Category Archives: Don’t be a jerk

Cautiously optimistic

What can the girl who writes about hate say about hope?

It is relay time, and the baton passes from Ed Blum to Mike Altman to me. Can I just say I am no good at relays?

Yet, the baton in hand came with a challenge, and I cannot back down from one of those. When Mike tagged me, he wrote, “She usually writes about hate but now we’ll see if she’ll write about hope.” In my head, his statement reverberated as I worked through it slowly. She usually writes about hate, which is painfully correct. But now we’ll see if she’ll write about hope, which is the part that troubles me. The juxtaposition between hate and hope makes the chasm between the two emotional states, or perhaps affects, seem wide, gaping and comfortably distant. Hate must be the opposite of hope, the promise, the desire, the wish, the aspirationally positive. Never the two shall meet.

Yet researching and writing about hate convinces me that the chasm is actually a fine-edged crack, like any of the ones my daughter gleefully bounds over and back, over and back. Those marked by hate also hope for their vision of the future, which looks unlike ones we might want to fathom (or perhaps not). Their hope conjures violence and trauma, and only then utopia. Surely, their hope is not the same as ours. Yet, it is. They hope for different outcomes that are positive for them. They also despair in failed hope. Common practices of hope, however, don’t redeem the hurt, the harm, or the despair that follows in the wake of hatred. Hope, however, can be found there.  A person’s vision of hope does not always appear positive or beneficial.

This is not to disparage hope, even I am not that cynical, but to say that the term is employed not always to optimistic ends. Aspirations are never inherently positive. Our hopes can sometimes harm us, as Lauren Berlant cautions in her Cruel Optimism. Sometimes the mere ability to hope saves us even in the face of dire reality or the wearying ordinary. For me, hope is at best ambivalent.

This doesn’t mean that I discard hope nor does it mean that I am mired in pessimism or her scolding twin cynicism. I hope, albeit cautiously. I worry. I despair. But, I am also an optimist. My work, even though  I catalog hate, is born of optimism and the fervent hope that scholarship can help make the world a better place. If we understand how hatred functions, how hope can be a pivot for darker emotions, then maybe we identify the nefarious when it looks harmless.

This seems almost embarrassingly naive even as I type this. My snarkier self rolls her eyes at what Berlant would likely label “stupid optimism.” My optimistic outlook appears half-cocked when contrasted to the complexity of our world, a mere hopeful fantasy of the way the world could work. My hope is that scholars can make a difference, and I am not fatalistic enough to think that our research and our writing doesn’t matter. Yet, my hope endures.

When I write and teach about hatred, when my students see the trauma of ideologies and actions, when I cajole other scholars to take seriously intolerance and violence, when I point out that systematic violence and oppression, I hope that I make a difference, no matter how small. I hope that attention to harm and hate create less of it in the world. I hope my teaching and research help not hinder. I hope because sometimes that is all one can do. Hope endures and sustains, which might be enough.

The baton now goes to:

Per D. Smith, how does hope fit (or not) with irreligion?

Historiann, my favorite blogger, might we problematize hope rhetoric? (Here’s one example).

Karen Cox, what is the character of hope in representations of the South?

Scott Poole, does horror contain hope?

Someone please take that baton.

What to pay attention to on your Thursday…

Before I even begin, I should say I know this poor blog has been stagnating. It has caused me great guilt and pain, but a series of not-so-fortunate events (I’ll discuss this in another post) have somewhat blocked my writing and more importantly taken up my time. Thus, I’m back.

So here are some things to pay attention to while I get back in the swing of blogging:

SPLC Chart of Hate Groups, 2010

1. Hate Groups are on the rise (again!) in the U.S. At the Huffington Post, Brian Levin walks us through the new Southern Poverty Law Center data for 2011. Here’s a sample:

The 2011 figures are the eleventh consecutive annual increase and the highest number since the SPLC began enumerating hate group totals in the 1980s. In 2000 there were just 602 of these groups nationally. While 2011 hate crime numbers are not yet tabulated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the agency counted 6,624 hate crimes in 2010 in the United States, an increase of only 26 from a 14 year low recorded the previous year. A 2010 analysis by the Institute for Homeland Security Solutions found that from 1999-2009 white supremacist and anti-government domestic extremist plots were only surpassed by those undertaken by radical Salafist and al-Qaeda followers during the decade. 

The emphasis is all mine, folks. Interestingly enough, the number of Ku Klux Klan organizations declined while paramilitary and militia groups rose significantly. I want to look at the numbers myself, and I’ll blog about what this means for historians and religious studies scholars a bit later.

2. Historiann weighs in on Rush Limbaugh’s use of “slut” at a private citizen by suggesting he might be a dumba$$. I couldn’t agree more. (On a side note, if you are wondering how to define this term, Mother Jones provides a flowchart with kittens.)

3. At Time, Jessica Winter queries: “Are women people?” This provocative question is her entry point into the increasingly hostile debates over contraception, transvaginal ultrasounds, pregnancy and legislation surrounding all of this. Winter writes:

You see, like most women, I was born with the chromosome abnormality known as “XX,” a deviation of the normative “XY” pattern. Symptoms of XX, which affects slightly more than half of the American population, include breasts, ovaries, a uterus, a menstrual cycle, and the potential to bear and nurse children. Now, many would argue even today that the lack of a Y chromosome should not affect my ability to make informed choices about what health care options and lunchtime cat videos are right for me. But others have posited, with increasing volume and intensity, that XX is a disability, even a roadblock on the evolutionary highway. This debate has reached critical mass, and leaves me uncertain of my legal and moral status. Am I a person? An object? A ward of the state? A “prostitute”? (And if I’m the last of these, where do I drop off my W-2?)

4. Check out John Turner’s review of John Modern’s Secularism in Nineteenth Century America at Religion in American History.  Turner writes:

Modern has written an extended critique of Common Sense philosophy and historians who have embraced it in their analysis of the history of religion in the United States (chapter one contains an extended engagement with Mark Noll). Modern “contends that human agency was an remains an open question … For those living within a secular imaginary, decision about religion were often one’s own, yet the range of available choices had been patterned and shaped by circumstance. Institutions making their invisible demands. Media generating models of particular choices. Machines enabling you to interact with your decisions and those of others. A choice being made before it presents itself as such. Unseen somethings haunting the day.” Toward the end of his book, Modern uses Foucault’s “notion of subjectivization” “to call into question a dominant paradigm of American religious historiography that continues to operate according to the same epistemological and political principles that gave rise to the discipline in the mid-nineteenth century.”