Bad analogies and bad politics (Vic Rosenthal)

 Vic Rosenthal's Weekly Column

Analogical reasoning is basic to human survival. If you can eat a peach, it’s probably safe to eat an apricot. Those of us who favor profiling for security believe that future terrorists will probably be a lot like past terrorists, and so we should look harder at the ones that fit the profile. Every day we make hundreds of decisions based on analogical reasoning: a thing or situation seems like one we are familiar with, so we treat it in a similar way.

Of course there are good analogies and bad ones. There are poisonous mushrooms that look like edible ones. Part of intelligence is knowing when an analogy is a good one in regard to the particular aspect that is important in that case. Political analogies are common, and can be dangerous.

One of the worst analogies ever is the analogy between ‘Palestinians’ and black Americans (here’s a classic expression of it by Condoleezza Rice). Their history is different, their situation is different, and their behavior is different. There is nothing that one can deduce from the story of American blacks that can help one understand the ‘Palestinians’, or vice versa. The reason blacks in pre-1960s America were not allowed to sit at lunch counters with whites is nothing like the reason Arabs aren’t allowed to move freely between Gaza and Israel. 

Why on earth would anyone think this? Lately, an entire ideology has appeared based on bad analogies. Just as Freud made sexuality the main driver of human behavior and Marx placed economics in that role, the new ideology of intersectionality tells us that it is oppression and discrimination. From the (somewhat mind-numbing) Wikipedia definition:

Intersectionality holds that the classical conceptualizations of oppression within society—such as racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and belief-based bigotry—do not act independently of each other. Instead, these forms of oppression interrelate, creating a system of oppression that reflects the "intersection" of multiple forms of discrimination.

Apparently the idea developed after feminist scholars argued that black women are doubly oppressed because of their membership in two oppressed groups (this may be empirically false, but nobody cares). It has since been generalized to a sort of unified field theory for all victims of all kinds of ‘oppression'.

This concept is related to the hierarchy of victimhood, in which being black gets more points than being white, being Palestinian gets more than being American, and so forth. Then the one with more points is allowed to tell the other that his perceptions are invalid due to his privileged point of view.

It also fits in with postcolonial theory, in which most conflict between groups is explained as a result of the oppression of a (usually non-white) colonized people by (usually Western) colonialists. The colonization can be military, economic, spiritual, or a combination; or it can be in the past but have left its victims traumatized. We could call this ‘post-colonial stress disorder’.

The prime analogy for Americans is always racism toward African-Americans, with which their national conscience is pathologically obsessed, even more so than Germans are with Jews. The more it is studied, the more it seems sui generis and not similar to other forms of discrimination. But to the intersectionalist, all the isms are similar. 

You may have noticed that Jew-hatred (commonly called ‘antisemitism’) is not mentioned in the definition, being subsumed along with ‘Islamophobia’ in “belief-based bigotry.” This obscures the fact that Jews are hated for reasons having nothing to do with their beliefs or lack of them. If this isn’t clear from recent history, it should be obvious from looking at anti-Jewish propaganda which depends on all of the traditional racial stereotypes and blood libels that have characterized Jew-hatred for several hundred years.

It also enables those who want to minimize its prevalence by lumping it with other minor ‘bigotries’, while the minuscule phenomenon of ‘transphobia’, for example, has its own category.

Finally, it’s convenient to not explicitly mention Jew-hatred because most people who subscribe to intersectionality and related dogmas see Jews as oppressors rather than victims. Needless to say, Muslims are high on the list of the victimized, colonized and oppressed, which brings us to another failure of analogical reasoning.

There’s no recognition of the distinction that can be made between irrational hatred based on race or ethnicity, and opposition to the ideological aspects of Islam and shari’a and its violent manifestations. It’s all considered ‘bigotry’. So intersectionalists suppress the legitimate criticism of the jihadist ideology that more and more characterizes Islam as it is practiced today.

I’ve saved the worst bad analogy for last. A corollary of intersectionality is solidarity, “the belief that there is a common thread of discrimination that binds together many ostensibly different communities,” which include everything from the poor, to disabled people, to animals, to climate-change activists, to Palestinians. Because all kinds of ‘oppression’ are thought to benefit a Western, white, male, rich, heterosexual ruling class, activists join together with other ‘oppressed’ groups against the power structure that is responsible for it. This Marxist panacea-ism* leads to absurdities like anti-sexual assault activists cooperating with Students for Justice in Palestine – “because all oppression is one.”

Intersectionality suppresses the cognitive dissonance that would normally arise when, as is happening now, LGBT people are being asked to join the struggle against “Islamophobia,” while others are pointing out that there is a shari’a-based death penalty for gay sex in several Muslim countries, and when a Muslim has just murdered 49 people in a gay nightclub – and at least in part was motivated to do so by his religious belief. In a feat of mental acrobatics, the conflict between Muslims motivated by Islamic ideology and the gays they oppress evaporates, and only the fact that each group sees itself as a victim remains.

Just as human behavior is motivated by more than sex and economics, not every conflict is a case of oppression, not all forms of discrimination are the same, and not every problem is related to entrenched white straight male privilege. But thanks to the doctrine that arguing against the propositions of intersectionality indicates that the speaker supports the ruling class and can be ignored, the dogma becomes irrefutable. Like other irrefutable dogmas (e.g., Marxism, Objectivism), intersectionality gets its persuasiveness from a massive circular argument. Unfortunately, it is as pernicious as it is popular.

* Panacea-ism: the belief that there is one single solution for all the world’s ills.

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