If you know me, you know one thing for certain: I’m a nerd. Except, I’m not the super smart kind of nerd that can calculate complex formulas in my head. That’s my brother. 🙂 But, I do love neuroscience and learning how the brain works. I’ve been reading and learning about the brain for the past 6 years or more. I’m no expert, but I do have something you might be interested to learn.
As I observe the state of our society these days, one thing keeps bothering me: so much hate. So, I’ve been doing what all cool people do, research.
The Science of Hate
Hate is, supposedly, a byproduct of the fear response. When we feel threatened, our amygdala triggers our fear response. The amygdala processes information 40x faster than our “rational” brain. The amygdala works with the entire nervous system, receiving information and processing it for potential threats. It’s amazing. If it decides something is a threat, it kicks in the “fight or flight” mechanism, pumping adrenaline through our body to prepare us for what’s to come. (Read my article: “What fear is doing you.“) Our amygdala processes the info and the determines where to send it from there. When it comes to love and hate, if we hate someone or something, the hate circuit gets lit up.
The “hate circuit” shares some similarities with the “love circuit.” They share two regions, the putamen and the insula. The putamen is the region of the brain responsible for movement and the insula is associated with feelings of distress.
The primary difference: the areas of the frontal cortex that are associated with judgement and reasoning are more active with hate than they are with love. When we love someone, we are less judgemental and less critical of them. When we hate, our judgement kicks in.
The neural circuitry for hate also involve the areas of our brain responsible for drive, premeditation, planning and storytelling.
There’s one more thing that love and hate share, (and this was a surprise to me) Oxytocin. We typically think of oxytocin as the “cuddle” hormone. If oxytocin were a character it would be poppy from trolls. But, that changes when it comes to hate. Oxytocin is released when we hate, but its effects are quite different.
Biologists understand this paradoxical nature of oxytocin; they describe it in terms of the “tend-and-defend molecule.” But this is important to remember: To defend those we consider Us often means we attack those we consider Them.https://observer.com/2016/08/how-to-overcome-the-hormones-that-make-us-hate/
There’s a lot more science to this, but that should be enough to get us through this article.
Right now, it seems that we all do. We just might not be aware of it.
It turns out, (If you know me, this won’t surprise you…) a major component in hate is storytelling.
“A 2010 study by Stanford University researchers Elissa Lee and Laura Leets, who measured teenagers’ reaction to hate groups’ Web sites, found that storytelling with implicit hate messages, rather than direct exhortations to hate, is the most effective way to persuade impressionable minds”[source: Lee and Leets].
Take special note of, “Storytelling with implicit hate messages, rather than direct exhortations to hate, is the most effective way to persuade impressionable minds.
Rutgers University sociologist Martin Oppenheimer, who with his family fled Nazi persecution in the 1930s, argues that hate is sown among a group by identifying and exploiting their frustrations, insecurities, and/or fear of losing out on things they want or need. The trick is convincing people that the explanation for their problems is someone else who is threatening to take away things that ought to be theirs, or is a menace to their safety. Additionally, he says, organized hatred helps give meaning to the lives of those who feel marginalized.https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/hate3.htm
“Identifying and exploiting their frustrations, insecurities and/or fear of losing out on things they want or need.”
Question, can you think of anything that has happened recently that might cause the majority of us to feel frustrated, insecure and/or afraid of losing out on things we want or need? Anyone else still staying stocked up on toilet paper?
But wait, there’s more!
A largely ignored internal memo to senior executives at Facebook in 2018 explained: “Our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness.” Left unchecked, the algorithms will feed users “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention and increase time on the platform”.https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/sep/27/social-dilemma-media-facebook-twitter-society
In that same article:
Tristan Harris, a former Google design ethicist and the co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology, points out that far before technology overpowers human strengths, it will overwhelm human weaknesses. Sophisticated algorithms learn our emotional vulnerabilities and exploit them for profit in insidious ways.
Does that sound familiar? “Learn our emotional vulnerabilities and exploit them for profit in insidious ways.
It sounds like a better name for Facebook might be Hatebook.
I don’t know about you, but I hate being manipulated. (Yes, I know I used the word.) When I see someone trying to manipulate me, there’s a reaction in me that kicks in pretty hard, making me want to push harder against the manipulation. I’ve been in meetings where people have tried to use their emotions to get me to make their decision, it usually makes me fight harder against them. I know, I have room to grow.
But, the cold, hard truth is: we’re being manipulated. We all know there’s a power struggle going on right now. The truth is, there are multiple power struggles taking place. Republican vs. Democrat. Conservative vs Liberal. Big Tech vs. News outlets. East vs. West. Dis Integrationists vs. unionists. And the list goes on. (Every time I say that phrase, Sandi Patty’s “The gift goes on” gets stuck in my head. You’re welcome.)
People, organizations, movements, etc. are all manipulating us for their own purpose: power. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” (John Dahlberg-Acton) Whoever has the most power over the people has the most power over everything else. What should tick us all off is that they’re using hate to manipulate. What’s worse, is these groups are getting us to hate each other for their own advantage. They don’t care how it affects you and I and our ability to have decent relationships even though we disagree. Their only concern is their own superpower.
The ability to use hate to manipulate is the reason there is such a struggle right now to “control the narrative.” We’re being told the battle going on right now is between liberal and conservative ideals, and yes that is a big battle. But the real battle taking place is over who has the greatest ability to manipulate the people.
Chamath Palihapitiya, former Vice President of User Growth at Facebook said to Stanford Students: “I feel tremendous guilt…the short-term dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works.” Not only do the algorithms play on our hate, they manipulate our brains by using curiosity to keep us scrolling and rewarding us with a 400% spike in dopamine for likes, comments, etc., roughly the same size of a spike you get with cocaine.
Not a big Facebook user? Instagram is owned by Facebook. Not using social media at all? Google works the same way. Not only are we addicted, but the algorithms we are addicted to get progressively narrow in what they show us. We see less opposition and more agreement with our preconceived notions, making the oceans of hate deeper with each like, comment and share.
What do we do about it?
Well, there are a few things.
First, I think we may have to get off of Hatebook. I’m doing my best between myself and our church to fill Facebook with more positive and uplifting material, but if we aren’t aware of the advanced algorithms preying on our minds, it can be dangerous. At best, limit your time on Facebook. There are apps to do this on your phone.
Second, if you won’t say it to their face, don’t say it online. The hate you share online doesn’t change anyone’s mind. Some of the hate I see some of my friends share stand in such deep contrast to who I know them to be in real life. Some of the nicest people share some of the vilest posts.
I’ve shared before, my Facebook feed is pretty purple. Our church is pretty purple. I’ve had people think I’m too liberal and too conservative. I have a lot of friends on both sides of the political fence. Before I post anything, I think of both sides, not just the side I agree with. When I write, I have actual faces of people I know on both sides in my mind as I write. You should do the same. Before you share that next post, think about the person you’re friends with on Facebook who disagrees with you. Don’t assume we all agree. We don’t.
Third, consider the source. Whatever source you go to for your information, recognize that they are all driven by two things: A worldview and a profit margin. If you’re more conservative, you likely go to Fox News because they’re driven by a conservative worldview. If you’re more liberal you probably choose CNN or others. Neither are unbiased. Both are driven by their worldview and both are driven by profit margins. Both have seen ridiculous profits as a result of the pandemic, protests & riots, forest fires, the election and everything else going on in 2020. There is no such thing as an unbiased reporter. Every single human being is biased by their worldview.
Fourth, (and the only real solution), we need to up our efforts to be like Jesus by about 100 times our current levels. Jesus has the only real solution to hate:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.Jesus, Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:43-48
As the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Remember, love is not a feeling. That is one of the biggest lies of our culture. Love is a decision. Love sacrifices itself for the benefit of others. True love does not seek to benefit itself first. Love lays down its life for others. (Read this, this, this & this.)
Now, more than ever, true followers of Jesus Christ, true Christians MUST lead by example in loving our “enemies.” We are being constantly inundated with messages of hate by the media and social media. I have seen so many Christians sharing messages that are the equivalent of hating our enemies. I’ve seen so many pastors on both sides arguing their case on Facebook for why their ideology is right and why opponents must are immoral for thinking the way they do. It’s disheartening. Should we stand up for what’s right? Sure. Should we stand up for the oppressed and marginalized? Definitely. But we will never make progress by shouting louder and louder all the ways our opponents are wrong. All that will fuel is the hate.
Jesus, in his infinite wisdom wanted to use a different tactic: love. Remember the different ways the brain deals with love and hate? (“I don’t know man, that as a long time ago.”) Hate uses the judgemental part of our brain where love lessens it.
If we’re going to find a solution to the division and hatred in the world today, it’s not going to be found in deepened the oceans of hate. It will only be found in making the intentional choice to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. Loving our enemies is how we are made complete, not lacking anything.