Why do we all hate each other so much?

Posted: August 29, 2016 in Life, Political musings, Popular Culture et al
Tags: , , , , ,


“Haters gonna hate” goes one of the more popular phrases doing the rounds on the internet currently.

This fascinating – strongly recommended and well-researched – article from the BBC tackles one of the most pressing issues facing modern democracy.


It argues that the brutal tribalisation of Western democratic politics – the ever widening gap between left and right that also sees both those “wings” of politics more extreme in reality as well as simply being perceived as such – is partly a function of the way we live now, and perhaps especially interestingly, that the algorithm-driven marginalisation of readers into ever more narrowly targeted discussion groups on social media is a major factor.

In other words, the more time we spend on Facebook, the less we are exposed to competing points of view, and the more rigid we therefore become in our opinions, because we are constantly exerting confirmation bias on ourselves, and receiving it from those who agree with us. What’s more, the stronger the confirmation bias the less likely we are to accept opposing evidence. Even facts don’t make any difference to the opinions we hold.

As we replicate this social media bias into our daily lives with our friends’ groups, the same effect is multiplied.

All of which bodes ill for the institution of democracy. Democracy only survives – only works – when there is a broad, implicitly accepted consensus that disagreement isn’t just healthy, it is actually the oxygen that nourishes democracy. Debate is good. It’s more than good, it’s how wisdom is created. It’s also how agreement is built between competing groups exerting different pressures on the system. With no debate, whichever side is stronger merely overthrows the other, and the other becomes angrier and more likely to resort to non-democratic methods to achieve their desired outcomes.

The number of friendships shattered by the emotions released over “Brexit” must pass into tens of thousands, or more. And it isn’t good enough to say “well, they can’t have been very good friendships to begin with”, because we can observe that many were. But the tensions raised, especially via the debating tactics used, essentially told people that their side were angels and the other side demons. In most cases, of course, that simply wasn’t true.

The current American presidential election has descended into by far the least edifying contest in living memory.

No, Hilary Clinton is not a perfect human being any more than her husband was. Yet neither is she the epitome of evil and illegality that she is accused of being by many on the right. Discussion of her intended program is virtually banished in pursuit of relentless personalised character attacks. Similarly, Trump has said plenty – and done plenty – that warrants forensic analysis, and his character is legitimately under question. Yes despite his strangled syntax and rubbery policy positions, it also cannot be denied that he has tapped into a rich and deep vein of anti-establishment angst that deserves to be heard and understood, lest it spiral beyond the system and into the realm of civil disobedience and worse.

There have already been glimmerings of a rejection of the very notion of civil society in America, to left and right. This is extremely worrying, as the country’s nascent economic recovery is very fragile, and the rest of the world relies on it becoming locked into place. That requires stability.




What we need is a return to courtesy. To a willingness to concede that the other side might have a point. Not a mindless dumbing-down style of courtesy that means we tolerate people saying any old nonsense – as we have argued often, free speech never was – and never should be – considered to be absolute.

We need the people to demand courtesy of our political leaders, and we need the people to demand that they operate with transparency, ethics, and respect for their opponents. That they argue the merits of a policy position, and not just the morality or motives of their opponents.

We need, in effect, to demand more of our leaders; we demand they do much more than enthusiastically follow whatever lapse into tribalism we exhibit. A great truism is that ‘We get the politicians we deserve”. So getting better politicians means we have to say, loud and clear, that we want to elevate people who can look beyond stoking the fires of tribalism – yes, even to the point of putting those fires out, and even if they serve an electoral purpose.

They get paid the big bucks. We have a perfect right to expect more than self-serving populism in return.

  1. Pat A says:

    You are quite right – lots of friendships have been severed over Brexit – I seem to have lost one of my friends, there has been no answer to repeated emails – I hope she’s alright, but have no way of checking.

    I wonder how the Brexiteers feel now that they know they were lied to – or if they have managed to spin that into something else, so they don’t feel that they have been fooled. Apparently many people who voted for Brexit thought that voting to leave Europe would be a vote against the government (HOW?!!) and didn’t realise that they were being fed a parcel of lies. Sigh – it really beggars belief!

    The polarisation of politics since Farage came on the scene has proceeded apace, and yes, I know it is the same all over the world and especially in Europe, but it still worries me dreadfully – it reminds me of reading about the polarisation of politics before WWII.

    Since the BBC article points out that trying to debate with people who have polarised views makes them feel under attack and reinforces their extreme views even more – what on earth DO we do to try and stop this? Any ideas any one?!


  2. Michael Lynch says:

    Debate essential. From thesis we get antithesis, then synthesis


  3. Paul says:

    I can certainly tell you what I personally hate the most and that is ‘liberals’ thinking they know best for the rest of the world’s population and the ‘champagne socialists’, who love speaking from their high perches and telling the working classes what’s best for them.


    • Stephen Yolland says:

      Paul, I write an article calling for courtesy and listening to the other side and you go off the deep end and start ranting about liberals and champagne socialists.

      Seriously – don’t bother.


    • Stephen Yolland says:

      Oh, and try and read the article before commenting, there’s a good chap.


  4. Pat A says:

    By a rather nice piece of serendipity, I have just seen an email from ‘Hope Not Hate’ – who took on the BNP a few years ago in local elections and beat them. They are a very good bunch and are having ‘More In Common’ meetings for people to attend across the UK, in memory of that wonderful murdered MP, Jo Cox, of Batley, Yorkshire.
    If people get to know each other and can find some common ground, then fear dies down – and people see people AS individuals, as people, not as a terrifying stereotype. Please God they succeed!
    (There seem to be about 50 meetings up and down England and Wales – check it out!).


  5. Pat A says:

    Yolly, sorry that this is off topic – but could you change the little icon next to my name to something less ferocious? Honestly I’ve never looked like that even in my worst moments!


  6. Paul says:

    Yolly, I can’t believe a liberal like you doesn’t like it when people post things that don’t fit with your cosy world and choose not to publish them………actually, funnily enough I can.


  7. Pat A says:

    Yolly, there is an article in the Huff Post today that I think you might like (assuming you hadn’t already read it)

    The article is entitled “The Need For Interfaith Dialogue in America” – I think that the word ‘America’ should be substituted with ‘the World’ – I think it might be worth a read….


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