Why We Hate | Michael Ruse

Why We Hate

The following is an excerpt from Why We Hate by Michael Ruse. It’s a featured Speakeasy selection, and there are still limited review copies available for qualified reviewers.

I was raised a Quaker in the years after the Second World War. Quakers don’t have the usual trimmings of religion—preachers, churches (“steeple houses” as we called them of old), or creeds and dogmas and that sort of thing. However, to conclude that Quakers have no strong beliefs is to make a major mistake. They could give St. Paul a run for his money. Above all, for me, being a Quaker meant being part of a community with my fellow human beings. We were never very good at literal readings of the Bible, but my goodness we took the Sermon on the Mount seriously. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:38–39). And: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (43–44).

That is our role in life and how we serve our Lord. Loving other human beings. Quakers talk of the “inner light,” that of God in every person, and that resonates to this day. Always inspiring me, haunting me in a way, is the great elegy of the metaphysical poet John Donne that hung on the wall of nigh every meeting house, where Quakers met to worship in silence.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

(Meditation 17, from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, 1624)

Here was the paradox that has never left me, unchanged by my loss of faith when I was twenty years old. If we are such social beings, how can we be so hateful to each other? In my early years, memories of the Second World War hung over us all: Poland, the Fall of France, the Blitz, Barbarossa, Pearl Harbor, Stalingrad, and on down to the end, the Battle of the Bulge and the bombing of Dresden. Across the world, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet this only confirmed what we already knew. The Second World War was the more recent, but it was the First World War—the Great War—that permeated every aspect of our culture. My teachers in primary school were single women, who had lost fiancés and husbands on the battlefields of Flanders. Parks had lonely men wandering aimlessly—“shell shocked,” as we were told in pitying terms. Go into the front parlor, the room unused except for Sundays and special occasions, like funerals. There stood a picture of Uncle Bert, eighteen years old, proud in his new uniform. Dead at twenty at Passchendaele. Then I went to Canada when I was twenty-two and soon found that it was the Great War that defined that country—as it did other parts of the Commonwealth, notably Australia and New Zealand. The triumphs—when the Canadians at Easter 1917 took Vimy Ridge, that had withstood so many earlier attempts—and the tragedies—when on July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, some eight hundred members of the Newfoundland Regiment went over the top, and the next morning at rollcall there were but sixty-eight who responded. Every day, walking to and from my university, I passed the birthplace of John McCrae, author of the most-quoted poem of the war: “In Flanders Fields.”

Add to all of this the dreadful ways in which we behave to each other in our daily lives. Above all, in the years after the war, as we became increasingly aware of the horrors of the Holocaust, we saw the depths to which we humans could fall. It is but part of a general story of prejudice, and there is not one of us who can look back on history without guilt and regret. No one living in the American South, as do I, can avoid daily reminders of the appalling treatment of white people toward black people. Over two centuries of slavery followed by a century of Jim Crow. Contempt, belittlement, lack of respect—toward strangers, toward people of different classes, toward members of other races, toward those with minority sexual orientations, toward adherents of different religions, toward the disabled, toward Jews, and of men toward women. Was it not naïveté, bordering on the callous, to go on talking about the social nature—the inherent goodness—of human beings? It is this, our conflicted nature—so social, so hateful—that has driven me to write this book. I have found that, in the past two decades, there have been incredibly important discoveries and reinterpretations of our understanding of human evolution. Discoveries and reinterpretations highly pertinent to my quest. Finally, there seem to be some answers. I am amazed at and grateful for what I learned. It is this new understanding that I want to share, less concerned about whether you agree or disagree with me than that you appreciate the importance of the problem and the need to continue the inquiry. It is a moral obligation laid on us all. If you doubt me, think of Ukraine.

Praise for Why We Hate

“Ruse has written one of the most powerful books this reader has encountered in quite a while … [he] does a masterful job of uncovering those roots in a text that addresses the fundamentals of human conflict in a more comprehensive way than any other work on this reader’s current course list. The work is both personal and professional, incorporating a blend of historical fact and firsthand observation that effectively reveals manifestations of the roots of human conflict. The text is both humbling and uplifting, offering a clear look at the past with an eye toward promoting resolution or avoidance of hate-based conflicts in the future. Ruse achieves this effect through a blended approach encompassing aspects of religion, sociology, social work, history, anthropology-and even a bit of psychology. This book is a must read for anyone hoping to address instances of human hatred, because it also offers a hope of reducing hate-based conflicts.”

“An illuminating interdisciplinary rumination on the causes of war and prejudice. Considering both nature and nurture, Ruse argues that hate is not an irradicably given aspect of human life. Squarely facing present day cultural conflicts over immigration, race, sex, and more, this heartfelt book provides hope that we may yet overcome ingroup/outgroup divisions and find a way forward together.”
Robert T. Pennock, Michigan State University, and author of An Instinct for Truth

“This is a lively, personal, and often provocative natural history of human hate, its origins in ingroup-outgroup discriminations, and all it brings: wars, individual aggression, prejudice, racism, class conflict, anti-Semitism, misogyny and more. In his unique and conversational style, Michael Ruse draws upon an impressive range of scholarship from evolutionary biology, philosophy, history, political science, anthropology, and literature, to understand human hate and its sources, in part to debunk the ‘killer ape’ hypothesis that humans are irremediably violent and hateful. We may be able to do something about human hate if we understand more about it; if so, then Why We Hate starts an essential conversation on a matter of crucial importance.”
Richard A. Richards, University of Alabama

About the Author

Michael Ruse

Michael Ruse, born (in 1940) in England, taught philosophy for 35 years at the University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada, and then for 20 years at Florida State University. He is an expert on the history and philosophy of evolutionary biology and has written or edited over sixty books. He is particularly interested in the relationship between science and religion, and was a witness for the ACLU in 1981 in its successful attempt to overturn a law mandating the compulsory teaching of Creationism in Arkansas. He has been awarded a Guggenheim fellowship (USA) and a Killam fellowship (Canada). A Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, he has been a Gifford Lecturer and is the recipient of four honorary degrees. He was the founding editor of Biology and Philosophy and editor of several series of books, most recently and continuing the Cambridge University Press Elements series in the Philosophy of Biology.

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