Intersectionality is a tragedy, not a solution

Today The Spectator has run a slightly hysterical piece by Julie Burchill on intersectional feminism, “Don’t you dare tell me to check my privilege“:

Intersectionality may well sound like some unfortunate bowel complaint resulting in copious use of a colostomy bag, and indeed it does contain a large amount of ordure… In reality, it seeks to make a manifesto out of the nastiest bits of Mean Girls, wherein non-white feminists especially are encouraged to bypass the obvious task of tackling the patriarchy’s power in favour of bitching about white women’s perceived privilege in terms of hair texture and body shape. Think of all those episodes of Jerry Springer where two women who look like Victoria’s Secret models — one black, one white — bitch-fight over a man who resembles a Jerusalem artichoke, sitting smugly in the middle, and you have the end result of intersectionality made all too foul flesh. It may have been intended as a way for disabled women of colour to address such allegedly white-ableist-feminist-specific issues as equal pay, but it’s ended up as a screaming, squawking, grievance-hawking shambles.

Burchill’s central message shoulder-barges in the right direction but she writes like a born-again reactionary – not the frustrated left-winger which she has cause to be. She makes no attempt, in what could be a fair and satirical critique of identity politics, to argue against her own awful (and poetically numb) degradation of “dicks in chick’s clothing” from last year. If too much of the left today is “a competition in shouting one another down”, then why do the same? The answer, in Burchill’s case, seems clear.

Intersectionality – advanced with the intention to show how various political struggles “intersect” – began as a postmodern parody of Marxism. Today, it is the blunt stake which feminists dream of piercing through the capitalist Dracula. Instead of breaking apart the deterministic social theories that would suffocate Marxism, intersectional feminists simply stitched together a bizarre patchwork alternative.

In the 1970s and 80s, the white masculinised working-class models that had long been the beacon of radical groups seemed to be flickering away. Not all historical causation appeared explicable in the Marxist framework, and campaigners in the cultural liberation struggles found that it was also to blame for the side-lining of some old – and noble – injustices. Black women found themselves alienated by the housekeeper “consciousness-raising” that had erupted out of Oxford; gay people turned to the free hedonist countercultures at Chelsea and Soho, not to diatribes on working-classes struggles. In the years after 1968, its engines rusty, Marxism thus fell gracefully from the mainstream left.

By a depressing twist, these would be the years in which postmodernism would come bursting out of the Seine. For Michel Foucault – but also for those who bought into his frauds – it was fruitless to analyse the world with pretensions to objectivity; the scientist, like the historian, like the political theorist, was saturated in the language in which certain anonymous “power structures” had determined that he would speak. The world, in effect, was a ballooned circus formed from all of his earlier work on psychiatry and madness. Slicing through all of the lies behind society came Foucault’s “truth”.

A civil society in which all institutions are predetermined by discourse is theoretical nonsense – but it can make for some powerfully vacuous polemical feminism. Unlike Marx, Foucault had nothing to say on historical causation. If social change is driven by discourse, then who articulates it? What are their motives? It’s almost foolish to ask. If a theory neglects the authority of material evidence then these questions cannot be answered; Foucault derided crude Marxist determinism only to put forward his own, and to do so without the slightest concern to match the underpinnings of the former that had, however often regretfully, driven war, revolution, and provided millions with a model for equality.

And yet, after the trauma of the 70s, the battered minority campaigns grabbed postmodernism and forced it to marry whatever Marxists would have it: the result was a hideously deformed baby lauded like a new Lion King. So-called “hegemonic power structures” could express virtually any form of oppression – white power, imperial and cultural hierarchies, straight chauvinism and their kingpin, capitalism. Suddenly the troubled complexities of Marxism disappeared. If only people could see that all grievances were the product of a single system then they can unite, and they can tear it down.

Only what are these “power structures”? Where can we find them? Beyond fragmented – if feisty – campaigns against Page 3, or lad culture, or unconditional support for reactionary Tunisians, what is the intersectional solution? It has adopted the postmodernist’s harrying of “objectivity” – it having long been accepted by skeptics that it is impossible to achieve in most instances – and argues that we should not even try to cast off our subjective experiences. If you criticise the intersectional theory or – worse – what might be a deranged argument from someone of an ethnic, religious, or sexual minority, then you cannot believe in social progress. You are parroting whatever hegemonic power structures recruited you at birth; you an impostor; you must “check your privilege”.

And herein lies the tragedy of intersectionality: its answer to very real, very felt material oppression is a retreat into elitist dogmatism in which criticism is the preserve of the apostate, and it strangles the throats of straggling leftists. At a higher level is it iconoclastic, and down below paranoid.

On first principles. I call myself a socialist because, however lazily, I think a) that any economic system that rewards inheritance over the work ethic is unforgivably flawed, and b) that humanity can do better. To say so is to cite an alternative economic model as an answer to material exploitation; it is not then to look to the world and attempt to explain every single one of its problems as an extension of capitalism which, though the turbine of wage slavery, is not a wintry bogeyman. Capitalism is a concrete system whose realities are felt and understood beyond vague notions of “offensiveness”. The answer, therefore, must be to match it in rational criticism.

Black people can murder like white people. Gay people can be misogynists. Islamists can blow up trade centres like the Lord’s Resistance Army can kill African villagers. Is that capitalism? Is it a lie? To the first question I know only that human nature plays a role; to the second, no.

I do not know, quite simply, the extent to which capitalism and the rights of women, gays, trans people, and various ethnic groups overlap. All I know is that it is not total; that’s stupid. It misses the point of socialism and it does nothing to help the circumstances of those for whom it claims to speak.

And this is where I and intersectionality depart.

Extraordinary Claims Need Extraordinary Evidence

The late Christopher Hitchens was very fond his trumpet-call that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” His attacks against the faithful are just as relevant to those whose reverence of the police service blinds them to some of the most damning suspicions that confront it.

Let’s try. I have an extraordinary claim for you: that the following chronicle of events is nothing but “a thousand fuckups”, honest and sweet:

  • Even though Mark Duggan was not carrying a gun, which he had somehow managed to throw 20ft without any witness seeing, V53 shot him in the honest belief that he was;
  • V53 shot him again when it seemed as though Duggan’s phantom gun was pointing in his direction;
  • There was nothing of interest in Duggan’s minicab, which was mysteriously removed from the scene before being returned;
  • The Met’s descent first from the erroneous claim that Duggan had fired on police, then to the claim that he had a gun, then that a trained marksman had thought that he had, was an awkward list of blunders;
  • The neatly-collaborating statements of both V53 and his colleague was unrelated to the eight hours in which they had been conferring;
  • So too was their refusal to answer any questions in separate interviews.

I will grant you that each of those points, on its own, is plausible; we are all human. But taken together, V53’s series of events are most fantastical.

So where, I ask, is the extraordinary evidence to explain it? The defensive mechanisms will kick in: no member of the public can hope to share in the inquest’s insight, I am told. I don’t dispute that; worse, I know full well that I lack both the skills and the patience to come up with anything of use from the evidence. Legal systems uproot our lefty assumptions, they say – no anti-racist battle cries, no strikes. Just the jury’s impartial conclusions.

No, forget all of that. My question is – what possible extra “detail” could salvage this incredible story?

I ask because the police are simply not measured to the same standards as the public under their watch. Not a single officer, in the last fifty years, has been convicted for death in custody. And how does this come as a surprise – to all but the merriest utopians – when juries like that at the inquest into Duggan’s death have to be “certain” of the officer’s malicious intent? There’s not a single psychologist in Britain who could do that.

Perhaps the officer was telling the truth about his mistake; I am in no position to say. Nor do I know whether or not V53 was intended to be the scapegoat of an inept, or institutionally racist, police service; as it stands, these questions cannot be answered while officers are absolved of the burden of proof.

But may I remind you that someone died here -  anyone who does not question this verdict not only shows himself content with the prospect of executions on the streets of London, but surrenders his analytical faculties to the lame, brain-dead assumptions that saturate most of this country’s understanding of police integrity.

Don’t assume the best of the police.

A Propagandist Rides to War

The Education Secretary insists that the mad butchery in the name of God, King, and Country nearly 100 years ago was entirely “just”:

In an article for the Daily Mail, Mr Gove says he has little time for the view of the Department for Culture and the Foreign Office that the commemorations should not lay fault at Germany’s door.

The Education Secretary says the conflict was a ‘just war’ to combat aggression by a German elite bent on domination.

‘The First World War may have been a uniquely horrific war, but it was also plainly a just war,’ he says. ‘The ruthless social Darwinism of the German elites, the pitiless approach they took to occupation, their aggressively expansionist war aims and their scorn for the international order all made resistance more than justified.’

Mr Gove writes: ‘Richard Evans may hold a professorship, but these arguments, like the interpretations of Oh! What a Lovely War and Blackadder, are more reflective of the attitude of an undergraduate cynic playing to the gallery in a Cambridge Footlights revue rather than a sober academic contributing to a proper historical debate.’

The Education Secretary says it is time to listen to historians such as Margaret Macmillan who has ‘demonstrated how those who fought were not dupes but conscious believers in king and country, committed to defending the western liberal order’.

Let the propaganda die, Michael. But don’t take it from me; the Thatcherite Niall Ferguson has explained very well why the First World War was a mesh of blunders and lies.

Britain did not go to war over Belgium. Edward Grey, the Foreign Secretary, wrote to the German Ambassador that “the neutrality of Belgium affected feeling in this country” but he would not guarantee the neutrality of his government if the Germans attacked through France; though Britain’s 1839 Treaty with Belgium would turn out to be a delightful legalistic convenience. As it happens, archives released in the years since have shown the Committee for Imperial Defence (that chivalrous band of humanitarians) were considering invading Belgium from a strategic point of view. It is simply ludicrous to pretend that Britain’s casus belli was in defence of the “Western liberal order”.

Britain’s Liberal government, though, was another matter. With a slender majority in the Commons, there was a serious threat that the government would have to call a general election if Britain reneged on its pledge to Belgian neutrality; it would have led to the resignation of Grey at the very least. It was judged to be more more convenient to fight the greatest war that humanity had ever waged; better to round up those too poor to vote than to compete for the consent of those who could.

For all the propaganda, indeed, liberal ideas were a wasted effort on those who signed up. Posters of soldiers standing in English meadows had no bearing on the thousands of the dispossessed urban class moving en masse to enroll; declaration of war led to financial collapse and rocketed unemployment, to which – and never let it be said that war has no ironies – the only salvation was found in uniform in Europe’s trenches. It was grab a gun (or a long stick, if there were not enough) or go hungry. With a consistent stream of food supplies and its inevitable sense of comradeship – relief from whip-cracking bosses – the reality was that the conditions that many faced at the front were far superior to the lives they lived in England.

Whatever the case, British soldiers never became the liberal standard-bearers that legend has condescended to make them. Many of those who had played football with the Germans on Christmas Day in 1914 would see their team-mates gunned down in front them; and gripped by the bloodied terror haunting No Man’s Land they would fight all the harder, often killed on the same fields as their friends. This is not a legacy, I imagine, that we should be rushing to defend. Were it valid, there’s not a single war in history that wouldn’t be justified by the horror of soldiers dying in vain – by the fatuous and arrogant verdict that the death of one man justifies those of many more.

The Great War was a waste. Millions died for no reason that could ever have pretensions to be justification. A stupid decision, made at a late hour in Whitehall, impoverished men and made them the oxen driving a war to its exhaustion; and they deluded themselves, as all people are capable of doing, into the belief that letting the blood of every remaining Hun might vindicate the sacrifices their friends made to causes that were never theirs. Forget liberal freedoms; to call the defence of Belgium simply “tragic” is dishonest and disgraceful.

For all the failures of the British government’s propaganda drives – which made compulsory enlistment so necessary – it’s a belated irony that the Education Secretary should fall for them so easily. Some advice for him: if he is serious about returning children to literature and history, he should probably start with Wilfred Owen.

My New Year’s Resolutions

In decreasing order of likeliness:

  1. Make Assad and Putin fight to the death in the stadium of a Sochi Olympics turned hunger games.
  2. Get drunk only when necessary.
  3. Blog more copiously.
  4. Be able to run a half-marathon.
  5. Learn to speak Russian.

Can’t wait.

All Men Are Rapists!

Perhaps gender segregation’s a non-issue; Universities UK has withdrawn its endorsement. But it seems to me as though the most common liberal reaction to it has by its immediate feminist knee-jerk – however laudable – generally underplayed the damage it poses to men.

Take Yvonne Ridley, whose conversion to Islam is indebted to a promise that she made to her Taliban captors a decade back to read the Koran – or the “magna carta for women“, as she calls it. (One imagines why she is so keen to jump for a Medieval metaphor.)

Yesterday evening she posted the following to Twitter:

Just some typical misogyny from the conservative choir, you might say; and let them wallow in their masochism. A number of Muslim women do not seem to worry that leaving their “spiritual” authority to the guardianship of male scholars and imams might have leave them some dangerous consequences.

But do not let me stand accused of misrepresenting her position. Ridley states that her position is purely a discussion in the interests of public safety; an additional female-only service on buses or the tube late at night, she suggests, might reduce the number of sexual offences committed against women.


I followed the discussion for a bit, and by the end of the evening Ridley was showcasing her good multi-faith credentials by praising such alternative suggestions as well-lit platforms, conductors and better security. To this, she constantly stressed that even if women were to receive their own, segregated public transport it would be voluntary; how, after all, could a reasonable fellow turn down the request of elderly women to travel alone, if it gives them safety?

Does Ridley seriously believe that segregated seating is a matter for the secular authorities, and those looking to control violence against women? Maybe; I don’t know. It is why she so instinctively considered the idea as a solution that bothers me when, to my mind, no Hindu, atheist or Christian woman would be so likely to suggest it. Ridley’s statement that “all rapists are men” might just have been to say that all men are rapists: men cannot be trusted. They are prone to sexual desires egregious to the sanctified woman, who gains in spirit what she lacks in muscle, or in legal rights:

The Prophet said, “Isn’t the witness of a woman equal to half of that of a man?” The women said, “Yes.” He said, “This is because of the deficiency of a woman’s mind.”
(—Sahih al-Bukhari, 3:48:826)

Gender segregation as a woman’s oasis immediately occurs to Ridley, in other words, because she has taught herself to believe that one can build a society from its chromosomes. Instead of looking to cross-gender solutions, she jumps to misandry.

If violence is disproportionately aimed at women, then it is important to bring as many of both genders into the support of campaigns against it; to question the roles of schools, and ask why alpha-males still think they matter; to encourage people to travel where it is busy; to attack binge drinking; and to promote a sense of equality between men and women. Whatever the case, it could never be healthy for one half of a society to be constantly subject to the wicked prejudice of the other.

I recently cited Milton to show can people can reach the right answers from the wrong origins; a belief in liberty of conscience so that the soul can reveal its true intentions. Ridley could learn from how the Victorian suffragists fought for equality from the deflated utopianism of the middle-class and its “separate spheres”; as Millicent Fawcett, leader the NUWSS, wrote in 1898:

To women as mothers is given the charge of the home and the care of children. Women are therefore, by nature as well as by training and occupation, more accustomed than men to concentrate their minds on the home and the domestic side of things. But this difference between men and women, instead of being a reason against their disenfranchisement , seems to me to be the strongest possible reason in favour of it; we want to see the home and the domestic side of things to count for more in politics and in the administration of public affairs than they do at present.
(—Home and Politics)

It’s a little unsatisfying that the rough-and-ready suffragettes would be the most serious blow to the pace of feminism’s first wave; that said, it would be rather encouraging if conservative Muslims could, like Britain’s tame Christian forebears, promote the integration of women rather than opine on a world from which it has taken many women rights activists a century to escape.

They’d still be wrong, though.

From Milton to Morsi: The Puritan’s Test for the Islamist

When the Egyptian President Morsi was ousted from office back in July, various commentators assumed that those who denounced him were simple-minded ignoramuses unable to distinguish between political Islam and jihad. Here was a man who had been elected by the popular will; it was undemocratic not to stand with him, it was said. Consistent equivalents were drawn with Western leaders – was Bush never so unpopular, and was the elderly accused Belusconi not in need of expulsion, of a Mussolini if you will?

Morsi overruled the democratic process. Individual freedoms were claimed for the government; it became policy to target those minorities whose unity threatened the Freedom and Justice Party, from Coptic Christians to liberals. He was, in short, the figurehead of a (at the risk of sounding tautological) deeply anti-democratic theocratic movement. His supporters have been sure to carry on his legacy on the streets, however stirred by the coup that has so stupidly and irresponsibly itself pitched against them.

This question of Islamist movements is a worrying one for a democrat. You see, I find anticipation of a coming “Enlightenment” for Islam a little embarrassing, almost – dare I saw – a little Orientalist in its armchair intellectualism. Islamist movements are a reality across the fresh painting on the Arab political world, be they sectarian, moderate or sponsors of terror. There’s Irshad Manji, sure - but it seems to me that it is in the schooling of some very basic, visceral instincts that will be the prerequisite for change in Islamic communities in Africa and the Middle-East, where they are invariably not ruled by a First Amendment or littered with secular schooling. The deeply religious in these places must first come to know a confidence sure enough to grant tolerance and patience: as searches for social movements go, it’s a patronising one - but it does identify something beyond progress’s very modest starting line.

Here, then, is my new test for the Islamist – raised from the voices of English Puritanism. Pass it and you scrape the modern test for what is palatable to a democrat; fail it and my sympathies go.

John Milton. Far from some whitewashed commodity of English Puritanism, to his name being the epic Paradise Lost, Milton nevertheless found himself alienated by the Presbyterian Parliament that rose against Charles I; he remained what we might term a “political Christian”, looking for moral guidance in the inspiration that so readily lay behind his poetry, but he stood firm against the desires of the later republic to forge oppressive laws from the contents of their halo-fashioned minds.

This is the poem with which he eviscerated these Presbyterians:

On the New Forcers of Conscience under the Long Parliament (1646)

Because you have thrown off your Prelate Lord,
And with stiff vows renounced his Liturgy,
To seize the widowed whore Plurality,
From them whose sin ye envied, not abhorred,
Dare ye for this adjure the civil sword
To force our consciences that Christ set free,
And ride us with a Classic Hierarchy,
Taught ye by mere A. S. and Rutherford?
Men whose life, learning, faith, and pure intent,
Would have been held in high esteem with Paul
Must now be named and printed heretics
By shallow Edwards and Scotch What-d’ye-call!
But we do hope to find out all your tricks,
Your plots and packing, worse than those of Trent,
That so the Parliament
May with their wholesome and preventive shears
Clip your phylacteries, though baulk your ears,
And succour our just fears,
When they shall read this clearly in your charge:
New Presbyter is but old Priest writ large.

At Cromwell’s funeral procession, Milton walked blind alongside his fellow Christian poets Dryden and Marvell. I don’t like to call anything inevitable in history; but one has to ask how such an awkward religious tolerance might have appeared in England without that first popular victory over divine rule, the dethroning of Charles I. It happened in France nearly a century and half later, and its failure in Russia after 1917 has allowed the Orthodox Church to fantasise in perspex once again.

Milton represented the germination of secular thought: a consideration of diversity, and uncertainty, pumping through a deeply religious mind. That’s a line that would upset many academics. But the same must surely be true of some of today’s political Islamists.

If they would sympathise with Milton’s poem for freedom of conscience, then they surely become that which is just about tolerable in the 21st century: the morally-charged religious who, though guided in their politics by Islam, will nevertheless prepare themselves to let go of others’ corporeal and spiritual fates. I do not think I will live to see same-sex marriage legalised in Saudi Arabia, but this is a trajectory in which a distant hope, if generations away, might find an ally.

It is the difference, in other words, between deep conservatism and reactionary theocracy. And Morsi was on the wrong side.

Always solidarity with socialists, liberals and those blunt-speaking people struggling for their democratic rights today and who rightly refuse to wait for the decades that I fear they may need; but the result of this has to be that those “Islamists” who respect them, and who hold their stomachs not to pass Medievalist laws, must be tolerated by democrats.

There’s my test. Take it.

“You’re so dangerous and it’s so exciting.” (On UUK)

Another stupid, misleading article by Myriam Francois-Cerrah:

Universities UK’s guidance was not about the rights or wrongs of segregating an event by gender, rightfully steering clear of this important discussion in order to allow, as a free society should, the full expression of a range of distasteful, illiberal and even offensive views. It’s a lesson Muslims are regularly lambasted with. This means that although as a Muslim, I oppose the segregation of lectures along gender lines, even side by side, I’m glad British universities have upheld their commitment to securing free speech and promoting debate, which is exactly what university is about. It is now up to Muslims internally to push forward with greater gender equity, increase female representation and challenge sexist views which bend theological interpretations to fit their patriarchal desires. Banning segregated seating will do nothing to resolve the misogyny which at times underpins it.

“Do anything controversial, however bad, and I’ll support it. Because I like disagreeing with things.” And who said careerists were vacuous?

Francois-Cerrah has either not read UUK’s guidance, which she so readily explains to us, or she has so subsumed herself into the inferiority complex of the Muslim community that she feels that she must throw herself behind its most reactionary – and unrepresentative – elements. It’s either ignorant or dishonest.

Firstly, take a look at what UUK actually said:

Ultimately, if imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely- held religious beliefs of the group hosting the event, or those of the speaker, the institution should be mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully.

In other words, for men and women to choose to sit next to one another in a public gathering is an attack on the speaker’s “genuinely-held religious beliefs”; if you do not abandon your rights when you are instructed, you are being an odious, inward-looking and regressive troublemaker. Indeed, Omar Ali appeared on Channel 4 News to celebrate the victory of religious bigotry as being that “we live in a liberal society.”

One has to wonder whether he has completely misunderstood the meaning of liberalism – which, to its credit, were such frivolities as the emancipation of women - or whether the political Islamic pressure groups have finally understood the virtues of their alliance with the far-left.

But to Francois-Cerrah:

It is Universities UK which is calling for bans; here, on the right of individuals to express their beliefs in the physical (not merely “spiritual”) equality of the two sexes. That is an assault on freedom of expression. No one is saying that deluded victims of indoctrination – male or female – may not voluntarily segregate themselves at a mosque or Agatha Christie-esque dinner party. But I will not allow you to force me to sit where I do not wish to sit.

1) Grow up.

2) This is why we need socialism and not this stupid wishy-washy liberal attitude to things.


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