The normalizing of the idea that “some animals are more equal than others” (George Orwell’s denouement in Animal Farm) has not only resulted in a grievance hierarchy, but ensured that various identity groups would devote increasing amounts of energy fighting for ascendance and supremacy in that hierarchy. Indeed, the concept of intersectionality seems tailor-made for this on-going scrum – if you can claim membership in more (and better, i.e. more “oppressed”) identity groups than others, you can claim both the right to criticize and the right not to be criticized.

Some of the grievance rankings are pretty obvious to all. Being white ranks below being not-white. Being a man ranks below being a woman. Being straight ranks below being gay.

And, being not-liberal not only ranks below being liberal or progressive, it is a reverse trump card, or a null multiplier if you prefer (the Untethered Orange Id’s surname has ruined that idiom) in that it wipes away all your identity markers and puts you at the bottom rung.

Some grievance rankings, however, are a bit less discernible. Every so often, an incident or occurrence helps us identify who ranks higher. For example, the Orlando night club shooting established that being Muslim ranks above LGBT, but who ranks above who is not always clear or agreed-upon.

Fold intersectionality into the mix, and things get complicated. Add the increasing granularity of identity politics, itself a product of the supremacy scrum (it’s not enough to be in a good identity group if others in the group are getting more attention than you are, so you have to create your own subset), and you’ve got an incredible range of combinations. For all we know, if we granularize enough, we might even exceed Domino’s Pizza’s 34 million supposed combinations.

Turns out, Domino’s 34 million claim is a gross understatement (some math geeks figure it at 16 billion). Unlike the pizza, though, the number of identity combinations is necessarily capped at the population of the world at any given moment. Barring allowances for multiple personalities, we cannot get any more granular than a unique identity descriptor for every individual on the planet. But, that doesn’t serve, because people can’t cluster into groups that way and engage in “us vs them” antics. And, granularity down to the individual level undermines the crux of identity politics: the “oppressor” vs “oppressed” duality.

But, before we dive into that, let’s review all the ways we are sorted.

Consider this list of identity categories from a website called “tolerance.org.”

  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Language
  • Marital/relationship status
  • Parent or childless
  • Family size and composition
  • Sexual orientation
  • Education
  • Career

What’s missing is as interesting as what’s included. Parentage (one or two, married or not, rich or poor), ancestry (when did parents come to America, from where, etc), ancestral economic status, geography (current and ancestral)… and, of course, political beliefs.

It’s quite arguable that political belief is a FAR bigger identity marker than many of the others listed, and yet it’s either presumed (if you’re in identity group X, you should be of political party Y), ignored, or noticed only in breach of presumption (a black conservative is anathema to the Left). But, social justice politics makes no allowance for difference of opinion, with the “woke” view considered objectively and irrefutably correct, even as it changes over time, and dissent from “woke” considered nothing more than ignorance or bigotry, which de-legitimizes that dissent. To grant political belief identity group status would be to legitimize political dissent, instead of simply declaring it invalid.

It’s a dizzying checklist, and it’s made even more complicated by the expansion in some of the categories. One website lists 63 genders, Facebook in the UK offers 71 genders, and another “work in progress” site lists, as of the writing of this essay, 117 genders. Yes, these lists subsume orientation at least in part, but that doesn’t make things much easier.

Granularity is also a significant matter in ethnicity, and it’s not hard to imagine people breaking ethnicity down ever-further in their battle for ascendancy. It’s probably not very woke to lump in all people of Central and South American heritage as “hispanic” or “latino” or “latinx” or whatever term won’t get you in dutch with the SJ hounds, because Mexican heritage, Puerto Rican heritage, Cuban heritage, Dominican heritage, Peruvian heritage, and so forth are distinct (and it’s not a triviality – there are significant animosities and presumed hierarchies across those heritages). Now, factor in some “mixing,” even within broader categories: Do the children of a Kenyan immigrant and a 10-generation American black get a different intersectionality than either of their parents? Which is considered more “oppressed?” Which granularities rank above which other ones?

To complicate the already-Byzantine, there’s the matter of choice. Some identity markers are obvious choices: One can change marital status, one can change the primary language in which one communicates, one can choose to have children, one can get more education, one can change careers, one can change religious belief… and, according to those who sort us, one can declare some identifiers that others might deem genetic. We’re not supposed to question or challenge the self-identification as a woman by someone with XY chromosomes. But, we are witnessing white people self-identify as black, and that’s a bridge too far even for many dedicated SJs.

There’s also change over time in some of these categories, and again some of these changes are deliberate choices. It’s not uncommon for trans people to change their sexual orientation after transitioning, for example. Whether this is biological or intellectual is not something I’ll delve into here; it suffices to note that an identity profile is not a static list.

What’s the point of all this, though? Intersectionality is supposedly about understanding other people, but if each of us operates from a ground state of equal treatment of each other, there needn’t be so much digital ink and societal activism spent on this matter. It would be enough to teach the golden rule:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,

variations of which can be found in just about every major religion in the world. There’s also a lay form, offered up two millennia ago as Marcus Tullius Cicero sixth mistake:

Six mistakes mankind keeps making century after century:
Believing that personal gain is made by crushing others;
Worrying about things that cannot be changed or corrected;
Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it;
Refusing to set aside trivial preferences;
Neglecting development and refinement of the mind;
Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.

The social justice movement would do well to heed Cicero (all of it, not just the last mistake), if its goals were equal treatment for all.

It’s not about equal treatment, though. It’s about preferential treatment, the “more equal than others” that Orwell warned us about, and the creation of this massively complex, knotted, and labyrinthine social justice structure is meant to legitimize telling others what to say and do, telling others what they’re not allowed to say or do, and taking control of others’ lives, wealth, and livelihoods. It’s not solely about politeness and courtesy, as SJs tell us. If it were, then teaching the Golden Rule would be sufficient.

As I noted in the open, the moment inequality is legitimized, competition for rank is incentivized. Whoever reaches the top (which can only be done by pushing others down) gets to claim immunity from criticism or dissent, because he’s the most oppressed and the most aggrieved. This follows the SJ pattern of “If you’re not a woman, you don’t get to have an opinion on reproductive rights,” “If you’re not a minority, you don’t get to have an opinion on racism,” and “If you’re not LGBT, you don’t get to have an opinion on LGBT matters.”

Critics of identity politics assert hypocrisy in that this mindset doesn’t carry through to all identities. The rebuttal I expect is that some identities are “oppressor” identities, and that “oppressor” identities don’t get to have opinions, period.

That’s it in a nutshell. If you can tally up enough grievance points, you can tell your critics and those who don’t agree with you to shut up, and wave your score card around as justification for being an oppressor of your supposed oppressors.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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