From Love to Hate in One Step: Hate Crime

Have you turned on your news channel recently? When you do, what do you see? A cute, sappy story about a family being reunited? Or an update on the arrest of an American man endangering the lives of dozens of non-American people? Whichever your television screen shows you, there’s no way to be able to look at the story and debate whether it is a love-filled story, or a hate-filled one. The emotions are clearly shown. In one of his many speeches, Martin Luther King Jr. says, “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.” Today’s world is full of the two poles of emotion: the feeling of love, and the feeling of hatred. Just in the United States alone, there are roughly 6,200 weddings a day, and 2,400 divorces a day. Divorce doesn’t always mean the couple hates each other, but they certainly aren’t madly in love like they were the day the bride walked down the aisle. Turning on the news every morning before school, I see countless stories of people being murdered, or some form of hate crime committed. The world is full of these feelings, and according to 19th century author Nathaniel Hawthorne, these two sprung from the same place. In his novel, The Scarlet Letter, he states “It is a curious subject of observation and inquiry, whether hatred and love be not the same thing at bottom. Each, in its utmost development, supposes a high degree of intimacy and heart-knowledge; (. . .) the two passions seem essentially the same (. . .)” (The Scarlet Letter, Chapter 24). Although Hawthorne makes valid points in his statement, there are many examples where his theory is wrong, down to the physical aspect of your brain during these moments. Hatred and love, while both rooted in a sort of passion, are two completely different points of view.

In The Scarlet Letter, The townspeople of Boston gradually shift from hatred to love for Hester Prynne, the town’s adulteress. Some may debate that they felt both for her at the same time, but why would they shun her if they felt love? At the end of the novel, she is finally accepted as a regular woman in the town, who other women commonly seek out for advice. She made an honest living since day one of being released out of jail (her needlework), but nobody appreciated the woman behind the needle. People judged her, as well as judged her daughter Pearl because of who her mother was. Hester felt both love and hate for her scarlet A that she was forced to wear on her bosom, but certainly not at the same time. She grew attached to the embroidery at the end, when Dimmesdale told her they had been considering lifting her punishment, and she refused (Hawthorne). Not only because Pearl deemed her unrecognizable without it, but because she had finally started to realize that the A on her dresses was a special part of her that she needed, because it taught her how to love, and how to hate.

Love and hate are more than just two emotions that can be felt by people. If you take it down to a physical, biological level, there are a series of neurotransmitters that travel through sections of the brain in order for the person to feel a certain way about someone, or something. An article written by David Robson spoke about a neurologist named Semir Zeki who discovered a signal named the “hate circuit,” which is the pattern of brain activity after someone is shown photographs of things/people they hate. The study shows that it crosses through similar places love does, but there are still more differences than similarities. Both emotions must pass through two regions: the putamen (region used to prepare the body for movement) and the insular cortex (area for feelings of distress). However, the frontal cortex, which is associated with judgement and problem-solving are less active when looking at something you love. When seeing something the test subjects hated, most of the frontal cortex was highly active. “In love, you take leave of your senses and go wild for that person, but in hatred it seems you must be all there to calculate your next move.” (Robson, NewScientist). If both love and hate were coming from the same place, the brain would act the same when presented with both emotions.

There is always a common romantic trope present in many kinds of literature and films. One of the characters falls in love with another one, and after spending a majority of the book/movie bonding with each other, one of them ends up committing self-sacrifice in order to save the one they love. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I know for a fact that if I was given the option to sacrifice myself for someone I hated, I wouldn’t take up the offer. But if that was substituted for someone in my family, I would. There is a solid line between self-sacrifice and cold-blooded murder, and whether you hate or love the person is what determines that ending.

For some people, hate may be seen as the more “comfortable” option when choosing between hating something or loving it. While easy for the hater, and painful for the hated, it gives the hater a sense of security. Hate is a black and white emotion. There are no secrets, no surprises; everything is seemingly understood when someone is despised. The worst has already come, so in hatred, there is no fear. When it comes to love, the near opposite applies. Love is a heart-racing, head-spinning feeling that leaves the lover in a state of confusion. There, everything is unknown and anything could happen at any time. There is an underlying constant thought that one day, this love will morph itself into hate. Love is something one has to work for, and something that must be earned. In an article written by Jeff Campagna, he elaborates, “We are taught hate as kids. We are given the option to find love as adults. Love requires compassion. Hate requires only ego. We are born with ego, but we must learn compassion.” (Campagna, Thought Catalog).

There are a plethora of studies, quotes, examples, etc. that could be used to contradict the love vs. hate argument. For instance, the phenomenon Stockholm syndrome is a rare circumstance where someone taken hostage suddenly feels empathy toward their captor as a sort of survival instinct. ‘The hostages experience a powerful, primitive positive feeling towards their captor. They are in denial that this is the person who put them in that situation. In their mind, they think this is the person who is going to let them live.’ (Westcott, BBC News). In one of the most extreme cases, there are situations where pure hatred can turn into love- but is it really love? Or just a plan to survive? If the hostage fakes being attached to the captor, they may think the captor is less likely to put them in any kind of harm.

I know what anyone who’s reading this is thinking: “So love and hate are different. Who cares?” A topic like this is something that could be debated across the planet for possibly hundreds of years to come. Hate and love are universal emotions, and will never go away, so the question will always stand as long as they both are as well. Hawthorne’s theory has been an argumentative topic for the past 200 years, and it is not the sort of conversation that’ll be put to an end anytime soon. People will always have opinions, and they will always feel emotions. Therefore, a definite answer to “are love and hate the same thing at bottom?” (Hawthorne) will never be reached.