This article was first published in the February '11 issue of Connect the Dots, an arts & culture 'zine published by UC Berkeley students.
I first heard about the Hate Man when I was hanging out by Sather Gate with Ben, the guy who holds the “You’re Perfect” sign. One of his companions was telling me about this guy who used to be a New York Times reporter who now lives in People’s Park, preaching that the expression of hate is necessary for mental and emotional health. After hearing so much about self-love from Ben, I thought hearing the Hate Man’s perspective would be fairly interesting. Before I left, Ben’s friend informed me, “He’ll only speak to you if you tell him, ‘I hate you.’”
The idea of the Hate Man’s existence vexed me. A man in Berkeley, of all places, dedicated to hate? Living in Berkeley taught me to love everyone around me. Whether or not I got along or agreed with my peers, I loved all of them for having taught me something. To me, hate was unhealthy. Hate was stress. Hate was unnecessary and almost criminal. I knew I had to seek out the Hate Man.
On a sunny Wednesday morning, I walked down to People’s Park. I surveyed the various encampments but saw no Hate Man. I approached a pack of young, free-spirited individuals and asked if they knew where I could find the Hate Man. “The Hate Man? He went out for ice cream. He’ll be back in a few minutes. You like a journalist or something?” “Yeah.” “He’s good to talk to.”
Moments later, a small, wiry man walked up, dragging a cardboard box by a shoestring. “Fuck you, Hate Man, push you for a rollie,” shouted a younger guy to Hate, quite casually. The two put their shoulders together and leaned against each other. “Harder, harder,” the Hate Man said, “OK, OK.” They let up and Hate handed the guy a pinch of tobacco and a cigarette paper.
One of the other urchins said there was someone here to talk to him. Hate Man walked over to me: “You wanted to talk to me?” I began introducing myself, but he cut me off. “Tell me you hate me.” “I hate you.” “OK, you were saying?” I explained the theme of this month’s issue and wondered if he had any thoughts on nudity with respect to his former lifestyle, suggesting that he had been “stripped” of his former identity.
He led me over to a park bench and we sat down together. At seventy-four years old, he was rather frail, and wore a long white beard and a nicotine-stained mustache. Despite his looks, his voice had a youthful vigor in it as he recalled his days in New York. For ten years, he worked at the Times, separated a two-year stint teaching English in Thailand for the Peace Corps. One of his friends, a former copy editor at the Times, had moved out to the Bay Area to work for KQED. He had urged Hate to come out West for a vacation, and Hate reluctantly agreed. After a failed attempt at finding a friend on a commune in Albion, the two of them ran into some freaks in a redwood glen, where the Hate Man first tried psilocybin and LSD. “You talk about Connect the Dots, that was Connecting the Dots for me.” He quit the Times upon returning to New York. That summer in 1970, he was doing acid in Central Park, throwing a frisbee around naked. The cops showed up to arrest him, so he slowly drifted to a circle of chanting Tibetan monks, where a woman draped a blanket over him, and the cops left. To suggest he had been stripped of his former identity had been a poor choice of words. The agency of that action was entirely his own. As the Hate Man cavorted in the park in the nude, tossing frisbees, connecting dots, he had achieved freedom.
In 1973, Hate moved to Berkeley. Aside from a vacation in Montana in ’76 and the rare transbay trip to San Francisco, the Hate Man stayed in Berkeley since leaving New York, and since 1986, he has lived outdoors. In our conversation, he was careful to distinguish “outdoors” from “homeless.”
When asked if he prefers outdoors life, he responded that he could never go back to the boredom of being indoors. He listed all the perks of outdoors living: “Stress, weather, cops, psychos... And the stresses here are immediate. Cold, wet... These things go away, but rent—that’s an ongoing stress. It’s very Zen.” He describes his fellow street people as “models for the world,” consuming far fewer resources than their indoor counterparts. “The rate of consumption is the problem, not the population,” Hate Man says. “The street people are leading the way; they’re living without plasma TV. Sometimes they can be obnoxious assholes. They have a baby thing. Like the world owes them something.”
Since 1986, the Hate Man has lived in Thoreauvian simplicity, while preaching a message of caring and warmth unlike that of most transcendentalists. He calls his philosophy “oppositionalism,” or “oppism” for short, and its adherents are called “oppies.” Oppositionalism teaches that we can care more when we’re negative, that when we can say to each other, “Fuck you I hate you I’m pissed off,” we form a bond. “Say for instance that we agreed upon a time to meet up, and you show up late. I should be able to say, ‘Fuck you, Brandon, I hate you for being late.’ Then we’re being straight with each other and that’s a bond. But if I say, ‘Oh, it’s fine, don’t worry about it,’ then you leave and I go up to that guy over there and say, ‘Fucking Brandon, I hate him for being late.’ That’s heavy.” Drawing upon German philosopher Martin Buber and his book I, Thou, Hate believes that we can only truly care for each other in the I-thou mode. “We can’t say, ‘I hate h-i-m,’ or ‘t-h-e-m.’ Then that person walks up and we say, ‘Speak of the devil.’ But they’re not the devil. We’re the ones in the Satanic space.”
When the Hate Man first started thinking about oppism, he would stand in fountain on Sproul Plaza on a pedestal and shout at other people, “Fuck you I hate you have a lousy day.” “I didn’t really understand,” Hate Man reflects. “I thought it was funny.” He was heckled daily, then one student finally responded, “I hate you, too.” At that moment, Hate realized that the feeling must be reciprocal. He realized that in order to achieve the same space he was in back in the redwood glen, he had to care 100%, which to him, meant mutual hate. He left the fountain, and only spoke to people if they could first tell him, “I hate you.” Hate Man clarified, “And you don’t have to mean it. You just have to be willing to say it. That way, when the time comes and you need to say it, I know you can.” Hate Man’s belief in speaking in negatives goes even further. “I don’t say positives. Real positives exist, they’re out there, but if there’s a positive, do it. Society has it backwards. We speak in positives, but then act out on our negatives.”
Aside from verbalizations of hate, he also speaks of a physical manifestation: pushing. For oppies, pushing is like currency. “It shows who wants something.” The basic push involves two people putting their shoulders together and pushing against each other, their feet digging into the ground, until one person lets up. As he explains the act, by wanting someone else’s possessions, there is already a point of conflict. Pushing then becomes a form a conflict resolution. Hate Man’s longest push lasted ten hours. A street person with a bad attitude challenged Hate Man for three dollars, and Hate, unappreciative of misplaced senses of entitlement, persevered for ten hours.
“It’s not about strength,” Hate informed me, to ensure that I had not misconstrued pushing as bullying. “Most people have relationships based on links—Jesus, the 49ers, the Bears,” he explained. “But if we can bond on opposites, then that’s a real bond. It’s some sort of Chi phenomenon. And if we can bond like that, we’re fucking solid.”
As I left his encampment, I told him it was nice to meet him. He echoed, “Awful, awful.”