In the Midst of Hate, Why Not Love?

Hate divides.

Posted Aug 03, 2017

Krystine I. Batcho
Source: Krystine I. Batcho

The summer of 1967 has been dubbed the “Summer of Love.”  In January 1967, thousands of young people in San Francisco gathered in Golden Gate Park for a “Human Be-In.”  As the numbers flocking to San Francisco continued to increase, the media put a national spotlight on the phenomenon of “hippies” seeking freedom, peace, and love.  By the summer, an estimated 100,000 young people had converged in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.  Remembered by many as “flower children,” they were a diverse group—some rejecting materialistic values, some rejecting government, some opposing war—but all seeking love and peace.

Fifty years later, that summer is still characterized as unique for its showcasing of positive energy, especially love.  Fifty years from today, how might our time be remembered?  Hate crimes have increased in 2017 after decreasing for more than a decade from 2001 until 2014.  News headlines focus heavily on criticism, failures, tragedies, and negative poll data.  Studies suggest that online threats, cyberbullying, and social media abuse continue to increase.  Public protests against government and social inequities have expressed discontent throughout the United States and abroad.

Are we in a perfect storm of conditions to spawn hate?  Research suggests that hate can be a reaction to frustration, disappointment, perceived threats, injustice, and betrayal.  Many suspect that the seeming reign of negativity, if not outright hate, has been a long time coming.  In 2005, psychologist Robert Sternberg argued that the horrific events of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath made it more important than ever to understand the nature of hate.  Universal across time and culture, hate cries out for the understanding that will help to conquer it.

Simple dictionary definitions of hate as intense dislike or extreme aversion or hostility fail to convey the complexity of the emotion.  Sternberg argued that hate involves three major components.

  • As a negation of intimacy, hate seeks distancing from its object and can trigger feelings of repulsion or disgust.
  • A passionate emotion, hate can engage anger, fear, and contempt for its victim.
  • An energizing emotion, hate can prompt acts of devaluating the target of hate.

Why there is so much hate now is clearer when we identify the three components evident in society today.  Still involved in military conflicts, the country is bitterly divided on a number of important social and political issues that have engendered anger, disgust, fear, and hyperbole.  In other times, provocations for hate might have diminished in the face of moderating influences.  But vehicles for communication and attention to conditions have been intensifying and perpetuating hateful reactions.  For example, increasing numbers of media outlets have saturated news coverage with negativity and the increasing reliance on the Internet for information has allowed many to immerse themselves in like-minded content and opinions.

Paradoxically, social media, a venue uniquely suited for social connection, has become a tool often abused to foster hostility, stress, and separation.  A  “virtual” unreal world of social media creates both temporal and psychological distance between people.  Such distance allows for a sense of unbridled freedom to vent frustration, anger, and hate without concern for consequences.  The feeling of anonymity encourages content more offensive and extreme than would occur in face-to-face encounters.  Easy access to information and data has contributed to the growing perception and knowledge of social and economic injustice.  The distancing of cyber-activity has affected even personal aspects of our lives, from dating and social invitations to discussions of religion, morality, and politics.  Virtual interactions have fostered a climate of mistrust that can explode into hate when betrayal is suspected or disclosed.

The summer of love in 1967 also took place during a turbulent time ripe for the promulgation of hate.  Although the particulars are different, there are important parallels between the late 1960s and our time.  Between 1964 and 1973, over 2 million young people were drafted into the military, with 80% of those who served coming from less financially advantaged households.  In 1964, Lyndon Johnson ran for President as a peace candidate, but began to escalate military involvement in Vietnam in 1965, with peak troop engagement in 1969.  Domestically, civil disturbances between 1964 and 1968, such as those in Detroit, Newark, Watts, Philadelphia, Boston, and Harlem, brought national attention to racial and economic disparities across the country.

How did the summer of love appear out of a backdrop of war and discontent?  One could argue that it was the intensity of the violence that propelled the public rejection of violence and all that was perceived as giving rise to it.  Love became a public display of the antithesis of existing intolerance, violence, and hate.  The showcasing of love was explicitly not a reaction of quiet desperation, but an activist demonstration of rejection of the status quo. 

Who were the young rebels?  Many of them had been children growing up during the post-World War II period of relative peace and prosperity.  They had been parented by members of the Greatest Generation, characterized by a strong work ethic and commitment to the government many of them had risked their lives to defend.  As young adults, then, the Baby Boomer hippies rebelled against the establishment.  But with a childhood background of love and nurturance, they had a vision of what could and should be—utopian relationships à la Disney versions of fairy tales.  Raised by parents who felt they had conquered extreme evil and violence in World War II and had had enough of it, the Boomers envisioned a world without discrimination, injustice, or hate.

Hate and love can be understood as alternate responses to an unwanted reality.  There were two different ways of rejecting and opposing—burn it down or drop out to live another way.  The Beatles sang, “You say you want a revolution.  Well, you know we all want to change the world.”  But they didn’t advocate fighting violence with violence:  “When you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out.”   They had hoped for more creative solutions:  “You better free your mind instead,” and offered their vision in their single “All You Need is Love,” released in July 1967.  Sadly, it is much easier to capture attention with hate than with love.  Hate is like taking a cannonball dive into a pool, whereas love is like a smooth breaststroke through the water.  The summer of love is remembered for its uniqueness, not for becoming the predominant lifestyle.  In fact, the summer of love is recalled in idealized, romanticized images.  Subsequent to that summer were many public displays of hate and violence.  But that summer’s exhibition of love can serve to remind us that we can come together in a rejection of hate to live in peace.


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