The Cult of Intersectionality

In a previous posting, I hinted that activism is prone to developing into a secular cult:

In summary, I am proposing that activists are predisposed to radicalization.   One causal factor behind this radicalization is manner in which activists tend to retreat into a “safe space” where they surround themselves with people who think like they do.  Within these “safe spaces,” radicalization is engendered through intellectual inbreeding among members of the in-group, then defended and sustained using the out-group as scapegoats and threats.

If you think about it some more, activists are quite similar to cultists.

And in another posting, I noted:

I haven’t given this topic a lot of consideration, but the correlation between secularism and mental illness does seem worthy of further examination.  What’s more, does the social justice perspective represent a substitute for religion and functions as a way for millennials to find ” a meaningful philosophy of life?”  And if so, does this social justice “religion” actually help or make things worse?

 

Andrew Sullivan recently supported this hypothesis through his analysis of the social justice activists who protested and shut down a speech at Middlebury College.  Sullivan argues that Intersectionality is a religion.  What struck me about Sullivan’s article is that he noticed what I noticed when watching the video of the intersectionality  protesters: they behaved very much like cultists (I’ll put the video at the end of this posting).

Sullivan describes them as follows:

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.

[….]

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!”

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!” Murray’s old work on IQ demonstrates no meaningful difference between men and women, and Murray has long supported marriage equality. He passionately opposes eugenics. He’s a libertarian. But none of that matters. Intersectionality, remember? If you’re deemed a sinner on one count, you are a sinner on them all. If you think that race may be both a social construction and related to genetics, your claim to science is just another form of oppression. It is indeed hate speech. At a later moment, the students start clapping in unison, and you can feel the hysteria rising, as the chants grow louder. “Your message is hatred. We will not tolerate it!” The final climactic chant is “Shut it down! Shut it down!” It feels like something out of The Crucible. Most of the students have never read a word of Murray’s — and many professors who supported the shutdown admitted as much. But the intersectional zeal is so great he must be banished — even to the point of physical violence.

Like cultists, the demonstrators clearly demonstrate a hive mindset that was obviously generated through indoctrination.  In fact, they are so deeply indoctrinated that they work themselves into a religious frenzy with the messages of their own chants (as the speaker says nothing). .

Sullivan also makes some good observations.

“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. At least, that’s my best attempt to define it briefly. But watching that video helps show how an otherwise challenging social theory can often operate in practice.

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.

Like the Puritanism once familiar in New England, intersectionality controls language and the very terms of discourse. It enforces manners. It has an idea of virtue — and is obsessed with upholding it. The saints are the most oppressed who nonetheless resist. The sinners are categorized in various ascending categories of demographic damnation, like something out of Dante. 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.

It operates as a religion in one other critical dimension: 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.

I’ll try to expand on all this shortly (I’m too tired tonight as I don’t live the leisure lifestyle of an activist).

Here’s the video.  The ritual begins around 19:00

 

 

 

 

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12 Responses to The Cult of Intersectionality

  1. FZM says:

    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.

    Sullivan’s article is very interesting. I think it is interesting that to judge by the description of the Charles Murray event when it ‘goes practical’ intersectionality manifests features of some other Marxist inspired political movements.

    Further on in the article he also writes:

    “Science has always been used to legitimize racism, sexism, classism, transphobia, ableism, and homophobia, all veiled as rational and fact, and supported by the government and state. In this world today, there is little that is true ‘fact.’”… And they shut down the event because intersectionality rejects the entire idea of free debate, science, or truth independent of white male power.

    This could be the influence of spending too long thinking about the Atheism/Theism debates and New Atheism but I’m guessing that intersectionality itself counts as ‘true fact’ otherwise why should someone believe in it and assent to its claims? How do the supporters of intersectionality demonstrate that it is grounded in ‘true facts’? (If they bother with that.)

    If strong arguments on these points are lacking it looks like the main argument in its favour against alternative views would be the activism of those who believe in it and their willingness to try to impose it via their activism.

    And oddly I think you could make a case for this kind of variation on the students script:

    ‘Monopolistic Marxist political/social theories whose stated goal is bringing an end to oppression have been used to legitimize racism, sexism, classism, transphobia, ableism, and homophobia, all veiled as rational and fact, and supported by the government and state.’

  2. TFBW says:

    @FZM: watch the video and listen to that crowd repeat their solicitation/response, “Who is the enemy? / White supremacy!”, over and over again (22:27 — 23:10), and see if you still feel like asking your question about reasoned demonstrations and strong arguments.

  3. TFBW says:

    I should add that the ~40 second excerpt I cited is just the first time they repeat that particular chant over and over. They cycle though a list of chants for a good quarter of an hour, so each chant gets more than one airing. One chant for forty seconds ought to get the idea across, though — and YouTube maxes out at x2 speed playback.

  4. Dhay says:

    Parts of Andrew Sullivan’s article sounded familiar, which I found was because Lauren Nelson – “advocate and aspiring ally focused on intersectional justice” – had written on it, in “No, Andrew Sullivan, Intersectionality is Not a Religion”, for the Friendly Atheist blog.

    There you’ll find her intersectional justice advocate’s insider description of what intersectional justice is about; here’s the potted version:

    Intersectionality calls on us to acknowledge those [exampled] differences and work together to combat all forms of discrimination, as it’s the best chance we’ve got at stopping any of it. It’s also just a more compassionate way to live your life … … the idea behind it is no more complicated than having some empathy for people whose struggles we may not have experienced ourselves.”

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2017/03/14/no-andrew-sullivan-intersectionality-is-not-a-religion/

    Nothing to complain against thus far; but you’ll also find the claim that:

    … what happened at Middlebury College was not the result of intersectional advocates or even progressive protesters. The acts (which have been grossly overstated) were a result of a protest movement known as “antifa” which is short for anti-fascist. I’m not even going to get into a conversation about whether or not antifa resistance is merited at this juncture in history, but suffice it to say that they are not representative of most intersectional advocates.

    (There’s a link in the original of that quote to an article on the middbeat Middlebury students’ website, the content of which indicates to me that Nelson here refers to the violence outside rather than to the protest inside. Have fun reading it and in decoding the hypocritical spin that swaps aggressors and victims.

    http://www.middbeat.org/2017/03/04/middlebury-students-college-administrator-and-staff-assault-students-endanger-lives-after-murray-protest/)

    How Nelson knows that those outside (but not those inside?) were anti-fascists is not something she shares with her readers, it’s left an unsupported assertion with no source attributed. I am left wondering whether this claim is factual, is fake news, or is wishful thinking. Ditto her claim that those outside were not representative of most intersectional advocates.

    She doesn’t actually claim that those inside weren’t representative of most intersectional advocates. Indeed, in the closing paragraphs, right after telling her readers …

    Sullivan, it should be noted, has been a longtime advocate for civil rights, racial justice, and LGBT equality. He also, as editor of The New Republic, dedicated a highly controversial issue of the magazine [in 1994] to [Charles] Murray’s book The Bell Curve. He has long said he wants to debate ideas out in the open, which sounds like a worthy goal, …

    … right after telling us there how Sullivan has been a strong intersectional justice advocate for decades, and had brought attention to Murray’s views in order to challenge them – Wikipedia, linked by Nelson, says “The [1994] article, which contended that “African Americans score differently from whites on standardized tests of cognitive ability” proved to be very controversial; it was published in a special issue with many responses and critiques” [My emphasis] – she then continues:

    … which sounds like a worthy goal, but to what end when one side of the argument is so beyond the pale?

    Which on either a historically informed understanding of “beyond the Pale” or the modern vernacular meaning of “unacceptable”, leaves me in no serious doubt that those inside were indeed representative of Nelson herself; hence if Nelson is representative of intersectional advocates, those inside were representative of intersectional advocates.

    Finally, it seems very incongruous that such a veteran and socially engaged intersectional justice advocate as on Nelson’s own report Sullivan evidently is should be lectured and patronised by Nelson – in her concluding, ‘last word’ paragraph – regarding what intersectionality is: “… intersectionality is … an empathetic approach to living. Sullivan could learn a thing or two from it.”

    Go on, teach Granny to suck eggs.

  5. TFBW says:

    @Dhay: Any time an atheist’s activities are compared to a religion, you can always count on them to produce the “it’s not a religion because it doesn’t have gods” get-out-of-jail-free card and otherwise gerrymander the definition of religion around that which they actually do, no matter how many other similarities are in plain view. It’s odd how folks who routinely blame religion for all of society’s ills can’t even agree on what religion is.

    In relation to Nelson’s article as a whole, it seems to me that she’s giving Sullivan a clear warning that he’s in danger of being on the wrong side of history here. It’s not so much a lesson in how to suck eggs as a shot across the bow.

    It’s also staggering that these folks are not united by anything at all: they profess a common love of science, a common liberal slant, a common hatred of religion, and a common hatred of Trump, and yet they hiss at each other like angry cats.

  6. Dhay says:

    I linked above to a protester’s account of the Middlebury protest, a protester enthusiastic enough to be there for the violence outside and embedded enough with those protesters outside to be able to relate in paraphrase their words in “correction” of accounts that portrayed them as intentionally and actually violent.

    I found, and in balance link to, Charles Murray’s own account:

    http://europe.newsweek.com/charles-murray-my-free-speech-ordeal-middlebury-564419

  7. TFBW says:

    That article is worth reading, so here’s a link to the original version (on a site with no obnoxious page-cluttering ads):

    https://www.aei.org/publication/reflections-on-the-revolution-in-middlebury/

    For the impatient, here’s the part I thought was most relevant.

    … for the first time in my experience, the protesters would not accept any time limits. If this becomes the new normal, the number of colleges willing to let themselves in for an experience like Middlebury’s will plunge to near zero. Academia is already largely sequestered in an ideological bubble, but at least it’s translucent. That bubble will become opaque.

    Worse yet, the intellectual thugs will take over many campuses. In the mid-1990s, I could count on students who had wanted to listen to start yelling at the protesters after a certain point, “Sit down and shut up, we want to hear what he has to say.” That kind of pushback had an effect. It reminded the protesters that they were a minority. I am assured by people at Middlebury that their protesters are a minority as well. But they are a minority that has intimidated the majority. The people in the audience who wanted to hear me speak were completely cowed. That cannot be allowed to stand. A campus where a majority of students are fearful to speak openly because they know a minority will jump on them is no longer an intellectually free campus in any meaningful sense.

  8. Dhay says:

    Thanks. I’ll just add a further comment, based on the newsreel article annoyingly playing on my original link. It shows (starting at 01:50) a White male student being accosted (verbally and physically) by a Black female student because he has dreadlocks; and according to her, apparently, this is cultural appropriation — he’s not allowed dreadlocks because he’s not black; he reasons, and seeks to get away, she pulls.

    What’s the sub-text here? That the races and cultures must not be allowed to merge? (Isn’t that stereotypically Alt-Right?) That there are and must continue to be separate Black and White races?

    Where does it end? If I have a Black and a White parent, am I allowed both cultures or denied both? Can I wear dreadlocks if I have a Black great-great-grandmother? Or not? I’m sure some of everybody’s — whoever they are — now somewhat distant ancestors were African.

    To my mind, it quickly becomes absurd.

  9. TFBW says:

    @Dhay:

    What’s the sub-text here? That the races and cultures must not be allowed to merge? (Isn’t that stereotypically Alt-Right?) That there are and must continue to be separate Black and White races?

    As I see it, the far left has a certain symmetry with the far right in this regard. The right is noted for its superiority complex (e.g. white supremacy), whereas the left is noted for victimhood as virtue. The right wants a “them” over which to lord their superiority; the left wants a “them” to exist in a perpetual state of self-loathing, grovelling, deferential apology for all the oppression and hate of which they are guilty. Neither is interested in true universal equality or tolerance or anything else which erodes the distinction between “us” and “them”.

  10. TFBW says:

    A further thought on my comment above: it seems that both extremes of the spectrum also desire controlling power over others. It is not enough for either to live and let live: the other must be subjugated. One extreme sees their power as the simple product of personal strength; the other sees it as their just entitlement for grievances suffered. The latter is a complex self-contradiction, in that it tends to embody every vice it professes to oppose — e.g. bigotry in the name of anti-bigotry; hate in the name of anti-hate, intolerance in the name of tolerance, etc. The former, ugly as it is, has the virtue of actually being what it claims to be: when they hate, they don’t pretend they’re not hating.

  11. FZM says:

    TFBW,

    The latter is a complex self-contradiction, in that it tends to embody every vice it professes to oppose — e.g. bigotry in the name of anti-bigotry; hate in the name of anti-hate, intolerance in the name of tolerance, etc. The former, ugly as it is, has the virtue of actually being what it claims to be: when they hate, they don’t pretend they’re not hating.

    I think this is quite a prominent feature of earlier far left ideologies, the Social Justice movement seems to be re-manifesting some similar tendencies. In theory I would expect it to be harder for them to gain traction, given what can now be known about the differences between far left ideology and discourse and the activities of the far left when actually in power. However, I have a feeling that in a Western context at least more academic interest has been focused on studying the far right and far right regimes, their ideology, propaganda, methods of social control than looking at those of the far left.

    There seems to be some kind of tendency to accept that the problems say, the Soviet regime, Mao’s rule in China etc. were just due to ‘rightist’ ideological deviations for which individuals were responsible or the sabotage of the political system by their enemies, rather than any deeper problems with the ideologies themselves.

  12. Dhay says:

    My thanks to Greg Mayer, guest posting at Jerry Coyne’s blog in an 03 April 2017 article entitled “Andrew Sullivan on “intersectionality”” …

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2017/04/03/andrew-sullivan-on-intersectionality/

    … for bringing to my attention (along with other articles on the theme) a The Daily Beast article by John entitled “Antiracism, Our Flawed New Religion: Opposition to racism used to be a political stance. Now it has every marking of a religion, with both good and deleterious effects on American society” about SJW activism being cult-like; as you will already have gathered, the article deals with SJW anti-racism, but I have no doubt a whole raft of individual and intersectional anti-‘s could be substituted for anti-racism.

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/07/27/antiracism-our-flawed-new-religion.html

    Substituted with anything that requires us to bow our heads in penitence and confess our original sin of white male (and WEIRD etc etc) privilege.

    Antiracism parallels religion in a number of ways, says McWhorter.

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