The Green New Deal, released earlier this week by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–NY), has drawn plenty of criticism from conservatives, libertarians, and even some centrist liberals: New York magazine's Jonathan Chait advised Democrats to scrap it and start over.
Many of these articles—including ones penned by Reason's Ronald Bailey and Joe Setyon—have pointed how ludicrously broad the Green New Deal is. Notably, it does not confine itself to environmental policy: the proposal also asks for more education funding, more health care funding, the enforcement of "workplace health and safety, antidiscrimination, and wage and hour standards across all employers, industries, and sectors," enforcement of "trade rules," and, according to the Green New Deal's FAQ sheet, "economic security for all those who are unable or unwilling to work."
Why would the left include a provision about subsidizing the lifestyle of lazy people in its climate change manifesto? Because that's what intersectionality requires.
As I explain in my forthcoming book, PANIC ATTACK: Young Radicals in the Age of Trump (pre-order it here), intersectionality is a philosophical framework that has come to completely dominate progressive activist thinking in the 30 years since the sociologist Kimberle Crenshaw first coined it. An intersectional progressive recognizes that racism, and sexism, and homophobia, and transphobia, and age-ism, and classism, and so on, are separate-but-related phenomena. To ignore just one of these sources of oppression is to fail intersectionality; the seriously social-justice minded must treat all of these issues as equally important and confront them en masse.
The original concept isn't entirely without merit, and there are many cases where it would be worth it for social change agents to consider their blind spots (see: the Women's March and anti-Semitism). But a lot of the time, adding more and more demands is a surefire way to make sure none of them get taken seriously. It's very hard to form an ideologically diverse coalition around a single issue—like, say, climate change—if you expect your coalition to also agree on a bunch of other fringe issues—like, say, "unwilling to work" subsidies.
When Heather Mac Donald’s “blue lives matter” talk was shut down by a mob at Claremont McKenna College, the president of neighboring Pomona College sent out an email defending free speech. Twenty-five students shot back a response: “Heather Mac Donald is a fascist, a white supremacist . . . classist, and ignorant of interlocking systems of domination that produce the lethal conditions under which oppressed peoples are forced to live.”
Some blame the new campus intolerance on hypersensitive, over-trophied millennials. But the students who signed that letter don’t appear to be fragile. Nor do those who recently shut down lectures at Berkeley, Middlebury, DePaul, and Cal State LA. What they are is impassioned. And their passion is driven by a theory known as intersectionality.
Intersectionality is the source of the new preoccupation with microaggressions, cultural appropriation, and privilege-checking. It’s the reason more than 200 colleges and universities have set up Bias Response Teams. Students who overhear potentially “otherizing” comments or jokes are encouraged to make anonymous reports to their campus BRTs. A growing number of professors and administrators have built their careers around intersectionality. What is it exactly?
Intersectionality is a neo-Marxist doctrine that views racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, and all forms of “oppression” as interconnected and mutually reinforcing. Together these “isms” form a complex arrangement of advantages and burdens. A white woman is disadvantaged by her gender but advantaged by her race. A Latino is burdened by his ethnicity but privileged by his gender. According to intersectionality, American society is a “matrix of domination,” with affluent white males in control. Not only do they enjoy most of the advantages, they also determine what counts as “truth” and “knowledge.”
But marginalized identities are not without resources. According to one of intersectionality’s leading theorists, Patricia Collins (former president of the American Sociology Association), disadvantaged groups have access to deeper, more liberating truths. To find their voice, and to enlighten others to the true nature of reality, they require a safe space—free of microaggressive put-downs and imperious cultural appropriations. Here they may speak openly about their “lived experience.” Lived experience, according to intersectional theory, is a better guide to the truth than self-serving Western and masculine styles of thinking. So don’t try to refute intersectionality with logic or evidence: That only proves that you are part of the problem it seeks to overcome.
How could comfortably ensconced college students be open to a convoluted theory that describes their world as a matrix of misery? Don’t they flinch when they hear intersectional scholars like bell hooks refer to the U.S. as an “imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy”? Most take it in stride because such views are now commonplace in high-school history and social studies texts. And the idea that knowledge comes from lived experience rather than painstaking study and argument is catnip to many undergrads.
Silencing speech and forbidding debate is not an unfortunate by-product of intersectionality—it is a primary goal. How else do you dismantle a lethal system of oppression? As the protesting students at Claremont McKenna explained in their letter: “Free speech . . . has given those who seek to perpetuate systems of domination a platform to project their bigotry.” To the student activists, thinkers like Heather MacDonald and Charles Murray are agents of the dominant narrative, and their speech is “a form of violence.”
It is hard to know how our institutions of higher learning will find their way back to academic freedom, open inquiry, and mutual understanding. But as long as intersectional theory goes unchallenged, campus fanaticism will intensify.
Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. She is the author of several books, including Who Stole Feminism? and The War Against Boys. She also hosts The Factual Feminist, a video blog. @Chsommers
Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of the day that 50 Evergreen students–students that I had never met–disrupted my class, accusing me of racism and demanding my resignation. I tried to reason with them. I felt no fear because I knew that, whatever my failings might be, bigotry was not among them…
The protestors had no apparent interest in the very dialog they seemed to invite. I was even more surprised by the protestor’s fervor in shouting down my actual students–some of whom had known me for years. The cruelty and derision reserved for students of color who spoke in my defense was particularly chilling. If not discussion, what did they want? I was one of Evergreen’s most popular professors. I had Evergreen’s version of tenure. Did they really think they could force my resignation based on a meritless accusation?
They did think that. And they were right….
What is occurring on college campuses is about power and control–speech is impeded as a last resort, used when people fail to self-censor in response to a threat of crippling stigma and the destruction of their capacity to earn.
These tools are being used to unhook the values that bind us together as a nation–equal protection under the law, the presumption of innocence, a free marketplace of ideas, the concept that people should be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. Yes, even that core tenet of the civil rights movement is being dismantled.
Am I alleging a conspiracy? No. What I have seen functions much more like a cult in which the purpose is only understood by the leaders and the rest have been seduced into a carefully architechted fiction. Most of the people involved in this movement earnestly believe that they are acting nobly to end oppression. Only the leaders understand that the true goal is to turn the tables of oppression.
As did I.. but what I took from it is that I can not be a victim in any way.
In other words, intersectional theory asserts that people are often disadvantaged by multiple sources of oppression: their race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and other identity markers. Intersectionality recognizes that identity markers (e.g. “female” and “black”) do not exist independently of each other, and that each informs the others, often creating a complex convergence of oppression.
This summer, at the Aspen Ideas Festival, I was on a panel with Brittney Cooper, the African American professor and author of the much loved book Eloquent Rage. She spoke at length and with vehemence about the realities of intersectional feminism. In the audience were many white women who had paid serious money for the chance to attend the session, and whose breathless excitement at Cooper’s oratory made Felicia Bernstein look like a cool-eyed purveyor of realpolitik.
Cooper explained that because of intersectionality, “now we can confront white women to say, ‘Your feminism is suspect if the only thing you want to do is use these social movements so that you can have access to the power that white men have. That’s not what we’re fighting for.’” There was a frisson of excitement in the audience, and she continued, explaining, “White women don’t want to change the fundamental paradigm of race and gender in this country; they want to exploit it so that they can gain access to the power that white men have. White women live in the house with white men, they were raised by white men, they raise white men—and what they want is to be able to rule the world like white men do.”
Anymore questions on why this generation is referred to as snowflakes. Harvard and MIT schooled but these morons think they know better. I still can not understand all the white students who hate their own skin color for absolutely no reason unless you have done something wrong. Our country is fucked is most of college campuses are like this.
Let’s just skip ahead here. How long before their final solution is implemented and they start coming for white males for purging or holocausting, because it sure seems like that dream of a world like that.