problems. The killer is motivated by resolving a personal or political dilemma through a violent act of murder. A related role in the taxonomy is that of hothead, who is emotional, irrational, impulsive, given to violent bursts of rage. This type is motivated by the need to express hurt and hate openly.

Taken together, the two roles speak to the consequences of hate when it is violently enacted in the world. 

Role theory addresses the genesis of role-taking, role-playing, and role-creating, speaking to biological, social and self-generating sources. It does not explain why there is so much hate in the world, that is, why these roles are so appealing. I don’t think that any combination of theories can do that. But it does underline the reality that human beings as actors in everyday life have the capacity to act in extreme ways, one of which is acting out hate through violence. ­­

In working with children as an educator and therapist over many years, I’ve noticed that playing the roles of killer and angry person is energizing and motivating. It allows players to express shadow parts of themselves and through the roles, to tell their stories, often in highly imaginative, albeit violent, ways, which often provides a sense of release. A number of years ago, I was asked to evaluate a former child soldier who was seeking political asylum in the United States. Since we did not speak a common language, I invited him to tell his story through sand play, a technique where the player enacts a story within a bounded sandbox by means of miniature objects. In observing, I witnessed a troubling story of coercion, victimization, and devastating violence. This session I witnessed was an ancient narrative of a politically motivated education in hate, sanctioned by a brutal political order, and enacted by frightened and rageful executioners. Without knowing anything about the psychological dynamics of the young man, it seemed clear to me that as a boy he was certainly capable of playing out the archetypal role of the killer, as are most children. This was especially so given the political and military indoctrination of his educators who used all their means to provide a clear target of a hateful other, a group of objectified human beings who were designated for slaughter.

There is so much hate in the world, I reasoned, because hate is hard-wired in the brain. Like the role of killer, it is archetypal, motivating, and common to all human beings. And yet, according to researcher and primatologist, Robert Sapolsky, the brain that hates others can be re-trained if human beings can imagine a role-reversal where the hated ‘them’ and the righteous ‘us’ are experienced equivalently in other to conceive of an integration of human existence.

Sapolsky’s optimism, to many, may be contrary to reason and empirical evidence supported by grim statistics. And yet, if the killer is a role and if roles, when integrated with counter-roles, can be reconceived, maybe there is hope. It certainly appears hopeful to at least understand that biology is not necessarily destiny and that therapy of many kinds does have a salutary effect upon brain and behavior.

Recently, I met with a friend who spoke to me about his latest exhibition of photographs, taken on the streets of a European city. He spoke about his process of shooting people from different cultures and how in some cases, he could not approach people directly as they were unwilling to submit their privacy to his aesthetic gaze. In such cases, he remained as invisible as possible, captured his unknowing subjects from a distance with a long-distance lens.

When I mentioned my interest in other kinds of more lethal shooters, he responded with a story, which I paraphrase:

‘When I was much younger, I had a gift for marksmanship. With a powerful rifle, I could hit a target from as great a distance as one kilometer. As a young man, I was drafted into the Israeli army. Learning of my gift for shooting, my superiors tried to make me into a sniper. There was an active war at the time and my skills very valuable to the army. But I resisted. I knew even as a young man that I could not kill anyone. So they sent me to officers’ training school, but as the war in Lebanon heated up they sent me to the front lines and insisted I lead a group of ten men into battle. I told them I could not do that and so became part of a unit patrolling a dangerous area. Because suicide drivers were blowing themselves up next to Israeli army vehicles almost every day, there was a standing order to shoot-to-kill the driver of any car with no additional passengers. Everyone in Lebanon, civilians and army alike, knew this, and a single driver was considered to be a terrorist. One day, while on patrol, I spotted a single driver. My superior told me to shoot. The driver was only a few hundred yards behind and I knew I could easily take him out. But I hesitated until I was ordered to take action. And so I shot in the air, missing on purpose until the driver was captured and interrogated. It turned out he was an arrogant Lebanese army officer who simply ignored the standing order. It was clear that I saved his life. You know, Robert, had I killed him, I could never live with myself. Each day would be agonizing.’

My friend was a pacifist. This role was very strong within his taxonomy of roles. He was not and could not be a killer. He could not even conceive of that in his play. And so, he shot photos and struggled with the ethical dilemma of how and when to invite collaboration or invade people's’ private space.

My friend may be the exception that proves the rule of archetypes and roles as hard-wired and universal. I know him as someone who sometimes dislikes, disapproves of and critiques others, but does not hate them, even though he fought in a war and experienced devastating events.

According to my version of role theory, roles exist in relationship to their counter-roles, as in Jung’s system opposite psychic processes seek balance with their counterparts. There is hate in the world because human beings, being human beings, too easily become dysregulated and unbalanced, sometimes acting out violently when given an object of hate by others who sanction the perpetration of violent acts. My friend found the other side of hate at an early point in his life and allowed himself to be guided by his pacifist role. His photographic shootings of unwitting people yield ethical questions, not body counts. He can live with this awareness born not of hate, but of an intellectual curiosity and a concern about the boundaried paths of people going about the business of living.

Returning to the powerful Rodgers and Hammerstein lyrics, I would say yes, hate is a learned emotion, carefully taught by our parents and teachers before we are six or seven or eight. This explains, in part, why hate is so ubiquitous in the United States White House and the rura­­­l villages of Myanmar. And I would also offer that as much as we learn to hate, we also learn to internalize its counterparts, love and hope, from our teachers and from an evolutionary, biological source that has thus far preserved our species through wars and genocides, through attempted homicides of people and the environments where they live.

The search for balance and integration, for love and hope, for clarifying journeys to old countries, like performed acts of hatred, are universal.

About the Author

Robert J. Landy, Ph.D

Robert J. Landy, Ph.D., is a Professor of Educational Theatre and Applied Psychology and Director of the Drama Therapy Program at New York University.

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