Overcoming the Virus of Hate: Spinoza on Conversion of the Emotions

Author: Marie-Élise Zovko (Institute of Philosophy, Zagreb. )

Cases of police brutality in the US and global anti-rascism protests, the Covid-19 pandemic with its unequal effects on rich and poor, the ongoing migrant and refugee crisis —these and other recent events have shown that despite advances in human rights, despite efforts to eliminate poverty, mitigate suffering, end conflicts, despite initiatives to promote solidarity, community, friendship, we are far from healing the ills which pit human beings against one another. And while conflict and division, violence and injustice are as old as human history, increased competition for limited resources make these problems ever more acute, and the need for paths to peaceful resolution of our differences ever more urgent. Violence, abuse, exploitation, discrimination —all point to one root cause: the virus of hate.

Recognizing the causes of hatred constitutes a condition for overcoming it. Baruch Spinoza’s commitment to a philosophy of love and human freedom, his analysis of the causes of hatred and other destructive emotions, his insights into the conversion of the human mind from egoism, hatred and division to mutual understanding, love and universal community can aid us in finding a path to reconciliation. According to Spinoza “Hatred should be overcome with love …” and each of us should desire for others the good we desire for ourselves. How may this come about?

That all human beings are equal and deserving of absolute respect is a fundamental tenet of all declarations of human rights. There will always be those who deny, openly or clandestinely, this premiss; but the more determined we are to distinguish between ourselves and other individuals or groups, the more we underscore the basis of our common humanity. What is the common ground which conjoins us, and makes every attempt to separate ourselves out from the common lot of humankind a form of self-deception? Nature, and in a specific sense, human nature.

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