(Trigger warning: this post refers to sexual violence)
A woman’s 13-year old daughter is raped at knifepoint. The rapist is jailed for some years. When he is released, he passes the mother in the street and taunts her, asking how her daughter is. The mother tracks him to a bar, where she pours petrol over him and sets light to it. He dies from his injuries 11 days later.
This story has recently been circulating on social media. The rapist died back in 2005, but apparently it is only now that the mother is being imprisoned.
My focus here is not the details of the story, but how we react to it. Where I have seen it posted on Facebook, for example, the majority of reactions have been to praise the mother’s action, to deny that she should be punished and to affirm that the rapist had it coming. Frankly, that has been my feeling too.
Of course, in the cold light of day, many of us would want to nuance that response. Do we really want to foster vigilantism, or a culture of revenge? Do we really think any crime should be punished by the perpetrator being burned to death?
But perhaps what gives us most pause for thought is that we should ever endorse any action based on hatred. Without wishing to project too much on to the mother, it would hardly be surprising if she felt the most visceral hatred for the man who not only raped her daughter but then gloated over it. And hatred, however understandable, is surely always wrong?
However, I’m becoming convinced that this assumption (which in my context is largely moulded by the way Christian narratives of creation and redemption have been inflected) needs to be reconsidered. It seems to me that there are times when hatred is an entirely appropriate response to people or situations.
Why? Negatively, we know that the recommendation of love and forgiveness can easily be a ruse to get people to accept their own domination. Love never occurs in a vacuum, and often involves a certain affirmation of the order of things (‘There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother’). This love dialectically implies a hatred of what subverts that order of ‘right relationships’. So it is not as though the affirmation of ‘love’ in itself really gets us anywhere.
More positively, a focus on hatred might actually free it of this dialectical dependence on a self-serving, deluded form of ‘love’. The kind of hatred felt for those who directly dominate, despise and dehumanise us does not have to be theorised as an inverted form of love. It is an appropriate rejection of what threatens our very survival and integrity.
This is dangerous territory. There are ‘hate crimes’ and ‘hate groups’ which most, if not all, readers would want to utterly condemn. However, these crimes/groups still seem to be based on a model of inverted love: love for identity categories grouped around sexuality, gender and race/religion is supposed to be the positive basis for hate of these who do not conform or who otherwise threaten those categories.
What I am trying to reach for, very inadequately, is a hatred that presumes no such identity category, and which does not defer to the State as the Monopoly of all Hate. This would be a hatred that is ‘ungrounded’ . By that I mean, not something merely irrational, but an embodied affirmation of oneself, which assumes no founding truth or harmony, but which knows itself to be against the dominating other. Hatred in this sense would not simply be a privation of good, but a constituent part of the singularity of every created being. Taking it seriously would mean philosophising and theologising in a world where struggle and opposition are not merely contingent. And naming and valuing it as such might allow us to be more discriminating about hate, where it comes from, where it should be directed, and how it gets captured for the purposes of others. However fraught this may be, it at least seems to me more worthwhile and realistic than living a fantasy that ‘all we need is love’.