Why Do We Hate?

The idea that we are separate from one another fuels much of the hatred, violence, and misery in our world. But it’s just not true


Photo: NASA via Unsplash

One common misconception fuels much of the hatred, violence, and misery in our world, and even threatens our very existence as a species. It’s the idea that we are separate from one another.

To some extent, we are hardwired to view other people as separate, alien, at times threatening. Within fractions of a second of meeting someone, our brains subliminally label the other person as a potential friend, mate, or foe. Our brains naturally prioritize and become rapidly conscious of faces that seem threatening. On top of that, the “other-race effect,” or the tendency to recognize faces of your own race more quickly than those of another race socializes us towards implicit bias. Not being able to accurately read someone’s face is a good example of the psychological distance that interferes with our ability to understand one another.

Social, cultural, and political trends like the growing political polarization within the United States exacerbate our tendency towards in-group / outgroup dichotomizing. We tend to think of ourselves as more connected to members of our in-group — our family, friends, members of our same generation, gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnic, or political group. But we often think of ourselves as very separate from people outside of our in-group, who may seem less likable, less understandable, less trustworthy, even threatening to us.

This tendency to pit in-group against out-group was probably adaptive for survival tens of thousands of years ago when the population was much lower, and humans lived in small, migrant communities that had to stick together in order to survive the elements arrayed against them. Even today, of course, it would still be hazardous to immediately trust every stranger who comes along. But in the densely populated, technologically advanced, highly interconnected modern world that we live in, the much greater danger for humanity as a whole is failing to see and appreciate our commonalities. This delusion of separateness can block our ability to work together to address urgent global problems, like the COVID19 pandemic, systemic racism, or the climate crisis.



Ashley Pallathra and Edward Brodkin

Co-authors of the new book “Missing Each Other: How to Cultivate Meaningful Connections.” Twitter: @ashleypallathra @tedbrodkin