I’ve always been confused by ‘intersectional’ claims about oppression. This is the idea that different types of prejudice or oppression are in some way overlapping, or related to each other. In some cases, proponents also claim that you can’t defeat one without defeating all other types of prejudice. A strange claim, given the existence of human bias, the fact we can never be perfect rational machines, and hence the truth that there will always be some sort of prejudiced thinking within humanity. That doesn’t mean we can’t eliminate – or that we haven’t already alleviated – some types of prejudice.
Most problematically, the concept of intersectionality causes similar problems to social science, as ideas such as homeopathy cause to physical science. Homeopathy is a form of medical treatment that never creates useful effect above that of a placebo (a medicine-less pill or treatment, used as a control group) within clinical tests, primarily because it’s treatment methodology is based on pseudo-scientific theory. But homeopaths co-opt the placebic effects it causes as effects of their pseudo-scientific system. And this obscures our thinking and research on placebos themselves: the ability to treat, and sometimes even cure, conditions without significant medicinal or surgical intervention, purely by suggestion.
Placebos are amazing: two placebo pills create a more significant effect than one, placebic injections create more significant positive effects than placebic pills, and placebic surgeries create even more positive effects still. Such an interesting area deserves more research and understanding, as it creates awareness of actual truths about the human body that could create great leaps forwards in how we treat and manage many conditions.
Similar to homeopathy, ideas like intersectionality create almost mystical concepts about overlapping forms of prejudice, obfuscated by big words from the post-modern advocates within sociology, and obscure a real understanding of what actually connects and causes the problem with all forms of prejudice: context.
The reason prejudice exists, and the reason it spreads so well, is because it leaps on tiny grains of truth, tells people these grains are actually acorns, and then grows massive trees of prejudice from them. For example, it will spot a physical difference such as colour of skin, then grow from that all kinds of stereotypes (“Black people are violent”), or wrongly pin on it a socially caused issue (“Asian people are more intelligent”) and then use them to divide people or scare-monger, sometimes even just using bad correlation (“All Arabs are terrorists”)
The truth that people have different coloured skin is of course correct, as is the fact that different people might come from different countries. But what prejudice does is to take these facts out of context, create myths or misunderstandings around them, and whip up a frenzy.
Oppression that is based on prejudice – whether it be something like racism, sexism or something less physically-aimed like homophobia – can be easily defined as people losing grip entirely on context. So on issues where race or sex is irrelevant (such as on the right to vote), prejudice is losing the grip on this context, and instead denying a person the right based on the irrelevant characteristic.
We can demonstrate this by subjecting the idea of context to wider, less-human analogies of oppression. That allows us to check whether it makes sense.
When a human being kills and eats a pig, for no other reason than she can – despite there being no health or practical reasons meaning that she needs kill it to eat – then that human being might defend the action on the basis that the pig has no human rights, for example, and thus she can do what she likes based on her own rights to freedom.
But when we talk about rights to vote, or rights to freedom of religious belief, for example, we talk about rights that are correctly assigned only to humans. That is because the context of those rights requires that someone have the intellectual abilities and intellectual interests of a human being. Unless we suddenly discover intelligent, rational and self-aware creatures on Venus (which we almost certainly won’t). The context and relevance of this discovery would ask that these creatures receive such rights, too.
So the pig shouldn’t have a right to vote. However, given that a pig has a unified psychological presence, and sentiently experiences the life that they possess, this seems to mark the pig out as possessing the correct context for some of the interests we assert that other humans have: namely interests in continuing life, or avoiding suffering, perhaps. All the interests, in other words, that a sentient being would possess by virtue of being sentient. The content of what these interests require of moral agents (individuals capable of respecting the moral interests of other individuals) such as humans is up for debate – whether it is a right to life, a right to be left alone and not introduced into human society, etc. But a rational analysis of the context definitely says there are interests there, and that oppression can be forced on them.
This, in turn, tells us that even new and perhaps largely unaccepted forms of oppression show this issue of context. Any physical, intellectual or emotional difference between two individuals, or two groups of individuals, should only be taken into account in the sense that context dictates it’s relevance. In issues of prejudice and the oppression is causes, such as racism, homophobia or sexism, it is context that is lost. Context is the only idea that ties them all together.
Instead, what intersectionality does is create hugely complex, largely insurmountable, and extremely complicated books, articles and lectures on a subject which motivate a small minority, whilst leaving the majority of society confused, or even aggressively against, the movements they are trying to help. That is a travesty when you can show, rather simply, that what connects all oppression is simply the lack of an ability to exercise context and relevance in rational thought. There is no dominant paradigm of oppressive thought, or structural inequality that causes oppression through patriarchal norms. There are people. And those people sometimes have bad intentions. But most of the time the problems is that people lose grip on context, winding up with all manner of ridiculous opinions, actions and even large political movements. Some politicians – those with bad intentions – even take advantage of how easily people lose grip on context, and try to create a larger loss of context for their own gain. We don’t need 4 million word essays and books on this, we just need to spread the word.