Recently I watched a video from an online music critic who was lamenting the fact that a great many people simply do not criticize music, but simply act as if everything released by artists is the best thing ever. He noted this tendency not only among many in the reaction video community but also among music journalists who were afraid to criticize works for falling short of some aesthetic standard for fear of losing their cozy relationship with the music labels. This music critic made a passionate plea for the proper distinguishing between irrational hate and personal and proper criticism, noting correctly that criticism has a proper moral role in helping to provide others with information that what they are doing may not be the best for themselves or others. And if such an approach is valid in music criticism, then it is certainly valid in other arenas as well. As I frequently comment upon, it is vitally important that we be able to distinguish between hatred of us as people and criticism of our behavior according to some standard, be it the usual standard of our behavior or some external standard of what is right and wrong, or even the personal aesthetic standards of beauty and taste.
What is it that separates hatred from criticism? What is the line that separates someone who is a hater from someone who is a critic? To hate someone is to have a passionate and intense dislike for someone or something. In contrast, to criticize something is to disapprovingly note the faults or someone or something, although critics certainly note their positive thoughts about what they review as well if it meets their standards. From these definitions, we may see where the difference between hate and criticism lies. In both cases, criticism and hate are seen as negative, but hatred is attached to a person and criticism is attached to faults. We can properly tell the difference between a hater and a critic by noting their response to changes of behavior on our part. A hater will hate us no matter what we do because their dislike is focused on us as people. In contrast, a genuine critic will mute their criticism when our behavior meets the standard by which they are judging us. In that definition, I see myself as a critic, sometimes a harsh one to be sure, but definitely a critic and not a hater. If I criticize a given work or a person for a given worldview or behavior, then should I see evidence that that worldview or behavior has changed or is not quite the way that I saw it, my disapproval remarkably lessens. For a hater, behavior is somewhat irrelevant, as the passionate dislike is personal in nature and not based on either an objective or subjective standard.
Why is it that criticism is under such intense assault in the contemporary age? We certainly live in an age where much deserves criticism for falling short of standards. So why is it that a fairly woke music reviewer would feel such intense scrutiny and hostility concerning his attitude of the importance of music criticism, when it should be obvious to anyone watching his channel (or those like his) that he is in fact not a hater but is a critic? In large part, the disrepute that criticism receives in our contemporary age has a lot to do with the failure of those who are receiving the criticism to distinguish properly between irrational hatred and sometimes intense but largely impersonal criticism. It is hard for people, be it those in the public eye (which is anyone with a sufficiently popular social media account or any creator of written, audio, or video content, be it a blogger or a musician) to distinguish between those who hate them and those who are critical of one’s works. If one is a band like, say, Fallout Boy, it is hard nowadays for people to distinguish between those who celebrate the sales decline of a band and rejoice in the suffering and embarrassment of others for making an unsuccessful product from those who are passionate critics of what they view as bad music (like, say, the Mania album). Likewise, it is hard for people who support the interests of LGBTQ+ culture to distinguish between those who hate them as people and those who disapprove of their behavior based on a standard of traditional or biblical morality that is held and applied consistently and generally. And it appears that the inability to properly distinguish between those who hate us as sinners and those who criticize us for our sins is at the root of the more general failure to distinguish between haters and critics across all aspects of our society and culture.
There are some people who revel in being considered haters, as if it was a good thing to have one’s dislike be passionate and intense and also not tied to any particular specific behavior, and there are a great many people who are so sensitive and thin-skinned that any criticism received is hatred that deserves an immediate pushback (your Taylor Swift types and all). But a great many of us should aspire to be the sort of people who know ourselves and can recognize when our negative thoughts towards others are personal and when we are engaging in criticism, and who are similarly able to distinguish between the irrational hatred of others and their often proper criticism of our shortcomings and failings. We may not always appreciate the awkward and tactless way that other people express their criticism towards areas of life where we might not be doing very well, but we should at least be able to recognize that our critics are doing us a favor, ultimately, by pointing attention to a standard that if we do not hold to it ourselves we can at least recognize as being responsible for how others will judge us and our works. After all, we have good reason to think of critics that if we and our works start to meet or exceed the standard by which we are being judged that we will receive praise and attaboys instead of negative criticism, even while our haters will simply manufacture another excuse for their intense and personal dislike of us. And if some of us feel compelled to be critics because of our analytical nature, at least it should not be said of us that we irrationally hate others regardless of what they do, for life is too short for us to be poisoned by personal hatreds when we all need as much encouragement and insight as we can gain, where that insight and encouragement is going to come from those who will judge us by some sort of standard by which which we may either succeed or fail based on the quality of our efforts.