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Tonic intersectionality is what makes everything awesome
All the best words get stolen from us. Woke now means its opposite. Therapy used to mean, well, therapy. Now it means castration. Inclusion used to be an inviting word. Now it pretty much means its opposite, self-censorship, and copy-and-paste thinking. “Gaslight” used to mean something. Now it just means someone is saying something you disagree with. Toxic used to be a good word too. No longer. Rainbows used to be cool.
But one of my favorite words has been so maligned that I feel something must be done to rehabilitate its battered and flayed corpse: diversity. Not only is it the source of everything good in life, it’s one of the basic principles underlying all of creation. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Over at, posted something you should definitely check out:
That’s right. Intersectional was never our word, to be fair, so we haven’t reclaimed it. We’ve appropriated it, fair and square, as is the duty of any true logophile.
“Who are you, then, oh defiler of words?”
“I am part of that force that always wills the evil and always produces the good.”
There’s not much if anything to add Grant’s post, as far as I’m concerned, so instead, I want to take the concept in a slightly different direction.
As Grant summarizes, intersectionality is a way of looking at all those identities that make one a victim. Those with the most intersecting oppressed identities win the oppression Olympics. This calculation presupposes that certain “social categorizations” are identifiably negative or positive in some way—a black-and-white, binary division of races, classes, genders, or any other real or arbitrary division one can imagine. Next to man (positive), woman (negative) is oppressed; next to white, black; rich, poor. And by further implication, those negative poles become the positive ones, and the positive ones, negative.2
As Grant writes, it’s a perverse way of looking at the world and oneself. Not only does it create and sustain division; it recreates an imagined dynamic and in the process constructs a funhouse mirror of a phantom reality—a symbol with no true meaning.
Tonic intersectionality, by contrast, forges bonds. It is those identities by virtue of which we form connections with others, often in spite of the intersectional identities identified by Theorists (with a capital T, because otherwise you might realize they’re charlatan Marxcissists and not actual theorists). As Grant puts it, “Once rapport is established by a recognition of shared identity, there is a shared moral foundation upon which a relationship can be built.” Intersectional theory intersects “oppressed” or “oppressor” identities within any given individual or group, resulting in a festering knot of intersectile dysfunction. Tonic intersectionality intersects identities between individuals and groups. If you’ve made any friends in your life, you know how it works.
Grant highlights the divergent/convergent duality of intersectionality. Intersectionality is divergent and divisive; tonic intersectionality is convergent and a basis of shared identity. I’d like to square that duality: positive divergence, negative divergence, positive convergence, negative convergence.
Intersectionality highlights negative divergence. Society is a cage match between Chuck Norris and a poor, disabled, black, gay, trans woman. But it also highlights negative convergence. This is what happens when you bond with others over your shared sense of oppression, or your shared narcissism. It’s also the worst form of collectivism, which amounts to a kind of blind and coerced “intersection.” Do you hold the proper opinions for the time of the year? Well, you’d better.
Grant, in contrast, highlights positive convergence—coming together based on shared identities. However, I want to focus here on positive divergence, which I think equally important.
Shared identity may provide the foundation, but it’s our differences that make things interesting. Think of someone you love. Do you love them because of how similar they are to you? If so, take that a bit further. There is a point at which they will be a little too much like you for your comfort. Take it to the extreme and you enter a dark fantasy of self-love, an acid trip of Spike Jonesian narcissism:
But make them too different, and things get just as weird.
Sameness and difference need to be held in balance, in the proper tension, and the cosmos is such that allowances can be made. Sometimes you need a bit more difference, sometimes a bit more sameness. It just needs to be tonic. As the universal science of aesthetic tension, music has the best examples. Take your favorite band. They probably have a variety of musicians playing a variety of instruments: guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, vocals, and maybe a baritone saxophonist thrown in for good measure. Maybe you’re a classical esthete, in which case you’ll have an assortment of strings, wind, brass, and percussion instruments. Now imagine that this musical group instead consisted of identical drummers all playing identical parts, or vocalists singing the same line, or oboes. Boring.
Now imagine music without dynamics, without divergences of volume and pitch. Imagine a single note ringing out, stamping its frequency on a human eardrum, forever. No tension, no resolution. Just pure monotony. The ultimate convergence. And the ultimate bore.
It’s in these differences—instruments, pitches, key changes, genres, musical sensibilities—that a band or orchestra gels to produce a masterpiece. But they need to be playing the same piece, in the same style, and at volumes calibrated with each other. Again, it needs to be tonic, not chaotic.
But here’s the thing. We wouldn’t have diversity if we didn’t have inequality. I’ve said it before in other contexts, but let me say it here even more plainly: inequality is the source of all the best things. Without it, there wouldn’t be any good things. There couldn’t be any. It’s in the very definition. Something good is by definition unequal to something worse. The better cannot exist without its complement—the worse—for contrast.
That’s not to say inequality is necessarily good, just that it is another of those words much maligned today and in need of some rehabilitation.
Imagine your favorite band again. Now imagine they suck.4 That’s a world without inequality.
Maybe we could use just a tad of that old Roman sensibility:
To a pagan Roman, if you were beautiful, or clever, or brave, you were a better person. And if any of those traits happened to be coupled with Roman citizenship, even finer. But they need not be. As political scientist Samuel Goldman observes, for the ancients, “the majority of human beings were born to serve.”
The Romans are your dad saying, life is not fair.
—Helen Dale, “On Freedom & Slavery”
Shared identity isn’t the only thing that creates social cohesion. A creative, functional society requires everyone: from the unexceptional to the excellent.
By virtue of our biological complexity, we are a highly varied species. IQ, special talents, memory, emotional intelligence, standard personality traits: overlapping bell curves for everyone. Some people are stunningly beautiful. The world would be a poorer place without them. Some are creative geniuses. Some have minds like supercomputers. Others are not and do not. But a society requires all of them. Each variable trait, each individual intersection of traits (i.e. each person), has a telos, a purpose to fill in the mosaic of social relationships we call society. (And some purposes are more important than others—with that importance come greater responsibilities and burdens.)
It’s time for the obligatory Political Ponerology quotes:
Profound psychological variations may strike some as an injustice of nature, but they are her right and have deep, creative meaning.
Nature’s seeming injustice … is, in fact, a great gift of God and nature to humanity, enabling human societies to develop their complex societal structures and to be highly creative at both the individual and collective levels. Thanks to psychological differentiation, the creative potential of any society is many times higher than it could possibly be if our species were psychologically more homogeneous. Thanks to these variations, the societal structure implicit within can also develop. The fate of human societies—their dynamic development or decline—depends upon the proper adjustment of individuals within this structure and upon the manner in which diverse aptitudes are utilized.
Our experience teaches us that psychological differences among people are the cause of misunderstandings and problems. We can overcome these problems only if we accept psychological differences as a law of nature and appreciate their creative value. This would also enable us to gain an objective comprehension of man and human societies; unfortunately, it would also teach us that equality under the law is inequality under the law of nature. (pp. 32-33)
In other words, there is wisdom in trusting in nature in this department. Social structures are themselves teloi implicit in every group—implicit structure acting as an attractor on the body politic. And when each individual finds himself in a place suited to his talents, and is able to receive material advantages sufficient for his purposes as a result (i.e. at least a living wage), he derives moral satisfaction: “society as a whole also reaps benefits at the same time. Such a person would then perceive it as social justice in relation to himself” (p. 43).
Understanding this only helps along the process, which is the self-organization of a social body. But that doesn’t mean it always works; there are competing attractors too. Not understanding it can lead to “misunderstandings and problems,” as Lobaczewski puts it with some clinical understatement.5 Without an explicit understanding, that’s where all those negative divergences (the “sinful” aspects of our identities Grant writes of) come into play to corrupt the process.
Enter the vices. Because if a society doesn’t match Lobaczewski’s description to a significant degree, that means it’s doing something—or many things—wrong. Vices left unchecked are the equivalent of neglecting to tune your instruments or letting your musicians play when they’re blackout drunk.
Additionally, nepotism, affirmative action, ideological favoritism: these all pervert the process of positive social formation. It’s the societal equivalent of actively detuning the instruments or hiring a terrible first violinist because they’re your first cousin. Or this:
Ponerology is all about those who actively seek to corrupt this process. Psychopaths destroy group cohesion. Psychopathic governments inject entirely artificial and pathological “social selection” criteria, detuning and inverting the implicit structure. The result is a system populated at the top by the mediocre. The best and brightest are denied what should be their natural positions in society, which are instead occupied by the absolute worst.
Grant writes of using tonic intersectionality to “form lasting, cooperative, mutually beneficial relationships.” This applies equally on the larger social level. It also applies on the individual level.6
Tonic intersectionality isn’t just about shared identities. And it isn’t just about healthy social groups. It is those things, but it’s also about the tonic intersection of all those aspects of identity within oneself. It’s about everything you have the potential to be, not as an individual apart from the world, but as one in it. It’s what makes a person awesome, worthy of respect and admiration, who contributes to his various social groups, from family to humanity and the wider cosmic community. Each of these aspects can be tuned, honed, refined, made tonic. That’s the process of becoming virtuous.
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.
Virtue is one of those qualities the limits of which are unknown, if there are any. Finding out will require answering the call. So ditch the toxic intersectionality. Embrace the tonic.
H/T to Grant, Hunter, and John for giving me some of their best words.
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That’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity for the uninitiated.
The result is a mess of paralogic and contradiction. Society values men as good, who oppress and devalue women. So men are actually bad, and women are good. To set things right, they must usurp the role of men. But they thereby become bad in the process. Following a similar logic, gender roles are fake and oppressive. Therefore trans women must adopt those very fake and oppressive gender roles when they transition—the faker the better.
I was going to write “Imagine they have your level of talent,” but that would be presumptuous and perhaps a bit mean.
Akin to Mao’s Lysenko-inspired agricultural policies. An understanding of basic agricultural processes means you can help them along and create conditions to let them proceed optimally. Not understanding them, and actively working against them, means mass famine.
Reality is fractal like that. These are universal dynamics that scale at all levels—the same as the ponerogenic ones.