Tuesday, November 11, 2008

In Praise of Hate

Some years ago, my university’s diversity managers did an ad campaign on campus built on the slogan, “Hate Doesn’t Discriminate.” Ads in the student newspaper, flyers on the bulletin boards, that sort of thing. This is the sort of thing that feeds my distaste for the whole business of diversity management:* the professionalization, the sloppiness, the wholly unjustified self-righteousness.

Hate does discriminate, of course, if it makes any sense at all to speak of “hate” as though it were a person, an agent, instead of an abstraction. In fact, “hate” here refers to what used to be called discrimination, the allocation of resources, privileges and penalties based on “race”, sex, religion, sexual preference, and other hot-button markers. While there is what my high-school sociology teacher called a “halo effect” – prejudices tend to cluster – someone who “hates” people of color does discriminate between them and people of pallor; someone who “hates” Catholics welcomes Protestants. That’s what you call discrimination. Yet such an obvious howler was conceived by college-educated diversity managers and continued to appear around campus for a couple of years. And nobody laughed derisively, except me and a few other malcontents.

Hate is not necessarily bad, and I don’t think anyone really believes otherwise. But then I need to sort out what I’m talking about here. Like “love,” “hate” is a complex word. I love butterscotch ripple ice cream, I hate coffee; I love Heathers and Double Happiness, I hate The Joy Luck Club. I hate the person, whoever it is, who always parks their car so as to block the bike path from where I lock my bike at work. I hate bigotry – but that’s another abstraction, like “hate”, so maybe it would be more accurate to say that I hate bigots. (Or as Tom Lehrer once put it, “I know there are people in the world who do not love their fellow human beings – and I hate people like that!”)

As a personal emotion, hate is no more invalid than love, but no less problematic. What is called love is often just infatuation. People do awful things in the name of love, in personal relationships. “I’m just doing this because I love you.” “This hurts me more than it hurts you.” “If I can’t have you, nobody can.” Love brings misery at least as often as it brings joy, and is so often used to excuse a lover’s bad behavior that I can’t see why the word has such prestige.

And then there’s religious love, the kind of love that justifies atrocities on a large scale. The philosopher Walter Kaufmann pointed out many years ago, in his book Without Guilt and Justice, that over the gates of Dante’s Hell, along with the more famous “All hope abandon, ye who enter here,” are the words
Justice moved my Architect above,
What made me was divine Omnipotence,
The highest Wisdom and the Primal Love.
(That’s Kaufmann’s translation, I believe.) I wouldn’t agree that Hell has anything even to do with justice, but to invoke Love in its rationale is, as Kaufmann observed, as obscene as the words that were inscribed over the gates of Auschwitz: Arbeit Macht Frei, “Work liberates.” I recall too that in a book on homosexuality and religion that I reviewed, one Jewish scholar pointed out that it wasn’t very compelling to argue that homosexuality is good because it’s Love, since so many terrible things have been done in Love’s name.

As for hate, it can be as shallow as love. I’ll concede happily that indiscriminate, impersonal hatred is not a good thing, but I feel the same way about indiscriminate, impersonal love – the kind of love that many modern Christians think is called agape. Personal hatred is, I submit, as necessary and valid as personal love, though like personal love it shouldn’t be given free rein. Haters, like lovers, had better think about the ways in which they express their hatred – which bigots seldom do. (I suppose that’s part of the fun of it.)

There are people I hate, much as there are people I love, sometimes based on long acquaintance and considered judgment, though sometimes I have experienced hatred at first sight. Though there are people of whom I’ve said that I wouldn’t piss on them if they were lying in the gutter on fire, I’m not sure it would actually be true except in the literal sense. If someone I hate were lying in the gutter on fire, I probably would refrain from pissing on them, but would get a fire extinguisher, call 911, and get an ambulance. If they died, I wouldn’t waste any tears on them, but my immediate reflex would be that someone in trouble needs help. That doesn’t mean that underneath the hatred there is really love; I don’t think love has anything to do with it.

I haven’t noticed either that people who prattle about diversity and love and the need for an end to hate because hate discriminates, are any less free of hate than anyone else. Indeed, they are big haters, as you will see if you listen halfway closely when they are talking about Bible thumpers and rednecks and trailer trash and Rethugs and the Chimp and the Village Idiot in the White House.** (Or about Ralph Nader – John Caruso has pointed out that many liberal Democrats seem to hate Nader even more than they hate Bush.) Nor do they seem to feel any cognitive dissonance about this, and I’m wary of anyone who exhibits so little self-knowledge, so much intellectual dishonesty about their own motives and expression. It seems to me that on some level, such people are just pogroms waiting to happen.

The philosopher Michael Neumann put it very well in an article on “respect” (another diversity management buzzword) that I’ve quoted here before. Substitute “love” for “respect” here, and the point is much the same:
Respect is not a duty; it is not even desirable in many cases. Where ‘respect’ means not beating people or putting them in jail or driving them from their homes, it is a fine idea. But you shouldn’t do those things even to people you hold in contempt. To call this sort of restraint ‘respect’ is to disguise clear moral values in gummy slush.
You can hate anyone you like, but you can’t burn down their house, or drop bombs on them or impose sanctions that kill half a million children with starvation and disease. You can call them Bible thumpers or trailer trash or Rethugs, but if they turn around and call you militant flaunting homosexuals or limousine liberals or Socialists, you are not in a strong position to accuse them of "hate." Name-calling isn't productive, but sometimes it lets off steam and makes it possible to clear the decks and start dealing with the issues. I realize that’s a profoundly un-American position for me to take, but I’m used to being odd person out.

*Maybe I should say something about the term “diversity management.” I first encountered it in Vijay Prashad’s book Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth of Cultural Purity (Beacon Press, 2001), page 63:
The idea of difference management (diversity) seems to have largely usurped those agencies that deal with multiculturalism. In my estimation, multiculturalism emerged as the liberal doctrine to undercut the radicalism of antiracism. Instead of antiracism, we are now fed with a diet of cultural pluralism and ethnic diversity. The history of oppression and the fact of exploitation are shunted aside in favor of a celebration of difference and the experience of individuals who can narrate their ethnicity for the consumption of others. That the U.S. state adopted the liberal patina of multiculturalism to fend off an important challenge from the progressive and democratic forces is not reason enough to discount the power of cultural plurality, for multiculturalism opened the space for struggle against the conceit of cultural homogeneity (at the same time as the logic of diversity management quickly tried to close that space off, since it claimed to solve the problem by mutual respect rather than by the struggle to dismantle privilege). “A Multiculturalism that does not acknowledge the political character of culture will not, I am sure,” argues Angela Davis, “lead toward the dismantling of racist, sexist, homophobic, economically exploitative institutions.” The difference between antiracism and diversity management, then, is that the former is militantly against frozen privilege and the latter is in favor of the status quo.
I think that says it very well. It's a topic I want to return to soon.

** Liberal vitriol, by the way, often brings out a revealing response among vitriolic conservatives: lurking beneath their denunciation of the libs' incivility, rudeness, crudeness, and bad manners, is the half-repressed awareness that the libs have, after all, only descended to the conservatives' level.