Features, Politics

The Brains Trust of Intersectionality

Munroe Bergdorf, a trailblazing transgender model was sacked from L’Oréal after she tried to defend her comment that all white people are racist. In a bizarre rant, she further stated that Western society as a whole is a system rooted in structural racism and white supremacy, and tied herself in proverbial knots, defending the claim that even Heather Heyer (the woman recently murdered protesting racism in Charlottesville) is in fact also a white supremacist. In a simultaneous case, the UK’s Channel 4 interviewed someone, who declares herself an “Islamist anti-colonial feminist” named Nadia Chan. The trouble was, she is also a virulent racist and anti-Semite. In a now deleted segment, which caused heavy backlash as soon as it came out, Nadia said, that Muslims like London mayor Sadiq Khan were equivalent to traitors. When asked, if she would be okay with more Muslim representation she replied she wouldn’t be, as that would mean diluting her identity to appease the British public, her identity, in this case, meaning her religion.

Nadia Chan

These might be two separate and superficially different incidents, but they are qualitatively very similar and underline the same cultural tensions that lead to these scenarios. For all their faults, Nadia and Munroe were being absolutely honest about their convictions, in the sense they were espousing the same subversive thoughts they grew up with and which reflect the cultural forces that influence who they are. They are both nominally British. But they refuse to identify with the land, values or culture they were born into, and actively resist assimilation. Nor do they share any fellow feelings, affection or solidarity, with their countrymen, and possibly, nor will they ever.

That is not to say, they are actively looking to migrate to utopian lands where they can live their dream lives. In what now seems like a social law, the people who are most critical of the West as an entity, usually prefer to live nowhere other than the West, even when given the choice to migrate. Nor is it that they are representative of the thousands of other LGBT and sexual and racial minorities who live and work in the UK and Europe, including Hindus, Sikhs, or Buddhists. It hardly needs mentioning as it is so obvious, that LGBT people officially still enjoy more rights and freedoms inside the West than they do outside. Munroe’s rise to her place of prominence in the public eye and with L’Oreal is a testimony to that fact. Likewise, Nadia can proudly spout her frankly racist and anti-Semitic hatred against any and every one she hates, because of the freedom of speech she currently enjoys in the West. (Somewhat ironically this is not the case for women in the Islamic countries she wishes the West would emulate.)

But the commonality of these two situations lies in the rhetoric. From Linda Sarsour to Chelsea Manning, Melissa Click to Bahar Mustafa, this is the rhetoric of Intersectionality. There are a group of people, who will always look for and try to subvert the very system which gives them the platform and the life they enjoy. The words used by both Nadia and Munroe are the words of post-modernist critical theories, found in every Western university in the taxpayer funded departments of Gender Studies or Peace and Conflict studies, for example. Nor is it a scenario which is solely British. One can remember Rutgers Professor Kevin Allred, or self-declared communist Drexel professor George Ciccariello-Maher.  Not to mention the 12 out of 13 academics who signed the letter de-platforming Milo in Berkeley, who were from Critical theory, Gender studies and a Post-Colonial/Postmodernist/Marxist backgrounds.

All these disciplines, starting in the 1970s are offshoots of the post-modernism and the Euro-Marxist Frankfurt school, which question the fundamental assertion of scholarship—that activism and bias should not be substitutes for scientific enquiry. The language that emanates from people like Munroe, or Nadia is simply the logical endgame of a school of philosophy which, regardless of the problem it seeks to answer, has found the same answer, and the answer is that everything is the fault of the racist, capitalist, patriarchal West. Everything in the world is a problem caused by (choose for yourself) or a combination thereof, of Western colonialism, capitalism, racial supremacy, or even worse, Zionism.

This section of academia, and the corner of Western society it poisons, thrives on such mono-dimensional research, spun by self-referential journals, and further research, which acts more as propaganda than logical nuanced enquiry. None of the claims or assertions are usually corroborated with scientific methodology. Activism usually isn’t grounded in tried and tested scholarly principles. Articles and analysis based on such research are actively cited by parts of media, social media and the blogosphere, which are again manned by writers, media personalities and bloggers, who are the products of the same education system. Finally, these disciplines act as a societal echo chamber, which keeps on repeating the same rhetoric argumentum ad nauseam, until it becomes an accepted truth. The original Frankfurt School of thought realised that the Proletarian revolution is unlikely in the West, and therefore subversion is the only alternate way of bringing about the desired social engineering. These are the same corners of Western academia, where such ideology gives rise to conspiracy theories about the Iraq war, or 9/11 being an inside job; ideas which are now proliferating into society, the ramifications of which we are now observing around us.

Nadia and Munroe only reflect the mainstreaming of a subversive ideology that seeks to undermine the West. One can theoretically co-exist with people holding diverse and opposing viewpoints—but in the battle of ideas it is unwise to accept a creed which is designed to subvert, dominate or destroy the very social contract that forms the building blocks of a tolerant and multicultural society.

Filed under: Features, Politics

by

Sumantra Maitra is Doctoral Researcher on Great power politics and Neo-Realism, with a special focus on Russia at the University of Nottingham, UK. He writes for War on the Rocks, The National Interest, and is a regular analyst for The Centre for Land Warfare Studies, India. He holds a Masters of Journalism and Mass Communication, and a Masters of International Studies, both with distinctions.

24 Comments

  1. Conrad says

    Intersectionality, identity politics, and postmodern critical theory are certainly worthy of sustained criticism. But Quillette is rapidly losing credibility by publishing pieces that rail from a position of ignorance against a poorly defined “section of academia” without evincing any familiarity with the intellectual traditions being criticized.

    For example: “The original Frankfurt School of thought realised that the Proletarian revolution is unlikely in the West, and therefore subversion is the only alternate way of bringing about the desired social engineering.” This simply doesn’t reflect any good faith attempt to research the actual history of the school of philosophy you are trying to criticize. Adorno himself was considered an ineffectual snob by the 60s leftist because he was opposed to students’ distruptive protests. He actually retired from teaching after becoming a target of student demonstrations and nascent identity politicking at his university.

    It’s high time for the arts and humanities to free themselves from the increasing sophistry and irrelevance of the past 50 years. But that can only happen with a critical and well researched inquiry into how and why things have gotten to this point, not with poorly argued knee-jerk polemics.

    • //// But that can only happen with a critical and well researched inquiry into how and why things have gotten to this point ////

      I believe that the information you are looking for exists in any number of essays and books by Leo Strauss and various students of his.

    • Michael W Towns says

      I didn’t find the piece to be “poorly argued knee-jerk polemics.” It was actually quite restrained.

    • I echo Conrad.

      While I am sympathetic to the view it presents (albeit in a far more nuanced form), this is a poorly researched, poorly reasoned and poorly written piece.

      I’ve had this experience a number of times now. I’m starting to wonder how many more articles I’ll read on Quillette.

  2. Conrad, I don’t agree. What we see with this mainstreaming of criticism of post modernism, intersectionalism etc is the boiling down of a scholarly critique into the sort of useable political tool which is needed to counter the boiled down slogans of the intersectionalists.

    Sure, a slogan is a fragile thing in one way – it is simplified. a scholar can argue it down. But that just means we need better, more robust slogans, and a better toolkit.

    The Left has its slogans. We need slogans as well. The turning of public opinion needs soundbites. Sorry but that’s how it is. You may hate, say, Paul Joseph Watson for playing fast and loose with accuracy, but as a blunt rhetorical instrument he is, on his day, unbeatable.

  3. Mark Fargo says

    @chris

    I agree. Short of having a slogan, I refer to things like intersectionality as narratives and then describe other narrative that people can have as well. If I’m in a mood, I refer to patriarchy as a conspiracy theory. That typical strikes very close to home for some people.

  4. Conrad says

    I’m amused to hear that Strauss and Bloom (assuming he’s the student you referred to) were able to criticize intersectionality, an intellectual fad that became popular after they were both dead.

    If the goal is to dismantle shoddy liberal dogma and restore actual critical thinking in American universities we can do better than to engage in shoddy slogan coining (by lumping together thinkers who are separated by more than half a century and themselves held widely different views).

    Besides, the general public already has a sense that a lot of what happens in the arts and humanities is junk. This was obvious to people from back in the 90s at least; clearly awareness alone will not fix the problem. Reforms will most likely be economic in nature, e.g. competition from cheaper online colleges and universities where intellectual rigor and viewpoint diversity are key values.

    • Victoria says

      Well, Conrad, your smugness seems to be getting in the way of the very critical thought you claim to share a mutual interest in bolstering.

      It’s true that Intersectionality per se post dates Strauss. Of course you are ignoring that its visibility and currency makes “intersectionality” a metonym for the wider historical tradition of anti-rational thought going back to the counter-Enlightenment. The lack of a suitable, widely-understood term actual has a powerful effect in evading criticism.

      In any case Strauss, among others, certainly engaged the relativism that lies at the heart of intellectual thought opposed to reason.

      • DiscoveredJoys says

        The lack of a suitable, widely-understood term actual has a powerful effect in evading criticism of anti-rational thought… neo-Astrology?

  5. The general public needs more than a “sense” that it’s junk. They also have a sense that it might be benign foolishness, or in its own way rigorous or creative or truth seeking.

    What they need is the satirists and the polemicists to describe it in such a way as to change those senses into active opposition. Not to dismantle, but to shatter.

    (Bloom may have preceded intersectionality, which is a kind of tactical add-on to identity politics, but he was well aware of its ingredients)

  6. It wouldn’t surprise me if Nadia Chan and many other leading online activists like her have significant mental health and painful personal history issues that play into their rhetoric. Their ideological stances seem to develop as a sort of intellectual scar tissue around deep personal wounds and issues. This has certainly been my experience of certain smart but deeply wounded or unbalanced people with similar positions as I have observed them close up. To counter the ideologies, you have to address the woundedness.

    • Jeremy H says

      As an armchair psychologist I’ll give it a stab: she suffers from a rift between her unconscious and conscious personalities in that unconsciously she is (and knows she is) purely Western in identity, attitude, and lifestyle, but consciously she rebels against this and desperately seeks to see herself as belonging to some “other” more noble (and less “guilty”) group of people. Western culture in general is of course substituted for all the qualities she rejects and hates about herself. It’s also why people like her are such blazing hypocrites.

      • Lagonzo Garbonzo says

        Social media and the internet has caused the mainstreaming of ideologies fit mainly for neurotic, paranoid shut-ins. And people are widely so dumb they can’t discern these ideologies’ intrinsic misanthropy and delusion. But we are downstream in a country where a giant chunk of the citizenry thought 9/11 was an inside job and believe InfoWars is a reasonable news source. Good luck with people this stupid noticing the difference between reasoned institutional disputation and deontological ethno-centrism, especially when they literally declare that blacks can’t be racist. The Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked at minimum threefold increase in hate groups of all kinds since 1999, including black extremist hate groups.

        • Carla McCabe says

          The Southern Poverty Law Center put Ayaan Hirsi Ali and other dissenters from the Leftist narrative (Ali is a liberal) on their “hate list”. They are not an unbiased source of data re “hate” groups and since the Left in general has a notable lack of clear definition of what constitutes “white supremacy” and “hate groups” “white nationalism” etc., the SPLC starts with a lack of credibility unless you accept their almost religious blessing from other Leftists, especially the media, on who is “hateful” and who is not. Those being the most “hateful” of course those who disagree with the Leftist post-modernist neo-Marxist/Maoist narrative.

  7. Joscha says

    Regardless of whether one agrees with the main thrust of the article, I find it worth pointing out that it is not necessarily inconsistent to believe that 1. the UK has committed crimes against the countries and people it colonized and fought against in the postcolonial wars, 2. to identify with these countries and people, and yet 3. to prefer living in the UK. It can easily be argued that a considerable part of the difference between living conditions and social order between the West and its former colonies is the direct result of colonialism and subsequent interventions.
    While the perception of injustice might cloud some people’s minds, I suspect that one’s mind must be clouded as well if one perceives the UK’s historical policies (not excluding Blair’s Iraq war) as just, and a source of positive identification. Understanding often requires that one refuses to take sides.

    History and politics cannot be well understood as the struggle of large groups of good people against large groups of bad people (with me usually being born among the good ones).

  8. A few comments here assuming “we” are on the right and against ‘the left’. I consider myself on the left, state ownership of infrastructure, health and education etc but I am no adherent of this ‘intersectionalism’ if thats the word. It might be useful to leave that polarity out so that ‘we’ can emphasise commonalities like science, analysis, free speech etc please? Intersectionalism seems to be leeching on the Left and Centre only because they are soppy enough to give these anti-West blame mongers space despite their avowed determination to pull the whole shebang down around their ears. The Right has no truck with them but that misses the point above. Love what you do, Quillette.

    • Maybe it’s worth mentioning the small struggle to get Cultural Marxism its own slot on Wikipedia. It’s been deleted several times and currently exists as a subsection of the Frankfurt school article, as a “conspiracy theory” framing of that (implied) respectable academic movement. The size of the section has grown over the last year so maybe it will break out into its own page sometime.

      • Carla McCabe says

        In reality there is only “Marxism”. Cultural Marxism is a strategic move, not a different ideology. Their goal is the same: the destruction of western civilization as we know it. In my day as a Leftist there were attempts to hide who they were, that they weren’t communist. That sucked in a lot of us more innocent-minded individuals who only wanted to help people. Now, like the young card-carrying communist who led the mob which destroyed the confederate statue in Durham, they are increasingly open about who they are and what they intend. I can only surmise that it is because they believe they are winning.

  9. You had me until “These are the same corners of Western academia, where such ideology gives rise to conspiracy theories about the Iraq war, or 9/11 being an inside job”

    The Iraq war was undeniably pushed using a dumpster fire of lies. The official position on 9/11 never under went peer review and there are glaring inconsistencies in it along with a freakish number of suspicious circumstances that call in to doubt the verity of the NIST and FEMA and FBI reports. It is very disappointing to see this statement in an outlet that in most respects is a beacon of reason.

    • I usually don’t reply to comments on my own article, but this is a very good point and deserves a clarification.

      Saying the Iraq war was based on false premise, faulty evidence, miscalculation, or even worse, Neo-Con delusions of democracy promotion, is one thing. As a political realist myself, I opposed the Iraq intervention, as well as the subsequent Libya fiasco, Syria laments, and recently the urge to intervene in Myanmar.

      Saying Iraq war was for oil, or was a ploy to start a Judeo-Christian crusade against Muslims, or 9/11 was an inside job, fall under tin-foil category. I have seen many students, sometimes in my own classroom, from Post-Colonial, Gender, or Peace and Conflict studies background, who are fed these lies, despite hundreds of papers disproving all these claims.

      • Carla McCabe says

        The Iraq war was the result of the efforts of the signatories to a series of letters from PNAC (Project for the New American Century), many of whom in 2001 Bush surrounded himself with (one becoming his VP). Their goals were outlined quite clearly.

  10. I also echo Conrad–the description of the Frankfurt School in particular is deeply ignorant and just a step away from the world of far-right conspiracy theory. If the purpose and appeal of this site is supposed to be a thoughtful, rational centrism, it seems to be failing in two big ways:

    1–The implication, spread throughout the site’s content, that the excess, poor reasoning and on-campus disruptiveness of cultural-left identity politics and its youthful supporters is not just poorly-founded, counterproductive, genuinely if (all things considered and in historical perspective) fairly mildly damaging to public discourse, etc, but somehow a monumental threat to civilization and one of the most important possible topics for discussion.

    2–The proliferation of superficial, poorly-researched articles, particularly about the above.

  11. Not sure that this article has a clear point. The author disagrees with an Islamist and a trans model, therefore the concept of intersectionality (all that means is that oppression and privelege are not founded on single issues such as class, gender or race, but a combination of many) is to blame for what they said? And therefore intersectionality is a false, harmful idea? If anything, the quotes sampled here do not reflect a belief in intersectionality as they are focused only on a single issue: race (or perhaps religion, but with racial undertones). If either of these people were intersectional, they would recognise that white privelege is not held to the same extent by all white people, as white people can be oppressed due to their gender, class, disability, sexuality, etc. Lumping all “white boys” together and glossing over Heather Heyer’s lack of privelege due to her gender (a nazi site slut-shamed her and criticised her body and “childlessness”) is completely against intersectionality. Therefore, I doubt that either Munroe Bergdorf or Nadia Chan is intersectional. It’s mostly feminists who are intersectional as a reaction against radical feminism which rather unrealistically focuses only on gender oppression, denying that LGBT women, poor women, disabled women and women of colour face different challenges and multiple oppressions. I don’t think the author even understands what intersectionality actually means- a shame, as he’d only have to look at Twitter to gain a reasonable understanding.

    • “Therefore, I doubt that either Munroe Bergdorf or Nadia Chan is intersectional.”

      A “Not true Scotsman” fallacy.

      Or, in this case, “No True Intersectionalism” fallacy.

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