Government

NOTIONS: How fear and loathing make the world go 'round

July 17, 2006

In her social work class, my friend Cheri was assigned a paper on hate groups. The professor sent her master's degree students to the Southern Poverty Law Center's Web site. There, they were to find the map of active hate groups in America, read about those operating in Indiana and discuss their reactions to what they learned. Cheri was left wondering why so many people are so afraid of those they perceive as "different," and why "different" so often equates to "less than" or "bad." As we talked and talked about her academic encounter with fear and loathing, I watched the world through this lens. I saw ethnic groups blow up one another and various others in Iraq. I saw Russia blow up the Chechen rebel who blew up some school kids. I saw someone blow up commuter trains in Mumbai, India. I saw North Korea threaten to blow up the world (or at least the Asian part of it) by launching missiles into the Sea of Japan. ("This was only a test," they assured us.) I saw Israel blowing up Gaza. I saw Iran continuing to blow up tensions among the world's nuke-enriched nations by saying that it, too, wants to be a nuke-enriched nation. And then there was closer-to-home fear, loathing and explosions.

In South Bend, common council members listened to testimony for four hours last Monday night, then rejected, by a 5-4 vote, an ordinance that would have prohibited discrimination in that city against people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered.

Those advocating the legislation said they merely wanted their civil rights protected.

Some council members who voted against the bill told The South Bend Tribune that government shouldn't establish a "protected class" and that, if passed, the legislation could, in effect, discriminate against those morally opposed to homosexuality (implying that the latter group is a protected class).

The Tribune also reported that one council member received at least some comments before the vote that were "violent and hateful."

Proponents of the legislation said they'll try again.

Meanwhile, in New York, the state's Court of Appeals issued a ruling not on gay rights in general, but gay marriage in particular. In a 4-2 decision, the court said there is no right to gay marriage.

The court's chief judge, Judith S. Kaye, issued what The New York Times called "a sharp dissent" saying that "barring gay marriage was tantamount to barring interracial marriage, as laws formerly did" and that "the long duration of a constitutional wrong cannot justify its perpetuation, no matter how strongly tradition or public sentiment might support it."

But, The Times said, Judge Robert S. Smith's majority opinion carried the day, finding "that limiting marriage to couples of the opposite sexes was based on legitimate societal goals, primarily the protection and welfare of children. 'It could well be argued,' he said, 'that children are better off raised by a biological mother and father, rather than by a gay or lesbian couple.'"

Not always.

Next day, the front page of the Times carried a top-ofthe-fold story and photo about a blast that leveled a four-story townhouse on the upper east side of Manhattan.

It seems that a couple-a biological mother and father, no less-have been entangled in a nasty divorce from an often-nasty marriage. The biological mother and her attorney tried to force the biological father to sell the house and pay her more than $4 million. He apparently said "over my dead body" and almost accomplished that by blowing himself up with the property.

But hey, if less-than-perfect heterosexual parents can perpetuate the illusion that homosexual parents are "less than" or "bad," then they can always feel good about themselves.

And if nations have enemies they can position as "less than" or "bad," then they can always feel "more than" or "good" by comparison.

And if hate groups have fellow humans they can denigrate as "less than" or "bad," then they can always feel superior and, thus, justified in their hatred.

And if religions can identify other belief systems that, in their minds, are "less than" or "bad" compared to theirs, then they can always promise a higher heaven.

We measure ourselves by relationships-be those couples, families, friends, ethnic groups, faiths, nations or what have you. Relationships give us context. They give us points of comparison. They give us a yardstick by which to measure ourselves.

Problem is, too many are too seldom satisfied with what they find. And when they come up short, they figure that pushing someone else down is the simplest path to standing tall.

And thus we equate "different" with "less than" or "bad" because it leaves us with the self-satisfying delusion of superiority.

You gotta hate a notion like that. But with all the hatred in the world, you gotta know it's true.



Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bhetrick@ibj.com.
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