There is a debate going on in Swedish media right now about näthat, “net hate”: hateful, threatening, demeaning comments to bloggers and journalists, especially women. Death threats, graphic descriptions of sexual violence, harassment online and offline. The trigger was an episode of a respected investigative TV programme, Uppdrag Granskning, that focused on net hate. As an extra twist, a trailer for that episode got so many hate comments on YouTube that comments were turned off.

I feel as if those people must be a different species, not entirely human. How is it possible for a seemingly normal human being to feel so little empathy, so little kinship with another, that you can either (1) seriously wish to torture and kill them because you don’t agree with their opinions, or (2) imagine that the target for those threats “probably doesn’t care much” because it wasn’t seriously meant?

I don’t hate anything or anybody, and I cannot even really imagine the feeling. There are people towards whom I feel contempt, disgust, anger. There are people without whom the world would be a better place, and I would be glad if they ceased to exist – mass murderers and such.

Even from such negative feelings, there is a huge leap to wishing great humiliation, pain and suffering on those people. Not just wishing them gone from the world, but wishing that they died a painful death, or spending time and energy on harassing and humiliating them.

I can sort of imagine, very hypothetically, that I could possibly feel such hate in response to some great harm done to me or my family – if those mass murderers had killed my children, say – if I wasn’t really in my right mind.

But in response to a blog post with which you don’t agree? What could fill those commenters with so much hate?

Or perhaps it is me who is not entirely normal. (Well, I knew that already, but perhaps this is another aspect of it.)

Is it normal to hate?