In the wake of the mail bombs sent to Democratic critics of Trump and the deadly mass shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, many are raising alarm about what seems to be a dramatic increase in hate crimes and speech. I was thinking about this and these lyrics came to mind:
“… The whole world is festering with unhappy souls.
The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles.
Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch,
And I don’t like anybody very much.
… They’re rioting in Africa.
There’s strife in Iran.
What nature doesn’t do to us
will be done by our fellow man.”
Those lyrics are taken from a song titled “Merry Minuet,” released by the Kingston Trio in 1959. Six decades have passed since then. In spite of the strides we’ve made in being more tolerant of people who are different from us in terms of race, creed and sexual orientation, it does seem as though hate is more prevalent than ever before. Maybe it is; maybe it isn’t.
The millenial generation now blames Trump and like-minded boomers for the rise in hate. In 1959, the boomers were blaming their parents. Hate and the primeval instincts that fuel it, like fear, distrust, envy, greed, and our territorial instincts, have always been with us. Those instincts are critical to our survival. One who wanders down a dark alley, oblivious to potential danger, ends up dead. One who does so with an appropriate degree of fear and distrust is more likely to survive.
When driven to irrational extremes, however -as they can be when fed by false information, those instincts may cause us to unjustifiably hate others. I and my fellow Christians believe that Christ came into this world to teach us to rein in our demons, to love our neighbor and to forgive those who wrong us. Often, it’s not easy. I see a couple of factors, beyond the political, that are making it much harder.
Number one is “social” media. Not until the past few years have those beset with irrational fears and hatred had such a place to turn to for reinforcement, where their fears and suspicions could be stoked by gross propaganda designed to pull them in and exploit them. There’s another factor, however, that few recognize – that high population densities are breeding grounds for hatred. You can see it everywhere you look. It’s not hard to understand. Those who live in close quarters are more easily irritated by those around them. Throw in obvious differences like race and creed and you have an explosive mixture. “Good fences make good neighbors,” as the saying goes. The point is that we can all more easily coexist when we have some separation.
I like to use what I call the “monkeys in a cage” effect as an analogy. Build an enormous, beautiful cage – perhaps acres in size – with flowing streams and trees full of fruit and nuts. Now put a monkey in the cage. Will he be happy? No, he’ll be lonely. Put in another monkey. Are they happy? They’re happier, but still long for more companionship, being very social animals. So put in some more. And then more. At some point, some monkeys will be driven out of the group, where they’ll move to the opposite side of the cage and form their own group. Now put in more monkeys, and more and more. At some point, the monkeys will turn on each other and you’ll return to the cage in the morning to find many of them dead, casualties of an enormous fight that broke out overnight.
Any child whoever had an aquarium or terrarium understands that their bowl or cage will only support just so many fish or animals, in spite of their best efforts to keep them fed. And so it is with us. Our country and our planet is twice as densely populated as it was fifty years ago, and is many times more densely populated that it was just a century ago. While mankind may be clever enough to overcome many obstacles to never-ending population growth, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that there are also many factors that are escalating beyond our ability to control them. Rising hatred, fed by worsening over-crowding is one that shouldn’t be ignored.