Bill Maher: Why Has Hate Become The National Pastime?

During the “New Rules” segment of Real Time, Bill Maher pointed out all the hate on Twitter, chat rooms, and online comment sections, and showed us examples of random hate comments directed at celebrities like Zach Braff and Jonah Hill. “Abraham Lincoln said Americans were a people with malice toward none, and charity for all. But if he had said it online, the first comment would be ‘blow me, Jewbeard’.”

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Why has hate become the national pastime? Yes, the technology does have something to do with it,” said Maher. “But to those who say — Oh, people were always horrible, we just have Twitter and Facebook now — no, no, not like this. The Greatest Generation had celebrities, no one would have that to send Myrna Loy a telegram that said ‘Fuck you Myrna Loy! I hope Clark Gable gives ya herpes!’ No, I think the problem is this — We just found out that the percentage of Americans who describe themselves as poor as doubled in the last five years. Which is very significant because in the past the poor consistently and erroneously described themselves as middle-class. Because they had hope. Because they still believed in that Ponzi scheme formerly known as the American Dream. But now their starting to get it, that the fix is in, and that the “Two Americas” thing, is kinda true, and their in the wrong one.

There might be some truth to Maher’s reasoning on the mood of the country, but unfortunately logic must intrude. I think Maher’s statement works well for a final New Rule, but the real explanation is probably less sensational.

Fact is, human beings are notoriously bad at impulse control. It just so happens “old” communication methods like the telephone or mail would serve as a counterbalance to our crazy impulses. They served as an unintended filter. We had to think a bit more about what we were going to say before picking up the phone or the pen. And both of those forms of communication have a greater intimacy than a burst of 140 characters via your smartphone.

So while people did (and do) send hate mail, or reach out and touch someone with a verbal assault over the phone, both of those options require more effort and most importantly, more thought. If you are in the habit of tweeting regularly, there isn’t much of a barrier separating you from crafting a 140 character inflammatory tirade. Modern electronic communications makes it easier for people to say things unfiltered. That is both good and bad, and we are all well aware that the bad can be found in the comment sections of just about every website.

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