The Difficult Truth I See Reflected in the World These Days
There’s a level of consciousness that we desperately need to develop, to mature into. As humanity. As individuals. As societies and people. And yet it eludes us in these strange, troubled times. Somehow, we seem to slink deeper and deeper into the recesses of what Jung might have called the shadow, what Freud might have called pure id, what you and I might just call malignant narcissism. Isn’t it fair to say, these days, that hate, seems to be making a defiant comeback?
So rather than analyze it sociopolitically, economically, as I often do, I want to tell you a little bit of the story of my own journey of consciousness. You see, it would have been the most natural thing in the world for me to end up part of the tidal wave of hate engulfing the globe. After all — it’s vanguard is young men, of a certain kind.
Every now and then, I check the forums the bitter young men of the world rage in. You know the ones I’m talking about. Go ahead and emit a horrified laugh. Why do I do it? I’m not sure. It’s not just to gawk. A part of me, if I’m honest, feels horrified. But another part of me thinks — I’ve been close to that edge, that line, too.
I don’t know that I was ever so badly off as many of the young men — the boys, really — raging fatalistically there. But I do know that I’m a child of a forgotten holocaust. It’s scars cut jaggedly through every person who raised me. It lacerated every single life close to me with depression, trauma, grief, alienation. To escape it, my parents fled to a promised land.
A place which, the very day I arrived on its shores, seemed to hate me. As deep and true as the sun shines into the endless night. It hated me in a way that I couldn’t understand. I spent many, many years trying to grapple with it.It became a kind of curse I was desperate to dispel. Maybe this society would hate me less if I was stronger, I thought. But I stayed the sickly skinny kid, no matter how much iron I pushed. And I was hated all the same. Maybe it wouldn’t hate me if I was more accomplished, then. So by the age of 35 or so, I’d written my columns and books and began my appearances on the news and the radio. And yet I still felt that sense of hate, ripping through my life as an eclipse on a sunny day.
Now, you might ask: “where? how?” Ah, my friends. Hate doesn’t need to come to us in flamboyant ways. You don’t need much to know you’re hated. The poison can be transmitted with something as subtle as a word, a look, a glance. That might not make much sense to those with you with the now cliched “white privilege.” But when 75%, 80%, 90% of a kind of people seem to respond to you precisely the same way…with exactly the same level of contempt and indifference…not matter what you do…just for being who you are…you know, deep down, without a shadow of a doubt, that you are hated. You know it through endless little violences, tiny missiles of conflict and scorn that erode and corrode you, when they hit you a thousand times a day. Something endless in you knows when you are being annihilated.
And it bewildered me. It baffled me. Totally and absolutely. I could solve all the other problems in life — the equations, the theories, how to make money, how to build a career. But this feeling of being hated just for who I was? Nothing I did — nothing — took an iota of that hate away. I’d done all the things that I’d been taught — not just by my parents, but by the rules of the promised land. Work hard. Become someone. Then you’ll be worthy, at last. Of what? I never asked. Just not being hated for being at all — that was my only real desire, I think. Just to be able to…be…without this society trying to annihilate me for just being me.
But by then, it became painfully clear to me that nothing I was doing was working. And I was beginning to die a little bit. Or maybe a lot. Day by day. Remember those angry young men raging online? That’s how I began to feel. Rejected, outcast, scorned. And like nothing I could ever do would make the slightest difference. It hadn’t yet — and what else was there left for me to do? I slunk into a kind of catatonic despair, as soothing as the flames of a great fire. As cold and numbing as the dead of winter.
I knew, somehow, that this was it. My life was over in this place, as this person, in this role I was being forced to play, of the hated one. Yes, really. There was nothing left for me. Nobody wanted to be my friend. Nobody wanted to give me a job. Nobody wanted to date me. I was totally alone, all the time, isolated in a way that felt more painful than the last day of an eternal summer. I felt that feeling — that my life was over here — more deeply and truly than anything else I’ve ever felt, to this day — except the instant I met my partner, who saved my life, but that’s another story.
And so I did the only thing I had left to do. I fled. I went into exile. I ran away to Europe the very first chance I’d got. Where I’d never felt that sense of hate, that atmosphere of little violences forever aimed directly at me. That sense of constant threat — as if I was something to be annihilated, socially, culturally, economically. And after a long, long time, in its gentle arms, something in me began to change. But before I tell you what it was, I want to tell why it happened.
You see, after long enough away from being hated, deeply, pervasively, as if my entire being was something society wanted annihilated — and trying to desperately understand, bewildered, what I could do to stop being hated — I began to understand the place I’d fled from anew. I saw it much more clearly.
The promised land, the home of the brave, the land of the free. Why, why did it hate me so much? So relentlessly and so fiercely? I’d thought it was something about me. About being the skinny kid, the sickly one, the punk, the nerd, the goth, the poet. The young man who would’ve preferred to be a nobody — but only started writing because nobody would give him a job. And what I understood, at last, was this.
It had never really been about me at all. It had been about them. I was hated because hate is all that this place knew how to do. It didn’t know how to love, after all. The promised land was also a place where people happily denied each other healthcare and made each others’ kids pay lunch debt. And when concentration camps arose — yawn — who could really be bothered to care much? Hate had become a way of life. And I hated that way of life right back, with every tiny piece of me.
I was all the things that are taboo in our culture, that was true. Physically weak, intellectually curious, morally uncompromising, emotionally vulnerable, more interested in books and art and fashion and disco than guns and football and beer, defiantly so, not obedient and timid. I was the tiny schoolkid who refused to say the pledge because it struck me as an eye-rolling piece of propaganda. But that only meant I was at the bottom of the totem pole — no matter what I did, said, wore, but because of who I was. The totem pole of what? Of hate.
So it wasn’t just I who was the hated one. Hate was all there was there. Everyone hated everyone. More or less — or maybe just literally. Sure, they might have hated me more, since I was at the bottom of the hierarchy of what was valued — ruthlessness, cruelty, selfishness, violence, and so forth. But that missed the point entirely. Everyone hated everyone. That is what a Darwinian society whose purpose was to produce the fittest, through brutalizing, perpetual competition, had produced, emotionally, culturally, socially. Where there should have been mature, happy, open, vulnerable human beings…there were now just desperate beings driven by, fuelled by, living on, surviving through…hate.
There are many names for different kinds of hate. Greed, envy, resentment, cruelty, selfishness, anger, fury. And it seemed to me that this was all life had become in this place, or maybe was allowed to be. Was it any surprise it hated me, then? After all, it didn’t only hate me. Hate, in all these forms, was all that made this society go at all anymore.
With a kind of burning, abiding, terrible passion. These people hated each other so much that they were willing to literally kill themselves for the evanescent pleasure of hate. They were happy to shave years off their own life expectancy just to deny their neighbours healthcare…to make their own kids ignorant just to deny the ones next door an education…to go without retirement just so nobody else had it, either. They hated each other so much that…
They had become fools. Quite literally. What kind of people are willing to destroy themselves just to hurt someone else? Ah, my friends. But what else does hate do? It turns us into the very thing that we hate. Hating each other, to become the supreme ones, America had turned into the very thing it hated: a nation of poor, weak, powerless, weary, desperate people. Hardly the Nietzschean ubermen they worshipped. See the lesson?
So it struck me, one day, like a crack of thunder. It wasn’t just me they hated. Everyone hated everyone for being who they were, in a place where each was told nobody had any inherent worth, beauty, truth, or grace to give, nourish, keep, or treasure. Hate was all that there really was in the promised land. It was a place that didn’t know how to love. Did I want to live that life? Could I?
I made a choice that day. Or maybe over the coming days and weeks and months. I didn’t know how to express it for a very long time. I’ll still struggle with expressing it right now. How can I put it? I wanted to live in such a way that violence played as little a role in my life as possible. Consumed as little of my precious time, thoughts, attention, emotions. Violence in it’s deepest guises — emotional, intellectual, social, cultural: which we know by simpler words.
Greed, the wish to stand supreme atop a dying world. Envy and resentment, the wish to see others brought low. Anger, the wish to hurt another. Rage, the desire to annihilate sets of others. Cruelty, the indifference to suffering. Emptiness, the feeling that’s left when the violence is done. I wanted to cleanse my life of these things. To purify and distill the essence of a life worth living. I wanted to live a life in which all those many forms of hate never wasted another moment, feeling, thought, day. How many did I really have left?
So I stopped doing many of the things that I was by now expected to do. I stopped answering the invitations from CNN and MSNBC and so on. I began ignoring the invitations to speak at this and that conference about this and that (sorry). I thought about whether I’d ever want to write another book. I went back to making music and studying psychology, my first two passions, which, along the way of trying not to be hated desperately, had been forgotten and left to wither. My rule was simple: if it involved violence of any kind, hate in any form — I didn’t want to part of it.
I didn’t understand it then. How much I was growing — or how fast. I didn’t think of any of this the way we’re supposed to — to “seek growth” like it was some kind of other job, more work, more labour, to perfect the self. None of it felt like work to me. It just felt like freedom.
Now. Why have I told you this long, boring story? So that we get to know one another a little? That never hurts. But my reason cuts a little deeper. There’s another way to put all the above.
There was a little boy who felt hated. He turned into a young man desperate not to be that little boy. And so he tried everything — everything — to be, if not loved, admired, envied, then at least just accepted. He became somebody. But he wasn’t hated any less. If anything, he was only hated more.
At the edge of despair, he fled. To a place where he could look back — not in anger, but just in clarity. And what he saw, at last, was a simple, gruesome truth. The place he’d left behind was one where everyone hated everyone else. That is how they spent their lives. That was the rule that explained their choices, feelings, thoughts, actions. They didn’t think of it that way — they didn’t see it that way — some of them even saw hate as compassion, truth, and justice. But that didn’t change the simple fact that everyone hated everyone else, because nobody much had ever freed them to love. And so more and more, now, everyone felt hated, too. Rejected, scorned, forgotten, abandoned. Traumatized, wounded, erased, hurt, shattered.
And so I resolved to live a life as defiantly opposed to that cycle of violence, that wheel of despair and folly, as he could. But how was I to do all that?
Here’s secret. Nobody can teach you how to love. But the only person that can free you from the prison of hate is you. Yet don’t you see that prison expanding and growing around us every day now? So what’s the answer to this paradox?
If there was one thing I could tell all the ones who feel like I did, for so long, that impossible ache, that scalding pain — of being hated, for just being who they are — it would just be this. It’s not you that they hate. Not really. You’re missing the point. It’s everyone. Everyone hates everyone in the promised land. Obediently and meekly. It’s what they’ve been taught, and what is reinforced a thousand times a day, for centuries now. Hate them! You are better than them — aren’t you? So hate them! The weak ones. The ones who feel. The ones who think. The ones who care. The vulnerable ones. The little and fragile ones.
Ah, my friends — but that is all of us. It’s each of us. It’s every one of us. And so in a terrible and strange and bizarre circle, a snake forever eating its own tail, everyone hates everyone. That is the way that we have been taught to live, now, and for too long, perhaps forever. We have been dehumanized, and the result, increasingly, is that hate rules us, and the more that we feel hated, the more we hate right back.
Yet it’s not just you that’s hated. It’s everyone. What else is the feeling of living in a society of perpetual, relentless, brutalizing competition for every little thing? But if it’s everyone, then perhaps you are also playing your neatly assigned role in this clever game. Perhaps you are also hating everyone right back, obediently, just like you have been taught too, by history, by authority, by power, by those who dangle money and sex and fame at your feet. Maybe you are hated…but maybe you’re also the one who hates, too. What does that make you? A prisoner. But also the jailer. Who can set you free?
Nobody can teach you how to love. Nobody has to. You don’t need someone to teach you how to love a forest, a river, a sunset, a child, a little glittering fish, a perfect summer day. It is the truest thing in you. It’s as natural as blinking. All those prophets and great minds? From Jesus to Buddha, from Aristotle to Fromm? They’re not teaching you how to love. They’re just teaching you how to free yourself. From hate. To love. How to let slip not the dogs of war — but the bars of the prison of ego, desire, supremacy, selfhood.
There’s all the difference in the world between teaching how to love — which can’t be done — and freeing you to, which can. Because love isn’t some kind of formula or algorithm you can follow. It’s something much more mysterious than that. It is who you are, and all the pain of this world turning to dust comes from us not being who we are. From being stuck in offices and buying stuff at malls or online instead of walking beneath the leaves, beneath the stars, beneath the sky that becomes the sea which nourishes into the soil we become.
Pain — the truest kind there is — is not being who you are, which is a being expressing the love you naturally feel for life itself. That is what grief is, isn’t it? That is what sorrow and despair are, too. They are love, suffocated, stopped, blocked, from maturing, developing, touching, holding, seeing. And yet nobody can teach you how to love.
I didn’t teach myself how to love. I just had to teach myself how not to hate. I had to free myself from the prison of hate that had been built around me, so carefully, brick by brick, bar by bar, by history, by folly, by greed, by violence, by millennia of them. I had to stop playing my role in the clever game of everyone hating everyone else, for being who they really are, too. It wasn’t easy to dismantle and pulverize all that.
When I look at the world, here’s what I see sometimes. I still see millions, arrayed like a grid, in little cells, in a vast and eternal prison of hate. They sit cross-legged, paralyzed, mute, staring out with wide eyes. Eyes that say: “free me! Please — free me! Let me love someone or something! Let me be loved, in return! Ah. How I burn with hate! Won’t someone set me free?” But the strange thing is this. Each one, too, holds the key to their cell in their very intertwined hands. And each much discover that terrible, beautiful secret for themselves.
There are days, my friends, I could say all that to the world. But what good would it do? Come, then. Walk beside me awhile, in silence. And let the murmur of the leaves and the glittering of the stars be our guides home. Until we find our way back to ourselves, at last.
Umair – September 2019
By umair haque
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