The Intersection Is a Dead End
It seems paradoxical that today those who seek to suppress others’ freedom of speech are often the same people who claim to be at the forefront of the struggle against oppression. This paradox can be explained, in part, by the underlying ideology — intersectional identity politics — which assumes a hierarchy of oppression based on immutable characteristics like race and sex: “the interlocking systems of domination that define our reality,” according to bell hooks, one of the founders of intersectional theory.
But rather than reject this hierarchy altogether, intersectional identity politics, or intersectionality, merely inverts it, moving those at the bottom to the top. As Vicky Randall puts it in Women and Politics: An International Perspective, “the most oppressed are the most virtuous.” So, their right to speak trumps that of the people at the bottom of the new hierarchy. This kind of intolerance is of course not unique to intersectionality, but in today’s “woke” culture, which (in the words of singer-songwriter Nick Cave) “finds its energy in self-righteous belief and the suppression of contrary systems of thought,” they go hand in hand.
Like other forms of identitarianism, intersectionality starts from the assumption that group identity is paramount. At the same time, however, it asserts that people can be members of multiple identity groups — different identities intersect. The problem is that there is an almost infinite number of possible combinations. Thus, each identity group fragments into ever-smaller parts until all that is left is the individual. That’s one of the main reasons intersectionality can’t tolerate free speech — it is ultimately self-defeating and, therefore, needs to control the discourse.
Besides suppressing free speech, another strategy to deal with contradictions of this kind has been to decouple from objective reality. This means that subjective “truths” derived from lived experience are privileged over knowledge derived from evidence. This has made intersectionality almost impervious to logic and reason, allowing adherents to hold several contradictory beliefs at once. Even worse, these adherents assume the moral high ground and often demand everyone else follow their lead.
This especially applies to the way we’re supposed to approach issues of race and gender. For example, we’re told that the so-called gender binary — male and female — is a social construct with no basis in biology: virtually all important differences between men and women are the result of patriarchal socialization. But this conflicts with the idea, central to intersectionality, that identity groups are defined by immutable characteristics like race and sex.
What’s more, group identity has a strong political component, not just in the sense that it’s used for political ends, but also in determining membership. As Douglas Murray points out in The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race, and Identity, “you are only a member of a recognized minority group so long as you accept the specific grievances, political grievances, and resulting electoral platforms” associated with it. “Step outside of these lines and you are not a person with the same characteristics you had before but who happens to think differently from some prescribed norm.” For instance, a black woman who refuses to identify as a victim of white patriarchy puts her black female identity on the line — she may have her “characteristics taken away from [her],” as Murray puts it. She may even be accused of white supremacy (the conservative commentator Candace Owens is a case in point). This demonstrates two things: that identity politics is not about empowerment, but about wielding power; and that it requires, above all, ideological conformity.
The trans issue poses a particular challenge to intersectionality, which may explain the outsized focus on this issue and the dogma surrounding it. We are told that a substantial number of people are “born in the wrong body” and therefore need to transition from male to female or vice versa. But transitioning tends to involve hormones and surgery, which wouldn’t be necessary if gender was a social construct with no basis in biology. So, transgenderism relies on, and reinforces, the idea of a gender binary.
Transgenderism relies on, and reinforces, the idea of a gender binary.
Even transgender people who don’t take hormones or undergo surgery reinforce binary gender norms by displaying ascribed male or female gender roles. Moreover, the dogma that anyone who assumes a male or female identity is, in fact, a man or a woman, regardless of their biological sex, undermines feminism and implicitly delegitimizes homosexuality. After all, what’s the point of women’s and gay rights if the underlying distinction between male and female is merely a matter of self-identification? Furthermore, sex researcher Debra W. Soh argues that the current trend to encourage transgenderism in children reflects an “unspoken homophobia,” because she says “it has become more socially acceptable to be a transgender man than a gay woman.”
While transgenderism is a staple of intersectionality, transracialism is considered anathema. Those who promote gender fluidity, and see nothing wrong with adopting the attributes of the opposite sex are often the same people who accuse white folks of “cultural appropriation” if they transgress perceived racial-cultural boundaries. This double standard seems entirely arbitrary. If women and racial minorities are equally oppressed by white patriarchy, why is it morally acceptable for a biological man to assume a female identity, but not for a white person to transcend her racial identity?
Keziah Daum (center) was accused of “cultural appropriation” for wearing a qipao to prom
The self-righteous, Manichean way intersectionalists view the world is also fundamentally at odds with another trait they tend to display: moral and cultural relativism. It’s commonly held by intersectionalists that no one from one culture may criticize another (unless it’s white culture, in which case everyone may criticize it). This is especially the case if a member of the “dominant” group voices concerns about the cultural beliefs and practices of a “marginalized” group. In keeping with the view that society is best understood as a “matrix of oppression,” this is often condemned as “punching down,” leading to all kinds of moral paradoxes.
The self-righteous, Manichean way intersectionalists view the world is also fundamentally at odds with another trait they tend to display: moral and cultural relativism.
For instance, non-Muslims are not supposed to speak out against the oppression of women and sexual minorities in Muslim communities. Those who do will often be accused of “Islamophobia” or even racism — they are accused of bigotry for speaking out against bigotry. Their most vocal critics, paradoxically, are often the same people who claim to be the most concerned about women’s and LGBT rights. The obvious downside to this is that it makes it much harder for liberal Muslims to fight bigotry and oppression in their communities. In short, it protects the oppressors rather than the oppressed.
This relativism is the opposite of moral universalism — the idea that “there is a universal ethic which applies to all people, regardless of culture, race, sex, religion, nationality, sexuality, or other distinguishing feature, and all the time.” Moral universalism is grounded in our common humanity — it transcends identity politics. Intersectionalists clearly reject moral universalism in favor of relativism, yet in demanding that everyone adhere to intersectionality, they also claim its universality. The result is a narrative that is both contradictory and incoherent.
Because of this inherent weakness, because they know, at some level, that their ideas cannot stand up to scrutiny, intersectionalists feel compelled to suppress free speech in the name of “progress.” But progress depends on our ability, and our freedom, to pursue and speak the truth without fear or censorship. And that includes unpopular opinions and inconvenient facts. As the protagonist Winston Smith puts it in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”
Because they know their ideas cannot stand up to scrutiny, intersectionalists feel compelled to suppress free speech.
But today we see reason and free speech being sacrificed to appease the adherents of a paradoxical ideology. There is a widespread fear of “running afoul of intersectional orthodoxy,” to quote Bret Weinstein, the biology professor who, in 2017, found himself the subject of a “progressive” witch hunt. He had objected to a proposal that white students and professors leave campus for a day. In his opinion, “one’s right to speak — or to be — must never be contingent on skin color.” For this he was smeared as a racist.
In such an environment, stating the obvious becomes an act of defiance. Even the basic biological fact that we are a sexually dimorphic species is now widely considered taboo, a “hate fact.” It’s seen as contributing to the oppression of trans and non-binary people. So, a “virtuous” person would neither believe nor state it, regardless of whether it is true or not. In fact, such a person may feel morally obliged to suppress it. But this puts the cart before the horse. After all, moral progress is the result of a more enlightened understanding of the world. A society that values virtue over truth will end up with neither.