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Hatred: Is there any Rationality?

Written by Ray Sun (’24)

Edited by Harrison Gu (’24)


In this essay, I argue that when an opinion threatens one’s sense of security, it makes sense to hate someone for their opinions.

First, I would like to establish definitions and parameters for the argument. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the phrase “make sense” is characterized as being “intelligible, justifiable, or practicable.” The action of hate refers to “a very strong feeling of dislike for somebody/something.” This definition suggests hate can be both expressed externally or hidden internally. However, in the context of the question, “opinions” can only refer to expressed opinions; otherwise, it would contradict the premise that one has the ability to react to it.

A) Why do we hate?

Hatred is the most extreme emotion on the negative spectrum. It is usually provoked when one perceives the target as having immoral intentions (Haidt, 2003; Rozin, 1999). Usually, extreme emotions like hatred would not be provoked unless a significant event threatens one’s sense of security. Hatred brings a state of caution toward a threat with the goal of eliminating the threat (Navarro et al., 2013). In this sense, hatred is a self-protection mechanism against identified threats rather than an offensive system to initiate conflicts. 

The threat to security can be dissected into two categories: threat to one’s identity and threat to one’s life. 

1) Threat to one’s identity suggests that a situation directly challenges one’s unmovable anchor that defines his identity. When one challenges a central idea that defines another person’s identity, it would be challenging the latter’s ability to reflect. According to John Locke, a person stands for a “thinking intelligent being… [that] can consider itself as itself.” (1690, p. 246) Self-reflection is emphasized by Locke and other modern philosophers as a criterion for what a person stands for. Since reflection defines personhood, challenging certain ideas held by someone can translate into threatening his ability to reflect, thereby questioning his personhood. Everyone deserves to be recognized as a person, as it is a right they are born to have, so it makes sense for them to protect themselves in the form of hate when another challenges their personhood.

2) Threat to one’s health or life similarly violates one’s natural rights. According to John Locke, everyone has the natural right of life and health, and “no one ought to harm another’s life, health, liberty, and property,” which are inalienable rights that define a person (Locke, 2009). If one threatens another person’s natural rights of life or health, he is, in fact, challenging the characteristics that constitute the latter’s personhood, thus justifying the hate felt by the latter.

If either sense of security is threatened, then it would be justifiable for one to hate another for his or her opinion.

While actions can be restricted by law, expressions of opinions are usually not. This may entail a presupposition held by some that opinions are harmless; however, some ideas are poisonous, capable of causing great harm.

For example, on January 6, 2021, former U.S. President Trump claimed through his speeches and social media posts that the democratic election of 2020 was a fraud. Soon after that, a violent protest occurred around the Capitol. As a direct result of the conflict, more than a hundred victims were severely injured, and five died (“Capitol”, 2022). Due to his involvement in this incident, social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook permanently suspended Trump’s accounts, journalist Osborne wrote (2021). It makes sense for some Trump followers to hate the current government since they believe that the government has intentionally skewed the result of a democratic election. From the perspective of some Trump believers, this intentional and immoral act threatens their belief in democracy, which constitutes their identity. At the same time, it also makes sense for some people to hate Trump for spreading his biases and speculations. The members of the public interpreted from the absence of credible evidence that Trump intentionally conspired to defraud the election, which would be immoral as it similarly challenged their faith in a fair democracy. On the surface, the two perspectives are mutually contradictory; however, both are trying to protect the democracy that forms their identity, thus justifying their hate at the same time.

Hatred brings a sense of security, protection, and reassurance. Hatred makes people feel more secure (Edwards, n.d.). People need their sense of security continually reassured, especially when it is threatened by a situation. In the case of a major threat, the victim’s priority is to protect his safety above all else. Many philosophers, historians, and psychologists have suggested that emotions and action tendencies driven by them serve survival goals, especially in the face of proximal threats (Bach and Dayan, 2017; LeDoux, 2012; Johnston, 1999). In other words, the ability to feel hatred might be an evolutionary adaptation to protect organisms from potential harm (LeDoux, 2012). Since natural rights remain constant, the same interpretation applies today: if one’s natural rights are being severely challenged by an opinion, they should be able to activate their protective system.

Hate also brings reassurance to one’s existence. Descartes and many contemporary philosophies are based on the idea that “I think; therefore, I am.”, meaning that thoughts constitute and prove one’s existence. 

Although thoughts and emotions are distinctly different, the formation of emotions is dependent on thoughts (Lawson, n.d.). Therefore, having emotions proves the ability to think, thereby reassuring one’s existence. 

B) Counterarguments

One argument that opposes the justification of hate claims that hatred leads to aggressive actions. In my estimation, this argument fails to provide sufficient evidence to prove the causation between hatred and violent actions. Not every incident of hate leads to attempted physical aggression towards the target. In a study, while 83.3% of subjects feel hatred (characterized by the desire to harm) towards a target, only 16.6% report actual violence (Halperin, 2008). Since not all hatred translates into aggressive actions, it cannot be concluded that hate causes aggressive actions; instead, it demonstrates that the coexistence of hatred and peaceful consequences is more probable than many think. One could only suggest that hatred correlates with an increase in the probability of aggressive actions to justify their stance. 

However, in addition to hatred, other negative emotions such as anger, contempt, and depression are also connection to tendencies of violent behavior. This can be seen in simple, real-life examples: when you are angry, you might break things around you; when you feel distressed, you might harm yourself. Further studies to the idea that specific emotions correlate with action tendencies (Scarantino, 2017; Zhu and Thagard, 2002). So, does this mean no negative emotions are justified if they have directed negative consequences to this world? If so, happiness would be the only emotion we are justified to have.

Another argument supporting unjustified hatred goes as follows: our environment and birth can determine our beliefs and values; therefore, we are not fully responsible for our opinions, making it unjustified for one to hate another for his or her opinions for which they are not responsible. This line of logic suggests that one’s hate can be determined by external factors such as the environment and genetics.

One is not always responsible for his hate. Genetic research shows that individuals with abnormities in their MAOA genes tend to have a higher level of aggression (Arocena, 2015), hypersensitivity, increased effects from negative experiences, and lack of emotion with regard to harming others (Sohrabi, 2015). Such symptoms all relate to typical causes for hatred, creating justification for these individuals with such genetic conditions to hate others. Another factor of social determinism lies in culture and education. “Palestinian children learn to hate Jews at school and Jewish radicals do the same with their children.” (Harrington, 2003) It makes sense for them to hate each other as that is what school has taught them to believe in. 

These conflicting results from following the idea of determinism demonstrate the invalid logic of favoring either side. Therefore, I will not use this for my argument; I include this discussion merely to show that this argument does not favor the opposing side’s proposition.

The final counterargument suggests that hatred fuels more hatred. Although one’s emotions and opinions can affect their surroundings, hate is an extremely negative emotion that is unlikely to be developed over an unthreatening matter. The expressed hate can only encourage others’ inhibited hate to be expressed. Therefore, hate does not feed hate but lets out the emotions that already exist. This leads to my last argument: expressing hate is better than leaving it to accumulate within. 

C) Expression of Hate

Emotions do not simply disappear, especially long-term emotions or sentiments such as hate, which tend to exist longer (Martínez, 2022). According to psychologists, one can “gradually temper negative emotions” or regulate them but cannot eliminate them (Reidbord, 2016). This translates into the fact that hate exists, leaving two regulating methods for comparison: suppression and expression. 

Suppression of hate would not make sense as inhibiting emotions generally leads to severe health issues. According to Nezlek et al., participants who suppressed their emotions in a 3-week period had a decrease in positive emotions, lower self-esteem, and an increase in negative emotions (2008). Numerous other studies support the findings, suggesting that this regulating method correlates with higher distress, stronger depressive symptoms, and worsening memory loss (Richards et al., 2000; Iwamitsu et al., 2005; Flynn, 2010). 

Aside from psychological effects, suppression of negative emotions is strongly associated with health issues. A study by the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Rochester in 2013 demonstrated that the group that inwardly hid their emotions had a 30% increase in premature death and a 70% increase in the risk of cancer diagnosis (“Are,” 2018). Suppression’s short-term effects include a rise in blood pressure and decreased memory; in the long run, it worsens sicknesses, cognitive performance, and psychological conditions (Richards, 2004). 

Even though short-term suppression is possible, hate is a long-term sentiment that is difficult to constantly hide (Martínez, 2022). Even if one is able to do so, this may worsen his negative emotion (Vohs et al., 2011; Al-Shawaf et al., 2016) and “could encourage an emotional outburst” (“Are,” 2018), potentially damaging surrounding people even more. 

Moreover, researchers suggest that hate sometimes develops “step by step,” similar to the gradual development of violence (Navarro et al., 2013). Based on the idea that negative emotions develop through suppression, other negative emotions misperceived as hate, such as anger, can worsen into hate. Therefore, hate should not be suppressed; instead, an appropriate, cathartic expression could be a solution.

Appropriate expressions such as consulting a physician, sharing with friends, and practicing mindfulness could prevent undesirable consequences while allowing one to accept their emotions (Cullen, 2020). According to Brans et al., socially sharing emotions benefits the person more than inhibiting them; therefore, cathartic expression of negative emotions should be accepted.

Cathartic expression is justified, similar to the right to free speech. Free speech is highly valued because it’s a form of self-expression that “[derives] from a widely accepted premise… that the proper end of the realization of his character and potentialities as a human being” (Emerson, 1962). Similarly, cathartic expression of emotions is also a form of self-expression, helping one realize his self. By expressing the emotions, one can truly accept their emotions and the values that define them. Denying one’s emotions contradicts the goal of self-realization. Therefore, besides serving as a mechanism for self-protection, hate is also a tool for one to be true to themselves.


Hate can engender destructive consequences, but there is a good reason for its existence, i.e., self-protection. When one’s unalienable rights are challenged by an opinion, they are justified to protect themselves through hate. However, this only applies when natural rights are severely challenged. Neither extremes should be tolerated. If hate is developed through even the most insignificant disagreements, peace will disappear. If hate is entirely restricted, this form of self-protection will be stripped away. It is necessary to keep a balance between the two dystopian reactions.

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