As I’ve written previously, I have a very difficult time separating hate from ignorance. I take hate to be a subset or a symptom of ignorance. Ignorance can scale, of course. It can be as small as one Hibernophobe burning down my house. It can be as large as one power-mongering lunatic attempting to create a master race, or as large as another power-mongering lunatic attempting to create a collectivist Utopia.

But hate and ignorance possess a corrosive energy that eventually causes them to decay from within. Kenneth Burke called man the symbol-using animal. And so it is, that symbol-using lunatics adopted symbols for their misguided causes.

In his book, Language as Symbolic Action, Burke also alluded to the self-destructive power of hate and ignorance when he wrote this:

Man is/the symbol-using (symbol-making, symbol-misusing) animal/inventor of the negative (or moralized by the negative)/separated from his natural condition by instruments of his own making/goaded by the spirit of hierarchy (or moved by the sense of order)/and rotten with perfection.

Likewise, Carlos Fuentes hinted at the rottenness of that perfection when he wrote this:

Perfect order is the forerunner of perfect horror.

Germany’s National Socialist Party, China’s Communist Party — history is rife with examples of attempts at perfection that yielded otherwise inconceivable horror, brutality, cruelty, carnage, and suffering. If you’re up for a little light reading, here are some books on the subject:

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin

The Killing Wind: A Chinese County’s Descent into Madness during the Cultural Revolution

A State of Blood

Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare

The Butcher’s Trail

Or if you’d like a broader view, you might skim through Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur. Here’s an excerpt from the book’s description:

This new book—the first global history of genocide and extermination from ancient times … examines outbreaks of mass violence from the classical era to the present, focusing on worldwide colonial exterminations and twentieth-century case studies including the Armenian genocide, the Nazi Holocaust, Stalin’s mass murders, and the Cambodian and Rwandan genocides. He identifies connections, patterns, and features that in nearly every case gave early warning of the catastrophe to come: racism or religious prejudice, territorial expansionism, and cults of antiquity and agrarianism. The ideologies that have motivated perpetrators of mass killings in the past persist in our new century.

We create new things, new people, and new ways to hate with every generation, across all nationalities and geographies. The evidence piles up, right along with the bodies. Yet, on we hate.

Using the word, stupidity, rather than the word, ignorance, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote this:

Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplishes anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed – in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable, they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for when dealing with a stupid person than with a malicious one.

A fascinating contemplation that.

We’ll begin to push back against hate, malice, ignorance, and/or stupidity on Tuesday of this week at 1:00 p.m. Eastern time, in a critically important Salon 360˚ session. How much we accomplish will be determined, in part, by the number of people who participate in the conversation.

To join us, please click here to reserve your seat in our Zoom room. Registration is free.

If we don’t stop hate, we’ll be paying the price forever.

Originally Published on

Mark O'Brien Writer, Blogger

I'm the founder and principal of O'Brien Communications Group ( and the co-founder and President of EinSource ( I'm a lifelong writer. My wife, Anne, and I have two married sons and four grandchildren. I'm having the time of my life.

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