It is a truth universally acknowledged that haters gonna hate. Ironically, self-appointed campaigners against hate are often especially hateful, as several recent articles in the Washington Post illustrate.
First, there was “Why can’t we hate men?” by professor Suzanna Walters. Then there was “I no longer have hope in white America” by the Post’s own Karen Attiah. Finally, there was “Pride Month is over. Welcome to LGBTQ Wrath Month” by university instructor Anthony Oliveira.
These are real articles. They were published in one of our nation’s preeminent newspapers. The titles are not efforts at overhyped clickbait. Walters really asked, “in this moment, here in the land of legislatively legitimated toxic masculinity, is it really so illogical to hate men?” Oliveira really wrote that, “Wrath Month is a chance to remember that before our symbol was a rainbow, it was a hurled brick.” Love wins—with a brick through a window or to a face.
Why is this hatred accepted and even celebrated in our most prestigious institutions, from the media to the academy? Hatred is a persistent presence in the human heart, but the identity politics and intersectional ideology the Left espouses legitimizes and exacerbates hate. This ideology defines people by their membership in identity groups (race, sex, sexuality, and so on), and considers power in terms of group identity, not individuals.
Consequently, these ideologues do not care that the Washington Post would never run the equivalent articles from the opposite perspective (“Why can’t we hate women?” or “I no longer have hope in black America”). Asymmetry is the point; those who can claim membership in the less privileged group have a license to retaliate against the privileged. Claiming to lack privilege confers the privilege of being excused for behaving badly.
In this scheme of collective identity, a wrong done to one member of a group is a wrong done to all members of that group. A wrong done by a member of a group is done by all members of that group. Consequently, none of these writers for the Washington Post dwell upon wrongs done to them personally. Rather, they engage in constant appropriation of wrongs done to others, then assign blame to all members of the ostensibly privileged groups, including to individuals unconnected to the wrongdoing. This offers them an excuse for hatred that is far out of proportion to the wrongs done to them, or by those they hate.
It also means that the only way for members of guilty groups to be absolved is by being unquestioning allies, with the aggrieved setting the terms of the alliance. Those who do not accept these terms of surrender are enemies to be destroyed.
So Waters warns: “men, if you really are #WithUs and would like us to not hate you for all the millennia of woe you have produced and benefited from…Pledge to vote for feminist women only. Don’t run for office. Don’t be in charge of anything. Step away from the power.” Men can be absolved of the sin of being men only by ceding all power to feminists. Oliveira echoes this sentiment, “To our allies: Help us, really help us, or get out of the way.”
In this ideology, being an ally means shutting up and doing as you are told by those who claim membership in an oppressed group. The alternative, according to these writers, is to be justly hated. They dream of obliterating perceived enemy groups. As Oliveira puts it, “To our people: Let nothing stand which offends your dignity…To our enemies: This army of lovers will stamp out your bigotry.” A fabulous boot stamping on the human face, forever.
These demands reveal that the practitioners of identity politics are not really interested in reconciliation, harmony, and forgiveness. These writers savor their self-righteous wrath, and would only consent to give up their hatred on the impossible condition that everyone else surrender to their total domination.
Collective guilt, and the asymmetric exercise of group justice that follows from it, may be explained by the ideology of identity politics, but this raises another question: why has identity politics become so acceptable that these extreme expressions of it can be published in the Washington Post?
Some insight may be gleaned from the economic idea of positional goods, which are valued, at least in part, because of their exclusivity. For example, the value of a designer handbag is not just in its functionality or even its aesthetics, but in its scarcity and thus its signaling of social status. Collecting is all about positional goods: there are only so many vintage baseball cards, ’59 Gibson Les Paul guitars, or old coins in the world. Grades that are distributed on a strict curve are positional goods—if only the top 10 percent of the class can get an A, what really matters is how students stack up against each other, not how much they actually learn.
A phenomenon noted in a post at Marginal Revolution suggests that racism, sexism, and the rest of the Left’s list of “isms” and “phobias” are becoming positional goods (perhaps we should call them positional wrongs). As the headline puts it, there is a need to explain “Why Sexism and Racism Never Diminish–Even When Everyone Becomes Less Sexist and Racist.” The short explanation is that our perceptions change, and we have become increasingly sensitive to more subtle forms of racism and sexism.
There is some truth to this, but it is also the case that as racism and sexism have become more socially taboo, standing out as an opponent of racism, sexism, and so on requires ever more sensitivity (in detection) and stridency (in denunciation). Especially among the professional and elites classes of society, the level of “wokeness” necessary to distinguish oneself and earn social standing keeps increasing. In much of higher education, for instance, there is constant competition to demonstrate the most sensitive sin-sniffing and zealous heresy-hunting.
The ability to claim personal offense (even if it is personal only through group membership) is of great utility here. Nothing exemplifies this exquisite sensitivity more than intersectional ideology, which is nothing but positional goods (or positional wrongs) all the way down—until you get to the disabled black trans lesbian Muslim union organizer, or whomever it is that claims the title of most oppressed this week. Also, whomever is most oppressed is deemed to have the most moral authority and standing.
The attempt to acquire and secure that social standing and moral authority motivates excesses like the Washington Post’s series of hate pieces. They are performative, in an almost religious sense. The authors stand on behalf of the oppressed to denounce their oppressors. It is the voice of a prophet declaring judgement upon the unrighteous. The vehemence of the condemnation is proof of righteous zeal.
But where the Hebrew prophets, and the genuine civil-rights leaders (including many clergy) who echoed their language, sought to call people to repentance and reconciliation, these modern jeremiads are performed for the sake of boasting of one’s righteousness. They are the loud prayer of today’s Pharisees, praising themselves for their holiness in comparison with others. They are the imprecatory psalms of those whose god is bitterness.