Identity & Hate

Some people claim to love everybody. That’s not realistic. A healthy person, with any luck, loves his family, friends, relations and community. It’s normal, natural and healthy to prefer the company of those who are similar to you.

When I was young, I was eager to meet people who were different from me. I’ve had long stretches of my life filled with infatuation for Jews and asians, for instance. Then I converted to Orthodox Judaism and developed a more nuanced understanding of Jews and their collective strengths and weaknesses.

Most people most of the time prefer their own kind but under enough stress, they can support hurting outsiders. Under enough stress, most people can turn ugly. The election of Donald Trump was in part a reaction to the stress of living in multicultural America. The more people are forced to mix with people who different from them, the more likely they are to hate out-groups. There’s only significant anti-Semitism in Australia, for example, where people are likely to encounter Jews (Sydney and Melbourne).

White separatists, like black separatists and Jewish separatists (the de facto mode of Orthodox Judaism), are usually reacting to the stress of being forced to mix with people with whom they are not compatible. Without that stress, people have other priorities than racial and religious separation.

For decades in America, racial and religious identity has been praised for everyone but white Christians. Now the white Christian majority is becoming more conscious of their separate identity from those outside of their group.

The Holocaust, for example, did not begin until Germany started losing WWII and was under great stress. Genocides are usually the product of extreme competition for scarce resources. Racial and religious and ethnic strife is the rational product of conflicts of interest. Aside from the perspective of faith, there are no good guys and bad guys in the universe, just different forms of life competing for survival.

I think every people — red, white yellow and black and Jewish — want to feel safe and in control of their own communities.

At one time or another, I have shed tears for the suffering of almost every major group, but much of the time, I care primarily about my group (be that group Americans or Jews or Australians or Anglos). Caring about the suffering of others is not the opposite of indifference. Each mode is fully human and often healthy, each mode is simply a product of time and place and circumstance and genes. At times, I can be caring and empathic, and at other times, I have to concentrate solely on the well-being of myself and those close to me. There are times in life when a healthy person has to be very hard and uncaring and at other times, this same person will likely show kindness and compassion. The more stress you are under, the less likely you are to care for others, particularly those who are different from you.

The comparison elicited aghast stares from the crowd late last month. It was a reminder that Damigo, a 30-year-old Cal State Stanislaus student, was far from the like-minded white men he had just spent the weekend with in Washington during a gathering where some stretched out their arms in Nazi salutes.

What a way to describe the National Policy Institute conference.

“Bigotry” and “racism” and “anti-Semitism” are just slurs to describe people who are naturally reacting to group conflicts of interest.

Jonathan Haidt published an important essay on nationalism a few months ago:

Nationalists see patriotism as a virtue; they think their country and its culture are unique and worth preserving. This is a real moral commitment, not a pose to cover up racist bigotry. Some nationalists do believe that their country is better than all others, and some nationalisms are plainly illiberal and overtly racist. But as many defenders of patriotism have pointed out, you love your spouse because she or he is yours, not because you think your spouse is superior to all others. Nationalists feel a bond with their country, and they believe that this bond imposes moral obligations both ways: Citizens have a duty to love and serve their country, and governments are duty bound to protect their own people. Governments should place their citizens interests above the interests of people in other countries.
There is nothing necessarily racist or base about this arrangement or social contract. Having a shared sense of identity, norms, and history generally promotes trust. Having no such shared sense leads to the condition that the sociologist Émile Durkheim described as “anomie” or normlessness. Societies with high trust, or high social capital, produce many beneficial outcomes for their citizens: lower crime rates, lower transaction costs for businesses, higher levels of prosperity, and a propensity toward generosity, among others. A liberal nationalist can reasonably argue that the debate over immigration policy in Europe is not a case of what is moral versus what is base, but a case of two clashing moral visions, incommensurate (à la Isaiah Berlin). The trick, from this point of view, is figuring out how to balance reasonable concerns about the integrity of one’s own community with the obligation to welcome strangers, particularly strangers in dire need.

Blog post:

A while ago, France banned the burqa under the generic guise of banning “face-covering.” How cowardly and French to not just name the object of your legislation, but instead aim to exorcise a particular demon by creating a vague umbrella term. No ski masks either!

Then last year, Denmark banned Kosher and Halal meat production. To their credit, less cowardly than France, they named their foe–but in the name of a protest against animal cruelty. “Nothing against you, Jews and Muslims; we just think we kill animals more humanely.”

In a surprise reversal, even Angela Merkel recently advocated banning the burqa “wherever legally possible.” Of course, waiting until the two-minute warning sounded wasn’t maybe brilliant, but better late than never?

Then this morning I read that doctors in Denmark want to ban circumcision–oy vey!

A friend emails: “The thing about progressive pluralism. They are really interested in a veneer of diversity. They envision everyone basically progressive. With ethnic dress.”

What does all of this signify? In my mind, it is the locus of two colliding forces–the logos (reason, reality) and the pathos (emotion, desire). Western peoples are going to have to decide whether they are going to be universalists or identitarians, and the moment is coming to its crisis in a way that will not allow the “implicit” universalism of the past to suffice. Our hope was that any immigrants who moved into our nations would immediately take to our implicit universalism. Our hope was that people would not show a preference for “their own kind,” because our hope was that they would recognize that “kind” is a construct–that they would therefore feel their connection to all human beings equally. But as it turns out, in reality, people do tend to prefer the company of their own kind. Those who wear burqas feel more comfortable around others who wear burqas. People who eat kosher tend to prefer the company of others who eat kosher. Instead of “becoming Danes,” the people who have moved to Denmark have become Muslims who live in Denmark, or Jews who live in Denmark. The same goes for Germany. And just because there’s a universalist poem on the statue of liberty does not mean that the logos can be avoided in America. Either we have a national identity and require others to submit to it, require them to assimilate–even at the very real prospect of their being offended or even refusing to move here–or else we don’t. And the universalists want to believe that “or else we don’t” will turn out great, that everyone will get along, that there will be no ethnic conflict, no struggles for power, no disenfranchisement of minority groups. But many of the people who already live here are resisting assimilation, and those who are moving here are not showing signs of assimiliation. No one wants to have their identity erased and replaced.

The easiest way to see this is to note the change in the relationship between “African-Americans” (note the dual-nature of identity implicit in the term) and America. Mind you, their resistance is justified. That’s why I’m noting their case as an example. Until about 1960, black Americans had spent almost 100 years trying to assimilate. By the 1950s, many black fathers were working two jobs, wearing dress shirts, cutting their hair short, and naming their sons “Sam” and “Joe.” But America wasn’t rewarding their attempt to assimilate. The 88% majority–whites–weren’t comfortable hiring these men, or letting them move into the neighborhood, or letting them swim in the neighborhood pool, or drink out of the same fountain. And so finally, in the 1960s, and especially in the 1970s, black Americans began to resist. They grew afros in 1971. They insisted on different terminology–“Afro-American” or “black” to replace “Negro” or what has become known as “the n- word.” They wore zoot suits. They named their children distinctly black names.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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