It is an odd thing to feel hated, especially if you are not quite sure why. I expect there are many readers who know the feeling – someone who inexplicably spreads awful rumours about you; someone who looks at you with unconcealed malevolence.
I once got a letter through my door saying, “I just want you to know how sickened I am to live in the same neighbourhood as you”, and I thought, “Duh: what have I done?” So I offer this article by way of reassurance to all you who have ever had the nasty feeling that someone somewhere has got it in for you. If you think someone hates you (and you genuinely think it’s unfair), then remember the golden rule of hatred. It’s not about you. It’s about them.
Let me explain. One of the most extraordinary features of human psychology is our use of transference, or projection – in other words, managing our emotions with the help of symbols or fetishes or proxies.
Most MPs will be familiar with constituents who come to see them with some problem that seems to have become an obsession: a tree that was unfairly chopped down, a neighbour’s fence that takes too much land, or some other injustice. Often they will have folders or plastic bags stuffed full of letters. You, of course, try your best to help them, but as things drag on, you notice that they are really more interested in the process, the campaign, than the solution.
"When a community is going through some period of stress – a war, or economic hardship – they are historically far more likely to identify and turn on scapegoats in their midst"
In fact, you soon realise that the issue that they have placed before you is really of much less importance than some other big problem in their lives – a bereavement, a divorce, or some other deep disappointment – and that feeling of anger and injustice is channelled and focused on this tree, or stretch of pavement, or whatever. Sometimes, in fact, you find that they don’t really want the problem to be “solved”. The hate-object has become a necessary psychological crutch, a part of their lives – the thing that helps divert them from the real and insoluble problem. And what is true of individuals is true of societies, too.
When a community is going through some period of stress – a war, or economic hardship – they are historically far more likely to identify and turn on scapegoats in their midst. Anxiety is transferred to some readily identifiable group: Jews, foreigners, homosexuals, gypsies – the victims of this kind of prejudice have in some cases been suffering for centuries. Sometimes, barely credible powers are attributed to these groups, and they become a catch-all explanation for everything that has gone wrong in a society. Your kids can’t get a house? It’s the immigrants. Can’t get a job? It’s the immigrants. Can’t see a doctor in A&E? It’s the immigrants. Traffic on the M4? It’s the immigrants.
Of course, these problems have multiple causes – but people are only too willing to project their anger on to a particular group, and some politicians, alas, are only too willing to assist. Take Leon Brittan, a fine public servant whose memory has been disgracefully smeared by Tom Watson. How did the Labour MP get away with it? Because he knew paedophiles are the lowest in the hierarchy of contempt.
The paedophile’s great gift to the human race is to confer a sense of moral superiority on absolutely everyone else – including the murderers and rapists who beat up the “nonces” in prison. That’s how hatred works. The murderers and rapists don’t really hate the paedophiles, or care for their victims; they just want to feel better about themselves. It’s all about projection.
Who are those crusty demonstrators really cross with? Well, look at the real cause of their woes and their impotence. They are partly furious with the British public for returning a majority Conservative government – but they can’t possibly say that. And they are partly furious with the Labour Party, first under Ed Miliband and now under Jeremy Corbyn, for being so spectacularly useless in helping to advance their cause – and they can’t possibly admit that, either. Their real anger and grief is internal, about the collapse of Labour as a coherent opposition. But that is too big and too difficult an issue to address honestly. So they throw eggs and shout about scum.
Well, my fellow scumsters, just remember, in the unlikely event that you mind these insults: it’s not about you, it’s about them.