Sunday, September 25, 2016

Intersectionalism and the danger of political bundling

One of my Facebook friends is not a smart man.  He is also very conservative.  On occasion, these traits lead him to say some ridiculous things.

For example, being conservative, he thinks the following things are bad:
  • Liberals
  • Obama
  • Political correctness
  • Islam
  • Socialism/communism
  •  Open borders
  • Atheism
  • The UN

None of these things are totally unreasonable to oppose on their own.  I oppose several of them myself.  But my Facebook friend, being a simple man, likes to lump them all together for simplicity’s sake.  The world is much easier for him to understand if he can merge each of these disfavored concepts into a common enemy, as it allows him conceptualize all of politics as one giant tug-of-war between good and evil. 

Consequently, if some immigration issue has been in the news recently, he’ll say things like Obama’s promoting open borders so his fellow Muslim liberals can complete their Sharia takeover of the US!” thereby implicating four of his favorite boogeymen in one sentence.  Or maybe he’ll hear Rush Limbaugh say something about Obama importing atheist South American socialists to finish installing cultural Marxism!”, and that will resonate with him not because it makes any sense – South Americans are predominantly Catholic, with more conservative cultures than our own – but because it links three more of his least favorite things, so it comports with the worldview he already holds.

He’s not alone in this regard.  These theories appeal those who feel very passionately about rudimentary conservative principles, but lack the education, fair-mindedness, or access to unfiltered information to develop a more cogent interpretation of reality.  Some of them go on to be Alex-Jones type conspiracy theorists, going so far as to link it all with the Illuminati or new World Order or One-World-Government-scheming from the UN.

Educated people like you and I recognize these are crackpot theories.  We roll our eyes at conservative efforts to wrap up everything they hate in one bundle, just so they can denounce the world’s demons in one breath.  We can debate Obama’s merit as a president, and Islam’s merit as a religion, and socialism’s merit as an economic ideology, and the merit of immigration restrictions as policy, and the merit of the UN as an institution – but we should recognize that each of these things are separate issues, such that some of them can be good while others of them are bad.  It’s important to compartmentalize. They are not a package deal.

Unfortunately, arch-conservatives are not the only ones who make this error.  People of all political persuasions and intelligence levels often are guilty of the same thing.  Consider the following list of things progressives think are bad, and ask yourself how many on the left are convinced they are fundamentally linked:
  • Abortion restrictions
  • Sexism
  • Racism
  • Homophobia/Transphobia
  • Police abuse
  • Nationalism/excessive patriotism
  • Hawkish foreign policy
  • Capitalism
  • Pollution

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to help a progressive person’s cause on, say, racism…until they threw in something like “and it’s all to fuel the profiteering of the prison-industrial complex!”

Of maybe we’re discussing foreign policy, and I’m nodding along with how the US must reign-in its militarism abroad and resist the urge to intervene further in Syria…but then the person blurts out “and I’m so tired of imperialistic Western colonizers raping the Middle East of its resources!”

I am proudly pro-choice, but it’s seemingly impossible nowadays for my pro-choice peers to have a conversation with (or about) my pro-life friends without attacking them as draconian misogynists – as if we are incapable of fathoming that pro-life beliefs could possibly stem from anything besides the hatred of women.

I am appalled by many things our government does, but it does not follow that patriotism is unwarranted.  I too am committed to avoiding catastrophic climate change, but too many on the left see overthrowing capitalism as a prerequisite to doing so.  Those things are not inherently at odds.

Just like my conservative uncle, progressives like to bundle their bad guys.  They are committed to a narrative of the world which identifies one enemy – selfish white men – and projects that boogeyman as the root cause of all the world’s woes.  Why is global warming happening?  Because rich white men in the oil industry prioritize their profits over everyone else’s wellbeing!  Why did we go to war in Iraq?  Because rich white men in Halliburton traded blood for oil!  Why do we see so much police abuse in this country?  Because it helps the profits of rich white men to divide the proletariat by demonizing black men, rigging the criminal justice system and fomenting racial hatred!  On each of these issues, I agree with left-leaning policy proposals – but I cannot agree with the arguments and assumptions of those advocating such proposals, which ultimately makes it tougher for me to join them in advocacy.

The biggest culprit here is what the left calls “intersectionalism” (for those who don’t know what that is,
this is a good primer).  The study of intersectionalism is important and commendable work – I laid out specifically what I like and don’t like about it here - but it has an unfortunate tendency to promulgate this bundling fallacy, even masking it in an academic sheen.  Any analysis of racism or sexism that doesn’t criticize capitalism in the same breath is now criticized in far-left circles: “it doesn’t include an analysis of class,” they’ll say (by which they mean, of course, an analysis of class which they find sufficiently anti-capitalist).

the Korryn Gaines case I wrote about last month.  To me, Gaines was pretty clearly killed because she pointed a shotgun at Baltimore County Policemen.  I suppose it’s fair to debate her death within the broader context of police abuse; could police could have deescalated the situation in some other way?  Maybe it’s fair to debate it within the context of gun control; why was a mentally unstable person able to get a shotgun in the first place?  And of course, our country’s racial history and current events played a role in why Gaines held such anti-police views in the first place. In conjunction, this analysis poses real questions about whether Korryn’s death would have happened in another country, with limited access to firearms, less racial tension, and less aggressive policing tactics.

But the far left won’t stop at linking those three things.  To some, Gaines’ death was proof of the need for reproductive justice, because “black women live with the harsh reality of not having full control over the ability to choose to parent…and to parent the children they have in safe and well-resourced environments.”  Both white women and white men have been killed by police for far less violent provocations than raising a shotgun, but don’t tell that to the Crunk Feminist Collective; to them, Gaines death was proof that both blackness and femaleness compound police maltreatment.  It’s become the chic thing to analyze every progressive cause within the context of other progressive causes.

The danger of this intersectional bundling is that it has made the left’s confirmation bias academically acceptable.  We all develop explanatory ideologies to help us understand the world around us.  Once we forge this worldview, we all instinctively filter new information through its framework, and then ultimately decide whether it fits or doesn’t fit.  The intersectional approach programs left-wing people to make it fit.  It teaches them to scour each new story or development or piece of information for links back to the list of social causes they think they already understand, thereby enabling regurgitation of memorized leftist dogma and shunning the task of analyzing the issue anew.

The CFC concludes their aforementioned article with the heart of what I’m talking about, writing, “when we pursue a social analysis that fails to robustly consider patriarchy alongside challenges to white supremacy and capitalism, we’ll miss the convergence of violent logics.”

I counter: when you pursue a social analysis that demands you implicate all three of those things any time you implicate one of them, you obscure the debate with unnecessary ideological baggage.

Progressives talk so much about privileged people “derailing” the conversation, but taking gratuitous shots at capitalism in conversations that previously had nothing to do with economics does exactly that.  Insisting we can’t address police abuse without first addressing capitalism’s supposed role prevents or shuts down productive discussion on the issue of police abuse, by deterring people who don’t share your assumptions on capitalism.

Likewise, opposing a hawkish foreign policy will require building a coalition of peace-loving people that is considerably larger than the group of people who presently think capitalism is to blame for those policies.  Lots of people – myself included – think our foreign policy has little to do with capitalism, and you need their help.

Sometimes there really are connections between issues that people don’t recognize at first glance, and it’s helpful to point them out.  But there aren’t always connections, and even when there are, not everyone is going to agree about them. That’s okay; it doesn’t need to be a package deal.  I don’t need to buy all of what you’re selling me to buy into some of it.  Clumping together distinct issues for shorthand convenience is not progressive, it’s just lazy.

Like modern conservatives, modern progressives believe a lot of things that are pretty much bullshit.  If they won’t accept progress on anything until we agree with them on everything, they will be waiting for a mighty long time.

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