Philosophical texts for helping me not hate people I don't know?
January 26, 2018 3:53 PM   Subscribe

Lately, when I reflect on the state of the world, I am not-infrequently overcome with hatred toward the large number of people in my country whom I perceive to be ruining things with their bad voting decisions. I want to not feel this hatred. Can you recommend specific readings or systems of thought to help me replace this feeling with something else? (Nothing that appeals to religious belief please, as I have none of that.) Thanks!
posted by The Minotaur to Religion & Philosophy (22 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Sounds like you're maybe asking for Marcus Aurelius, though I couldn't immediately point you to specific passages.
posted by clawsoon at 3:55 PM on January 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

There has been research that basically says that there are physical brain difference between left and right voters, sorry on phone so can't track that down right now. But this knowledge helps me a bit- it's not a deliberate decision to screw the rest of us over (well it is, but there is so much affecting a decision that it is hard to override. )
posted by freethefeet at 4:20 PM on January 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is not a specific reading, but I wanted to suggest getting to know someone on a personal level from the group you're judging (for example, here's a penpal project that matches you with someone from a different political group and location). Once you have more empathy for one person, your views may shift.
posted by pinochiette at 4:24 PM on January 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

Best answer: There is plenty of good reading around South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the dismantling of apartheid for this.

I recommend Albie Sachs' 'The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter' (Jewish antiapartheid activist loses his arm and one eye in an attempted assassination attempt and goes on to help to draft the first democratic constitution and write the majority decision that legalised same-sex marriage in SA); Pumla Gobodo-Madikezela's 'A Human Being Died that Night', in which Dr G-M, a black female psychologist sitting on the TRC, struggles to feel compassion for Eugene de Kock, a white apartheid government assassin; Nelson Mandela's 'Long Walk to Freedom' of course, and - my personal favourite - Desmond Tutu's 'No Future without Forgiveness'. I know you said no religion, and I am a devout (??) atheist myself, but Tutu's book really shows the power and potential of forgiveness at its absolute zenith. You don't have to be religious to be moved by the stories of compassion and coming together that his book contains.

Oh! And the Diary of Anne Frank. Everyone should read that again and again.

(I'm really glad you asked this question by the way. Our world seems to be more divided than ever, and all sides seem to think that the answer lies in their side winning - in fact, as the antiapartheid movement showed, the answer lies in all sides coming together in peace. Thank you for wanting to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.)
posted by matthew.alexander at 4:29 PM on January 26, 2018 [9 favorites]

I don't know if you consider meditation to be too close to religion for your comfort, but there is a meditative tradition from Buddhism called metta or loving-kindness meditation that helps with this. I'm a big old nonbeliever and I've found it helpful. There's a chapter in the book Secular Meditation that might help give you a perspective on this that isn't very religious.
posted by matildaben at 4:43 PM on January 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: There has been research that basically says that there are physical brain difference between left and right voters, sorry on phone so can't track that down right now.

Steven Pinker covers this in the "Politics" chapter of his book The Blank Slate. It's fascinating and definitely worth a read (even if you disregard the rest of the book, which is not for everyone). Full disclosure: This is one of my favorite books and I've actually scanned, printed, and copied this entire chapter and shared with a few people close to me who I've had good-humored political debates/discussions is pretty even-keeled and seems to have been well-received.
posted by lovableiago at 5:11 PM on January 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Perhaps clawsoon (first reply above) was thinking of this from the beginning of Book 2 of Mediations by Marcus Aurelius:

Begin the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busybody, the
ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to
them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have
seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly,
and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not [only] of
the same blood or seed, but that it participates in [the same] intelligence
and [the same] portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of
them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my
kinsman, nor hate him. For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like
hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act
against one another, then, is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one
another to be vexed and to turn away.

posted by forthright at 5:43 PM on January 26, 2018 [7 favorites]

I'm not a person who thinks that my emotions project into the universe, or who's much into forgiveness. I do however know I have a finite amount of energy to get through every day, I refuse to expend it on a hatred that is powerless and futile. Hating an elected official has absolutely no effect on that person. You never get to inflict your hatred on them; you just carry it around.

It is exactly every bit as effective to hate them as it is to hold them in contempt or to look at them with disdain.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:51 PM on January 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

I have been reading the David Foster Wallace commencement speech at Kenyon. I say "I've been reading" because I have been hitting it once or twice a month for about a year, now.
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 6:00 PM on January 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

There is also Hanlon's Razor to wit:

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
posted by forthright at 6:15 PM on January 26, 2018

I realize it's just a simple quote, but this really resonates with me when I'm harboring hatred or resentment: "Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die." (attributed to Buddha but who knows really)
posted by bologna on wry at 6:58 PM on January 26, 2018 [8 favorites]

You could try Galen Strawson on the topics of "Free Will" or "The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility" (extremely similar articles, TBH). I mean, even if people aren't free agents bearing primary responsibility for what they do, I think we'd still want to discourage poor choices as if they were, because it's more or less built into how language, psychology, politics, and the law all work. But if you are specially trying to take their poor choices less personally, it could help sometimes to take the abstract point of view that they are arriving at their perspectives molecule by molecule as a chain of circumstances established before they were born and/or without their control while something physiological constructs the thoughts and reactions they 'experience' as side-effects. YMMV.
posted by Wobbuffet at 6:59 PM on January 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Metta does sound as if it's what you want. But it'll take some time. You begin by extending compassion towards yourself, then towards someone you like, then towards a personal enemy, and I think only then would you get to tackle the minority of voters who went for Trump.
posted by praemunire at 7:49 PM on January 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Anger and Forgiveness by Martha Nussbaum. (Here’s a bit about the book in Brain Pickings.)

Strength to Love by Martin Luther King, Jr
posted by eustacescrubb at 8:37 PM on January 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

PS - I know King was a Christian and used Christian imagery/theology but Christianity isn’t necessary to absorb his point of view.
posted by eustacescrubb at 8:40 PM on January 26, 2018

Marcus Aurelius, recommended above, was and is one of the best know practitioners of and writers on the philosophy of Stoicism. Start here at Daily Stoic. Among other resources, you can subscribe to a daily email that briefly shows how to apply Stoicism in today's world by applying the wisdom of the past.
posted by Homer42 at 9:29 PM on January 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Wanted to add support to meditation as a possibility.

Tara Brach is currently doing a three part talk including meditation/reflection exercises on this very topic called "Freedom from Othering" (which I've found to be helpful), and it's all accessible online here.
posted by wallawallasweet at 2:21 AM on January 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

From the perspective of Buddhism being a philosophy and not just a religious practice, here's an excerpt from "Healing Anger" by His Holiness the Dalai Lama that summarizes the Buddhist philosophical perspective on hatred. Basically, holding onto anger and hatred have harmful effects for you. Moreover, neither are necessary for us to take a strong, effective stand against injustice.
posted by jazzbaby at 7:23 AM on January 27, 2018

Best answer: I'd like to suggest that books are unlikely to help as much as experience will. Books supply theoretical knowledge; experience provides practical knowledge.

We all harbor stereotypes and preconceptions about groups of people, especially groups of people with which we've had no (or limited) contact. That's just how humans work. In my own life -- and in the life of the folks around me -- I've seen that the best way to overcome these stereotypes and preconceptions is to spend time with people in situations where you cannot avoid them and get to see them in their daily lives. You learn quickly that "people are people". Everyone is fundamentally the same. We all want love and happiness. We're all (well, 99.99% of us anyhow) trying to get through life the best way we know how, but we don't all agree on how that is accomplished.

I'll give you an example from my own life. Three years ago, my girlfriend and I left for an RV trip across the United States. We meant to be gone for three months. We were gone for fifteen months.

Because I'm from the Pacific Northwest, I harbor a lot of Pacific Northwest attitudes and viewpoints. Initially, I was uncomfortable dealing with folks in other regions -- especially the South. People there think differently. They have different values than my own (and most of the people here in the PNW).

As the trip went on, however, we interacted with people from all walks of life by a matter of necessity. We couldn't simply choose to hang out with likeminded folks because when you're transient, you don't know where to find them. You just deal with the people who are around you from one day to the next. And what those people think and believe is a crapshoot. Sometimes they're like you. Sometimes they're not.

What we found during those fifteen months on the road was that in every single case except two, everyone we met was universally good and kind and funny. People had different viewpoints, yes, but they had reasons for having those viewpoints. And most of the time, my preconceived notions of how people would think and act were completely wrong. They were a fabrication from, well, reading too much.

A couple of examples:
  • We were stuck for ten days in a small town in rural South Dakota. It was a conservative farming community. We hung out with the locals and listened to their conservative farming talk. But you know what? Of everyone we met on the trip, these were the folks who most adamantly believed in global climate change. They experience it day after day, year after year. They have no doubt that things are changing because they *have* changed and the changes are affecting their livelihoods.
  • While in the Deep South, we were shocked to overhear several different conversations from people earnestly discussing the legalization of marijuana. Again, these were conservative people with conservative beliefs, but they all thought pot should be legal -- not because they smoked it themselves but out of principle.
  • In Gulf Shores, Alabama we met a couple from Mississippi. They wanted to have a serious conversation about liberal states and conservative states, so we did. They were perfectly respectful, and so were we. We learned a lot. This was at the time of the Great Bathroom Uproar of 2016, and the man in the couple said something that changed the way I thought about the South. "It's not that we always disagree with you all," he said. "It's that we don't like being told what to do. You folks in the north are always trying to tell us what to do, and it gets old. You don't let us figure things out in our own time, you don't try to lead by example, you just try to ram it down our throats. Naturally, we resist." Huh. I'd never considered that before.
These are just three examples that come to mind off the top of my head. There were dozens more.

The bottom line is that before the trip I was a big reader and I had an intellectual understanding of the differences in the United States. To actually live and experience these differences was a very different thing. I learned that the mass media is fucked up. All they do is report the worst, most extreme examples of everything. What you see on the news is not real life. It's not even close. Since the trip, I've given up watching or listening or reading the news, and my life is vastly improved because of it. (Seriously. Fuck the news. I firmly believe it's responsible for the deep divides in the U.S.)

My experience has shown me that people are mostly interesting, interested, kind, generous, thoughtful, complex creatures. Sure, there are lots of people who hold viewpoints I disagree with. But none of them are as knee-jerk as I'd been led to believe. People are people. Reading about them is not nearly as helpful as meeting them and getting to know them.

Having said all that, if you live in the United States and really want a thoughtful book on our differences, check out American Nations. It'll help you see that the U.S. isn't really one country, but several.
posted by jdroth at 7:40 AM on January 27, 2018 [18 favorites]

Response by poster: Hi everyone. Thanks so much for your contributions!

There's a lot of good stuff here. I realize now as I read through them that your answers are mostly in the vein of "change self" rather than "learn how those other people are more virtuous / valuable than previously assumed", which makes sense given how I framed the question. (And with a couple of notable exceptions.) I really struggled with the framing, and an earlier draft of my question was actually banned by the mods for being too revenge-oriented in their view.

I will (and do) strive to continue to improve myself in general, to replace anger with equanimity. I'll also continue to search, though it often feels fruitless, for information and experiences that will lead me to an intuitive, unforced understanding that Trump voters are moral-net-positive entities in this world. Thanks again.
posted by The Minotaur at 10:35 AM on January 29, 2018

These recommendations were immediately helpful and continue to be. Thanks for the question, The Minotaur.
posted by this-apoptosis at 3:48 PM on January 30, 2018

I'll also continue to search, though it often feels fruitless, for information and experiences

If you're looking for experiences as well as books, I might suggest volunteering alongside conservative religious people who are working to help people who are poor, abused or sick. Even if you live in a left-leaning area, you'll probably be able to find some if you poke around. You might find that you can't agree with some of their attitudes and ideas, but you'll also get to know some kind, thoughtful people. (You'll meet some slimeballs and assholes, too, but that's part of every human rainbow, isn't it?) Abortion is the biggest reason that otherwise kind and thoughtful people voted for Trump, and if you spend time with the right people you'll learn how opposition to abortion can sometimes arise from a genuine desire to protect the weakest and most voiceless, a desire that you'll see reflected in the work that they do to support and protect children and other vulnerable people.

Sometimes you'll find wonderful kindness and abhorrent ideas in the same person.
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish. One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name doesn't change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil.


Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either - but right through every human heart - and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us it oscillates with the years. And even within the hearts overwhelmed with evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains…an un-uprooted small corner of evil.

- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
If you look closely enough you'll see that line in yourself, too, and it might give you more sympathy for those you think of as being on the other side of the line.
posted by clawsoon at 6:48 PM on January 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

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