Jonah Goldberg

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 fighting bigotry and teaching American history as a story of overcoming prejudice.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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