Supremacists of various stripes continue to resurrect. Neo-Nazis in Europe are reviving anti-Semitism, while the Taliban in the Middle East charge all other faiths to be infidels. And in Southeast Asia and Central Africa mini-genocides of some supposedly evil or inferior group of humans has become a commonplace.
To my surprise, white supremacists have now reincarnated themselves in our own country. They no longer wear white hoods and robes and get drunk on weekend nights while looking to secretly lynch a black man or two in some rural town. Now they don medieval helmets and color-coordinated t-shirts to wreak havoc in cities or wherever there are television cameras and smart phones. Soon they plan to invade the nation’s capital.
To identify oneself as a supremacist is an odd speech act. People whose accomplishments most of us appreciate as supreme — the work of accomplished writers, actors, musicians, athletes; or the valiant deeds of neighbors, friends or strangers — never tell us that they are supreme. Their actions and efforts do the talking. What they contributed to the lives of others is what counts.
Supremacists are quite the opposite. When we read about the background of those who massacre people in schools, shopping malls and churches, we learn that they are basically losers. They have no friends. They can’t hold a job. They might attend college, but all the teachers and students have conspired against them, forcing them to hibernate in their parents’ basement. Occasionally they find a girlfriend who soon realizes that she fell for an angry and resentful man, one who thrives on hate rather than love.
Hatred of what? According to French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, in his concise treatise “Anti-Semite and Jew,” bigots of various strips actually do not hate Jews, black people, women or those of other faiths or nationalities. How can you hate someone you do not know? To the contrary: Supremacists hate themselves.
Supremacists are those who believe they have an inherent or God-given superiority to other groups of human beings. This belief is not based on any sense of accomplishment or recognizable merit. According to Sartre, this belief is anchored to a dismal view of one’s own life. In order to seek some redemption from our misery, we look to denigrate strangers. He contended that most anti-Semites would not recognize a Jew if they bumped into him or her at the shop or in a restaurant.
So, too, with today’s white supremacists. They never tell us what they have contributed to the public good or offered to their own communities. All they can utter are stock phrases about terrorist Muslims, rapist Mexicans or gangster Central Americans. But they rarely say they have met one or recount an encounter with a terrorist, rapist or gangster from a supposedly inferior group.
In this sense, Sartre contends that supremacists are losers to the extent that they invent or create the group they choose to hate. It is easier to admit the hatred of an unknown group rather than the hatred of the self you know.
Sartre obviously did not anticipate current social media. In his time he was familiar with clandestine meetings where bigots might meet in a bar and exchange various diatribes about imaginary dangers posed by a group of people. Such a rendezvous fueled the shared hatred. Today, the anonymity of social media allows supremacists — with no job, no friends and no hopes — to give in to their paranoia in solitude via internet sites that fuel their hatred.
Next time you see them on the news, look carefully. They express no joy in being alive. They do not tell us what they have contributed. These supremacists are in fact inferior to those they choose to hate. Hence the tragic hatred of themselves.
Alexander E. Hooke (email@example.com) is a philosophy professor at Stevenson University. His most recent book is “Philosophy Sketches, 700 Words at a Time” (Apprentice House).