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Outlook 8/7/00

By John Leo


When rules don't count
Double standards are no accident; they arise from a theory

I made a mistake of sorts in my recent column on double standards: I ran out of space before I could bring up the name of Herbert Marcuse. If a National Museum of Double Standards is ever built, we should name it for Marcuse and put a huge statue of him on the roof. Maybe he should be shown holding up two fingers, one for each standard.

Marcuse was a fashionable radical intellectual of the 1960s who believed that tolerance and free speech mostly serve the interests of the powerful. So he called frankly for "intolerance against movements from the right, and toleration of movements from the left." To restore the balance between oppressors and oppressed, he argued, indoctrination of students and "deeply pervasive" censorship of oppressors would be necessary, starting in college.

By the late 1980s, many of the double standards Marcuse called for were in place. Marcuse's candor was missing, of course, but everyone on campus understood that speakers, student newspapers, and professors on the right could (or should) be treated differently from those on the left. The officially oppressed knew that they were not subject to the standards and rules set for other students.

Marcuse's thinking influenced a generation of radical scholars who in turn deeply influenced the colleges and the law schools. They include Mari Matsuda, Richard Delgado, and the dread Catharine MacKinnon, who more or less invented hostile-environment theory and sexual harassment doctrine all by herself. Matsuda, who calls for censorship and speech restrictions for the powerful, sits on the National Advisory Council of the American Civil Liberties Union–one indication of how respectable double standards have come to be among the chattering classes.

Double standards are all around us now:

Endless restrictions on abortion protesters that would never be applied to other demonstrators.

The belief that all-black college dorms are progressive but all-white ones are racist.

Explanations that the killing of whales is a universal social horror, except when conducted by the oppressed (American Indians).

A quarter century of feminist yawning over feminist Mary Daly's ban on males in her Boston College classes, though a male professor who tried to bar females would have been hammered into submission in one day.

A reader sent in his favorite double standard: For the left, it's wrong to try to change homosexuals' behavior–their choice or orientation must be respected and left alone. But this no-change policy does not apply to boys in general. It's OK to view their boisterous behavior as a social problem to be solved.

We have reached the point where the public understands and resents the flood of double standards but hasn't found a way to speak out. Bryant Gumbel's recent adventure with naughty words, for instance, passed without much comment. After interviewing a man from the Family Research Council on the CBS Early Show, Gumbel mouthed the words, "What a - - - - ing idiot!" A prominent TV executive, not known as a conservative, told me: "Can you imagine if a conservative had done that on national TV? He would have been fired in two minutes."

Another example is the new movie Chuck and Buck, a sympathetic portrait of a creepy homosexual stalking a heterosexual male. New Yorker film critic David Denby wrote: "If the movie were about a hetero man pursuing a woman . . . wouldn't it be seen as an obnoxious brief for harassment?" Of course.

Hate-crime legislation is the classic example of the double-standard mind-set, offering different punishments for similar crimes committed against oppressors and oppressed. Yes, the laws are written so that the oppressed can get extra jail time too, but that rarely happens. Clarence Page, the columnist, recently wrote that foot-dragging by police and the news media on antiwhite violence is endangering hate-crime laws. Maybe so. But police, prosecutors, and the press downplay minority hate crimes because they understand what the law is meant to accomplish–benefiting members of minorities, not putting more of them in jail.

A lot of readers chided me after my recent column for picking examples only on the left. Fair enough. Many conservatives who say they believe in family unification opposed the return of Elián González to his father. And states-rights conservatives are forever calling for federal laws that override states rights. Hypocrisy can be found everywhere on the political spectrum. But the left has a special problem: It has a Marcusian philosophy of double standards hovering over its social programs and the judgments of its people in the news media.

Double standards, inevitably, erode honesty. The Marcusians at colleges can't say to parents, "Thanks for the $20,000. By the way, we've politicized the university, and we're going to indoctrinate your children and treat whites as oppressors." The program has to be cloaked in concern about hate speech and diversity. Intolerance poses as tolerance, and the double-entry bookkeeping leads to deception. It's all a house of cards, bound to collapse sooner or later. Sooner would be better.



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