Learning a New Word
In support of friends Charles Murray and Allison Stanger, Andrew Sullivan wrote, Is Intersectionality a Religion? at New York Magazine.
Middlebury College’s American Enterprise Institute Club had invited Murray to speak with Poli Sci and Econ Professor Stanger about his 2012 book, Coming Apart: America’s Growing Cultural Divide, which does for the class divide what The Bell Curve did for racism in 1994.
Given Murray’s reputation for providing a semi-scientific basis for considering blacks to be genetically inferior, and Middlebury’s reputation for liberalism, I would have hoped that students would either stay away or politely challenge his position, but the latest issue of The Middlebury Campus offers a timeline of planning for a significant protest:
By evening on Feb. 24, several months after the AEI had scheduled Murray’s talk, the decision to bring Murray to the College had escalated into a campus-wide controversy. Over the weekend of Feb. 25-26, Middlebury Resistance, College Democrats, Wonderbread, other clubs and ad-hoc organizations were already beginning substantive organization efforts. Some of the first goals that emerged were to get the Department of Political Science to rescind its co-sponsorship in the event, to urge President of Middlebury Laurie L. Patton to not appear at the event and to pressure either the College or AEI to retract the invitation altogether.
On Monday, Feb. 27. Professors and students together led organizing efforts, which soon divided into two different groups: those who wished to carry out non-disruptive protests, and those who wished to shut down the event and prevent Murray from speaking.
There was in fact a loud protest along the lines of an Occupy march (“Racist, Sexist, AntiGay! Charles Murray go away!”), as shown in longer and shorter student videos. You can contrast these videos with the rigid sense of decorum afforded the debate between James Baldwin and William F Buckley fifty-two years earlier at Cambridge, but you should also contrast the relative life expectations of students then and now.
Organizers gave up on the debate in favor of a livestreamed discussion, but afterwards:
When Murray exited the building, escorted by [Middlebury VP] Burger and Stanger, the group was approached by protesters, several with their faces covered and some of whom were non-students. As Stanger and Murray attempted to get inside a car, protesters allegedly placed themselves in their path.
Murray was not physically harmed in the ensuing confrontation, but Stanger suffered from a neck injury following a physical altercation that transpired after she attempted to shield Murray and usher him to their vehicle. Stanger experienced whiplash that evening. On the following Sunday, she was diagnosed with a concussion. She was taken to Porter Hospital on both days.
As in so many protests that go violent, it is tempting to suspect black bloc provocateurs. Sullivan cites statements in the video (which I couldn’t find) and claims that these students are in the thrall of intersectionality. Which is, what?
“Intersectionality” is the latest academic craze sweeping the American academy. On the surface, it’s a recent neo-Marxist theory that argues that social oppression does not simply apply to single categories of identity — such as race, gender, sexual orientation, class, etc. — but to all of them in an interlocking system of hierarchy and power. At least, that’s my best attempt to define it briefly. But watching that video helps show how an otherwise challenging social theory can often operate in practice.
Sullivan’s goal is to portray intersectionality as just a left wing version of Trump-style intolerance, a charge that has been leveled against both the politically correct and social justice warriors. But intersectionality is a fairly straightforward idea, meaning that the challenges facing a person belonging to several traditionally-oppressed groups at once might not be covered by what we think of as racism, sexism, ageism, etc. White people trying to grok oppression is easy to parody, and critics who wish the idea of oppression would simply go away often comedically reduce it to a way of determining who gets to complain the loudest. Sharper critics observe that class differences are often overlooked in discussions of intersectionality.