Social Injustice: The Spiritual Dangers of Intersectionality

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Intersectionality theory is the most dangerous political ideology to sweep academia since the 1960s resurgence of Marxism-Leninism, to which it owes a heavy (if not publicly acknowledged) intellectual debt. It’s dangerous because it has had 40 and more years to gain dominance in America and Canada’s largest, most prestigious universities. Now, a new generation of activists educated in its radical anti-Western prejudices are gaining power and influence in every level of government, business, education, and the media.

Intersectionality theory is attractive on its surface because it uses indisputable facts to give its errors and falsehoods plausibility, even credibility. And all too often, their enemies provide unwitting reinforcement by hateful (or at least idiotic) words and atrocious acts. At its heart, though, intersectionality is dangerous because it rationalizes, formalizes, and dogmatizes the envy and anger of disparate social groups, forging them into a sociopolitical theory that fosters hostility, repression, and violence in the name of social justice. As such, it’s intrinsically contrary to the charity and forgiveness at the heart of the gospel message.

Intersectionality: A Thumbnail Sketch

What is intersectionality? The theory begins, oddly enough, with the reasonable intuition that certain people can suffer discrimination on more than one basis. For instance, where a white woman could suffer discrimination because of her sex, a black woman could suffer because of her sex and/or race, depending on the situation, and a black lesbian could suffer from three directions.

If that’s all intersectionality were, it would be not only the sort of commonsense observation any reasonably educated person — even a white male Christian cisgender heterosexual — could deduce, but also relatively toothless.

But intersectionality doesn’t stop there. For every victim class, there is an oppressor class. And the victim class includes everyone who isn’t a member of the oppressor class: white/non-white (or person of color, often abbreviated POC), male/female, heterosexual/non-heterosexual, cisgender/transgender, abled/disabled, and so forth. Immediately, you should note its dependence on Karl Marx’s theory of class conflict. But where Marx posed a mediating element between labor and capital, embodied in the merchant class (or bourgeoisie), intersectionality permits no shade of gray between its extremes; the classes are strictly binary.

Intersectionality then bestows on the oppressor classes a gift called privilege, which all members of the class possess without any shade of distinction or degree. If privilege doesn’t manifest itself in positive advantages to a particular individual, it remains negatively present in that the person doesn’t suffer the disadvantages members of the opposing victim class endure. Nor can any member of the oppressor class have suffered more than — or even as much as — any member of the victim class. Similarly, any social or economic advantages an individual of the victim class has enjoyed is irrelevant to their state of oppression.

Along with the gift of privilege comes the curse of bias, with which an oppressor class member is presumably enculturated from birth. Not so the members of the victim classes. As Christina Hoff Sommers explains in her vlog The Factual Feminist, “… [T]hose who are most oppressed have access to deeper, more authentic knowledge about life and society. In short: members of privileged groups (especially white males) should not only check their privilege but listen to those they have oppressed — because those groups possess a superior understanding of the world.” Class biases also conveniently poison the well of counterevidence.

Black-and-White Thinking

Of course, the terms oppressor and victim give the game away up front: Intersectionality is a dualistic myth of good versus evil, heroes versus villains. Individual intersectionalists may strive to grant members of oppressor classes some good (or at least neutral) qualities and even concede individual variation. However, the theory itself is premised in black-and-white thinking, or as mental-health professionals call it, splitting. By its very nature, intersectionality appeals most to those who have the greatest difficulty seeing both good and bad in anything or in distinguishing middle states between two extremes.

Splitting is also called all-or-nothing thinking. Or with-us-or-against-us thinking. The reasons should be obvious: People prone to splitting have difficulty accepting compromises or admitting that anyone on their side could rightfully object to anything they say or do. Those who are prone may admit to some minor faults, but they can’t and don’t believe themselves capable of real evil. At the extreme, the black-and-white thinker treats opposition (“You’re wrong”) as either a sign of personal hostility to them (“I hate you”) or a degrading insult (“You’re stupid/evil/crazy”). Black-and-white thinkers can’t stand to be contradicted.

Does intersectionality encode stereotypes? That can’t happen; stereotyping is a function of social power, which victim classes don’t possess. In other words, only bad people — the oppressor classes — can stereotype. Therefore, intersectionalists can’t stereotype because they’re good people working for a good cause. Besides, even if they did stereotype, they’d have every right and reason to do so. (This rationalization is similar to Dreher’s Law of Merited Impossibility regarding Christian coercion or conservative repression: “It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it.”)

Do individual women, minorities, etc., object to intersectionality? The gap in victim-class solidarity is plastered over by Bulverisms and circular reasoning. Elizabeth C. Corey explains, “The answer to any individual protest is always (a) false consciousness, (b) ‘internalizing the oppressor,’ or, if all else fails, (c) the structural oppression argument that makes our self-assessment irrelevant.” Those who persist in ranks-breaking, such as black conservative commentator Candace Owens, can eventually find themselves subjected to the same labeling, bullying, and harassment as are more privileged critics. Either they don’t understand or they’re part of the problem.

Repression, Division, and the Dark Side of Empathy

“Ironically,” says Hoff Sommers, “members of the insider victim class now routinely do to others what they accuse members of the privileged class of doing to them. They stereotype, shame, demonize, and silence people.” Right-leaning commentators and media outlets may be spinning the actual incidences of leftist violence, mob pressure, and anti-conservative discrimination to exaggerate their frequency and spread throughout academia. In some cases, the conservative “victims’” own tactics and actions may have intentionally provoked the campus leftists’ outrage. But even within their own ranks, intersectionalists can turn vicious on people who in some manner fail to toe the line.

Corey states, for instance, that “the movement’s more radical members … view elite white feminist women with a contempt that nearly matches their contempt for white men.” Hoff Sommers observed that the participants at one intersectionalist gathering she attended fractured into ever-smaller, mutually suspicious groups of more particular classifications. Alan M. Dershowitz, who focuses on their anti-Semitic bias, charges that “intersectionality has forced artificial coalitions between causes that have nothing to do with each other except a hatred for their fellow students who are ‘privileged’ because they are white, heterosexual, male and especially Jewish.”

Arthashastra was wrong: The enemy of my enemy is only an ally of convenience … until it’s no longer convenient. Feminists have already discovered this about the transgendered.

Ironically, the escalating leftist intolerance and sporadic acts of violence may be rooted in empathy. Empathy for victims, research has shown, can lead to deceptive, exploitative, and other unethical behavior. “Politicians are comfortable exploiting this dark side of empathy,” explains Paul Bloom, using as an example Ann Coulter’s recitation of immigrant crimes in her nativist manifesto, Adios, America. The more you identify with the victim’s misery, the more likely you are to be hostile to the (alleged) perpetrator, and therefore the more likely you are to rationalize disproportionate reactions — even violence. Identification with the oppressed can become revolutionary action on their behalf.

Just ask Ho Chi Minh. Or Che Guevara. Or Osama bin-Laden.

What the Church Teaches

My argument is not that intersectionalists are terrorists or communists, or that they’re “as bad as terrorists or communists,” or even that they’re bad people at all. Neither is my argument that the status quo is hunky-dory, in need of no rectification. On the contrary: Most if not all of the social inequities they’re trying to address we can agree are real and pernicious. That’s what makes intersectionality so attractive and credible to so many people — for them, the struggle is real. And we’re doing either too little or all the wrong things to address it.

However, the Church rejects the proposition that the end justifies the means (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1789; cf. Romans 3:8). Even when many individual members of a class have been guilty of injustices against another class, presuming someone’s moral fault by dint of their membership in that class is a form of rash judgment (cf. CCC 2477). We are called to rid ourselves of malice, guile, insincerity, envy, and slander (1 Peter 2:1) as part of living in the truth. This leaves no room for the hypocrisy which says only the privileged and the powerful are capable of injustice or error.

As Catholics, we’re called to oppose unjust discrimination against others and “[bring] the appropriate remedies to institutions and living conditions … so that they conform to the norms of justice and advance the good rather than hinder it” (CCC 1888; cf. CCC 1935, 1938). However, we’re also called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44), to avoid resenting or coveting the material or spiritual benefits others have (Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21; cf. CCC 2535-40), and to “be careful to interpret insofar as possible [our] neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way” (CCC 2478).

Conclusion

Above all, the gospel message we Catholics preach and live by tells us that, although we are all children of God, we all have the capacity for sin and error regardless of our social class. As such, neither victimhood nor privilege protects us from doing evil or prevents us from doing good. Intersectionality, with its crude, unscrupulous “good class vs. bad class” interpretation of Western history and society, implicitly denies this fundamental truth of the human condition. As I’ve argued elsewhere, any attempt to reconcile ideological dogma with Catholic doctrine inevitably results in damage to and distortion of Catholic teaching.

This is no less true of intersectionality than it is of objectivism, white nationalism, or any other -ism.

For these reasons, I submit that intersectionality is too flawed, unjust, and socially destabilizing a theory for a Catholic to hold in good conscience. “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” God told Moses (Leviticus 19:18). This became the Law of Love which Jesus called the second of the greatest commandments (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31) and St. Paul said summed up the entirety of the Law of Moses (Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14). Intersectionality replaces the Law of Love with a hermeneutic of class prejudice and a presumption of guilt by association.

Let’s work for a more just society, by all means. But let’s do so with charity and truth, not envy and anger.

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11 thoughts on “Social Injustice: The Spiritual Dangers of Intersectionality”

  1. Anthony S L, Excellent article-a real primer on not only the evils of intersectioanality but also on the evil politiicans who use it to get, maintain, and increase totalitarian [marxist; democratic socialists; socialists] power.

    It is just a small step from what you describe and define with such clarity, to “It is a mortal sin to vote for any candidate who prmotes this evil.” This can be your article for Summer 2020.

    “Social justice” is code for totalitarian covert operations. God inspired no wrtier of Holy Scripture to use the words “social justice.” He did author “if you don’t work, you don’t eat.” And as long as I am spewing, I cannot find in the originals anywhere St Paul said “brothers and sisters.” His “adelphoi” was sheer bigotry.

    We are blest in that the intersectionalists may eat each other and save us the trouble of exposing them. Just look at all the Xfeminists who attack the Zfeminists who oppose them. For example, anti-porn and pro-porn feminists; or prodeath feminists and prolifefeminists.

    Guy McClung, Texas

    1. Anthony S. Layne

      Guy, if I didn’t know you better, I’d suspect you were a liberal trying to take the mickey out of my article.

    2. Anthony-Yes-I really meant the compliments. I have been reading so much lately and listening to so much on intersectionality – one reason: this will be how the Party of Death suckers voters in 2020 perhaps their last gasp now that they are losing what has been in the past 103% of the black vote in some areas and the majority of the female and hispanic vote- – and I have seen no better summary explanation than your brief article. “Brief” is important in today’s world because you can only have the attention of many young people for about 100 words or less, often 100 characters or less.

      That’s why I said “real primer.” Congrats! again. Guy

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  3. The concept of social justice is rooted in morality and is a religious idea and specifically a catholic idea. It did not exist before the catholic church was founded. Constantine’s appreciation of the early Christian’s example of love of neighbor and equality among individuals caused him to allow social freedoms that were never allowed under previous rulers in Roman society and for centuries before. The reading list noted in this article is quite appropriate. Women’s rights, respect or life, love of our neighbors, tolerance toward differences, the dignity and respect for all human beings is due to the catholic church. Jesus taught us this, and the the early Christain’s changed culture from one of brutality to a more civilized political state. Our current culture, with abortion, euthanasia, hate-filled rhetoric, and outright attacks on individuals because they support a particular candidate is completely counter culture to what the christian believes. This divisiveness comes from the leftist dominated media and political candidates that stoke the fires of racism and self-serving government institutions and that benefit from this ongoing divisiveness. I’m curious to know what your reading list looks like?

  4. Given your reading list, it’s not surprising you have such a jaundiced view of intersectionality. It’s like learning about evolution from creationists.

    1. It was not until Christians defined the concept of the dignity of every human being as taught by Jesus and exemplified by the apostles did this become a concept that was accepted in the political sphere, adhered to by Governmental leaders, and only first by Constantine. Of course the Jews worshiped the same God in the Old Testament as Christians do in the New Testament, and these moral truths were taught to the Jewish people through the prophets, as a preamble to the coming of Christ. But even the Apostles took issue with the idea of divorce, for example, when Jesus clarified as divorce being unallowable. Moses permitted it, and later Jesus clarified why he permitted it. Women and children in Jewish culture were second class citizens. What is interesting to me is how these truths unfolded in the history of the Jewish tradition and then found their fullest expression in the living witness of the apostles and the disciples of Christ. Their ministry allowed these concepts to spread throughout the whole world, contributing to so many western developments, education of women for example, hospitals, universities etc. Social Justice in the Catholic church was not born out of contempt for our neighbors, but instead out of love for them. Our current culture STOKES contempt, and that is what we have to open our eyes to and to guard against this negative influence.

    2. Anthony S. Layne

      What “reading list”? I offered a few supporting comments, that’s all.
      If I’m jaundiced, it’s because I distrust on principle any social or political theory that reduces the complexity of the human individual to one characteristic or a handful of demographics and makes moral judgments against that individual based on them. I also distrust any theory that reduces the complexity of human history to a “good guys vs. bad guys” morality play. I didn’t get that prejudice from my “reading list”; I got it from growing up in the social turmoil of the 1970s and from studying political movements such as Fascism and Communism. Majoring in sociology didn’t help; its dependence on reductionism and determinism ultimately led me away from sociology as a career. You might say I was a personalist long before I knew there was such a thing as personalism. If it matters, I’m equally distrustful of populism and have an article against white nationalism in the pipeline.

    3. “If I’m jaundiced, it’s because I distrust on principle any social or political theory that reduces the complexity of the human individual to one characteristic or a handful of demographics and makes moral judgments against that individual based on them.”

      That’s not intersectionality. My point is that you haven’t listened to any actual intersectionalists. You have made no attempt to learn about or understand the idea.

      I’m sure you agree that black women (for example) have certain negative stereotypes and can be discriminated against for that reason. But a black woman couldn’t sue under anti-discrimination laws because she couldn’t allege racial discrimination (because black men were getting hired) and couldn’t allege sex discriminiation (because white women were getting hired). This was the problem originally addressed by the law professor Kimberle Crenshaw who coined the term.

      For a view that intersectionality is a Catholic viewpoint, see this article from the Patheos Catholic Channel.
      https://www.patheos.com/blogs/suspendedinherjar/2016/03/catholicism-and-intersectionality/

      Intersectionality is about awareness. Of course some people run with it and turn it into a black-and-white worldview, with heroes and villains, and enemies who must be punished, but the Catholic Church (koff koff, Inquisition) has not been immune to such thinking. Intersectional thought in fact makes each human a complex creation, with multiple identities. This is not the beginning and end of what makes us individuals, of course (there’s a video somewhere of Crenshaw rolling her eyes at someone who had 17 “identities”). But we should be aware of how society treats us, and how we are conceptualized by the people we interact with. It’s just common sense.

    4. Anthony S. Layne

      “Intersectionality is about awareness. Of course some people run with it and turn it into a black-and-white worldview, with heroes and villains, and enemies who must be punished, but the Catholic Church (koff koff, Inquisition) has not been immune to such thinking.”

      Ironic that you allude to the inquisitions (plural, please; there were four or five different flavors). The inquisitions were first and foremost means of enforcing doctrinal orthodoxy; and the most notable thing about them — other than their use of torture — was that they succeeded in enforcing a surface orthodoxy only so long as it served the secular rulers’ interests. Once their interests changed, the Reformation exploded. Since then, the gospel message has been distorted in any number of ways and there has been little the Church or the faithful could do about it.

      Now, if the intersectionality I’ve presented is actually a collection of heterodoxies and orthodox intersectionality is more nuanced, less judgmental, then orthodox intersectionalists such as yourself need to wake up and take a good look at what’s happening. The heresy is what the rest of the world outside your bubble sees; the heresy is what’s making the headlines and gaining political influence. Orthodox intersectionalists need to be the first to stand up and loudly criticize the heretics, not simply wave away non-intersectionalists’ concerns. The longer you remain silent, the less credible and more disingenuous your denials appear. Moreover, the heretics have shown they have no qualms about repressing criticism and dissent. If they follow the trajectory they’re on, then eventually the orthodox intersectionalists will be seen as weak sisters or even subversives and be silenced in their own turn.

      If there’s anything to learn from Christianity, it’s this: Never underestimate the power of stories to change the world.

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