"Political change happens in numerous ways. But it always begins with the imagination. New realities must be imagined before they are constructed. Imagination is not wishful thinking. It is the first practical step toward articulating new possibilities.
"None of this is easy. The narrator in Bertolt Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle notes that 'terrible is the temptation to do good.' Brecht's ironic aphorism exposes the heart of the human dilemma. Many people want to do good — act ethically, act morally, help people — but that impulse is often fraught with problems, made difficult by social and political circumstance. Often enacting goodness is seen not as an opportunity but a temptation to be avoided. We hope to challenge that idea.
"This shift to a more clearly articulated framework and language of goodness can only begin if we understand how deeply ingrained hate is in society, and how powerfully, in mythic ways, it is kept alive in the public imagination. Four salient myths about hate profoundly shape society:
"1. Hate is rooted in irrational personal prejudice, fear and loathing of difference, lack of tolerance and appreciation for others who 'aren't like me,' and ignorance of other races/cultures/religions.
"The individual experience of hating someone or some group is a powerful one. As humans we can be consumed by hate, and this intense emotion can make us commit acts that appear as 'irrational' as they are horrific. Personal prejudice is never entirely personal — it is always supported by social and political ideologies that shape and reinforce it. Examining these structures, and not always focusing on the individual, will give us a far better understanding of how hate works.
"2. 'Hate is hate.' The historical and contemporary specificities of violence directed against communities of color, queers, immigrants, women, Muslims, Jews, and others do not matter. Hate is about prejudice. It is not about power relationships or institutional policies in any foundational way.
"There is a deep cultural impulse to condemn hate wholesale, to totalize it as a single emotion. People do this because hate is a powerful, frightening emotion and we are often overwhelmed when thinking about it. But the emotion and the enactment of hate have histories that overlap and diverge from one another. Animus aimed at one group has specific historical and cultural roots based on the experiences of the hated and the haters. To ignore these is to ignore the roots of hate, and, just as important, how hate actually affects people.
"3. Hate violence is perpetrated by individual extremists, loners, and misfits who violate basic, commonly agreed upon standards of fairness.
"The media love stories of lone gunmen, disgruntled loners, the crazy student who opens fire in the hallways of a school. These are seductive narratives that stir our imaginations but obscure reality. Individuals do act on their own will, and the world is full of people who, for numerous reasons, commit terrible acts. But this all takes place in a context. There are no isolated incidents of violence and no isolated killers. Finding the balance between individual will and social pressure can be complicated, but to avoid this is to misunderstand and misrepresent hate.
"4. Hate violence is unacceptable to respectable society.
"Americans believe that hate violence is completely anathema to respectable society. This deeply held belief is difficult to shake, in part because when violence does occur, some person or group sees and speaks against it — that is how it is noticed and reported. But the majority of Americans want to believe that respectable society — a category whose very construction excludes those deemed unrespectable — does not tolerate violence. Yet throughout American history, animus-based violence against individuals and groups has been accepted, even celebrated. Popularly supported wars against Native peoples and the widespread lynching of African Americans are two clear examples."