Hatred: The Psychological Descent into Violence

Willard Gaylin


I 've always suspected that medical school is to science what technical college is to academia. Willard Gaylin does little to avail me of this notion. While forcing myself through his new book, I felt like a college sophomore grading a freshman term paper. I won't waste your time pointing out every ridiculous assumption, leap of logic, condescension, and stylistic faux pas that riddles Gaylin's book, though one choice example can't be passed up without note: "From its earliest days... psychology has brought a new illumination to the analysis of emotions by focusing on the internal psychology... of the emotions." Wow.

Hatred tempts with the promise of elucidating what drives a terrorist by defining the nature of the hatred he feels. The book purports to be a response to what Gaylin perceives as a misdirected line of questioning about terrorist motivations. "We have asked why they did this to us," he writes. "We have been searching our souls, when we should have been examining theirs. We must ask what hatred is before we assay the nature of its causes." Gaylin sees "true" hatred as something beyond an emotion. It is "a neurotic attachment to a self-created enemy that has been designed to rationalize the anxiety and torment of a demeaning existence. It is a defense against the hopelessness of despair." This sartorial definition, so obsessed with the hatred felt by terrorists toward the U.S., insults the very real feelings I am sure many an abused child has felt for her abusive parent. One would be hard pressed to argue that the object of hatred in this case is self-created.

To his credit, Gaylin does a respectable job of summarizing the psychological elements that compose hatred. The error he makes is in reaching too far, and in so doing undermining his own authority. The book ends up seeming more akin to White House propaganda than academic investigation; Gaylin's strict definition of hatred leads him to the decidedly political conclusion that "we are right to treat Al Qaeda with deadly seriousness. We are right to view Saddam Hussein and the other despots of the world as potential Hitlers."

The dust jacket of Hatred proclaims Willard Gaylin, M.D., to be "a renowned psychoanalyst." He should probably stick to the head shrinking and leave the real thinking to the philosophers. AARON BEAM

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