The rate of hate crimes against minorities had an uptick almost immediately after the General Election this year. This follows a Presidential campaign filled with nastiness, spitefulness, venomous threats, and harshness.
As a member of a group that is frequently a target of malice, I’ve long wondered what it is that causes people to be mean-spirited, cruel, and filled with malignity? What is it that causes some people to be shamelessly nasty?
Malice can range from the garden variety Schadenfreude that we have all felt (joy in the suffering of others), all the way to fascism and Nazism. So-called minor hurts up to the traumas and suffering that people callously impose upon members of our own species through emotional, sexual, and physical abuse and torture.
Malice seems to be in the hearts of some children. Those of us who were tormented by bullies were picked on by our fellow six-year-olds. We wonder if there is some dark, evil pit instead of a core of goodness in the minds of bullies. Could it be that sociopathy is more widespread than we care to admit? What about individuals who justify their mean thoughts and behavior by quoting scripture?
Why is it that some “true believers” look forward to the day when they can look down from Heaven and gleefully watch “sinners” suffer in Hell? That idea seems to be, itself, extremely monsterous. Why do so many people wish to project their cruelty onto their deity who they believe will condemn a petty thief into eternal suffering? Who would feel Schadenfruede over such an injustice?
“Kindness is strength. Good-nature is often mistaken for virtue, and good health sometimes passes for genius. Anger blows out the lamp of the mind. In the examination of a great and important question, every one should be serene, slow-pulsed, and calm. Intelligence is not the foundation of arrogance. Insolence is not logic. Epithets are the arguments of malice.” — Robert G. Ingersoll
If we honestly reflect on Ingorsoll’s quote, we understand that all of us can harbor and manifest malice to some degree. So the questions might be, “What is our tipping point?” When do we go from angrily spouting a curse towards an adversary to taking an active part in harming or causing social institutions to harm him. Aside from blaming a deity like Satan for the origin of the world’s malice, why do some people display more maliciousness than others?
We see malice towards “the other” manifested as a “good” by varous societies. The pogroms of olden times and in the 20th century were condoned by society at large. I once heard a commentator say “Hitler couldn’t have been bad, after all, he loved dogs.” It seems that some leaders tend to bring out the worst aspects of humanity.
Using the concept of empathy, I’ve tried looking into the states of mind that cause malice. I recall the times that I have been hurt then yelled an epithet or silently wished a curse towards my tormentor. I’ve always taken the wishes back because I wouldn’t want to live with the knowledge that I hoped someone else would suffer. Wishing evil upon others is to wish evil upon oneself.
There have been psychological explanations about how some people can be nasty, spiteful, and malevolent. Intellectually, I can understand these findings. As I ponder the states of mind that lead to malice, I can only imagine the unhappiness of people who regularly wish harm upon others.
Even though my adversaries wish official and spiritual malice towards people like me, I end up only feeling sorry for them. I hold out some hope that they will come to their senses and understand that letting go of the need for retribution and malice will bring them more happiness.