I recently listened to a discussion with Coleman Hughes and Douglas Murray on Coleman’s podcast. At times I had trouble figuring out what world they live in. These are not small players and they covered many major talking points, so if someone can explain this to me, maybe I’ll find out what I’m missing. The title is “The Intersectional Crackup with Douglas Murray“, but intersectionality is far from the only topic.
If you aren’t familiar with the term “Intersectional”, it covers the interconnected nature of the categorizations that people fall into. As we began to address centuries old oppression, we addressed them separately, such as women’s issues or rights for people of African descent. Intersectionality recognizes the dynamics when a person is a member of more than one of those groups. It sounds simple when you look at the definition but it gets convoluted when people want to make it so, like in this podcast.
The podcast starts with a commercial, so you can skip that.
Hughes seems to head into an important discussion about leading a meaningful life at about 4 minutes in but he keeps the discussion to how difficult that is in a world of identity politics. He says the current culture has taken on a “religious” like form. From then on he focuses on how not to build a sense of self.
Murray’s first answer to Coleman’s opening question is to agree about the religion shaped hole in society. You can trace this back to Nietzsche, who famously said “God is Dead” and less famously said, “and we killed him”. He (Nietzsche) then went on to speculate what people will use to fill the missing answers and moral judgments provided by religion. Murray says the “intersectionalists” use guilt, atonement and heresy, just as religions have. He does not see a discussion about purpose. He denigrates youth on both the left and right. The conservatives don’t have a “how”. The Left does, but he rambles about some sort of “abdication” by adults that I don’t get.
He says he could give his views on how people found meaning in the past, but then he is vague. He says “literature” without naming much. He says this is a failure of atheists. I have seen him interact with atheists, so I can’t figure out why he doesn’t see them doing this. It was the atheist thinkers and writers, past and present where I did find meaning and purpose. The only purpose I can glean from religion is “read the scriptures, pray, and if you don’t find purpose, you did it wrong.” Anything specific, anything meaningful, can be found in a non-religious source from writers contemporary to those sources. The non-religious ones are usually not only better, but they don’t require you to memorize any names of prophets or their movements. You just need to work through the ideas.
Around this time in the podcast, 10 minutes or so, both of them have started using the term
“woke culture”. This is the latest term that began with a positive meaning but is used in a derogatory manner. I understand why to some extent. Some people are actually aware and paying attention, thus “woke”, and some are pretending to care about the issues of the day but are really not well informed. Hughes and Murray are going after the latter group.
Coleman then says something I couldn’t be sure I heard correctly it was so strange. He said, “If you are Right Wing, you can’t be unapologetically Christian”. I think he’s saying Right Wing Christians feel they have to hold back on expressing their religion because it is associated with oppression of the past. In the podcast, or any of the other times I’ve heard these two speak, I have not heard any awareness of a liberal version of Christianity. It is a wing of Christianity that has been growing for decades, with roots that go back to the 13th century and early Christian humanists.
Hughes however grew up with what seems to be a narrow-minded sect of liberals that saw themselves as a rebel force, as he says, a ‘resistance’, ala Star Wars. Instead of finding the many more nuanced messages and movements in the country, he has become ‘anti’ to whatever that was.
After the 13 minute mark, Murray pushes this even farther, saying these recent Left ideologies are not based on intellect. Occasionally, he does hit on something worthwhile. He notes that when a group of any kind presents a prepackaged system, it can gain followers, but there is a downside. He cites the Catholic Church and how Ireland, once a Catholic stronghold has lately been divorcing itself from that. I would say something simplistic, like Murray just hasn’t found a Liberal group that he likes, but that’s his job, to seek out and evaluate groups. So something else is going on here.
Hughes makes a similar worthwhile statement, then messes it up. He says he is not comfortable with the idea of “my country, right or wrong”, but then ponders why all those brown people are coming here. He figures if they are coming here, we must be doing something right, and apparently doesn’t figure much beyond that. It does not occur to either one of them that they are coming here for the promises in our Constitution. They come here for the education system we subsidize, the business assistance, the protection of rights, the things they don’t have in their country. The things Liberal politicians vote for and fight for.
Instead, at about 21 minutes, they launch into how amazed they are that we still get excited when another barrier is broken, like a black woman becoming Vice President. Hughes says Obama broke the final barrier and that should have “changed the model”. I’m not sure what that means, but he does not give the slightest nod to what happened to the culture during the Obama years.
Another good point from Murray is that young people, or anyone else, should not “hack into history”, looking for something wrong. Instead we should try to “reconcile” who we are to that past. But he sets up a straw man to knock down. He says people then ask him, “what about injustice”. He accepts there are struggles but dismisses them, giving no examples of one that was fought and won. He does not make a case for why it’s time to put discussions of racism, inequity, or misogyny to rest. He alludes to “rivers of thought” that we should attempt to navigate, but never says what those are. And I’ll repeat that this is not the first or only Douglas Murray I’ve listened to.
At 27 minutes, he makes a comment that he doesn’t want there to be “types” of books or studies, there shouldn’t be “women’s books” for example. He backs this up by citing Bayard Rustin, a strategist for Martin Luther King Jr who was against the rise of Black Studies in Universities. It seemed like segregation, just what the White people wanted. He jokes at something he apparently has heard, that people say there are no gay writers in the canon.
I don’t know who Murray is talking about because he rarely gives quotes or names. Of course
there are gay people who wrote books, ancient to current, because there were always gay people. The problem is, many of them hid it, or if they didn’t, the next generation erased it. It’s harder to erase history now, it is not “written by the winners” as it once was. This is an unusual time, when people of all stripes are gaining positions of power, crossing borders easily, working across cultural barriers. The only thing I can make of this is Hughes and Murray don’t want that. They play on the fact that they are each members of a category that has experienced disadvantages, Hughes is black, Murray is gay. They take their own example and claim that it proves these problems are behind us. They see none of the history of changes in norms, they never compare our time to any empire of the past that came close to the level of inclusivity we are experiencing. I can only speculate, but my guess is they see a zero sum game, and they are on the winning the side, so they want change to stop to reduce the risk of losing what they have.
It gets worse but the details are just a different flavor of the same theme. At 36 minutes, Murray calls the Left’s ideas “simple”, saying it’s easy to understand and the Left makes it more complex. The man has a platform as big as just about anyone, but I can’t find this simple message he says he knows.
I’ll give Murray credit for one more item, on the topic of cancel culture. If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean. It’s when someone who has found fame, position, and hopefully even has said something worth saying but, then says something off the mark. Some group, large enough to get an audience, amplifies that mistake and calls for resignation or demotion or some other form of cancelling. This puts a damper on anyone who is even thinking about speaking up. It takes our open forums where ideas are incubated and encouraged and turns them into echo chambers where everyone fears offending the next fringe group. Murray speculates that this behavior might bring down the “woke” system. I think it might already be happening.
After that he has a couple doozies. The one that tops them all was “we don’t need people to come along and pretend to us that we are things we’re not.” It’s at 52 minutes and 45 seconds. I agree that there are people who call themselves Liberal but don’t bring with it all of the liberal values that go with that label. They bring a set of standards that may not match the values and ideas that got us to the current enlightened era we are enjoying. We should all be vigilant of that. I don’t know how Murray misses that people in history who “pretend to us that we are things we’re not”, are the same types of people he is speaking against. Back in time, they were priests and princes and town constables and local sheriffs. Now they are bloggers and influencers and talk show radio hosts.
What’s missing is, we have to base our decisions to “call out” problems on the values that built our free and open society. “Calling out” is not the problem, it’s what you call out. We can discuss the “how”, but don’t let that bury the “what”.
|Deb Haaland. Secretary of Interior Nominee|
These two might be tired of people identifying themselves with a traditionally oppressed group. For myself, I am far from tired of hearing about barriers being broken. A Native American in the position of Interior Secretary for instance, is quite meaningful and worth noting. But these guys, now that it’s not just straight white guys getting everything, want to say, “oh yeah, that’s what we all wanted the whole time, see it’s fine, don’t say anything about it now and it will all go away forever”. They are getting paid by the system as it is, and they aren’t interested in why they are despite their intersectionality. Easier to denigrate anyone who does question it or blame them if they have not received their piece of the pie.
What I’m hearing here is that they feel very much the same way that large groups of people have felt in the past. Blacks felt marginalized, and in the South with voter suppression and everywhere with housing red lining, they were. Women were harassed at work and it was portrayed in sitcoms as a joke. I understand that men like this are not treated as special as men were just a generation ago, and that probably feels like they have lost something. But the people they are talking about are not asking to be treated specially, just equally.
I’d like to cover just one more term, “identity politics”. The way Hughes and Coleman are using it here, they are pointing to the people that claim that say you have to be a member of a certain group to understand that group’s plight. They are complaining about people that are asking for something extra based purely on their membership in some group, identified by skin color, sexual orientation, or similar traits. I agree with this for the most part. It should be that equality is just that, equal. I think human beings are capable of empathizing with others and understanding the needs of others, without actually experiencing all possible circumstances.
Hughes and Coleman aren’t limiting their solutions to just this narrow issue however. They are expanding it to claim that no policy should consider any type of identifying characteristics. When evaluating history, they ignore the basis of nations, wars, religions, hiring practices, and budgeting that was the norm until the middle of the last century. There were no black senators. Women could not get high paying jobs or leadership positions. Girls did not have sports programs. These facts matter. People who are born in a system that gives them privileges will rarely change the rules to reduce the privileges. Change requires legislation that identifies those traits that were used to identify those who were barred from those privileges in the past.