Is Conflation a Disease?

Andrew Sullivan thinks intersection is a religion. I think he’s a con(flation) artist.

“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.

The paragraphs above come from a new article in which Sullivan posits that intersectionality, the idea that the effects of oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and so they need to be taken into consideration collectively to be better understood, has somehow nearly become a religion. Or it has become a religion that’s just lacking an important component.

Sullivan uses anecdotes and artifice to patch together a masterpiece of con(flation). The violent and dangerous acts of the few are ascribed to a larger group that is somehow made to represent an idea. How do people get paid to write this stuff?

(Note to self: It’s time to get compromising photos of editors from publications I want to someday write for.)

Here’s one of Sullivan’s wackier bits on religion.

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. (emphasis mine)

If he stands on a soapbox and recites this with enough conviction, surely the Church of Anti-intersectionality can be willed into existence. To paraphrase, “Students stood up and turned to face the audience and read a prepared statement together.” But why stop where Sullivan did? Couldn’t they have seemed to have been in a trance, or at least to have been a chorus? But if he really thought they were engaged in self-edification, why not call it a homily?

Sullivan then goes on to defend Murray’s right to a platform. Murray does not have a right to a platform. I do not have a right to a platform. You do not have a right to a platform. NO ONE has a right to a platform. The right to free speech does not guarantee the right to a platform. These are two very distinct things which we need to stop con(flating) and we also need to call out those who do it.

“We … cannot engage fully with Charles Murray, while he is known for readily quoting himself. Because of that, we see this talk as hate speech.” They know this before a single word of the speech has been spoken.

What the protestors do have is a body of evidence that spans decades. The Bell Curve was published in 1994, so he’s had a chance to stake out his beliefs. If he wants to turn over a new leaf, he’s welcome to do so, but he doesn’t need a platform to do so, and he’s had ten days to get the word out via other forums if that was his goal. But I don’t think I’ll hold my breath waiting for the “Hey, guys, I was wrong about the Bell Curve,” speech.

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.

This is more misdirection. Being fed “tough questions” by a member of the faculty that invited you is not a debate. I have my doubts about the idea that no topic should be avoided at debates (this is an opinion, so we’re all free to vehemently disagree), but I’m certain there are plenty of topics and speakers that are not deserving of platforms. If you want to preach or otherwise support hate, there are plenty of outposts on the web that will give your ideas shelter.

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.

Hyperbole much?

Illustration for Paradiso (of The Divine Comedy) by Paul Gustave Louis Christophe Doré