“I do not know if love makes you blind, but hatred certainly makes you deaf”

Today, because it resonates tragically in Ukraine, in the absurdity of a fratricidal conflict, it is crucial to understand where the hatred comes from. Fruitful analysis by the philosopher Philippe Saltel.

What is hatred? For more than twenty-five years, Philippe Saltel, professor of philosophy, has questioned this “odious passion,” as he calls it, through the prism of the founders of moral philosophy — from Aristotle to Nietzsche, through Spinoza, Hume, and Descartes — and history in motion. In the space of a few weeks, since February 24, the conflict in Eastern Europe has seen ancestral questions of “hostile brethren” emerge tragically. Which is never far from hate. The Russian government’s propaganda, especially through clips that were widely broadcast on television, immediately held a discourse according to which hatred had been proclaimed by the other, Ukraine, then the West more generally.

But who is manipulating this catastrophic performance? And if hatred, as Freud explains, is equivalent to a passion of the individual aiming at the destruction of its object, then what does it reveal about the ruptures of our contemporary society? Is hatred a “sadness” as Spinoza claimed? What behavior should one take towards it? Should we hate this “odious passion” in return? Looking for answers, Philippe Saltel (1) decides to break down this black passion, while hating things, people, for himself … How can one overcome hatred in the desire to believe in a future?

On video, a Ukrainian woman plays the violin in a bunker

Miss Figaro. – What is your definition of this feeling that could be described as archaic?
Philippe Saltel.– Hatred is a complex affective phenomenon that has an intensity level so it is placed among the passions. There is in hate a desire to remove, even hurt or destroy, the object of hatred. If this object is a human, it is considered an enemy. Hatred is based on a belief, often imaginary, that the object is the cause of a feeling of pain or discomfort. We talk about aversion when we only seek to remove the object to avoid confrontation. But when it comes to diminishing, hurting, or destroying, hatred becomes aggressive. This is also called the “great hatred” when we attribute our misfortune to an enemy who we believe is the cause of our failures or our suffering, hence the desire to expel him from this world, even to avenge the evil we feel. Aggressive hatred is vengeful hatred.

Why did you dig this theme?
In a first book, ten years ago, I tried, thanks to the richness of the philosophical corpus, to understand the inner structure of this passion and what it has in common with neighboring phenomena, such as anger, or on the contrary, as love. Today, because of all the energy that the Russian authorities have spent on controlling the information of Russian citizens, this raging war shows how much hostility it is difficult to justify when it depends on irrational motives. I do not know if love makes you blind, but hatred certainly makes you deaf.

Hatred between relatives is a phenomenon that can be described as common

Philippe Saltel

The tragedy in Ukraine sees two brothers torn apart. By what mechanisms, in your opinion?
Hatred between relatives is a phenomenon that can be described as common. We can see it emerge between friends, neighbors, lovers, as soon as one betrayal, a wound of honor and self-esteem is attributed to the other. This creates a debt that is somehow impossible to repay. The enemy is the one who has a huge debt as he has affected our honor. That is why the greatest acts of love can be followed by the greatest acts of hatred. At the political level and with regard to Ukraine, there is nothing to say that the Russians are deliberately hating the Ukrainians as they are very poorly informed. But the fact that Ukraine is turning to the West while Russian power is turning away from it may have aroused a sense of betrayal. Hatred also feeds very often on envy. Difficulties and setbacks encourage us to attribute our mistakes to the successful person: we tell ourselves that he stole our success. In the collective hatred perpetuated by a military power, this accusation of another reinforces the sense of belonging and of identity: the opposition makes it possible to assert itself. Association in hatred is often an easier association than association in friendship.

You develop the idea that hate is the best spring for violent action. Why ?
In hatred there is an interpretation of reality. This is how the hater justifies his violence, as the other will basically never be able to pay his debt. In the same way, revenge will never satisfy him. One may hesitate that hatred would desire the complete destruction of the other; she nurtures such a desire for revenge that what she desires above all is the suffering of the other. It was not enough for Achilles to defeat Hector, his body had to be shredded …

How has the redefinition of boundaries throughout history highlighted the use of hatred?
The hatred between peoples has fueled wars, the only possible result of which has been the separation of societies. We can e.g. think of the former Yugoslavia. The result of aggression is then aversion, so that societies come to ignore or even despise each other. Borders become walls. The worst part of hatred is contempt, as we saw especially in Nazi anti-Semitism, whose basis was to regard the Jews as parasites, to compare them to pests. To despise is to regard the other under what he really is, ontologically. Then everything becomes possible.

What creates hatred in the long run?
If we establish the feeling that the other is inherently bad, hatred causes communities to withdraw into themselves, depriving them of the intellectual, human, and material wealth of the other. Spinoza writes, however, that “hatred gives rise to hatred in return”. Even when the answer to hatred is to distance oneself from hatred, to make him an outcast, as can be seen, for example, in the sanctions imposed on Russia, hatred breeds segregation. Thus, the reproach that Vladimir Putin is the subject of may lead to pushing Russia out of the concert of nations and to revive the Cold War, to build a wall between West and East. This is a detrimental result for all societies, whatever they may be. Men are exchange beings.

What is hate in the end the fruit of?
The origin of hatred is a misunderstanding of oneself and one’s history. It is essential to understand that we are beings who are dependent on each other, for external reasons, and what happens to us often hides very complex causes that need to be perceived and understood in depth. Those who handle simplistic explanations actually do not want to know anything about those they blame for their ills. The horrors of World War II, to return to it, come from many historical causes: the economic crisis of 1929, the humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles, and the war damages imposed on Germany, the Hitler madness. All these reasons have given rise to this terrible hatred of minorities in Germany and Europe, and the project of annihilating the Jewish community.

The origin of hatred is a misunderstanding of oneself and one’s history

Philippe Saltel

You quote Nietzsche, who believes that “evil makes the weak exist”. Is hatred the fact of the weak?
Hatred gives a reason to exist and a certain strength to those who are weakened. It concentrates its energy on a coercive goal: the project of existence turns against the enemy, who is considered to be responsible for all evil. The satisfaction of the desire for revenge releases a certain joy, bad, marked by negativity. Because hatred remains a sad passion, originally based on suffering. This is the weakness of the wicked, their Achilles’ heel: only anger rules their lives.

Are social networks vectors of hatred?
This is very paradoxical because they are designed to maintain the relationship between classmates or former college friends who had moved away. But often we end up exchanging only with those who share our opinion, our lifestyle and our beliefs. Either the opposite of the social relationship, which has the virtue of making us understand difference! So yes, today some social networks do not connect, they are separated. In this narrow circle one sees quite easily the insult against the difference and in particular the distance between oneself and the others!

Is reconciliation possible after hatred?
It is possible, but still very difficult. It requires a lot of intelligence and self-criticism. This presupposes an effort to understand others and an analysis of oneself. European construction is a good example of reconciliation: it was necessary to face yesterday’s enemies, succeed in overcoming hostility by understanding the respective responsibilities, concern for the future, consideration for the unique character of the individual people. This shows that the defense of one’s own interests can not ignore common interests. Basically, the intelligence that can help overcome hatred is the understanding that “nothing is more useful to man than man,” as Spinoza wrote. In our own interest, we must be interested in each other.

(1) Philippe Saltel is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Grenoble-Alpes, where he is Director of the Department of Philosophy.

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