The legend goes that P.G.Wodehouse, who had his stint in a Nazi concentration camp, was asked if he hated the Nazis. Wodehouse's answer, was: I don't hate in the plural. It's one of those quotes that have a power to go through our defenses. But to understand the enormity of it, one needs to know the background! At the age of sixty, Wodehouse was forced to stay in the Nazi concentration camps (the so-called internment-centers), when the French town, where he was living with his wife, was captured by the Germans. While still in captivity, he wrote and recorded five talks that described his experiences as an internee, which were broadcast on the Berlin radio. The talks were quintessential Wodehouse-so subtle that the subtlety was lost on most of his British fans. Few heard what he actually said, and the mere fact that in the middle of war, he made speeches from German radio, raised a storm. Wodehouse was accused of conspiring with the Germans, selling out to them for his freedom. He was a target of a large smear campaign in Britain, and the affair had long-lasting repercussions, including the delaying his knighthood by several years. It all must have been pretty tormenting for Wodehouse. It is so much easy to take a recourse to mass hate, in such situations. But Plum refused to cave in to that temptation.
Sometimes I think that world needs to make that quote, its motto. We don't hate in the plural. From the Jewish Holocaust to Israeli excesses in the Gaza strip; from the bloody partition of India to genocide in Rwanda; from ethnic cleansing of minorities from many Muslim countries to Christianity's conquests; from recent Hindu backlash in Gujarat (India) to LTTE's terrorism in Sri Lanka: the root cause is the same-mass hate, rather, the politics of mass hate-creating a faceless enemy, belonging to a certain creed/caste/race or even ideology, and reducing large number of diverse, innocent populations into hated groups. Once 'us vs. them' lines are drawn in such black and white terms, human disasters are inevitable.
I don't want to go into who is right, and who is wrong. What I want to talk about is the obsession to club individuals together based on certain arbitrary defining characteristic, and reduce them into a token. So we have the capitalists and the communists hating each other, we have the Hindus and the Muslims hating each other, we have the Americans being hated for their government's foreign policies (resulting into 9/11) ... and it doesn't stop there. Horrible crimes against innocents are justified in the name of retaliation, revenge, or reactions. Such justification of acts of violence against innocent masses is made possible only by mass hatred. This obsession to define individuals just as members of group has made this world into a terribly insecure place. That is where Wodehouse's uncanny genius comes into picture.
In six simple words, he expressed the essence of humanism. There is a deep, fundamental recognition underlying those words, that each individual's beliefs are based on that person's background, exposure, influences, logical abilities (or the lack of them), experiences, etc. An Individual is first a unique human being, and then part of some ethnic, religious, or ideological group. That is why we need to evaluate each individual as a different and a unique entity. The moment we stop doing that, we lose something precious. The biggest casualty of the hate in the plural is the across the board dialog, which is so essential for any pluralistic society. In the absence of such dialog, conflicts get out of hand. Ideas from the (perceived) opposite camp are summarily rejected, without even a cursory look. Even human relationships are affected by ideological loyalties.
There are obvious advantages of this sort of thinking about individuals as part of the group. And so are there advantages of mass hatred. It's so much easier to target innocent, helpless people in the opposite camp, than to actually target the real culprits. It's so much easier to accept that all XXX behave this way and all YYY behave that way than to identify why a certain X or a certain Y behaved in a certain way. It's so much easier to avoid the deeper issues, deeper causes of conflicts. But these are advantages, that a mature society would do without! It's high time we grow out of this hating in the plural obsession. For pluralism cannot thrive in the politics of mass hate.