The toxic ideas that have corrupted today’s universities all began as tiny, obscure musings before escaping from the laboratories. They may have started with an unpublished paper or two, a request for modest institutional funding, or an informal discussion group. Eventually, they earn a panel at a regional disciplinary convention and an experimental course. In a few years, the “little idea” has metastasized into a full-blown intellectual plague. Particularly disturbing is that the intellectual soundness of this “little idea” has no relationship to its burgeoning appeal—the opposite may be true: the wackier it is, the more alluring for career-minded academics chasing “the next big thing.” How else can one explain critical race theory, academic-style feminism, the deconstruction mania, and, alas, much more?
Intellectual sanity requires monitoring the first signs of destructive idiocy, just as the CDC tracks the early signs of an epidemic. Only then can the infant nonsense be strangled in the cradle. Imagine the intellectual mischief we could have avoided if critical race theory died an early, peaceful, obscure death.
That said, here’s the next big evil: “hate studies.” This incipient plague embraces the very essence of totalitarianism—the criminalization of thinking. Out with criminal behavior, in with thoughtcrime. Not only does this switch contravene America’s long legal stress on illegal behavior (and First Amendment protection of unpopular speech) but the inherent murkiness of thoughtcrime and the near impossibility of reading peoples’ minds ensures that anybody, anytime can be punished for “bad thinking.” Now, since every human regularly thinks “bad thoughts,” nobody is safe from today’s Grand Inquisitors, and if one believes that being hounded for systemic racism is bad, just wait until one is denounced for unknowingly holding “dangerous stereotypes” about people of color. Confess your bad thoughts! We are all guilty, all the time, and so prosecutors can send everyone off for rehabilitation.
I recently encountered this pox-in-the-making in my Bard College alumnae magazine (the Bardian, Fall 2020), which almost incidentally mentioned the Bard Center for the Study of Hate. “Hate” has long been a professional interest of mine, so I looked a little deeper. Lo and behold, Bard’s war on “hate” is a nascent industry that already has a website, webinars, a journal, courses with reading lists, and academic specialists. Rest assured that savvy professors are soliciting naive foundations to combat this alleged evil currently bedeviling America.
The Bard Center (BCSH) “… will bring scholars from diverse disciplines to Bard College and all of its campuses to speak about the human capacity to hate and demonize others. It will place, mentor, and support students working at internships with nongovernmental organizations that combat hate.” It also, “…seeks to impact public discussion about hatred nationally and internationally.”
This anti-hate message is already filtering into student brains through such Bard courses as Outsider Art; American Studies; Gender and Sexuality Studies; German Expressionism; Capitalism and Slavery; Contagion: on rumor, heresy, disease, and financial panic; and Women’s Rights, Human Rights, among others. Bard students will almost surely learn about the evils of “hate” and ambitious, trend-sniffing academics will adjust their teaching interests accordingly.
Nor is Bard College alone in the enterprise. Other early investors are The Gonzaga Institute for Hate Studies, The International Network for Hate Studies, California State University at Santa Barbara Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, and up in Canada, the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism located at the Ontario Institute of Technology. Meanwhile, the hate hatters gathered in Warsaw, Poland last year for The International Network for Hate Studies (did anyone tell Polish jokes?). The Journal of Hate Studies is already up to Volume 17, and for those doubting its academic bona fides, it has been blessed by the Seal of Approval from the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), which certifies the journal as offering high quality, peer-reviewed articles. This is a high-minded mission: “The Journal reflects the optimism that as hate is understood, it can be contained and controlled allowing for persons to reach their full human potential without fear of retribution.”
And what, exactly, is this hate that must be scrutinized and then purged from the human mind? According to the Journal, said hate can be found in “…any one or more of its manifestations (e.g. racism, misogyny, antisemitism, homophobia, religious intolerance, ethnoviolence, anti-immigrant animus, etc.).” Needless to say, one does not have to be a Talmudic scholar to see the troublesome imprecision and the pitfalls of this anti-hate mission. Does hate motivate opposition to open borders, or might this be rational, economic self-interest? Is criticizing Islam for promoting terrorism just hateful emotion, or is it supported by fact?
Those who think that resolving these complexities is easy should consult the history of interpreting the First Amendment’s struggle with “dangerous” speech. Is hate to be banished entirely, or is some hate, for example, hating the KKK, tolerable? These hate-hunters will also patrol a huge territory: “Consider[ing] how hate is institutionalized, maintained, or perpetrated through culture, organizations, policies, politics, media, discourses, epistemologies, etc.” Note the reference to two “etc.’s” in these catalogues. Can one be guilty of hating “etc.”? I personally loath the etc. community.
Who will exorcise this hate? The Ministry of Anti-Hate? The courts or the Stasi? Might each individual be the judge and jury and settle the matter as he sees fit? Special tribunals of expert academics with doctorates in Hate Studies? Will hate hounds receive special training from mind-readers or utilize hi-tech tools like fMRI’s to probe the brain’s depths and root out unconscious bias? Recall how yesterday’s hateful slur may become today’s official designation—queer, Chicano among others. We all know how certain words are certifiably hateful if employed by some but not others. What if the alleged hate has no relationship to any possible behavior, as in “I hate Anabaptists,” when this sect barely exists? And what are the penalties for haters when exposed? Public confessions and shaming? There are no easy answers, since the American criminal code excludes “hate” as a stand-alone crime. If unemployment were the penalty, no American would have a job.
“Hate Studies” is clearly an academic racket for ambitious scholars likely frustrated in climbing up the traditional academic ladder. It is not especially technical, nor does it require mastering a foreign language. Entry into the field is easy, but this “softness” should not detract from the awaiting evil. Today’s universities are happy to hire quacks galore to ameliorate their woes—why not hire a few extra anti-hate specialists to add to the collection? It’s all too easy to imagine these hate-hunters heading Inquisitions exposing invisible “hate” everywhere. Books, entire libraries, and even traditional disciples will be scrutinized for toxicity and, rest assured, costly bogus prescriptions will be written. I hate to say it, but this will not end well, so it’s time to sound the alarm.
Image: Jon Tyson, Public Domain