It is a long and arduous journey to the place where Bill Moyers tries to take us tonight, a place "Beyond Hate." A PBS special by that name will be on Maryland Public Television, channels 22 and 67, at 9 o'clock.
As Moyers shows in a variety of interviews, to get there requires giving up a lot and taking on even more. You have to shed all sorts of prejudices, all kinds of quick and easy judgment calls. You have to forget about that adrenalin-like rush that accompanies the shedding of inhibitions as you allow hatred to take over your emotions.
Instead, Moyers and many of his guests ask you to look at your fellow human beings as separate individuals -- separate from each other and from you -- each with his or her own set of feelings, thoughts, ambitions, desires and emotions. It's not an easy task.
Though these 90 minutes come at you in an almost overwhelming wave of facts, opinions, interviews and archival film clips, with Moyers trying valiantly to hold it all together in some sort of cohesive format, there is still so much of value here, so much meaty, interesting stuff, that this is a rare and important piece of television.
After all, how often does this medium try to investigate something as basic, and as important, as hate?
Moyers was apparently inspired by a recent conference on the subject in Norway that heard from people as diverse as Elie Weisel, Vaclav Havel, Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela, Chinese dissident Li Lu, and Mairead Corrigan Maguire, the Northern Irish woman who shared a Nobel peace prize for her efforts at ending the conflicts that plague that region.
As you listen to those people talk, as you hear from gang members in Los Angeles -- so articulate, so full of the energy and ideas
that could be put to so much better use -- as you hear the tale of a wife-beating husband, encounter the people of Brooklyn's Bensonhurst, meet both sides in Jerusalem, you start wondering.
What is it that a Catholic in Northern Ireland sees when he or she sees a Protestant? Or vice versa? What does an Israeli Jew see when looking at a Palestinian? A member of the Crips when seeing another gang member? A Bensonhurst resident when seeing someone from a nearby neighborhood?
Maybe they see a threat, an affront, a history of distrust. But they don't seem to see another human being.
You get a hint of the vision from behind hate-colored glasses when you hear a one-time disciple of Tom Metzger, the white supremacist who was sued for ordering the murder of an Ethiopian exchange student in Portland, Ore. Testifying at the trial, this young man describes what blacks and Asians he encountered on the street looked like when he was under Metzger's influence. It's not a pretty picture.
Moyers investigates an interesting paradox. We seem to be capable of the most evil forms of hatred -- the types that lead to cruelty and murder -- both because we are able to dehumanize the object of our scorn and
because we recognize in the other person or group something deep within ourselves.
So at once we distance ourselves from the other person by making him or her less of a person and lock ourselves in a perverted sort of intimacy, projecting onto the object of our hatred our own characteristics that we fear or dislike, as if by destroying the other person or group we could rid ourselves of those despised parts.
In both such cases, though, the act denies the fundamental humanity of the other person, robbing us of the work and pleasure of encountering another human being.
The recurrent tragedy of hate is that it begets itself, one act of hatred often causing a similar response. The most touching moments of "Beyond Hate" are when Moyers gets people who have found how to get beyond that hatred within themselves.
Weisel talks of his Nazi captors, Havel of a Czech jailer, Maguire of the possibility of an encounter with the person who killed her sister's three small children, an act that ultimately led to her sister's suicide.
All of them recognize the power of hatred but also have come to realize that ultimately its irrationality destroys those who become consumed by it. They draw the distinction between hatred and anger, a force that can be channeled into constructive directions.
"Beyond Hate" doesn't take you to that elusive region, but in introducing you to some people who have made it there, it lets you know that it's a place where you'll be a happier person, a place the world needs to seek if it hopes to end so many of its intractable problems.
But that's a message humans have been hearing for thousands of years. Unfortunately, all too few have been listening.