SPOKANE, Wash. — Why did the Nazis hate the Jews? Why did the Hutus hate the Tutsis?
Hate is everywhere, but the fundamental question of why one person can hate another has never been adequately studied, contends Jim Mohr of Gonzaga University, who is developing a new academic field of hate studies.
The goal is to explain a condition that has plagued humanity since one caveman looked askance at another.
“What makes hate tick?” Mohr, director of Gonzaga’s Institute for Action Against Hate, wondered. “How can we stop it?”
Gonzaga founded the institute a decade ago after some black law students received threatening letters. It has since started a Journal of Hate Studies, hosted a conference and offered its first class on hatred last spring.
The hope is that other universities will follow suit, said Ken Stern of the American Jewish Committee in New York, who has been involved in the effort.
“We wanted to approach hate more intelligently,” he said.
Stern, who has spent 20 years battling anti-Semitism, said the need for hate studies became obvious when people started fighting groups like the Aryan Nations, which once flourished in this area.
Opponents galvanized against the Aryans, but didn’t really know how best to fight them, Stern said.
“We were flying by the seat of our pants,” he said. “There was no testable theory.”
There is not even a good definition of hate, Stern contends.
Philosophers have offered numerous definitions: Rene Descartes said hate was the urge to withdraw from something that is thought bad. Aristotle saw hate as the incurable desire to annihilate an object.
In psychology, Sigmund Freud defined hate as an ego state that wishes to destroy the source of its unhappiness.
Gonzaga, a Jesuit university best known for its basketball team, offered a class on the subject taught by five professors from different disciplines.
Student Kayla De Los Reyes was in that class, and said the information both horrified her and gave her hope.
“Hate is something that is part of the human emotional makeup,” she said. “Everyone feels it at one point or another. You have to learn to control it.”