The Joy of Hate
THE TOLERANT Tadpole
Being a teenager in the seventies can be boiled down to two words: shoulder acne. But also something called “feelings.” Feelings, nothing more than feelings. That’s what it was all about. For most of us, that decade amounted to one big encounter group, where every day was a reminder that you were really mean, you were an oppressor, and you needed to heed other people’s feelings (and then, of course, your own, as a method of important self-discovery). If you didn’t cry in front of a group of men with beards, then you hadn’t really done anything in life. And there had better be Dan Fogelberg playing in the background.
I have no proof of this (other than having had two normal parents and sets of grandparents), but I get the feeling previous generations would have found the idea of putting feelings before thinking as silly. They had other crap to deal with, like fighting diseases and war. There was also that Depression thing (not the coastal health problem, but the historical period), which, from my research, entailed a lot of young children with dirty faces selling newspapers with the word depression above the fold. They must have been annoying. Too bad they were (technically) not edible.
But as a teenager, I was now being taught, by folks with little common sense but a lot of acoustic guitars, about other cultures and how superior they were to ours. The flip side was, of course, how mean the United States was toward the rest of the world, and how mean I was, as a tool of that insidious military-industrial complex. (Note: When I first heard “military-industrial complex,” I thought it was the coolest thing. How could that be seen as wrong? A country that prides itself on both the military and its industry has to be awesome. Somehow, we went from having a military-industrial complex to having a complex about our military and industry.)
At school, I learned—by accident, really—how to fake caring. I went to a Jesuit Catholic all-boys high school (the team name: Padres), which might conjure up a repressive atmosphere full of belt beatings, angry elderly priests, and hours dangling from a gym rope in tight red shorts. With the exception of the tight red shorts—a fashion that’s stayed with me, incidentally—all of that is false. Most of my instructors were earnest types—students of the sixties, well versed in feelings, interested in opening your mind and your soul (translation: Please smirk whenever Ronald Reagan’s name is mentioned). This meant sex ed that went a little too far in some places, and religion classes that dove full force into politics. By the early 1980s, we were speaking less about God and more about Central America. There was stuff going on in El Salvador—which I thought was a Lucha libre wrestler—and America surely was at fault. As a student, I edited a school paper devoted to that very idea. I wrote a column called “Frisbee Warfare”—a clever title about importing American values into places where it shouldn’t be. Teachers loved it because it showed I had “feelings” about the world that matched theirs.
Not that I was an expert in this stupid crap, but I knew it “felt” right. It must be right—the “cool” teacher likes me! Surely America was big and El Salvador was small, so we had to be the aggressor. The David–Goliath story line drives everything in the media. And why not? People love it when the little guy beats the big guy, even if the big guy is good. Even if the big guy is you. If you ask me now what the whole mess was about down there, I’d be lying if I told you I had a clue. But pretending to care got me a pretty good grade, and taught me that liberal teachers were a soft touch. Expressing your feelings, coming from the nexus of manufactured rage and tolerance—this was the thing that paved a way to academic success. (And later, Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency.)
It was around that time, in high school, that the idea of nuclear disarmament was gaining momentum across the liberal parts of the nation, and especially California. And so I collected signatures for something called “the nuclear freeze.” If you asked me what it was, again, as with most things political, I’d have no clue. You could have convinced me it was something you get off an ice cream truck, or even a Finnish sex act involving a popsicle. I think it actually had something to do with getting a bill passed that would make it illegal to transport nuclear arms on California turf. From a lefty point of view, it’s a perfect cause to get behind: after all it’s based on the simple romantic notion that all weapons are bad, even if those weapons might protect you from bad people who are busy making the very same weapons to kill you with. But by having those evil weapons, that makes you no better than the bad people who want to kill you. To accept this premise, you must ignore the reality around you—i.e., the fact that what kept our enemies at bay was the fear that we would annihilate them. Because of that fear, we never had to actually push a button. Just having the button was enough. It’s like owning a Prius. You don’t have to use it. Just having it is the statement. (But this Prius actually had purpose, for it could protect the Western world.)
Did I believe in the nuclear freeze? No. But I believed in getting extra credit. And that’s what I would be getting if I collected the signatures. My memory is about as clear as bog mud, but I remember that I could boost my grade (taking a B to a B+, for example) for my religion class if I gathered twenty signatures from in front of St. Gregory’s Church on Hacienda Street. You could say I found religion. It helped that I wore a sleeveless half shirt. Like a rat getting its edible pellets, I discovered that fake caring could reap rewards. In this case I’d get a higher GPA, which would ultimately get me into a college, where these liberal assumptions would surely be further reinforced (in my case, Berkeley, home of the Cal Bears and homeless defecators who track their own carbon footprint).
But feeling, instead of thinking, can only get you so far, and sometimes you have to start thinking and abandon feeling. For me, thinking began during a high school debate on nuclear disarmament. I was arguing against mutually assured destruction, again from my heart and not my brain. As I mentioned in my previous book, The Bible of Unspeakable Truths, my opponent surgically destroyed my arguments so convincingly that he did one thing generally impossible to do in an argument—he changed my mind. It was then I realized that while playing the well-meaning tolerant individual (in short: liberal) garnered you fans and grades, it didn’t matter. In my heart and head I was a fraud.
College, for most of us, was nothing if not an instructional guide to the concept of repressive tolerance. I learned early, from high school, that phony outrage about an issue you do not understand is rewarded, but I saw it in full force when expressed by college students, who were really up on the game. Side by side with their instructors, they made the grade by hitting the streets. And later, Kinkos, to print flyers featuring the key word “oppressive,” which could describe their body odor.
At Berkeley, I found myself surrounded by purveyors of repressive tolerance, a group of pointless freaks who might have been the most strident, intolerant automatons I’d ever come across. And it was their tolerance that masked their own fascism—their strident beliefs made opposing beliefs unacceptable. I’ve said it before: The more caring they were on the street, the less they cared at home. Sure, they worried about the dietary deficiencies of Guatemalen water snakes, but they’d never pay their “fair share” for food. They were the worst roommates in the world. If it was their turn to buy toilet paper, you can bet you’d be on the bowl using pages from Mother Jones. (I still use Mother Jones for that. The articles by David Corn tickle.)
It was there, at Cal, that I discovered what I could not tolerate. And that was the loudmouth, ultratolerant, shrieking outrage junkies who demanded I think the same. One night, walking home from the library, I came upon a “march” for God knows what. There were a lot of marches at Berkeley in the eighties, and frankly I lost track of causes. It’s sort of like a giant incubator where parades gestate. If they weren’t about apartheid or homelessness, they were about transgender issues or starving pandas with substance-abuse problems. (I seem to remember Poo-Paw, a panda addicted to crack cocaine who’d fallen on hard times and was now turning tricks in the Chinese province of Gansu. But that’s another story for another time. Please remind me when you see me—it’ll bring a tear to your eye.) But this particular group was very loud, very female, and so very outraged about everything. On the sidewalk I sank into my jacket as I walked with my books (some “borrowed” from the library), while they chanted “No means no, no means no” over and over again. I felt their eyes on me. And sure enough they were. (Then again, I was addicted to cough syrup during that sophomore year, so this could all have been a hallucination. I remember spending most of my nights arguing with a poster of Heather Thomas.)
Now, I get the concept “no means no,” but you’re wasting that precious energy on me. Just to clarify: I’m not a rapist. I’ve never contended that no means, “Sure.” It didn’t matter. I was the target of their raging rage machine and I would have no choice but to take it. My no apparently doesn’t mean no at all. Anyway, they yelled at me, wild-eyed and gesturing, convincing me to avoid eye contact, speed up to a semi-jog, and scamper through a driveway and up the side stairs of the dilapidated fraternity I called home.
It was at this point in my life that I developed a very simple theory, something I call negative identity formation—or NIF for short. Through NIF, I found out who I really was. Through rejection of an abundance of beliefs, discrimination against earnest ideas, and intolerance of those who were trying too hard to be different, I found out that hate isn’t so bad after all.
I mean, without it, where would I be? I would be marching for anything and everything. I’d protest for the sake of protest simply because every issue is the same: just a conduit to express rage as a method to raise my own self-esteem. And so I embraced my own narrow-mindedness, because without it I would have become an amorphous blob, floating through life, incapable of making decisions or even the bed (like most lifelong “activists” who are currently avoided by their relatives). And I realized that by refusing to make concrete, narrowed decisions about your life, you’ll be living on the street in a refrigerator box—which isn’t a bad thing if that street is, say, on sunny College Avenue, where a bum can cultivate a yearlong lustrous tan. But the bottom line, the overarching idea of intolerance—not liking things—actually makes you a better person. You cannot go through life being tolerant of everything, unless you’re Deepak Chopra, who is a living hologram making millions off unhappy people, only to spend it on embarrassing caftans and nervous assistants.
But I want to be clear: Being an intolerant person doesn’t mean you wish to impose your beliefs on others. I can hate people but at the same time be completely fine and even encourage them to live whatever life they lead. Fact is: I don’t care. I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care. When a gay man tweets me, saying, “I’m tired of people judging me on my sexuality,” my feeling is, Then stop tweeting about it. I don’t care if you’re gay. I do care, however, if you’re an idiot. I hate idiots. Gay or straight. But when it comes to lifestyle choices that cause no harm, have at it. Send me pictures. High-def, preferably.
Gay marriage is a perfect example. I don’t believe a human being has a right to tell another human being whom they can love or whom they can marry. At this point you might hear the response, “Well, what’s next? People marrying dogs?” Well, if you wanna go there, sure, marry a dog. Some of these little poodles are kind of hot, in a Nicole Richie sort of way. Just pick up the poop after your spouse and I’m okay. My wife does it for me, and we’re very happy.
But if I’m running a business, I don’t want to pay for your dog’s health insurance, even if he is your spouse. So that’s where my tolerance ends. Same with polygamists. Sure, marry all the women (or men) you want, but if I’m your boss, I ain’t paying all those insurance premiums. I would go bankrupt. So there are limits to tolerance.
Fact is, though I am proudly intolerant, I don’t want to have any part in dictating what people do in their bedrooms, or their lives. But I also don’t want an activist getting in my face (or in my pants), telling me who I should accept or what I shouldn’t. You do no one any favors by screaming at Mormons or Catholics because they think only men and women should marry each other. (How funny is it that gay activists stay away from black churches; it’s the same hypocrisy you see with the animal rights group PETA. They’ll throw paint on a white guy wearing ostrich boots, but they’d never do that to a Native American strangling a bald eagle to make a feather headdress.)
Organized religion has done a lot of great things for society (in some ways, ensuring that it existed), so bear with the parts you find ridiculous. You’re winning that battle anyway. More and more Americans are fine with gay marriage, and I hope in a decade or so I will be able to marry my Pekinese, Captain Furfoot, in a tasteful wedding on the beach. And if you don’t tolerate that, fine—I just don’t want to hear about it. But I swear it’s going to be a great wedding, and I condemn you if you don’t allow me to follow my bliss.
People ask me what I am politically, and I’ve previously offered this equation: I became a conservative by being around liberals. And I became a libertarian by being around conservatives.