Identity, Morality, Purpose, Action, Connection
In the year 1989 Kimberlé Crenshaw introduced a new word to better articulate the overlapping nature of identity and its impact on how people relate to one another. As a prominent scholar of Critical Theory, Crenshaw noticed that discrimination laws weren’t adequate in circumstances where discrimination was dependent on both gender and race. She was right of course. Laws meant to force people to treat everyone the same are difficult to enforce when what constitutes a protected class is very clear, let alone make determinations that consider the complex intersection between protected classes. This is a logical consequence of the fact that proving discrimination when it is directed towards a particular amalgam of these groups is nigh impossible, unless of course, you can read minds.1 The thing is, Crenshaw wasn’t concerned about some random amalgam, as a self-described black feminist she was concerned about the intersection of discrimination against African American women specifically.2
The classic example Crenshaw uses to illustrate this concept is the constructive discrimination against black female employees at General Motors in the 1970’s who were fired under the auspices of a “last-hired-first-fired” seniority based provision in the company’s labor agreement. The court recognized race and gender as protected classes under Title VII of the Civil Rights act, but expressed concern regarding the idea of creating new protected classes out of the various possible permutations of those already recognized. Judge Wangelin expressed his concern thus:
The prospect of the creation of new classes of protected minorities, governed only by the mathematical principles of permutation and combination, clearly raises the prospect of opening the hackneyed Pandora's box.3
The judge found no evidence of gender discrimination in this case, then punted the question of racial discrimination over to a parallel case involving General Motors, the labor union, and (male) black employees.4 In an effort to rectify this grave injustice, she coined the term intersectionality which google defines as follows:
noun: intersectionality; plural noun: intersectionalities
the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.
"through an awareness of intersectionality, we can better acknowledge and ground the differences among us"
I find this definition toxic and offensive to my liberal sensibilities. It follows from a premise that I simply don’t subscribe to. The pessimistic idea that identity is inherently linked to discrimination or disadvantage is fundamentally toxic in my view. I also believe that the certainty of negative outcomes is a perverse lie in the face of a prevailing type of hope that is always rational. Intersectionality is too valuable to be inextricably linked to this toxic assumption. Also hand in glove with this formulation is the notion that there is a “system” responsible for our oppression. What if it is not an artificial system that oppresses us, but nature itself? What if this oppression is something that we all have the capacity to overcome by cultivating virtue? I argue that this is so, and aim to coin a new term reflecting an affinity for cultivating virtue and social cohesion viewed through the lens of identity: Tonic Intersectionality.
My esteemed literary colleagues Jay Rollins, John Carter, Mark Bisone, Luc Koch, Harrison Koehli, and William Hunter Duncan have written recently about male identity. Their works have advanced a virtue-oriented tonic masculinity5 that I find to be a crisp and refreshing contrast to the toxic masculinity demonstrated by the likes of Andrew Tate. I think this conception is not only useful, it is critical to forestall a complete collapse of our civilization with one important caveat: We must apply this notion of a tonic identity to ALL of the identities to which we subscribe.6
Forging Intersectional Bonds
The identities we hold allow us to foster connection with our fellow man. If we share just one, we can rapidly overcome hurdles that professional victims routinely assure us are insurmountable. To provide a quick example of what I’m talking about, exiting a liquor store in St. Louis, I walked by a bearded gentlemen wearing an Army PT shirt. The exchange proceeded as follows:
“You in the Army?”
“What did you do?”
“I was a Combat engineer xxxxx unit out of xxxxx”
“Hell yeah! I’m a PT with 1ID over at Riley”
“That’s whats up!”
“How’d you enjoy your time?”
“Oh, you know how it is”
“Indeed, indeed, you have a good night, brother”
“You too, brother”
The color of our skin, gender, and sexual orientation were irrelevant in the context of this exchange. Our shared identity as Soldier/Veteran was the basis of that brief relationship.
We have plenty of identities that we share with those around us. To parlay this common ground into robust social cohesion we must to take an additional step, however. We must adhere to a virtuous conception of the identities to which we subscribe. To continue with the above example, imagine I had seen the Army shirt and said “I’m in the Army… fuck the Army.” This would have destroyed any chance for a deep connection. Why? What if you hate the Army? Is it not appropriate to say so? The thing is, it isn’t about the Army. It is about your identity in this context. To say something like that is to denounce that aspect of your identity, which then makes it impossible to connect with people on that basis. The Army could be completely evil, but saying this would not use that first impression to portray a virtuous conception of that identity. In this case, the identity is distinct from the institution. The impact it had on you is something you share with others that can bring you together, but this impact lives in your identity, not in the particulars of an external institution.
Once rapport is established by a recognition of shared identity, there is a shared moral foundation upon which a relationship can be built. The continued construction of any such relationship is tied inextricably to this shared identity. As the relationship grows, you may discover other identities that you share. This only deepens the relationship so long as your conduct relative to those professed identities is perceived as virtuous. If, on the other hand, your conduct is perceived as sinful relative to identity upon which the relationship is based, the connection will be severed. To illustrate, I recently attempted to establish a professional relationship with a senior officer with whom I share many identities. Soldier, officer, leader, American, medical provider, and yes, race and gender. This officer curtly informed me that he was not interested in such a relationship and candidly explained why. For one thing, I didn’t get the COVID vaccine when I was ordered to do so. In his conception, this is unequivocally sinful behavior for a Soldier, officer, and leader. More than that, I had openly expressed concerns about the safety and efficacy of the mRNA vaccines. He explained that in his view, this is not something medical providers do. Sharing identity is simply not enough. In fact, when the perception of sin is insinuated, it is perhaps worse than if no identity was shared at all. It is the perception that one is a virtuous representation of a shared identity that precedes and fosters connection.
The Culture War
Now let us consider our identities as Americans. Does this model help clarify the destruction being sown by efforts to characterize America as inherently evil and/or racist? Was the anti-war left ever able to differentiate between being an American and being vehemently opposed to the actions of the U.S. Government (identity vs. institution)? Without this discernment, the expression of open contempt for America is a denunciation of the one identity that everyone in the body politik shares by definition. Distinctions like this must be made if our country is ever to return to some semblance of a cohesive social order. Going further, what of trans? I’m not sure anyone fully appreciates the consequences of denouncing an identity that you share with half of the world’s population in exchange for an identity that you will share with less than 1%. And what of the Davos crowd with their fervent interest in promoting transhumanism? Are they not considering the consequences of denouncing the one identity that all of humanity now shares, or are such consequences a feature of this perverse interest? I contend that all of these trends advanced by those who support the hegemony of a transnational Globalist American Empire look at intersectionality as a tool to divide.
Unfortunately, our once robust Constitutional American Republic with its previous model of distributed power commensurate with federalism has ultimately concentrated power in Washington D.C. to a hitherto unrivaled extent in absolute terms. The walls separating our branches of government first warped with executive overreach proceeded to collapse entirely amidst the entrenched legions of unaccountable bureaucrats stumbling drunk on fatuous self-righteousness, insensate to the needs of those who pay their salary. Meanwhile, the full, divisive force of a toxic contest of oppression elevating vice over virtue has fully dominated our culture, dividing the American people to an extent not seen in our history since the Civil War.
Michael McConkey highlights the sociopolitical situation we find ourselves in thus:
It's in this way that the corporate, commercial, commodifying, mediatized operations of managerial class intervention, i.e., the culture industry – as much as the managerial liberalism, social engineering, and bureaucratic paternalism of the administrative state – have contributed to the erosion of the organic communities which the new populism now must somehow revive. That is the challenge if such community is to avoid dissolving into an emotionally crippled cluster of monadic, deracinated individuals, serving as the worker drones, tax cattle, and consumer automatons of the ruling globalist faction of the managerial class.
As someone oriented towards individual liberty, I am somewhat fond of individualism. However, without the stabilizing influence of identities that weave individual interest with community responsibility, ideological activists and grifters alike have been allowed to sow widespread distrust and animosity across this once cohesive America. The method was simple. Through politics and culture alike, these malign forces have forced America to focus on a narrow and pessimistic conception of the role that identity and intersectionality play in social cohesion. This weaponized employment of toxic intersectionality was essentially a magic spell that transformed the glue that binds us together into a caustic acid. Fortunately this spell can be reversed. The sword of intersectionality is fully capable of cutting both ways. All that we must do is to sharpen the other edge, the tonic edge.
Intersectionality isn't just a tool that can be used to unite and divide. It is also a useful conceptual tool to guide the cultivation of virtue. To borrow from Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of cultural production7, each identity that we have can be thought of as a sort of magnetic field with two poles: Convergent/Virtuous and Divergent/Sinful. The divergent pole pulls us towards our base instincts and pathological extremes. If we let it, the divergent pole will dissipate and degrade our connection with any and all identities to which we may subscribe.8At the very least, it will ruin our ability to connect with others on the basis of any such identities.
The convergent pole is represented by that ultimate purpose we perceive in relation to each of the identities we hold. Movement towards the convergent pole is movement towards completion and perfection.9 I’ll share the deep purpose I perceive to be associated with several of my identities to illustrate:
Father: Set the conditions for my children to thrive
Husband: Hold the woman I love perpetually above the yawning pit of despair that is female social egalitarianism10
Son/Brother: Ensure that my conduct leaves my family with a net sense of pride in me as their kin
Soldier: Support and defend the constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic
Therapist: Provide my patients with the better care than they can find anywhere else (at a price that they can afford if I’m ever in the private sector)
American: Do my part to make my country the place it has always purported to be
Scientist: Be motivated by discerning what is true above all else in the pursuit of knowledge
Friend: Remain loyal to those who are loyal to me
Man: Don’t complain unless you’re taking appropriate responsibility and doing something constructive about it.
For all of your identities, you have some ultimate purpose. There is a telos to identity, and this is it. The pole of divergence/sin is constantly pulling you towards behaviors not aligned with that purpose. Fatigue causing me to not read to my daughter when I had planned to. The desire to go live off the grid and disengage from rankling civic concerns. The pull between these two poles creates the tension that is baked into the term tonic. By staying on the path of righteousness and cultivating virtue, which in this case is simply engaging in those behaviors that bring you closer to your purpose, that tension can be reduced, but never eliminated. Surrender to base impulses and the tension will be gone, but your ability to connect with your fellow man denuded and your life without meaning. The despair you would feel in this case is the pull of the convergent pole that is always there to show you the way out.
Use tonic intersectionality as a tool to build connection and form lasting, cooperative, mutually beneficial relationships with your common man. Consider the pull of the convergent and divergent poles of intersectionality as you strive to live a life of virtue and meaning. Who knows what we may accomplish together if we only answer the call of the convergent pole and choose to focus on our common ground. There is only one way to find out, and I identify as an American who means to.
Enter microaggressions (see this article if you’re curious about the relationship between this construct of Critical Theory and how it encourages the counterproductive cognitive processes called “thinking traps”
I am employing critical theory to challenge the existing power structure. Crenshaw is the quintessential example of the wealth and privilege conferred upon members of the managerial elite. Our reasoning ability is highly adapted to rationalize doing what is in our interest. Crenshaw’s efforts to advance the interests of black feminists necessarily advance her own as a black feminist. Are these efforts born of a yearning for social justice, or merely the machiavellian machinations of a social climber? Critical theory suggests the latter. I say, “why not both?”
Pretty insightful, no? To look at some concrete downstream effects that we are experiencing as a result of the opening of this “pandora’s box” see Doc Hammer’s excellent article on the cost of DEI in University:
Referenced Court Decision: https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/413/142/1660699/
Or Sacred with respect to William Hunter Duncan’s piece
Author of Third Paradigm Tereza Coraggio recently wrote an article arguing that this is a ‘twisted’ conception of the term ‘tonic masculinity’ which she coined. Since this article isn’t about tonic masculinity, but rather identity in general appropriating the tonic vs toxic framework, I didn’t think to credit Tereza, especially since tonic is listed as an antonym of toxic in at least one thesaurus. This footnote is meant to address this oversight. To be clear, without Tereza Coraggio, Jay Rollins would have never appropriated the term ‘tonic masculinity’ and it is exceedingly unlikely that I would have come to use the term ‘tonic’ as a general synonym for virtue and antonym for the term ‘toxic’. While I am doling out credit, I would like to thank Harrison again for his article on tonic masculinity digging into the etymology of the word tonic, as this article is what inspired my true appreciation for the term as useful contrast to toxic.
What is the purpose that accompanies each identity? To some degree, it is self-defined so there will always be disagreements. You can sidestep these disagreements and attempt to connect on the basis of other shared identities, or you can work to establish consensus as to what constitutes virtuous behavior for a given identity. I am attempting to establish a framework here that will make it easier for those faced with absurd perversions of reality exemplified by statements like "healthcare workers don't question vaccines" and "if you don't vote for Joe Biden, you ain't black" to have productive conversations. The most challenging conversations will be with young white heterosexual Christian men that have been emotionally abused by social activists who perceive individuals with these identities as engines of oppression as opposed to human beings. Bonding along these lines cannot be socially prohibited without engendering deep hatred and resentment, which has perhaps been one of the objectives of this type of social activism all along. White men from my generation typically side stepped this issue by discarding “white” as an identity of any import long ago in a manner perfectly described at the beginning of this essay, but the shared trauma of the younger generation will not dissipate just because my generation would like to it.
H/T to Harrison for convergent/divergent dichotomy!
See this excellent interview or any of the work of Joyce Benenson for details: https://modernwisdom.libsyn.com/571-joyce-benenson