Monday, March 13, 2017

What Is Intersectionality?

Today we have some further thoughts on the Church of the Liberal Pieties and the tyranny of political correctness. Yesterday I presented William Deresiewicz’s arguments that political correctness was a new religion, a form of religion that can be attuned with our secular age. Of course, it is also a radical leftist ideology, one that comes down to us from Marx and Co. Communism has been discredited as a political and economic system, so American students, trying out for the role of biggest dupe, embraced it in the form of this new religion.

Writing in New York Magazine Andrew Sullivan provides a cogent analysis of what happened at Middlebury College when Charles Murray tried to deliver a lecture. I will not burden you with the details of the event. You know them all already. I will also disregard the second half of Sullivan’s essay which amount to a diatribe against our current president. Sullivan is entitled to his opinion. It would be more persuasive if it was more analytical and less  perfervid. I would note, yet again, that this secular religion invaded our lives during the Obama era, before the advent of Trump.

Anyway, Sullivan begins by defining “intersectionality.” Undoubtedly,  you have been craving an explanation of this fad. Here it is:

“Intersectionality” is the latest academic craze sweeping the American academy. On the surface, it’s a recent neo-Marxist theory that argues that social oppression does not simply apply to single categories of identity — such as race, gender, sexual orientation, class, etc. — but to all of them in an interlocking system of hierarchy and power.

True enough, it is a neo-Marxist theory designed to organize a new proletariat out of a grouping of peoples who are supposedly oppressed. In more banal terms it was designed to cobble together a political coalition that could take power through and election and could exercise it through executive fiat and bureaucratic mandate. One notes that, as an electoral strategy, it has failed miserably.

Sullivan continues that this apparently political belief has become a religion. We will forever be grateful to Sullivan for recalling a phrase of George Orwell: intersectionality is a “smelly little orthodoxy:”

It is operating, in Orwell’s words, as a “smelly little orthodoxy,” and it manifests itself, it seems to me, almost as a religion. It posits a classic orthodoxy through which all of human experience is explained — and through which all speech must be filtered. Its version of original sin is the power of some identity groups over others. To overcome this sin, you need first to confess, i.e., “check your privilege,” and subsequently live your life and order your thoughts in a way that keeps this sin at bay. The sin goes so deep into your psyche, especially if you are white or male or straight, that a profound conversion is required.

The evils of white supremacy and white privilege. The need for an emotional cleanse, a few Stalinist self-criticism sessions and a conversion. You have heard it all before. Sullivan adds that the religion lacks salvation:

The only thing this religion lacks, of course, is salvation. Life is simply an interlocking drama of oppression and power and resistance, ending only in death. It’s Marx without the final total liberation.

I suspect that the proponents of this religion have wet dreams about the Heavenly City, the new Jerusalem that will descend upon the earth after the Antichrist is destroyed. Such was the trope during the Enlightenment, and why should it not continue. And yet, the proponents of the new religion do not explicitly suggest as much.

As Deresiewicz suggested, those who disagree with this new orthodoxy are not just wrong, they do not have a different opinion. They are immoral and are complicit with evil. They are an obstacle to the arrival of the New Jerusalem and must be destroyed.

Sullivan writes:

If you happen to see the world in a different way, if you’re a liberal or libertarian or even, gasp, a conservative, if you believe that a university is a place where any idea, however loathsome, can be debated and refuted, you are not just wrong, you are immoral. If you think that arguments and ideas can have a life independent of “white supremacy,” you are complicit in evil. And you are not just complicit, your heresy is a direct threat to others, and therefore needs to be extinguished. You can’t reason with heresy. You have to ban it. It will contaminate others’ souls, and wound them irreparably.

What was supposed to be a protest against Charles Murray was, by Sullivan’s intriguing analysis, a religious ritual, a secular exorcism. Here he sheds some light into the darkness:

And what I saw on the video struck me most as a form of religious ritual — a secular exorcism, if you will — that reaches a frenzied, disturbing catharsis. When Murray starts to speak, the students stand and ritually turn their backs on him in silence. The heretic must not be looked at, let alone engaged. Then they recite a common liturgy in unison from sheets of paper. Here’s how they begin: “This is not respectful discourse, or a debate about free speech. These are not ideas that can be fairly debated, it is not ‘representative’ of the other side to give a platform to such dangerous ideologies. There is not a potential for an equal exchange of ideas.”

As happens with all Western idealists, they are not interested in facts. Or better, they are not interested in facts that might disprove their theories. They believe that belief trumps facts… roughly as the bien- pensant left accepts as an article of faith that your sexual identity is what you believe it is, regardless of your biological makeup. As it happens, Sullivan fails to mention this systematic defiance of science. The enemy of intersectionality is Western empiricism and pragmatism:

They are insisting on the superiority of their orthodoxy to “facts.” They are hostile, like all fundamentalists, to science, because it might counter doctrine. And they shut down the event because intersectionality rejects the entire idea of free debate, science, or truth independent of white male power. At the end of this part of the ceremony, an individual therefore shouts: “Who is the enemy?” And the congregation responds: “White supremacy!”

What is it all about? Sullivan concludes that it’s about expelling the heretic. To use my own analysis, it represents a prelude to the act of destroying the Antichrist:

They then expel the heretic in a unified chant: “Hey hey, ho ho! Charles Murray has got to go.” Then: “Racist, Sexist, Anti-gay. Charles Murray, Go away!” 

Strangely enough, Sullivan continues with his own personal effort to destroy the man he has identified as the Antichrist, Donald Trump-- not through ritual exorcism but through the power of his mighty words.


Sam L. said...

I am entitled to ignore Sullivan's writings, so I avoid intersectionality with them.

trigger warning said...

Personally, I'm more interested in extrasexionality.

Anonymous said...

Tuition and board at Middlebury College costs $61,046 per year. The intersection of education and value is absent.

Ares Olympus said...

This month rejoined a Toastmaster club. I love to explore new topics and share what I learned, but I confess the topic Intersectionality is either uninspiring or incompehensible to me.

Tonight I did give a speech on the book "The Four Agreements", like this summary website.

The book author Don Miquel Ruiz and website author Gary van Warmerdam talk about self-mastery and becoming "spiritual warriors". I imagine any religious tradition could find some common ground with the four agreements, and in general they seem useful for anyone aspiring to leadership especially.

Like the second one seems most challenging.
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally - Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

Social justice is especially troublesome because it says not only to take your own "oppression" personally, but you must find solidarity with everyone else who is oppressed, and take their oppression personally. So clearly Ruiz is suggesting against this approach to life, and showing this stance itself brings needless suffering.

The way I explained in my speech, I said if someone hits you in the face, you certainly have a right to take that personally, and you must take some defensive measures at least. And maybe you did something that triggered their aggression, but its also helpful, to also accept that aggression existed before you did anything, you actually don't exist to the other person as a person, rather your represent someone from their past, or whatever.

And so you have a choice to take it personally and react in anger, or you can assess your ability to defend yourself without reacting to it with your own aggression. If you want to experience self-mastery, you're better off slowing down the situation, until you can react dispassionately.

And if your anger gets a better of you, you'll know that you've been corrupted, and can't safely be an instrument of truth or justice, like this Japanese Samurai story suggests.
A samurai warrior once was charged with avenging a noble's death at the hands of a rival warlord. He trained for four years, studied the warlord's habits, and planned his attack. When the day came, he stealthily approached the warlord when he was alone, and cornered him. The samurai held his katana aloft, poised to strike the final blow, when the warlord, utterly defeated, spit in the face of the samurai. The samurai sheathed his sword and walked away, rather than kill the warlord out of anger.

It's a fun story because a clever person might think the moral is to try to provoke the samurai to rage, but of course that escape only works the first time.

So clearly ancient warriors have a higher emotional intelligence than modern social justice ones.