Beware, the Misanthrope

There is, perhaps, no sadder or more dangerous a thing than when misanthropy overcomes the human heart.  It is a malady no less deadly than cancer, and when it is allowed to fester too long it claims the soul itself.  The body may follow but often not for many bitter sodden years.  It begins quite innocently with otherizing, but moves rapidly to full blown demonizing and dehumanization. Throughout the process it whittles away empathy for the suffering or plight of others and denudes a person of their capacity for solidarity with the oppressed.

Misanthropy is like a drug.  Seeing the world with all of its innumerable sufferings, the cruelty, personal failings, the destruction of the living earth by our species, and our dire, collective trajectory can create a deep anger toward our fellow human beings and a longing for separation from the pain. But instead of channeling that anger toward a greater love many succumb to the strong temptation to hatred of the other.  It enables an illusion of supremacy making it intoxicating, at least for a while.
Rohingya Refugees Source The GuardianThe ones who elevate it to an art form, or use it for entertainment, or employ it for success in politics or business or career, will often entice mobs or crowds of other misanthropes or the disaffected or alienated to follow them. Feeling quite empty themselves people are often drawn to the swoon of incendiary screeds, pitchforks and trials against a much needed scapegoat for everything that has gone wrong in the world.  It has the power to kill movements for justice, extinguish the desire for a more equitable or decent world, or even sweep entire societies into the maw of maniacal totalitarianism.

In truth, we all have misanthropic feelings or thoughts on any given day. We can and should look at what is happening and be realistic about our situation. We can and should criticize our actions and apathy. We can even come to accept, as I have, the possibility that the human species may not survive given our trajectory. But the hardcore misanthrope sees the suffering of the world and the failings of human beings and instead of choosing solidarity with them, they choose its opposite.

women-prisoners-at-auschwitz-1944-photo-source-the-holocaust-museum

In the dark days ahead humanity will likely see the rise of a myriad of misanthropes each vying for one last bit of attention. They will seize on the chaos of a biosphere in peril and the collapse of economies and empires. The despot and the tyrant will use this kind of hatred for their own ends; but far more insidious are the misanthropes within the masses; for they may decry hypocrisy and damn the powerful for their excesses, hubris or murderous legacy; but in an instant they will turn on their comrades, allies or followers.  To the hardcore misanthrope all disagreement or dissent from their worldview is cause for suspicion and scorn.  And this has the potential to turn to marginalization, banishment or even extermination.

Refugees waiting for hours to cross the border to Macedonia. Photo by Erik Marquardt.

Many of them will inflame emotions and suggest or encourage violence by innuendo or spreading scandals and falsehoods dressed up as truth.  And this has the tendency to pave the way for atrocities, pogroms and genocide.  Others will suck the oxygen out of dissent faster than any state crackdown could via invective, indifference or indignation at the struggles of ordinary people to make a difference in the world around them.  Some will tap into base passions and bigotries, others will dress up their contempt in pseudo-intellectualism, and will insert doubt, derision and ridicule into discourse in order to demoralize and dampen the spirit of resistance.  A few are looked at as leaders of a movement even while they crush the soul of it under their heel.  And much of this is done without them being even barely conscious of their motives or impact.   Make no mistake, though, the seasoned misanthrope garnishes a similar pleasure from inflicting misery or doling out abuse as the sadist.  All of them are menacing specters to our species and are to be pitied.

But beware.  If we countenance their cynicism for too long we will most assuredly court our own doom.

Kenn Orphan 2017


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