‘All of us would prefer to be inscribed in the Book of Love rather than the Book of Resentment’ – Jeffrie Murphy
Well, no, not all of us: the philosopher is being a bit too optimistic, as the rapper Wiley has just conclusively demonstrated. Hate is what he likes to do, at maximum decibels. There’s not a lot of point in arguing with people like him, since argument is not what he’s doing – there’s stunningly little in the way of appeal to evidence or reasons in his antisemitic rants. It’s all just assertion, shouted at rhetorical top volume. The best of arguments aren’t going to make any difference to him. However it doesn’t follow that he shouldn’t be combatted, of course, nor does it follow that we should give up on presenting the strongest arguments against him. The reasons for doing this become clear when we think about what’s in it all for Wiley – what he gets out of these Jew-hating tirades.
To do that, we have to consider, yet again and with groans of exhaustion, the causes of antisemitism. As we all know, they are deep and complex, hard to entirely disentangle from other socio-political forces, stretching widely across the world and far back into history, etc etc etc. Now it’s true that many of the causes of antisemitism are like this. But they’re not all so profound and complicated, and it’s worth spending a bit of time considering a causal force which is crude, simple, shallow, and very visible indeed in Wiley’s tweets and elsewhere. This is the deplorable but pretty obvious fact that hating really is fun. Some of the time, at least, we enjoy hating other people, and most of us enjoy it a bit more than is good for us, or for the body politic, for that matter. Of course, it’s a peculiarly sour-tasting kind of enjoyment, and fortunately it’s not the only thing we enjoy: we have very strong pro-social psychological drives as well as anti-social ones, and most people have acquired some control over their inner hate-monger well before they reach adulthood. But in some circumstances, especially where hostility is socially sanctioned, the hatred is easily fired up; and its pleasures are quite enough to keep it going into a pogrom or two, something which Wiley might well have sympathy with. (I’m disinclined to give him the benefit of any doubt on such matters, mainly because I see no evidence whatever for there being any doubt about his tight embrace of Jew-hatred.)
It’s fairly evident what kind of rewards those like Wiley get from hating Jews. First, it gives them a deeply comforting sense of superiority: they are entirely above and beyond the objects of their hatred, and can judge them and find them contemptible. Hence the use of reductive and diminishing rhetoric: if Jews are like insects, even vermin, how much better, how much higher, must be those who can see that Jews are verminous, and who rightly and properly loathe them for it. Second, fully indulged hatred gives a spine-tingling thrill of power: the inner constraints are off, and, if only society would let us, we could do what we please to the objects of our hatred. And as we know, what the haters are pleased to do can be the stuff of nightmares; and that knowledge is part of the thrill of power. (After the hellish Rwandan genocide, one of the genocidaires, reflecting on the killing times when he would go on a man-hunt every morning, said that during the genocide they ‘felt like lords’.)
These two experiences – a warm glow of superiority and an exhilarating sense of power – are very heady stuff, common to many forms of racism. However there are extra pleasures more obviously connected with antisemitism which are also available to those like Wiley. For example, there is the fact that in the West, the original locus of Jew-hatred resided in parts of the white Christian, majority. It’s intermittently been a culturally dominant, and hence licensed, form of hatred. Antisemitic members of minority groups, who are themselves often the object of racist hatred, can feel themselves to be, in this at least, just as powerful and privileged as those who oppress them. They’re just as good, if not better, at hating Jews.
And now there’s the bizarre complaint that the Jews have stolen their Jewishness from the black Israelites, who are the real Jews – at this point it’s hard to know if we’re being told to hate Jews for being Jews, or hate them for not being Jews. Quite possibly it’s both – throwing off the constraints of logic may be another liberating pleasure for those committed to maintaining their racism towards Jews above all else.
There’s nothing really new in all this analysis, of course; many people, myself included, have banged this drum before, and have read and supported others making these not very complicated points. But now, as in the past, it remains hard for any alternative view to successfully compete with the full-fat pleasures of a really ripe hatred, especially one which gets the hater plenty of publicity. No appeal to facts or reason is likely to prevail over so deeply satisfying a hostility. However, it doesn’t follow that we should abandon argument: it won’t be much use against Wiley himself, but not everyone who follows him, or watches his self-admiring performance, is like him in this respect. There will always be many people who manage not to be addicted to hatred, and who are genuinely open to reason, at least to some extent, and they may be helped by hearing the arguments. You never, ever, know who’s listening.
As for Wiley himself, a cultural shift is probably needed to deal with his hatreds, and there’s no immediate sign of that. In the meantime, he might be affected by widespread public obloquy if enough of the public, especially those who ultimately pay him, are prepared to get involved. But that’s never certain; what is certain, however, is that people like Wiley and his supporters are the best, the clearest, and the most forceful demonstrators that could possibly be found of the need for a State in which Jews can defend themselves from the torrent of rancid hatred that Wiley and others so obsessively display, and from all the consequences which that hatred so naturally encourages.
This is a guest post by Eve Garrard