“It’s so easy to laugh, so easy to hate, it takes strength to be gentle and kind,” deadpanned right-wing Northern comic Morrissey in 1986, before spending the next 25 years auditioning for a residency at Manchester’s Embassy Club through a series of increasingly gnomic utterances which, if nothing else, demonstrated the veracity of this wincingly primary-school sentiment. And yet, despite much of his post-Smiths public ranting, I prefer the splenetic misanthropy of the middle-aged Morrissey to his earlier faux fey bedsit bedwetting.
Misanthropy is defined as a hatred of mankind, and it only takes a cursory glance through the newspaper headlines on any given morning to conclude that misanthropy, however impotent it may be, is perhaps now the only response available to us when it comes to trying to deal with our own wretchedness. Events in Eastern Ukraine, Gaza and countless other futile conflicts around the globe throw our collective stupidity and cowardice into a sharper focus than we would otherwise like, exposing our narrow, venal, self-interest for exactly what it is. Diogenes despised what he saw as the corrupt elite in ancient Athens and would walk around in the daylight holding a lamp. When asked what he was doing he replied that he was looking for an honest man. But let’s not conflate misanthropy with righteous anger. Misanthropy exists purely on it’s own terms. The misanthrope realises that to attempt change in humans is to attempt the impossible as each cataclysm is followed by the same empty promises; The War to End all Wars…Peace in Our Time…Never Again… hollow phrases that ring down the years.
But I am not here to justify misanthropy, or to try to furnish it with a psychological explanation; I am here simply to praise it. For misanthropy, hatred, is a powerful emotion. And I’m not talking about the inadequacies of all those sad little bedroom trolls who hate on women through Twitter because they can’t get laid. I’m talking about hatred with capital H, hatred as liberation theology, freeing us from the quotidian, providing a reason to get out of bed each day, a laser in the void, and whilst the misanthrope may be an equal ops hater, despising all equally and without reserve, everybody hates somebody. Release your inner misanthrope. Think about who you hate – toffs…Tories…dole scroungers…Daily Mail readers…hipster scum…the creep sitting next to you on the bus…the noisy bastard in the flat above…Jeremy Clarkson, an obnoxious Peter Pan trapped in the body of a moron - it feels good doesn’t it? Your heart beats a little faster, and as the bile rises you feel a little bit more alive, a little bit freer.
John Lydon sang that anger is an energy and it’s a sentiment that’s hard to argue with, because this sense of bile at the world, and of feeling all the more alive for it, is what gives many of the best novelists and musicians their power. It’s hard to imagine Houellebecq exclaiming happily just how much he enjoys being alive, a merrily tipsy Bukowski or a jovial Mark E Smith giving a cheery wave. And that’s the point. Take away the hatred and rage that informs their work and you take away what makes it worth reading or listening to in the first place. In an ersatz cultural landscape bereft of real emotion or meaning let’s give a small cheer for the misanthropes, for whom not giving a fuck is about more than shifting some units or lazy self-promotion. Which, in a roundabout fashion brings us back to Morrissey, where we started. Personally, I’ve always hated the cunt.