Does hate have a home on the Left?

December 10, 2017 • 10:45 am

I’m seeing these signs all over Hyde Park, the part of Chicago where I live:

And of course they’re supposed to be signs of inclusivity and welcome, which is good. But are they sincere? According to Frank Bruni’s editorial in today’s New York Times, they’re not always true for the Left. Bruni is distressed by this editorial that appeared in the Texas State University (San Marcos) student newspaper, an editorial I wrote about before:

If you go to my original post, where you can read it, you’ll see it’s by Rudy Martinez, a Hispanic student who claimed that he almost never met a decent white person, as he sees the vast majority of them as privileged racists. The college op-ed was taken down, but Bruni’s piece, “An Abomination. A monster. That’s me?“, calls out not only the hatred (racism, really) of the author, but argues that such views play into the hands of Trumpian conservatives since “mirroring the ugliness of white nationalists and the alt-right just gives them the ammunition that they want and need.” And I think he’s right here, as things like this editorial, or the shenanigans of liberal students when people like Ben Shapiro, Christina Hoff Sommers, or Charles Murray try to speak, just let the Right broadcast that we’re violent, narrow-minded, bigoted, intolerant, and all the things we dislike about the Right.

Bruni says this about the column above:

Yes, this was deliberate provocation. By a college student. And he’s obviously right that people of color have been systematically oppressed.

But what college newspaper would have published a column by a white student telling his black peers that they’re a wretched lot? What, beyond catharsis, did the column’s author accomplish?

And what has happened to our discourse — and how we do we make necessary progress — when hate is answered by hate, prejudice is echoed by prejudice, extremism begets extremism and ostensible liberalism practices abject illiberalism? Isn’t that how Donald Trump wins?

This wasn’t just one student or one campus or college campuses in general. This was a manner of thinking and language too prevalent among those who correctly call out racial inequities and social injustices but wrongly fall prey themselves to the bigotry behind those ills.

The far right set the tone, but the left shouldn’t adopt it. Doing so won’t get us to the fairer place that we must inhabit, and it plays directly into Trump’s dirty hands.

Bruni gives several examples of this kind of behavior (my words, not his quotes):

  • The fracas at Evergreen State College when Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying were demonized as racists despite their history of anti-racist activism
  • A professor at Delaware State University who said that Otto Warmbier, the student who died in North Korean custody after supposedly stealing a poster, “got exactly what he deserved”. (The professor, an adjunct, has since been let go.)
  • A professor at Trinity College in Hartford who, after the shooting of Republican lawmakers who were playing baseball, created a hashtag saying “let them fucking die”. (He’s since been put on leave.)
  • And this tweet from Ashley Feinberg, a senior editor at HuffPo (she’s since removed the tweet), alluding darkly to John McCain’s terminal brain cancer:

Feinberg has not been put on leave, and I don’t think the HuffPo has apologized or penalized one of their senior writers (they’d never do that for something like this)—but what a horrible thing to say! I’m not surprised, of course, as HuffPo has, as I often say, been driven literally mad by Trump’s election. But while I disagree with many of McCain’s political views, he’s nevertheless done some good things, like voting “no” on the Obamacare repeal, and I think he’s a decent man. To celebrate his terminal illness, or to use it as political snark, is unconscionable.

And just yesterday I saw on my Facebook page a remark by someone who, commenting on speculations that Donald Trump is ill because he’s recently slurred his speech, remarked that he hoped that Trump was really sick and died a horrible death. Much as I dislike Trump and what he and his administration are doing, I wouldn’t wish that kind of suffering on anybody or his family.

As Bruni says, a lot of this is promoted by the nature of social media, which allows you to broadcast your thoughts instantly, unfiltered, and often anonymously, and to say things to the world that you’d never say in person to another human. Would the Delaware professor tell Otto Warmbier’s parents that he “got what he deserved”? Would Feinberg tell McCain’s family that they should be glad that their inheritance will be tax-free after he dies?

We’re better than this—or should be. We can hate ideas rather than people, and we can behave civilly towards those who espouse ideas we don’t like. We don’t have to be kissy-kissy with white supremacists, of course, but we don’t have to punch them, either.

Being civil does not guarantee that the Left will once again become ascendant. But being uncivil does guarantee that our opponents will find plenty of extra ammunition against us.

47 thoughts on “Does hate have a home on the Left?

  1. I think there is one large difference between college students and people who post those signs in their yards: age. Presumably, most homeowners in Chicago are not still college students. College students are mostly young, and young people sometimes have bad ideas. That shouldn’t mean that these signs are insincere, I don’t think.

      1. I’m sure you are correct in that. It is also interesting to think on the sorts of people who are yard-sign-displayers as well. I’ve never put up a messagey yard-sign. I don’t do bumper stickers either. Some people are just more keen on announcing their opinions to passers-by than others.

      2. Immediately after 8-Nov-2016, we put out a large rainbow flag next to our USA flag on the front of our house.

        We really did want to make a public statement that we disagree with the GOP/Trumpian vision of the USA (and what makes it great).

        This has been a fortunate thing. We’ve gotten to know a few LGBT neighbors whom we wouldn’t have otherwise. It prompts a conversation between us and passers-by and neighbors.

        Often these start with, “… Are you … ?” and I reply, no we aren’t but we are making a strong statement in support of our LGBT friends, neighbors, family, and fellow-citizens and we disagree with the direction that the current occupant of the White House and the congressional majority are taking our country.

        I don’t hate Drumpf. As I often say, he’s not worth my hate. But I find him ignorant, malicious, absurd, bigoted, and self-serving. All good reasons to dislike him strongly and oppose him.

    1. What about the professors — who account for just a handful of the many who have made similar comments in only the last couple of years — brought up in the article?

      Maybe it’s not just age that’s driving these students, but what many professors in some departments are teaching them, as well as discourse in much of the media (like HuffPo).

      Even as far back as my first year of college in 2003, I had several professors who taught conspiracy theories about Israel (and, from a couple, even Jews in general) as if they were fact in their classes. They also posted articles online to this effect. Meanwhile, students would rip down the couple of Israeli flags hung by two of the Jewish students on campus, and even defaced the building that housed the on-campus group for Jewish students. This has only become much worse in the years since, and it has spread to other groups considered “oppresors.”

      The worst part about this — and I’m ashamed to admit it now — is I actually believed those professors. Even as a Jew, I thought I was being taught by the “good guys” (i.e. liberals), and they must having been teaching me what was right and just. It took me a couple of years after leaving and doing my own research to realize that what I had been taught was propaganda. I’m lucky that I’m someone who, as I grew a little older, has made a habit of assessing my own views and looking at them critically. But we know that most people don’t do this, no matter their politics.

      1. I’m sure there are more than a few ideologically driven profs, but I would hope that students are still able to attend and leave with their own values growing and intact. The talk of hospitality reminds me of the film Ushpizin, and now I want to rewatch it.

  2. IMO, there are a few very selective examples in which it is legit to be (somewhat) uncivil (up to a point) to those who espouse ideas we don’t like.

    This includes people who disrespect the grief of relatives of the deceased, whether it is funeral protestors, or harassers of parents of the dead in Sandy Hook.

  3. “We can hate ideas rather than people, and we can behave civilly towards those who espouse ideas we don’t like.”

    As a general rule, I agree with this. For example, I don’t hate the fanatical Trump supporters because I believe them to be delusional members of a cult. Certainly, for most of them, if you spoke with them on topics other than politics you would consider them very nice people. But, aren’t some people worthy of hate, such as Hitler and the leading Nazis? Perhaps you would say that even these people should be opposed for their ideas and should not be hated as individuals. But, these people put their ideas into action, resulting in the deaths of millions. Many had to be killed to be stopped since there was no alternative. There is the old parlor game of asking, knowing what you know now, if you could miraculously go back in time and kill Hitler in his cradle, would you do so? So, in the case of the leading Nazis of the Hitler regime, as one example, isn’t hating the idea rather the person a distinction without a difference?

    1. Yes, I once wrote a post on this and said that it’s hard to avoid hating such people, as they embrace, embody, and enact ideas we do hate. I guess my point was that we should try to hate as few people as possible, realizing that expressing that hatred can be counterproductive, and that people can’t really choose how to act or how to believe. In other words, sometimes it’s okay to hate people if that motivates progressive actions without hurting the progressive cause.

    2. I believe that your reference to the Nazis is not appropriate here. Because JC did not refer to criminals who, of course, can be hated.
      But it is not about people who have done evil deeds, but about people with opinions that contradict our own, we should behave civilized towards them.

      1. Huh? Historian’s reference to Nazis as possible exceptions to the ‘hate-the-sin-but-love-the-sinner’ trope was exactly on point and probably the best example he could have given.

        I doubt you’d find many people who would try to argue that it’s wrong to hate Hitler. Other then neo-Nazis, I guess. And ‘would you kill Hitler?’ is a well-known debating point.


  4. The Hyde Park signs belong, in general, to the same category as the following from a few years back: the house with two SUVs parked in its double-car garage and a sign reading “No War for Oil”.

    After 9/11/01, and some ludicrous comments on it in the LRB, Michael Walzer published a piece in Dissent entitled “Can There Be A Decent Left?”. I have spent more decades than I care to remember looking for the same rare beast. There are occasional brief sightings, such as this website, or the Eustonites of a few years ago. But these sightings are so rare, and so regularly
    obscured by other and noisier manifestations, that one is tempted to give up the search. It might be more fruitful to search for intelligent life on a distant planet.

    1. That’s ridiculous. With the exception of the MAGA hatters, today’s society is left of the one I grew up in and far to the left of what my parents grew up in and their’s was the left of their parents. There’s a reason why they’re called “regressives”.

  5. Who is more representative of the left today, Linda Sarsour or Jerry Coyne? I think it is Linda Sarsour. As Sam Harris puts it, this is how the left dies.

    1. I disagree. Sarsour and her ilk get the most press. I think many people mistake loudness for breadth of support. Or is it your contention that MAGA hats are representative of the majority conservative opinion?

      1. Well, Trump did win the primaries on the back of those hats, and then the presidency.

        It is a bit like my whole thing with Christians – if the fuckwits don’t represent them, why do they keep electing those fuckwits?

        I mean the religious right aren’t some radical far right fringe, they’r in congress and the senate.

        The same goes for the MAGA hats.

        And those that don’t vote, well they’re pretty comfortable letting those MAGA hats and the religious fringe right represent them when it comes to making laws.

        That said, Sarsour is at least not elected.

        1. Perhaps it missed your attention but Clinton got the most votes.

          Anyway, there are a number of reasons why Trump was elected and for sure MAGA hats played an important role. But he also won because his opponent was Hillary Clinton. Not just who she is; “basket of deplorables” thinking and campaigning figured in too. The Democrat’s atrategy appears to be lose at every opportunity.

          1. Clinton got the most votes – because cities are generally more liberal than rural areas, and the bulk of the population lives in the more urban states.

            Without the majority of conservative votes, Trump wouldn’t have won.

            If it was simply opposition to Clinton, well the Republicans had a clowncar full of candidates in the primaries who weren’t surnamed Clinton.

            1. Right. So perhaps Craw’s claim that the left is more represented by Sarsour and her ilk is missing something?

              Anyway, as I said, there are many reasons for Trumps victory -including MAGA hats and (IMO) the majority of conservatives and independents who held their noses and hoped for the best and voted for the cheeto because the Dems nominated Clinton. And it is my contention that in addition to being throughly unlikable, Clinton’s pandering (but I repeat myself) to the Sarsours on the left contributed to his win.

              In the end, I disagree with Craw. These regressives do not represent the majority of the left anymore than MAGA hats represent the majority of the right. They may well drive the left into extinction if the majority of us on the left don’t stand up to them – and soon- but the evidence suggests Craw is wrong.

              1. Trump represents the right more than Romney does these days, alas. But there is no reason why what is happening on the left should mirror what is happening on the right. Each has their own pathology.

  6. I think these quotes are interesting to reflect on, from different viewpoints :

    “If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.”

    “It is not our purpose to become each other; it is to recognize each other, to learn to see the other and honor him for what he is: each the other’s opposite and complement.”

    … not that it solves anything…

    1. “If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.”

      That is, stupid.

      We hate people and things which we perceive as harmful to us. I do not identify with child abusers, and you can bet I don’t want them anywhere near my community.

      The real problem with hate is it is only useful when examined.

      Examined hate allows us to view who or what we hate and strive not to replicate it. We hate Hitler, we strive not to be the sorts of people who create racial hierarchies in order to scapegoat entire groups of people and elevate others.

      Unexamined hate however, that produces people like Antifa, who proclaim themselves anti-Nazi, while utilising violence to promote their ideology, which tends to include a particular disdain for certain racial groups.

      Examined hate is probably one of the greatest drivers of human progress, unfortunately examination takes more effort that most people are willing to go to.

      See how the Marvel movies, which often feature Nazis as their villains, never seem to go into what made the Nazis villains.

      1. Agreed. It’s wildly unlikely that this vague, anodyne slogan promotes much critical reflection, especially of one’s own biases and behaviour – perhaps less than Bill and Ted’s ‘Be excellent to each other.’

      2. A long time ago, there was a person who really got under my skin. Somehow, I got to a point where I could ask what is was about this person that irritated me so much. When I was able to see that they very well could be reminding me of myself, even if this explanation were impossible to define, I decided I just have to give up this reaction somehow. I think it worked.

        Years later I learned about the Hesse quote.

        1. I think you are right that hate can be triggered by someone with flaws that you share or who simply reminds you of your flaws. But surely there are other kinds of hate that can be more easily justified. I suspect Hesse’s statements were meant to apply to a narrow context.

          1. What astonished me the most wasn’t that they reminded me of myself although that was astonishing in its own right – the experience was astonishing because I didn’t even know they could be reminding me of myself.

    2. “If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.”

      This is a typical psychologist barking and the romantic Hesse was demonstrably influenced by the Carl G. Jung.

      If hatred is always an expression of hatred for one’s own personal interests, then one can consider all the problems as created in the person himself – which, of course, requires an unusually long analysis –
      Karl Kraus was right: Psychoanalysis is the disease for whose therapy it adheres.

  7. Some of the blame for this sort of thing can be placed on our social media environment. There are many examples of people who gain fairly wide attention and, they hope, jobs, wealth, etc. just by expressing an outrageous opinion a few times. If it gets enough “hits”, the media will want to interview them, especially since outrage drives ratings for so many media outlets. There are always going to be a few people willing to sacrifice decency and reputation in exchange for fame and wealth. Unlike in the past, we now have a system by which anyone can attempt to jump to “celebrity” or “pundit” this way.

  8. Donald Trump is ill because he’s recently slurred his speech

    The funniest hypothesis – albeit arguably not the likeliest(simple tiredness?) – I saw was that Trump has dentures. [Not that I would ask him to his face…]

  9. This article by Uri Harris posted yesterday on Quillette

    helped me to understand views like the Texas student newspaper editorial, or Jerry’s bulleted points about university instructors and their behaviour.

    The Harris article is focused on Lindsay Shepherd and Wilfred Laurier University, but its insights seem to apply generally to any area of academic activism in the humanities and social sciences that has ‘critical’ as its motivating idea. In these ‘theories’, the goal of scholarship is not to understand how the world works, at least not in the way that a scholar in the natural sciences would study it. Instead the explicit goal of scholarship is to change how the world works, and everything about how the world works is to be understood in terms of historical narratives about societal structures that oppress powerless people for the benefit of powerful people. In these ‘theories’ there are only people and societies: there are no other contexts, there is no evolved human nature, there are no natural systems of ecology, geology, or physics that constrain human circumstances or human possibility. There is only history and oppression. And the point of scholarship is to upend those systems of oppression. Harris explains what he sees as the two most important consequences of this world view, and both are awful.

    1. You raise an interesting question that needs to be more deeply discussed by those who do not consider themselves post-modernists. The question is: what is the purpose of scholarship? You note correctly that for a certain segment of academia (whether it’s a majority, particularly in the social sciences, I don’t know) scholarship is a weapon in the war to promote their ideas about society. In my view, such a conception of scholarship is a bastardization of the term. In writing about a particular topics, those who profess to be scholars cannot be totally free of bias. This is an impossibility. Nevertheless, striving to be objective should be their goal, realizing that it can never be achieved. Scholars ought to create a mental wall between scholarship and activism, with the latter to be practiced outside of scholarly work. The post-modernists will argue that such a wall is a bogus concept because there is no such thing as “truth.” Of course, I could not more disagree. Perhaps the post-modernists do not realize that the abandonment of the concept of truth results in what passes as truth is simply defined by those in power.

      As I think out about it, Trump may be the best example of the supreme post-modernist. For him, truth is whatever comes out of his mouth. And some day he may decide that his version of the truth must be accepted by all and Orwell’s “1984” will come to pass. As the post-modernists spend their days in re-education camps, they may ponder where they went wrong.

      1. I can’t speak for Uri Harris or anyone else, but from his writing I suspect that he and others might disagree with you here:

        “Perhaps the post-modernists do not realize that the abandonment of the concept of truth results in what passes as truth is simply defined by those in power.”

        If Harris’ characterization of ‘critical theory’ is correct, then for scholars working within this theory there is indeed only power, and truth is whatever the powerful oppressors can force onto the powerless and oppressed. It may be that such scholars already see the world exactly in the way you described, and they accept that this is indeed what passes for truth. Their goal is not to return to a different idea of truth as something objective; their goal is to upend that power structure. One of Harris’ main conclusions is that such scholars do not seem to have looked past that outcome: what would replace the social structures that ‘critical race theory’ or other critical ‘theories’ seek to destroy? Harris forecasts that nothing would replace them, because all such social structures are hierarchical in a way that is antithetical to critical ‘theory’, and that the result would be societal collapse. He points to Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge as an example.

        So from the point of view of a scholar working within that ‘theory’, scholarship that merely describes how the world works in an objectively true way (the way a scholar in the natural sciences would study the world) is fine but insufficient for achieving the goals of scholarship (upending the social structures that lead to oppression). Harris quoted the critical feminist ‘theorist’ Maria Mies and some of her recommendations for the elements of a critical feminist research program

        “(3) The contemplative, uninvolved ‘spectator knowledge’ must be replaced by active participation in action, movements, and struggles for women’s emancipation. The motto for this approach could be: ‘If you want to know a thing, you must change it’. (4) [This] further implies that the change of the status quo becomes the starting point for a scientific quest.”

        So for a scholar working within that world view, there is no such thing as a mental wall between scholarship and activism because activism *is* scholarship.

        Also just to be clear I agree with your view of what scholarship should be, and am just trying to articulate what I think the view might be from the other side.

      2. I have always said that the people who claim to follow Marx’s dictum about changing the world rather than studying it are missing the fact that Marx *also* studied the world and made a big deal that he had discovered things about it (wrong in some cases, correctly in others). “Shouldn’t we do the same?” I thereby ask. *That’s* when one gets the double down on the “can’t really know anything” – the extreme skepticism.

  10. I agree with most of what PCC(E) says above. Hate is obviously given a home sometimes on the left.

    I hesitate to agree fully with this condemnation of Feinberg though. McCain is a decent person to be sure, but despite his vocal opposition to Trump he still voted to confirm a whole team of incompetents to the administration. His opposition to the obamacare repeal was commendable, but refusing to hastily strip healthcare from millions of vulnerable people is about the absolute least one can expect from a person with a conscience.

    Many, including Feinberg I assume, see the tax plan as avaricious and irresponsible: a plan that rewards the wealthy and places increased burdens on those who are struggling the most. Given the CBO scores, what little I have seen of the plan, and the ludicrously rushed and secretive drafting and voting process, I believe they are right.

    I think Senator McCain is a good person with decent principles that he is not afraid to voice. In light of this, his vote for the unreviewed tax plan was at best hypocritical and reckless, and at worst downright callous and selfish. Is it hateful to point out the fact that McCain’s vote, because of his failing health, will directly enrich his family (and other wealthy families like it) in the short term at the expense of millions of less fortunate people? How much of the McCain family’s indignation at these insensitive criticisms is justified, and how much is the Senator’s poor health being used to deflect all criticism? Is Feinberg hatefully celebrating the McCain family’s future grief, or is she making a very pointed and deserved condemnation? I don’t know anything about her so it is hard to say, but I certainly don’t think that criticising somebody who makes a selfish decision at the expense of millions of others is verboten if they are ill.

    1. “I hesitate to agree fully with this condemnation of Feinberg though.”

      As Jerry notes, this doesn’t pass the red-face test. Would Feinberg go to McCain’s home and say what she posted to McCain’s wife and children?

      If so, she’s a low-life.

      If not, she’s dishonest. Or made a mistake (the pitfalls of Twi**er). And if she made a mistake (like this one) she should apologize.

      1. That’s fair; it certainly wouldn’t pass the red-face test for me (even if I thought McCain was evil). His family is not at fault for his voting record.

        There must be a better way to point out that the failing health of a super-rich person is very relevant if they have just voted on a bill that would enrich their heirs at the expense of the poor, and would increase the number of (poor) people without health insurance by millions. Unlike the rest of the obviously hateful and racist incidents PCC(E) highlighted above, I find the hatefulness of this one slightly ambiguous because of this relevancy. It is certainly uncivil, insensitive, and rude though.

        I wonder if the red-face test is useful only in judging one’s own potential posts. Would Feinberg be too red-faced to say this to the McCain’s? Probably yes, but I do not know. Would I? Definitely yes, and I wouldn’t say it online either. Should someone whose family lost health coverage as a result of this tax bill and subsequently went bankrupt trying and failing to care for their ailing relatives feel too red-faced to say this to the McCains? I am not sure I can say in that case.

  11. George Orwell, a man who lived his leftiness, came to the conclusion that the intelligentsia of the left were motivated by hatred of the rich and despised the poor. Hatred has always been a big factor in the politics of the left.

  12. Just a bit of quote-mining here :

    “The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!”

    “He stood there on Christmas Eve, hating the Who’s!”

    -Excerpts from “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” that refer to hate,by Dr. Seuss

  13. A thought came finally – one of those thoughts you get when driving or something – so I had to put it here instead of the “does hate have a home here” post

    The nebulous repulsion I get from this slogan – and for most practical purposes I think that’s all it is, a slogan – that makes me wonder – what else could this mean besides “if you hate people you should leave our country”?

    At least it seems to tap into that same tribal instinct, hidden behind a sleight of wording – “oh we didn’t say the hater has to leave, the hate has to leave”

    … not sure I’m making a clear point, but now I have to go away again…

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