Politics & Policy

Sanitized Society Puts Hygiene Hypothesis to the Test

Students rally at Fordham University in 2012.
If you think of bigotry as a germ, we live in an amazingly sanitary environment.

Is the American body politic suffering from an autoimmune disease?

The “hygiene hypothesis” is the scientific theory that the rise in asthma and other autoimmune maladies stems from the fact that babies are born into environments that are too clean. Our immune systems need to be properly educated by being exposed early to germs, dirt, whatever. When you consider that for most of human evolutionary history, we were born under shady trees or, if we were lucky, in caves or huts, you can understand how unnatural Lysol-soaked hospitals and microbially baby-proofed homes are. The point is that growing up in a sanitary environment might cause our immune systems to freak out about things that under normal circumstances we’d just shrug off.

Hence, goes the theory, the explosion in asthma rates in the industrialized world, the rise in peanut and wheat allergies and, quite possibly, the spike in autism rates. There’s also a puzzling explosion in autoimmune diseases. That’s where the body attacks healthy organs or tissues as if they were deadly invaders.

Which brings me to my point. If you think of bigotry as a germ or some other infectious disease vector, we live in an amazingly sanitized society. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist, of course. And we can all debate how prevalent it is later.

My point is that the institutions — the organs of the body politic — that are the most obsessed with eradicating bigotry (as liberals define it) tend to be the places that have to worry about it the least. The Democratic party is consumed with institutionalized angst about prejudice, intolerance, and bigotry in America. But the odds are that relatively few of these people (particularly those under the age of 50) have been exposed to much real racism or intolerance.

The same goes for the mainstream media. In fact, many major media outlets have explicit policies dedicated to hiring and promoting minorities, women, gays, etc. Like the Democratic party, some have very strict hiring quotas in this regard. The well-paid executives and managers of these institutions come from social backgrounds where the tolerance for anything smacking of overt bigotry is not just zero, but in the negative range; they bend over backwards to celebrate members of the officially recognized coalition of the oppressed. (Of course, this coalition doesn’t include traditional-minded Christians, but that’s a subject for another column.)

The overwhelming majority of the people running these institutions come from an educational system that devotes vast resources to fighting bigotry and teaching American history as a story of overcoming prejudice.  

College campuses in particular are in a perpetual state of panic that rabid bigotry may break out at any moment. Indeed, you can pretty much major in bigotry panic at most top colleges and universities.

In March, Oberlin College staged the PC version of a Cold War–era duck-and-cover drill because a witness claimed to have seen a Ku Klux Klansmen near the school’s Afrikan Heritage House.

The president and his team of deans issued an emergency communiqué to the whole campus. Classes were canceled, effective immediately. Instead, a noontime “teach-in” led by the Africana Studies Department was convened. That was followed at 2 p.m. by an all-campus “demonstration of solidarity.” And on the off chance even more solidarity was needed, a “We Stand Together” community convocation was scheduled for 3:30. 

Campus police later concluded that the robed and hooded “Klansman” was most likely a woman police found walking around campus while wrapped in a blanket. The witness was a half-mile away, and her first thought at seeing a figure wrapped in white cloth was, “The Klan is here!” And everyone thought that made sense.

Oberlin’s defenders insist the campus was already at DefCon 1 because a rash of racist graffiti had been plaguing the campus. As with many similar cases, there are reasons to believe the graffiti was itself an idiotic response to the Orwellian political correctness at the school rather than a reflection of old-timey racism at a left-wing college with a rich and honorable abolitionist history.

Just this week, police issued a citation to a liberal activist at the University of Wyoming for faking a rape threat from a fictional angry, sexist Republican on a campus Facebook forum.

Such hoaxes are commonplace on America’s most liberal campuses. Why? Perhaps because students, faculty, and — most damningly — administrators have fostered a climate of delusion and paranoia that constantly generates fresh excuses for the self-appointed antibodies to justify their attacks on a remarkably healthy society.

— Jonah Goldberg is the author of The Tyranny of Clichés. You can write to him at goldbergcolumn@gmail.com, or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

 

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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