Why Haters Hate: Kierkegaard Explains the Psychology of Bullying and Online Trolling in 1847

Brain Pickings is a pretty good site focusing on reading and thinking in general. It's written by Maria Popova who has previously written for Wired UK, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, and some others. I subscribed. You should too. Her postings are intelligent, they cover a wide assortment of topics in her brain, with no agenda I can determine except the love of reading, thinking and writing. They are her brain pickings.

She wrote an essay based on a Søren Kierkegaard's diary entry of 1847, that applies to us today.
In an immeasurably insightful entry from 1847, 34-year-old Kierkegaard observes a pervasive pathology of our fallible humanity, explaining the same basic psychology that lurks behind contemporary phenomena like bullying, trolling, and the general assaults of the web’s self-appointed critics, colloquially and rather appropriately known as haters.
What did Kierkegaard write? The money quote:
There is a form of envy of which I frequently have seen examples, in which an individual tries to obtain something by bullying.
In Kierkegaard's case, people were envious of his fame. So they sneered at him until he paid attention to them.
If, for instance, I enter a place where many are gathered, it often happens that one or another right away takes up arms against me by beginning to laugh; presumably he feels that he is being a tool of public opinion. But lo and behold, if I then make a casual remark to him, that same person becomes infinitely pliable and obliging. Essentially it shows that he regards me as something great, maybe even greater than I am: but if he can’t be admitted as a participant in my greatness, at least he will laugh at me. But as soon as he becomes a participant, as it were, he brags about my greatness.
Then Kierkegaard says, "That is what comes of living in a petty community."

Kierkegaard tells of three young men who sneered at him as he approached. He noticed they were smoking cigars and asked one of them for a light.
Instantly, all three doffed their hats and it would seem I had done them a service by asking for a light. Ergo: the same people would be happy to cry bravo for me if I merely addressed a friendly, let alone, flattering word to them; as it is, they cry pereat [he shall perish!] and are defiant… All it amounts to is play-acting. But how invaluably interesting to have one’s knowledge of human psychology enriched in this way.
Of these petty people who disrespected him until they could participate in his greatness, Kierkegaard later wrote: "They show me respect precisely by showing me that they don’t respect me."

Now this doesn't describe why all haters hate, but it describes a very interesting phenomenon to me. Petty, small-minded, envious people will hate. So hating is an indication that one is a petty, small-minded, envious person. Conversely, in order to turn haters around--to flush them out so to speak--acknowledge them, ask them for a hand, or a light. That's if YOU care. ;-)

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