Can we get one thing out of the way first? Just because a rightwinger said something does not make it wrong. Just because a leftwinger says something does not make it right. AND THE OTHER WAY AROUND. (I wonder if I’ll ever be able to write a post these days without shouting at some point.)
It has to be the truth we’re aiming for, no matter who says it, because, as covid-19 has made clear if it wasn’t obvious before, reality matters. You can ignore it, and then it will kill you. Reality does not care.
And another thing to get out of the way: the philosophers may (or may not) be right that The Truth is unknowable. All we actually need is enough truth, just the facts, if you will, to live in reality with the fewest possible problems.
We do have a way of discerning facts. It’s called the scientific method. I’m not saying it’s always easy. That’s why it took a lot of people a lot of time to figure out how to pay attention to the actual facts and to stop themselves from jumping to conclusions. But at this point we do actually know how to do this. That’s why airplanes fly and light switches exist and vaccines work. If you like the benefits of your smartphone and aircon, you don’t get to sneer at science.
Okay. So where was I? Cancel culture.
There are two separate issues involved.
One is that people are tired of fighting the same battles over and over and over again. They’d like arguments that have been settled to stay settled and for people who refuse to accept that to just shut up and go away.
Which means we need a way to settle arguments. For most of human history it was decided by who had the most power. Might makes right. Except that it doesn’t and never did, which is why that method is completely shit at preventing reality from killing us.
The other way to settle arguments is evidence-based logic, of which the scientific method is a subset. That has an excellent track record. It sometimes heads down mistaken paths, but it can self-correct, which, considering human nature, is a near-miracle that needs much more appreciation than it gets.
Might-makes-right has no way to self-correct at all which is why it’s so lethal. But it does have one huge advantage: it lets you insist on whatever you want and if anyone objects, it lets you smash them.
The second issue in cancel culture is that there’s a difference between criticism and mobbing. Criticism attacks the argument with contrary evidence. Mobbing attacks the person, evidence is irrelevant. Criticism is in the tradition of logical argument that presumes a shared framework of acknowledging what constitutes evidence. Mobbing is in the tradition of might makes right.
One underappreciated point about might making right is that nothing can ever be settled. Once you’ve destroyed the opposition, some slight shade of dissension will be discovered in the ranks. Then you have to start over and destroy that. After succeeding, an even slighter shade becomes important, and you have to destroy that. And so on. A good new term for it is purity spirals.
So even if you decided, screw it, evidence-based logic is too boring, “Lizzie, smash!” is way more fun, you’ll never actually reach your goal. You’ll be fighting the heretics forever, until you die. It’s not a solution even when you win.
Let’s look at examples of cancelling versus criticism, just to make the distinction more clear.
If I say all the money in the world should go exclusively to Bill Gates, criticism points out why and how it would lead to social collapse. Criticism might also laugh, even mercilessly, at my inability to see the obvious disasters and point those out. A mob attack calls me names, or threatens violent crimes, or gets me fired. None of those address the argument. They try to frighten me into shutting up.
When JKRowling objects to mob attacks, she’s not talking about criticism of her views on biological sex. She’s talking about rape and death threats. About porn sent to threads where the senders want her child readers (and their parents) to be grossed out by it. Those aren’t arguments or criticisms or evidence showing where she’s wrong. They’re attacks on her. They’re supposed to put her off so much she shuts up. That’s mobbing.
It’s not uncommon for people with no real argument to claim mobbing when they’re merely being criticized. In the following case, Kaus doesn’t want anyone to mention that a politician he supports is corrupt. But, if there’s evidence, it’s criticism, not slander, to point out corruption.
A perfect example of the phrase “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression” is Kaus’s use of “punish” here. It is not “punishment” to advocate against a candidate to the U.S. Senate by pointing out the candidate’s craven and corrupt conduct.
The Lincoln Project becomes part of cancel culture — idea isn’t to get rid of Trump but punish anyone who agrees with Trump (and disagrees with Weaver!) on the issues–Hawley, Cotton, etc.?
The champion of insisting words mean the opposite of what the dictionary says is the Current Occupant of the White House. That’s funny when Calvin does it, but you’re supposed to grow out of it in grade school.
Watching Trump do it is a real out-of-mind experience.
Trump last night denounced totalitarianism (toe-tallie-terrio-tism), accusing left of “shaming dissenters & demanding submission from anyone who disagrees.”
Which is rich coming from the guy who does this:
The president of the United States may not use the laws of the United States to harass the media based on his personal, petty displeasure with what he views as unwarranted criticism.
That, obviously, is an attack against a person. It’s silencing. It’s not any kind of evidence-based argument. It’s more than obviously based on might making right.
The next cases are not criticism. Ioffe’s and Ali’s ideas weren’t addressed, the people were targeted. That’s abuse of power, called mobbing when a mob does it, and silencing when CNN does it.
In my experience, this is how cancel culture works. It’s not the “woke mob” doing the canceling, but powerful institutions who are bowing to pressure from the people in power: the very conservatives who whine about cancel culture and deride liberals as “snowflakes.”
How Cancel Culture really works: During my year at CNN, which was a great experience, I was “warned” a total of 3.5 times. Each warning was because some Republicans, who defended Trump’s cruelty & abuses, complained about the most innocuous statements. Here’s the official list…
The only mistake they both make is implying the politics of the perps are relevant. A woke mob or a Brooks Brothers riot will both attack the person to cause enough terror to achieve silence. The essence is the mobbing, not the platform.
Most people try to pretend that their mobbing, unlike the nasty other side, is not a power play. Most people buy into the value of looking reasonable. But cancelling, attacking the person and not the idea, is a power play. When they have to admit to their tactics, the next line of defense is to say it’s not so bad. The targets are snowflakes for not being able to stand it, or they should put their big boy pants on, or whatever. Even if it was true that the attacks are minor, they’re still attacks. They’re still not criticism or argument or evidence-based. They’re still stupid at best.
Most of the time they’re a lot worse than that. They’re threats of ostracism, job loss, ruin, and physical harm, especially to women. People, especially women, have had to go into hiding, and/or hire security, sometimes for years. Most people don’t have that kind of money. That ruins lives. And that shuts people up. Not necessarily the people already targeted, but it definitely has a huge effect on the people who are still safe and would like to stay that way. Look at how many people write privately to support Rowling but are too terrified to speak up with their names attached. That’s not because they’re afraid their spelling will be criticized.
On the Right, this myth of democracy involves ignoring the largely vested-interest right-wing press, and state-sponsored internet interference. On the left, it involves ignoring how terrified people actually are of Twitter mobs, and state-sponsored internet interference.
+ pretending that in *this one single context* things like cultural capital don’t matter, & the fact that academia & the arts overwhelmingly lean left is a phenomenon entirely innocent of any possible dynamics of power.
I hope I’ve made clear enough that mobbing/silencing are categorically different from criticism, and that the former is real harm. Which leaves the problem of how to decide when issues are settled if it’s done by logic, not force. How would we agree?
I think there is a solution, and it does not involve a Google-controlled Ministry of Truth.
(And before you start, let me say I’m perfectly aware the following is utopian. People are having way too much fun feeling righteous and they won’t want to stop merely because it could actually resolve the argument. If resolving arguments was the real goal, a lot more of them would be resolved in a lot less time.)
We could use the methods that have worked to give us our whole modern world. Use scientific evidence. When 95% of peer-reviewed papers agree, or 99% if you want ludicrous-mode stringency, then the issue is settled. Rehashes of settled issues are not published anywhere. Not in social media, or blogs, or news media, or TV. For small sources the offending content is simply removed. But in my world, for repeat offenders with large audiences there’d be steeper punishments the more they persisted. In my world, Sean Hannity would be banned from addressing more than three people at a time.
By the measure of near-unanimous agreement among scientists, there are many settled issues. The law of gravity, the roundness of the earth, evolution, the existence of anthropogenic climate change, the levels of effectiveness of different vaccines, and the existence of two biological sexes in mammals.
So what am I saying that adds to all the many pieces on “The Harper’s Letter“?
That the letter is quite right and that cancel culture has a point. And the point means we do need a way to cancel useless drivel. And that we have a choice of accomplishing it by shouting at each other, or worse. Or by shutting down the drivel (and only the drivel!).
And that means starting to recognize that free speech protects speech, it protects communication, even attempts at communication (like this one, for instance). (And some of my earlier writing on this topic.) It does not protect speech which is simply sound in the service of cheating, bullshitting, manipulating, humiliating, threatening, or destroying someone. Speech is communication, not a weapon. And the kind of “speech” Steve Bannon was talking about when he said, “I have my weapons back” should never have been misconstrued as protected.
Our mission, and we have no choice but to accept it, is to take on the monumental task of defining free, protected speech as that which communicates and excludes that which does not.
We have to accept it because our only way of finding what reality has in store for us is to communicate. (Or to relearn everything all alone, and human life isn’t long enough for that.) That’s why it’s existentially important to solve this problem. Communication is our only route to understanding enough of reality to survive.
Reality always wins. You can work with it to find the most agreeable path, or you can be destroyed by it. Those are the choices, There are no others. And all the mobbing and cancelling and silencing in the world doesn’t change that. It would be smarter to pay enough attention to the facts to be able to use them to have an easier life.
Update, because I write too slowly to keep up with the firehose of intelligent commentary out there. Another couple of good articles on cancel culture. Helen Lewis, How Capitalism Drives Cancel Culture. Nicholas Grossman, Free Speech Defenders Don’t Understand the Critique Against Them.Print This Post
Imagine all the people out in the streets, as outraged as they are now, about women being murdered for existing while female. Outraged that women are tortured constantly to put them in their place. Outraged that women suffer the mental, moral, emotional equivalent of Abu Ghraib every hour of every day.
Exaggeration? Not really. Those atrocities were carefully calibrated to give men the psychological trauma of rape. The big difference to the lifelong traumas of women is that most of the prisoners in Abu Ghraib were men.
Don’t come at me about freeriding on someone else’s struggles. If you can’t see the horrible similarities between the treatments of different oppressed groups, you’re the freerider. I’m pointing out the similarities not to downplay them. That would be freeriding. I’m pointing them out to think about how amazing it would feel to see this level of support for women.
Then there’s the fact that an awful lot of the freeriding that does happen takes place using women, not the other way around. Women were the loudest voices in the US for the abolition of slavery. Blacks were officially emancipated in 1861. The laws against coverture were never really articulated as an atrocity against civil rights. They began to lose support in the later 1800s, but elements of them still operated almost to the new millenium.
What’s coverture you ask? The law that said all of a woman’s possessions and money and wages passed to her husband on marriage. There were other laws that said he could beat her if she didn’t behave the way he required. Rape in marriage wasn’t even a thing. She was his property. The concept she could have some right to be treated like a human being was so absurd as to be laughable.
If you’re sitting there protesting to yourself, “No, no, no. That’s completely different. Some women were well-dressed and went to Society balls,” then congratulations. You’ve just understood from the inside how slavers felt about blacks. They didn’t count. They weren’t really human beings. The concept that they could be was so absurd as to be laughable.
Just as a coda to that: black men in the US officially got the vote in 1870. Women in 1920. The Civil Rights Act requiring equal treatment regardless of race creed or national origin has been a law since 1964. The law requiring equal treatment regardless of sex is still just a dream. Imagine how it would feel if people, including men, cared.
And if you retreat all the way to insisting that, no, this really is different because women aren’t being murdered by cops, then you’re still wrong. The number killed by cops in the official execution of their duties is an order of magnitude less than men. But women are also more than an order of magnitude less violent than men so they’re that much more rare in situations that develop into violence. Interestingly, there don’t seem to be (easily available?) statistics showing whether the per capita murders of women by police are lower when the situations are similar. Further, what’s indisputable is that it’s almost always women who are victims of sexual assault by officers. I trust nobody is going to argue that adding a sexual component to being brutalized by policemen is an improvement. Even further, something like 40% of policemen abuse women they’re involved with. And sometimes kill them. And because they’re policemen, that doesn’t get investigated or prosecuted either. Nor do they get fired. All in all, the police violence is painfully similar. One difference is that there’s rarely someone around with a camera. The other one is that the victims are women.
If you point out that white women are less oppressed than black men, I’d say that firstly it needs a #NotAll tag in front of both categories. But even more to the point, if it’s important to focus on the most oppressed first, why aren’t these protests about black women? Breonna Taylor was killed by cops in March, months ago. It’s starting to be mentioned now because some of us are shouting that half of black people are being a bit erased and that maybe that’s not such a good look.
Another big thing I keep hearing is how terrible it is that black men can’t walk safely down the street. Pardon me while I do my best to shut down my hollow laughter. You are seriously going to lecture women about feeling safe on the street? The people who have to hold their keys sticking out between their fingers in the forlorn hope it’ll give them a chance during an attack? The people who have to plan their routes going anywhere, at any time, in case some rando decides to destroy their life that day? You clearly have no idea how much of a luxury it would be to have only cops, in their well-marked uniforms, to worry about.
So don’t tell me how terrible it is to be targeted and humiliated and attacked and killed. There’s too much of that in my world, too. And maybe, if you really understand how terrible it is, you’ll join me in dreaming of a day when all of it is just awful history and we can all, black, white, male, female, live our lives in peace.Print This Post
I have to tell you I consider one of my (rather few) talents is having a sense of where the future is headed.
So how did I miss the way this pandemic would engulf the world?
I’ll tell you. Give you a good laugh it will.
I figured we lived in a world where the germ theory of disease was well known. So all you had to do was understand how a given disease was transmitted, start the necessary public health measures, use the wealth of modern societies to pay for testing and tracing and treatment and provide the income support to avoid as much of the economic fallout as possible. And Bob’s your uncle.
After a few months of effort, it would all be over. We know how to do this, I thought.
Instead it turns out that we never really climbed out of the Dark Ages and we’re still living at the whim of so-called strongmen.
They’re not really strong, you know. They surround themselves with guards so they don’t have to stand much of anything. They don’t know how to persevere or take on burdens or never give up. Their only talent is not caring. They don’t care a used tissue’s worth about anyone else. About you or yours or your friends or your neighbors. To some people for some reason that looks like strength.
So now we’re dying by the hundreds of thousands. Once we’re done dying of this particular disease, the hundreds of millions of unemployed and bankrupt and ruined will continue dying with other causes listed on the death certificates.
There’s no point at all asking for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee. Maybe yesterday already. Maybe now. Maybe again. Maybe tomorrow. Any minute, anybody.
Same as everyone else, I’m like the Frenchman who, when the doctor started speaking of dying, said, “But I always thought an exception would be made for me!”
There’s no other way to live life except to ignore that it’s a terminal condition.
Until you can’t and some tinpot dictator rubs your face in the fact that they can rip up your life in a heartbeat. Then you tiptoe through the days knowing everything can shatter, and that you’ll have to walk on the fragments till they’re ground into dust and blow away.
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I’ve been leaving this comment everywhere I can think of, because I’m impressed with this article by a reporter who looked at superspreader data very carefully. Jonathan Kay writing in Quillette.
The main groups of infection arise from places where people are in close proximity, indoors, and talking, laughing, singing loudly. That fits a pattern of mainly airborne infection by large droplets.
Being in close proximity for extended periods, such as members of the same household, is also very good at spreading it. But in terms of people you’re less close to, it seems to do best in enclosed areas where people are expelling air forcefully. The sport of curling, for instance, where the sweepers are practically nose-to-nose while working hard. That’s also why slaughterhouses are such a hotbed. Workers are inches away from each other, very noisy environment, and they have to shout to each other to do their work.
Not spread by aerosols (very small droplets) primarily, because then superspreading events would be in offices, on aircraft, and similar. New Zealand had a sort of natural experiment on that. One of their biggest clusters was centered on a flight attendant who worked on one of the usual nearly day-long flights before travelling to a wedding. The people on the planes he took did not get sick. People at the wedding did. (He was asymptomatic at the time.)
Also not primarily spread by touching surfaces, because then people like FedEx workers would be getting sick and being superspreaders. That’s not the pattern so far, either.
This isn’t to say you can’t get it via aerosol or surfaces. Just that those don’t look like the main routes.
It’s a fascinating article, quite long, well worth a read. The news-you-can-use part is that it means masks, any masks, even tea towels, plus distancing are the two most useful things to do when out and about.Print This Post
Update with some links at end
Enough already. I keep reading shock and horror that the thing in the White House is letting people die, doesn’t care, how can he?
This is what he has always been. His “management style” is to set the underlings squabbling and then extract power or profit or praise, or all three, from the free-for-all. (I’ll get links eventually. That’s in a biography written years ago by ? not sure, Tony Schwarz?)
That’s what bullies do. He’s always been a bully. Bullies work by setting people against each other and then picking off the defenceless with a following of the fearful.
The people who voted for him wanted a bully. They wanted someone who would hurt the “right people” for them. His campaign in 2016 wasn’t going much of anywhere until he stood on a stump and bleated about Mexican rapists. Then his popularity shot up, and stayed up as long as he was dumping on somebody.
The only difference now is that he has the power of the Presidency to amplify him. Of course that leads to suffering and death. It always would have. If not from disease then from one of the other three horsemen of the apocalypse. Plus, they’re still there. A disease doesn’t have to be the end of it.
People don’t and never have meant anything to him. He has always been that way. In his mind, people are about as significant as aphids are to you or me. He is never going to see the suffering or death of aphids as something he needs to consider. Stop being stupidly shocked and start acting on the knowledge of what he is to limit the damage!
Now the structure of his latest crimes against humanity are starting to loom through the fog of chaos.
There’s an epidemic in China, so he (and his cronies, of course) profit from selling medical supplies and protective equipment to them. Once covid-19 is a pandemic and it’s here, the US runs out because too much was sold off overseas. And now he’s using taxpayer money to funnel half the imported supplies to private business. (See, e.g. Katie Porter.) They sell at black market prices to the states that he’s made sure have to fight each other for what they need. And somewhere in there I’d bet the entire farm he and his cronies are getting their cut at every stage of the extortion.
Remember what Adam Schiff said? If you give him a pass on extorting Ukraine, next he’ll extort the USA. [Correction 2020-05-20: It was Pam Karlan who said that, not Adam Schiff.]
It’s the truth. It has to be faced. Hoping that ignoring it will make it go away before we die is not working well for us.
News of the transnational crime syndicate parasitizing the government and hijacking — HIJACKING — essential supplies away from hospitals is popping up everywhere. In no particular order:
In Pursuit of PPE | NEJM [The New England Journal of- freakin Medicine!]Print This Post
Update, May 3, 2020 The indications — not proof yet! — are that larger-droplet infection is the main route of transmission. Probably not the only one, aerosols (small, floating droplets) and surfaces still require caution, but larger droplets seem to be the main one. In news-you-can-use, that means physical distancing and masks, any masks, including folded tea towels, are the two most important preventive behaviors.
1) The importance of social distancing, self-quarantining, self-isolating, and the like:
The general idea is to stay at least 3ft / 1m away from other people, preferably 6ft / 2m. The virus is less contagious than some, so unlike measles, you’re unlikely to catch just from walking past a carrier in the grocery store. Updated to add: Info from Dr. Nancy Jin via LATimes, median risk of infection at 15 minutes of close face-to-face time (eg packed in a checkout line buying toilet paper), or two hours in a contained environment (eg class, bus, travel, meetings at work).
And of course, wash hands, wash hands, wash hands. You’ve heard that enough by now and know how to do it.
Short version if you have no other medical issues: have Tylenol 325mg (acetaminophen, paracetamol) and/or Advil 200mg (ibuprofen) handy to manage fever. Have a cough suppressant + expectorant on hand, like Robitussin DM or anything similar. Tissues. Make yourself soup that you can freeze (or buy cans of what you like). You won’t want to cook. Stay hydrated! Drink like a fish. This is a lung disease, so humidified air feels better. If you have no humidifier, one workaround is to sit in the bathroom with a hot shower going.
Call ahead to emergency services only if the fever gets too high despite meds (not sure what that level is, over 101F? need to find out!) and if you can’t breathe. I.e. you’re in serious trouble without oxygen or a ventilator.
3) And because knowing how far and how fast it’s spreading and where it’s coming under control are potentially useful: a real time tracker of the incidence of cases.Print This Post
There have been many turning points toward destruction in the USA. After the Civil War made a stab at one of the worst, too many people spent the next decades trying to claw back all the money and status. Racism has never gone away, but recently the most powerful force killing us is sexism. And it’s doing it at a time when the body politic is so far gone it no longer has a sense of right or wrong (Exhibit A: the Republican Party), no sense of what the immune system needs to do. The blow is being delivered when the country already has cancer.
In 2008, Hillary Clinton, with experience, smarts, and proven ability to negotiate, was passed over for a state senator from Illinois who’d barely begun his first US Senate term. Passed over is not a figure of speech. The extent to which things were “adjusted” to keep her out in 2008 were crucial to that cause. As a state senator, Obama had done good turns for the health insurance industry and an industry executive was on the panel that decided votes from Michigan and Florida should be rejected in a way that benefited Obama.)
That gave us someone whose accomplishment was not making things immediately worse. In this, Obama was like previous Democratic Presidents who squandered their years with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. He was the hero of the countryside and the darling of the land when he came in. If he’d had plans ready to help bankrupted homeowners after the 2008 crash, and a plan for universal healthcare, it would have passed in those first months. Instead he spent them finding his feet. In retrospect, at least he tried. It turns out men who don’t know they have feet can get installed as President.
In those early months, Obama’s Treasury Secretary “foamed the runway” for the banks. By the time Obama got around to healthcare, even a public option was more than the insurance companies could stand.
Obama gets huge amounts of credit for finding his feet — he even got a Nobel Prize just for being willing to look for them. But the only thing he managed was to keep the status quo. The rich got richer, gently, without a crash. (I know. It’s not a welcome or popular view. People are desperate to believe in good at the top. But look at the data. The share of wealth held by the top 1%: 24% in 1995, 22% in 2000, 26% in 2005, 24% in 2010 — there was that little crash in 2008, 28% in 2013, 29% in 2016. The middle class in those same years went from 32%, to 29%, 27%, 24%, and 21% in 2016.)
Did people’s resentments at the unfairness of their lives continue to grow? As Bob Dylan once said, Honey, how come you have to ask me that? Was economic anxiety a thing? You can’t know about the opioid epidemic sweeping the US without knowing some of the answer to that. And, yes, black communities had been having those epidemics for decades. Tell me a lot of that isn’t the same rage at poverty (caused by racism in that case). Was racism against Obama a factor? Well, DUH. It’s a giant factor. None of those things are mutually exclusive.
But that does not make it a good idea to lard on a suffocating layer of sexism. In 2008 the best candidate in at least a century was smothered. In 2016, there was a repeat, a gobsmacking repeat, because it was in favor of a shambling pile of corruption with a Y chromosome. And now, in 2020, it’s all done again to every competent woman out there.
So here we are. Sexism did not prevent some excellent candidates from stepping forward. They happened to be women, so just about everybody who pisses standing (plus Marianne Williamson and Tulsi Gabbard) decided the field was wide open since nobody was really running.
Make no mistake, just the fact of muscling in against vastly more qualified women is an act of sexism. As is not getting out at once because you’re making a fool of yourself, of the whole process, and of the voters. How can a jumped-up corporate marketing drone who won a small local election with 8000 votes go up against the likes of Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren? That’s only possible when the whole endeavor is so steeped in sexism, you’re swimming in it like a fish in water.
And then the drone sometimes polls higher than Warren. Because the voters are so terrified of being Trumped again that all they care about is electability. That’s the 2020 code word. “Electability.”
Women, by definition, lose. So you can’t throw away your vote on them. So they have no votes. So they lose.
Sexism has given us two fossils held over from the 1950s as the frontrunners. One of them has enough baggage to lose so thoroughly that the Republicans are openly pushing for him. And yet primary voters still vote for him. For some reason, that’s not throwing away a vote. Whereas Warren is not “electable.”
The other frontrunner will continue the grand tradition of soothingly sliding to perdition without any structural changes that might upset anyone with money. He’s had a lot of practice. He’s made craven decisions his whole decades-long political career (e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and I could go on but you get the idea.)
And he’s the better choice.
We have not come a long way. So sexism gave us a good hard push on the road to hell.Print This Post
Call it the triumph of wishful thinking. That’s the lesson that’s filtered down to (some) regular people from the unreachable heights of Derrida and Foucault, from deconstruction and postmodernism. If our thinking shapes how we see reality, then why bother with reality at all? So many pesky problems gone in a puff of words.
Bone-tired of the infinite sexism on which societies are built? Get rid of sex! Do like Dawn Butler and say on national media that “a child is born without sex.” Babies have no sex, she said. No, seriously, she said this. Children, as Brendan O’Neill paraphrases her, should be allowed to decide for themselves what their own sex is.
The thing is, Butler is using the wrong words, but there’s truth buried in that thinking. And that is hugely important because while our thinking does shape how we see reality, reality itself always gets the last word. We have nowhere else to live but the real world, and we can do a much more satisfying job of it if the stories we tell ourselves embroider only on the parts that really are up to us. The parts we have no choice about have to be recognized and dealt with.
That isn’t easy. All of scientific methodology, all of scholarship, is a massive exercise in telling fact from fiction. That’s how hard it is and how much work it takes. It’s human nature to grab on to stories that seem like they could get us something.
How much we actually lose by ignoring reality can be seen in the difference between life before and after we started using scientific methodology for a few things.
So what’s true in Butler’s vaporing? Echoes of de Beauvoir’s famous line that nobody is born a woman. Human babies definitely have a sex. What they don’t do is wear eyeshadow or feel naked without big trucks.
The social definitions associated with the biology are entirely human stories. They’re made up. We can take them or leave them. The word used for that now is usually gender. But gender is also sometimes used to mean ineffable internal essence of the state of your soul.
Gender the social narrative and gender the ineffable are two very different things. It’s important to avoid confusion even though the same word is used for both.
I’m afraid we have to be agnostic on the state of souls. There is no way to get actual, objective — what people sometimes call scientific — evidence of the state or even the existence of souls. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Or that they do. That’s what agnostic means. “I don’t know.” Beliefs are something internal to people that we can all only agree to ignore in each other. Live and let live is the only way to handle differences of belief. The separation of Church and State, of our beliefs and our interactions with each other in the real world, is essential to a peaceful life. Holy wars have no end because there is no objective way to decide who is right.
But we do not have to be agnostic about how our stories interact with reality. Reality is right there to give us objective data.
The data are clear. Social definitions are what’s causing all the grief. The stories we tell ourselves about gender are what make some — too many — people miserable. They persist because too many people hope they can use them to gain status. Too many people are way too willing to be very miserable for the sake of status.
(Not that narratives are necessarily bad. The idea of human rights is one dream that makes life much better when we dream it together.)
Butler and everyone who thinks like her is right that we shouldn’t have those stories imposed on us. We should be able to make our own stories that fit our own sense of who we are as we grow into it.
The thing is, the word for those stories is gender. Not sex. Gender is what doesn’t exist in reality. Gender is what can, or could be, changed at will. Or dispensed with entirely which, according to me, would be best of all. Who needs it?
That is not even a microbit true of sex. Sex is very much a biological reality.
By using the wrong words, she sounds like a Flat Earther. By thinking in the wrong words, she is a Flat Earther. And being a Flat Earther doesn’t work. Reality doesn’t care what you think. Ignoring it Does Not Work.Print This Post
The Republican Noise Machine™ shows all the signs of testing a new rile-up-the-vote message. Unless the reality-based community wakes up it’s going to blindside us.
Here’s how it works. Step 1 is to support anti-transgender issues. It’s the typical trampling of civil rights. The Repub base loves it. The Dems speak out against it. Then say it’s the end of civilization as we know it and, look!, those horrible Dems are in favor of it.
In the case of migrants, it was Caravans! They’ll overrun the country! You’ll never get a burger again! You’ll have to live on tacos!
In the case of civil rights for trans people it’s They’ll get in your school! They’ll twist your kid’s mind! (Link is to Drag Queens Story Hour, so not necessarily trans, but it’s much the same to Repubs.) Big Hairy Men will be in your daughter’s bathroom!
There’s a new wrinkle, though. There’s an element of truth to the trans scaremongering. It’s going to work even better for them than the laughable notion that a few thousand workers can destroy a country of hundreds of millions.
Unfortunately, the reality-based community didn’t stop to check with reality before reflexively coming down against whatever the Repubs might be saying.
Another difference is this isn’t about some caravan a thousand miles away. This is about people’s children. Nobody has any tolerance for risks to their kids. In order to explain which risks are real and which are bogus, we have to have some clue about the difference ourselves. Otherwise we don’t stand the chance of a grain of sense in a Trump tweetstorm.
Feminists: Don’t change biology. Change society. Eliminate gender boxes.
Traditionalists: gender must match biology.
Transactivists: gender must match internal essence, biology is irrelevant.
Most people like to think of themselves as fairminded, and the trans rights movement hooks in to that by borrowing the language of gay rights. When it comes to civil rights, that’s as it should be. But gay rights never took anything away from women. On the contrary. Gay rights supported and furthered women’s rights. No movement for civil rights, whether for blacks or the disabled or any other group, takes actual rights away from anyone else. That’s the essence of it. Rights enable us to mind our own business and stop at the point where they damage someone else’s right to do the same thing. (I have a long discussion on the implications of that small sentence here.)
Some of the trans movement didn’t stop there. It’s important to note it is #NotAllTrans, but it is a very vocal subset. They feel that women, and children, should just learn to deal with it when trans activist issues affect them. And since women are the only group remaining whose rights can be described as a “pet rock” without causing more than a few verbal tut-tuts, the activist message that women should be quiet and make no demands has met with its usual success in a sexist society. That doesn’t make it fair or good. It doesn’t mean there will be no resentment or lost votes in the privacy of the voting booth. And if there’s one thing the Republicans are good at, it’s using resentment for their own purposes. That’s why it’s vital to be clear on what really is fair. To everybody. To articulate which demands are civil rights and must be respected, and which are not.
So the first step, as Socrates pointed out thousands of years ago, is to define terms. I’ve tried to make a potted summary in Table 1 of the simplified differences between the viewpoints.
The biggest difference in practical terms are the highlighted points. Feminists say, “Don’t change biology. Change society. Eliminate gender boxes.” The traditionalists want the status quo ante, preferably all the way back to 1820 or so, it seems. And the transactivists believe deeply in gender. They just think they’re in the wrong one.
|biological sex comes with whole sets of masculine and feminine traits||biological sex does not imply non-sexual traits. Masculinity and femininity are learned and called genders as opposed to sexes.||biological sex does not exist. Gender is assigned at birth, but that may not match the internal essence of gender a person feels.|
how to deal with people who are “outside the box”
|force them into one of two boxes based on their biology||variations are fine, there are no boxes||maintain boxes, but people can switch among them depending on their sense of their internal essence (self-ID as a woman, man, or other genders such as asexual or maverique)|
how other types of self ID are viewed
|self ID not accepted because biology is a fact, a material reality.||self ID not accepted because biology is a fact, a material reality.||only gender self-ID accepted self-ID as a race, for instance, is not valid because race is real like gender, whereas sex is a social construct that can be changed.|
attitude to males in women’s spaces
|not allowed||males allowed in some cases: transitioned, appear womanly, are committed to participating in society as women. (E.g.: public toilets, yes; rape crisis centers, probably no.)||always allowed, whether visibly transitioned or not, because the felt essence is what matters|
the source of the problem
|Problem? What problem?||oppression and the loss of self-determination because of gender straitjackets||lack of belief in self-identified genders|
|everybody must believe in and act according to biologically based gender||everyone can live their own way but not past the point where it stops others from doing so||everybody must believe in and act according to a felt gender.|
*Not all trans people have this extreme view (eg Debbie Hayton, Miranda Yardley, Fionne Orlander, many others), but the most visible trans activists try, often successfully, to give the impression it’s universal.
Views on biological sex
Denying biological sex exists is half the source of all the downstream issues because it denies reality. (The other half is denying the reality that women are the targets of abuse because of their sex. I’ll get to that.) To say biological sex doesn’t exist requires denialism on the order of the Flat Earth Society. There are bacteria that reproduce entirely asexually, and that’s about it. They also don’t evolve much because they don’t have the variability to do it. Everything else we see survived because it uses the advantages conferred by sex. They’re not what you might think. Sex vastly increases the variability among organisms by giving a way to mix and match DNA from different ones. And since evolution requires variability to favor useful traits, sex speeds up adaptability a lot and results in the endless variety of life we see around us.
That doesn’t have anything to do with sex being necessarily binary. Some fungi, for instance, have dozens of mating strains. Mammals, the group of animals that includes humans, are not like that. They produce two kinds and only two kinds of gametes. The larger and therefore not too mobile gamete is defined as the egg, the smaller mobile one is the sperm. In mammals, sex is irretrievably binary.
Biological sex exists. If it didn’t, women would identify right out of being raped.
Trying to pretend away misogynist power structures doesn’t make it so. It just ignores all their harm. Their victims don’t have that luxury.
Pretence ends in attitudes that say having a penis does not make someone male, but wearing eyeshadow does make them female.
Denialism never happens without an agenda. The big effort of maintaining fictions has to be worth it, whether it’s trying not to understand evolution, the roundness of the earth, climate change, or vaccination. Or sex. The payoff for pretending sex doesn’t exist is being able to pretend the whole patriarchal power structure and all its attendant oppressions don’t exist. Better yet, since they don’t exist you can avoid doing anything about them.
Women can’t identify out of being paid less. They can’t identify out of violence by male partners. They can’t identify out of rape. Female embryos can’t identify out of being aborted. The scale of that violence can be hard to grasp partly because it’s so horrible, but also partly because the data aren’t even collected (Karen Ingala-Smith, Caroline Criado-Perez).
Fifty thousand (50,000) women are killed by male partners or male family members per year. (Global numbers for 2017. Approximately 87,000 killed per year total, overwhelmingly, as in over 90%, by men.) 500,000 in ten years. Six million within the lifetimes of many people alive now. The violence shows no signs of slowing down. So another six million will be exterminated within the lifetimes of present day teenagers. And that’s just the fatalities. That doesn’t count women crippled by violence or suffering permanent post traumatic stress disorder. Women have PTSD at higher rates than combat soldiers. (This is not because women are more prone to it.) They have higher rates of brain injury than soldiers and NFL football players combined.
One hundred and sixty three million (163,000,000) female fetuses were aborted in Asia (pdf). The numbers are from 2005. They would be higher now, and higher if the whole world was included. One hundred and sixty three million. Half the population of the USA. Gone because all women do is produce the next generation and take care of everybody. They’re worthless.
On that background, we hear that the rates of murder and violence for trans people are much worse. The trans suicide rate is said to be sky high unless transitioning treatment is immediately available. Let’s look at those numbers.
Any suicide is awful, as is any violent death. But, the high number for trans people comes from unfortunate sources. One study which is the source for widely repeated statistics is McNeil et al. 2012. Although it’s clearly stated to be a pilot study, it’s been cited as if it had bulletproof methods. It did not. The data was collected using internet surveys publicized in the trans community, the respondents were self-selected, and the issues discussed were self-reported. There was no control group. This would be similar to floating a survey on Amazon about a Widget and finding a high proportion of respondents were dissatisfied. Not too surprising since unhappy people are much more prone to take the trouble to let surveys know. As for self-reporting, that’s like asking people in a web survey how closely they stick to a new diet. Without actual independent measures, there’s no way to know how close to reality their answers are, even when they think they’re close. So the fact that 48% of 436 respondents reported a suicide attempt at some point or points in their lives tells us nothing about the prevalence of suicide attempts even among the 436 respondents, to say nothing of all trans people.
Methodologically less fraught studies do not show trans suicides as being any higher than the rest of their demographic group, as summarized by Paul Hewson. Dhejne et al. 2011 found that severe issues were actually more frequent after sex reassignment surgery.
Numbers for the murders of trans people also lack accuracy due to poor methods. Some very high numbers are global and skewed by the horrifically high rates in Brazil and SE Asia where transgender prostitution is much more common (together with other forms of prostitution). I haven’t seen any evidence that those murders were due to trans status rather than prostitute status. Prostitution is by far the most dangerous way to make money. Just as an indication: yearly numbers for prostitutes of fatalities due to violence: 229 per 100,000; the next most dangerous occupation, fishermen: 132 per 100,000 or in other statistics, loggers, 136 per 100,000. All numbers from USA. The outrage would be better directed at the enormous amount of male violence victimizing prostitutes. Trans prostitutes compared to all prostitutes are murdered at about the same appalling rate.
To get a sense of how the murder statistics compare within one Western country, the folowing are from Adrian Sullivan, USA 2016 rates, using Human Rights Commission and FBI data, showing murder per 100,000:
|0.8 – females who are trans||1.6 – all trans people||2.1 – males who are trans|
|2.1 – females||5.0 – black females||5.4 – all US population|
|7.4 – males||18.3 – black people||32.7 – black males|
204.0 – prostitutes (2004 data, comparable 2016 number is higher)
At least in the US, trans people appear to be safer than non-trans, if anything.
On the background of this massive, war-scale violence inflicted on women, the staggering absolute numbers of suffering involved, and the evidence that trans people are not any more targeted than other disadvantaged groups, on this background there are men on the web insisting that there is no real damage to women from making them more vulnerable to male-bodied people so that they, the male-bodied people, can feel accepted as women. This was an exchange recently on Twitter, since disappeared on both @Glinner and @bloggerheads, by Tim Ireland:
- TI: Why are you so convinced that rights for Trans people means fewer rights for women?
- Graham Linehan: because of the examples we’ve seen with the prison system in Denmark and Ireland, the clear effect it’s already had on women’s sports, the fact that feminists can’t talk without being harassed and threatened. The question is why are you *not* convinced?
- TI: … The hill you’ve chosen to die on is both very small, and very far away.
Women dying in their millions are minor and “far away”to this guy. Or inconsequential. Which would be even worse. As if women were just aphids who can pile up on the ground after pesticide spray and why would anyone care?
More charitably, motivated reasoning may play a part in pretending women aren’t human. There’s a problem with insisting that transwomen are women, but then also insisting that they take precedence over women whenever there’s a conflict. In an attempt to make that work, first one has to deny that women are a class with their own rights and needs. Make them something as nebulous as a feeling, and there can be no conflict of rights. There’s nobody to have a conflict with. And second deny the mountain of evidence of violent abuse, so that transwomen’s own troubles stand out more starkly. See Jane Clare Jones for a thorough analysis of this whole line of thinking. If women don’t exist and they don’t hurt, then there’s no problem.
Male violence against women isn’t often articulated as part of a system functioning to keep women down, but there’s not a woman alive who really ignores it. We all feel and act like we live in a war zone, even if many of us try to convince ourselves otherwise for our own sanity. There’s a huge body of evidence that shows women are unsafe. Not bigotry, not imagination. Evidence. If Repubs try to scaremonger women about “big, hairy men” on top of that background, how successful do you think they’ll be?
Republicans are going to win that PR battle before they even start unless Dems can wrap their heads around the fact that women and girls have legitimate safety concerns which need to be accommodated.
I’ll answer a few objections before they’re trotted out as usual. One is that no true transwoman would commit such crimes, so nothing I’ve said justifies excluding them. However, the innocence of all transwomen is not supported by the evidence. (Transmen don’t seem to appear as an issue.) In the UK, 90% of assaults, harassment and voyeurism occur in unisex changing rooms, although they’re less than half the total of those facilities.
Once the UK decided to allow self-ID’ed male-bodied prisoners in women’s jails, reports of rapes and harassment started. (Yes, the link is to the Mail which is right wing. The events are not invented. They happened.) In the UK, suspicious numbers of male offenders announce their trans status so that they’re jailed among women. (Another conservative newspaper. They love these stories. It’s not often they have any reality on their side.) Saying the prisoners are not really trans doesn’t change anything for the traumatised women. Besides, if self-ID is gospel, how can you say they’re not really trans? Do only good people discover they are trans?
Of course, not all or even many transwomen are predators. Transwomen are not the problem. Predators are the problem no matter how they identify. Self-ID is a problem because it opens the door and lays down the welcome mat for predators. It allows any predatory man to self identify as female to gain access to women or children.
There are mountains of evidence — again, not bigotry, not imagination, evidence — that men use deceit to get at their victims. The Catholic Church and Scoutmaster sex abuse scandals are only some of the examples. Unlike the gay panics of the bad old days, which were not based on evidence, women’s fear of males is based on reality. (Men who don’t like being reminded of that should curb the other men creating the problem, not the information that it exists.)
Because some men are horrible, transwomen run a risk of violence using male spaces. That says they need their own spaces without violent males, not that women don’t. Insisting that transwomen have a right to be safe does not explain why women must become less safe. Also, men are causing the problem. So why is it up to women to compensate for it?
Male-to-female trans have shown themselves capable of crimes against women.
Predatory men also use any available trick to get within striking distance of women (and boys) to prey on.
Women have the same right to physical safety as anyone, without the added burden of mindreading whether random males are harmless or not.
One peculiar bogus objection is that men victimize women anyway, so why bother excluding males. No, excluding men doesn’t stop all attacks. Unfortunately. But it does reduce them. That’s all the law ever hopes for. You could as well say we shouldn’t have laws against drunk driving because some people will drink and drive regardless. Women have the same right as everyone else to physical safety, without having to read the minds of random males to guess their intentions. So women have the right to keep men out of their public toilets, changing rooms, dormitories, prisons, and refuges from male violence, just on the grounds of the right to personal safety.
Allowing male-bodied people to compete in women’s sports is another absurdity resulting from the attempt to deny biological reality.
Weight classes in boxing are separated by a few pounds. But women are supposed to compete against males of completely different build and be happy to lose championships, prize money, and scholarships.
Flyweight boxers are not ignored like that. Only women.
Men’s boxing has eight categories separated by a few kilos. But somehow women’s sports are supposed to be fair when athletes who went through male puberty and are in a completely different physical category compete against them. This is just nonsense. Why not have college baseball players identify into Little League? They could win everything and get into the Majors, right? As usual with nonsense, it’s astonishing how often it’s applied only against women. It’s only women who are supposed to compete on a steeply tilted playing field, lose scholarships and championships and sponsorships, and act like there’s no problem. And don’t kid yourself, it is about taking away the benefits. You don’t see male-bodied competitors breaking in to sports where those bodies are not an advantage, like women’s gymnastics.
As a final absurd example of pretending biological sex doesn’t exist, transactivists insist having a penis does not make anyone male, but at least one feels wearing eyeshadow makes him female. When the Repubs sneer at that kind of thing to discredit Dems, the reality-based community has to be ready to come down on the side of reality or lose all credibility with anyone who still has a grasp of it.
It’s a bitter pill, but we better get used to agreeing with the Repubs about the reality of biological sex. Then when we say that forcing people into one of two genders is a violation of civil rights, we’ll still have enough reality-based cred to sound right instead of stupid.
Attitude to Gender
In this case, it’s the transactivists who agree with the traditionalists. Both see gender as an immutable essence expressed as a set of character traits. The difference is that traditionalists see them as irrevocably bound to biology, whereas transactivists think biology doesn’t exist. Gender depends only on an internal sense of having it.
It’s worth pointing out that any belief in an immutable essence, tied to biology or not, is a belief. There’s no scientific evidence for any internal sense of femininity or masculinity any more than there is for souls or God or similar concepts. It’s an article of faith. It’s in the same category as religious beliefs. That doesn’t mean it’s unreal to the person holding it, but it does mean it’s objectively unverifiable. (Hence the title, using Graham Linehan’s great term for the Church of the WokeBros who want to burn all unbelievers at the stake.) Like other beliefs, it must be respected in a civilized free society, to the extent that it does not encroach on other people’s fundamental rights.
There is no objective, scientific evidence on which feelings of gender can be based.
Belief in a gender may be deeply felt, but that does not change the fact that it is an article of faith, a belief.
I need to go on a tangent here about rights since it helps clarify how to handle conflicts between them.
Rights are universally applicable. My free speech has no effect on your ability to speak freely, unless I’m shouting too loud right next to you. Then I’m not exercising a right. I’m being a harasser. Rights also have a hierarchy in that some are dependent on others. We understand this intuitively, which is why killing an attacker in self-defense is allowed. Physical safety, control over your own body, is the absolute first right which must be respected. Without that, all the other rights are meaningless. You’re not going to be exercising much freedom of speech if you can be whipped for it. Or lose your livelihood. Freedom of movement and assembly have to both be available before freedom to worship in the place of your choice has any meaning. Freedom of assembly depends on being able to define your own group, if that group has relatively less power. A union meeting that bosses could make themselves members of would not do the union much good.
Those points have direct relevance to some of the controversies around male-bodied people in women’s spaces where women are more vulnerable, such as dormitories, changing rooms, and toilets, as well as those where they’re trying to recover from problems due to men, such as counseling groups, rape crisis centers, or family violence refuges.
One is that they have the same right to safety as everyone else. Two is that women have the same right to assembly as anyone else. If women want to run a music festival or a discussion group or a rape crisis center limited to people born female, the right to assemble means that they can. Having a right means that it is illegal to harass anyone for exercising it. You don’t have to give them jobs or prizes, you can ignore them, you can argue against them with logic and evidence, but it is very wrong to try to make them so miserable they shut up, go away, and stop exercising their right. There’s no way to insist women must accept males without arguing that every other group has to accept everyone who wants to join: Cherokee can’t self-define, unions can’t, blacks can’t. Even transwomen can’t. Nobody can. Unless you want to say that women are not really people and don’t have rights like real people.
Transwomen may want validation that others see them as women, which is much like the many other social recognitions we provide each other whether or not we feel them ourselves. However, that does not confer some kind of right to insist that everyone has to participate in those ambitions. Especially when the price of a social courtesy can be the lifelong trauma of a sexual attack. Transactivists often don’t feel that provision of separate space is a solution for them. They have to be in women’s spaces. That shows the first priority is validation, not safety.
Other forms of self-ID
The feeling of being in the wrong body has other forms besides gender dysphoria.
Anorexia is a feeling of being in the “wrong” body (a fat one in that case).
The “transabled” identify with a disability to the point of maiming themselves to create it.
Race, age, poverty have all been assumed as identities.
Except in the case of gender, all the other body dysphorias are viewed as disorders.
The best known recent example involved a woman, Rachel Dolezal, who self-ID’ed as black even though she didn’t have traceable black ancestors. The predominant feeling was that she had no business appropriating a black identity. A 52 year old man decided he was a six year old girl and wanted to participate in playgroups with other six year olds. Hilarity did not ensue. A 69 year old Dutchman insisted you’re as young as you feel and wanted the government to shift his birth date by 20 years so he’d have better luck on Tinder. They didn’t. There are the “transabled” who identify so strongly with a disability some even maim themselves. Anorexia is yet another form of feeling trapped in the wrong body, as discussed by the always brilliant Victoria Smith, aka Glosswitch.
Interestingly, except for gender mismatch, the other dissatisfactions with one’s body are considered to show a need for therapy, not facilitation. So much so that dysphoria is used in the case of gender and dysmorphia for all the others. I could see a feminist argument that gender straitjackets are the unhealthiest social constructs, so attempts to escape them are a sign of sanity. Although when the escape requires a whole new set of straitjackets, it’s maybe not the best route out.
Shutting down discussion
Considering how obvious all these issues are, it’s strange that convoluted transactivist thinking is everywhere. In part that’s because women don’t count and their rights are constantly overlooked. In part, it’s because it turns out there really is some central coordination. But I think the largest factor is that no other viewpoint is allowed. Thinking critically is not allowed. The harassment has to be seen to be believed. People, almost always women, have been silenced for discussing or trying to discuss their own rights. Jane Clare Jones has written many outstanding pieces, such as this one about the treatment of Martina Navratilova for stating the obvious.
The justification is that any criticism of gender identities is like Nazi hate speech because it’s all anti-trans and it kills trans people. That is, it either inflames men to kill trans people or it drives trans to suicide. It’s never women killing trans people. It’s just women’s fault. Since they call it hate speech, nobody should ever hear any of it.
But if anyone did, all they would hear is women who are worried about losing their own right to safety or self-definition, and who are strongly in favor of civil rights and human rights for all trans people. That’s not really hate speech.
Maybe I should repeat that. That is not hate speech.
Research is also silenced. (E.g. James Caspian, Ken Zucker). A mild response to campaigns of harassment, including major consequences such as job loss, was organized by Kathleen Stock. Many were fearful to sign. In a very sketchy case, it turned out that a trans lecturer was encouraging their closed Facebook group to keep lists of academics to target for harassment. (Link is to an available copy. Original at The Times not freely available.)
“Transphobia!” is the instant charge hurled when anyone says women have rights worth respecting. Just recently, Hillary Clinton was tarred for noting that women’s experiences are not identical to those of transwomen. The same happened to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It would seem that’s an obvious statement of fact, right up there with “water is wet.” In my book, excommunication for statements of fact says the believer has a problem, not the target.
Just to be clear: there is nothing transphobic about saying trans people should have the same rights as everyone else. There is nothing transphobic about saying they don’t get special privileges, any more than anyone else.
Actual transphobia would be saying they’re not allowed out in public because they cause heebyjeebies, rather like the male Saudi attitude to women. Or claiming “trans panic” as a defense for murder and having that treated seriously in court.
It is not phobia to refuse participation in someone else’s beliefs about their inner essence. Catholics are not Protestantophobics. Atheists are not religiophobes. In a civilized and free society we respect each others’ beliefs by not going out of our way to interfere with them. It is the opposite of respecting beliefs to silence people, even women, on pain of harassment and death threats.
It is not phobia to live and let live. Women do not have to support anyone’s beliefs about themselves, any more than others have to support women. None of this is supportive of transwomen, and plenty of transwomen aren’t supportive of women. Nor do they have to be. We have no right to supportiveness. We only have a right to live our own lives as best we can without encroaching on anyone else’s right to do the same thing.
Women discussing their rights differs from hate speech or denialism in a very important respect. Women are not lying or being vicious. Women do have rights. They’re just like everyone else. When their rights are violated, they get to identify the problem and insist that it stop, just like everyone else. Even when it hurts someone’s feelings. Even when the counterargument is “Fuck TERFs.”
That is the weirdest thing about this whole mess: the invisibility of half the human race to people who think they’re the most inclusive, respectful, progressive group ever.
The reality-based community has to distinguish between trans people who’d just like to live their own life their own way — which everyone has a right to do — and weirdos trading on transness and wokeness to practice misogyny or pedophilia — which no one has a right to do. Because that is a real and valid and essential distinction.
Without it, the Repubs will be able to shout about the Yanivs and conflate them with all trans. They’ll say it’s what Dems do when they insist that anyone who self-IDs as trans must instantly have their feelings respected. And they’ll be right. Both sides are currently big on conflation, but one side sees them as all bad while the other thinks they must be all good.
In reality: no. Trans people who respect other people’s rights are fine, just like anyone else who lives a quiet life. Trans people who don’t are not fine. Just like anyone else who violates other people’s rights.
We have to be willing to draw that reality-based distinction or we’ll be playing right into the Repubs’ scaremongering hands.
And, yes, they will be, and are, scaremongering. There’s the Ben Carson comment about hairy men in bathrooms cited earlier. Trump has been doing his bit with Executive Orders to keep the issue simmering. In this case he’s denying their civil rights to serve in the military. A headline in June of this year yelled, “233 Out of 234 House Dems Just Agreed To Let Biological Men Take Over Women’s Athletics.” (conservativeflash.com/2019/06/18/)
Don Trump Jr. seems to be one of the designated Floaters of Trial Balloons on trans issues. In February 2019 he was very concerned about unfairness in women’s sports. There’s a laff-a-minute quality to Don Jr. coming over all concerned about fairness, but the commonest first reaction is going to be “well, yes, it is weird.” Because it is. That kind of inequality isn’t tolerated in any other sport demographic. He’s been continuing to talk about it, including more recently about Rachel McKinnon, mentioned earlier for their appalling celebration of the death of a young woman from brain cancer.
The pattern of generating support for violation of civil rights by stoking resentment over the disregard for women can be expected to ramp up. It serves all their purposes. They can paint themselves as the real Defenders of Women and Children™, they have a sex-related target for hatefests which always works to rile people up, and they can continue to chip away at everybody’s rights.
The UK is ahead of the US again, as it was with election cheating in favor of Brexit during the 2016 referendum. They’ll have another election Dec 12th (a few days from now as I write this), and the always astute Janice Turner points out:
Meanwhile the Conservatives, who were expected to “weaponise” the trans issue, have wisely stayed silent. Their policy of retaining existing law is far more in line with voter opinion than Swinson, whose Twitter feed contains thousands of livid women saying they’ll no longer vote Lib Dem. [note: The Times uses paywalls, so link may not work.]
If the center and left sacrifice women’s rights for woke points, it’s not even necessary for the Cons, or Repubs, to say much. They can just let their opponents have as much rope as they want to hang themselves.
By stressing how bizarre it is to pretend men are women, Republicans can sound like they’re making sense. Then when they crosslink other Democratic attitudes to abortion and homosexuality, they can tar everything with the same brush. It’s all “disrespect of the body.” The Democrats should really stop helping them create that confusion by falling for it themselves. The difference is that the Dems think it’s all good instead of all bad, but in reality both are wrong.
Imagine if the Repubs succeed in making people believe that only their brand of meddling in the details of other people’s sex lives will work to provide women with their rights to privacy and safety. Masses of women will vote for their own safety. Fairness to gay or trans people, or even to women themselves, is a distant second to bogeymen in bathrooms.
The conflation feeds takes like this piece in the Washington Post, “Conservatives find unlikely ally in fighting transgender rights: Radical feminists.” (Just for the record, “radical” feminists are what used to just be called “feminists.” People focused on women’s rights.) In the high and far off times, it took more than agreeing on basic reality to be considered allies. The two parties agree that biological sex exists. The conservatives use it to control women. Feminists want to end oppressions based on it. Those two are opposed to each other. Agreeing that water is wet means only that reality is understood. It’s the opposite of shared politics.
Unlike right wing BS regarding migrants getting free health care, there’s truth buried in the general bigotry about trans people. The women-don’t-matter attitudes really do exist and really are supported by mainstream Democrats.
That article skips lightly over the fact that protections for gender identity without protections for sex-based categories have bizarre downstream consequences. For instance, in addition to all the problems with ignoring biological sex already discussed, medical research on differences in treatments of heart attacks between men and women could be denied funding for being discriminatory against trans people. It’s probably obvious that would mean continued excess deaths among women. It would also legitimize the current version of conversion therapy which transitions same-sex attracted people to the opposite gender. If the law requires everyone to ignore sex, large parts of biological reality become off-limits.
Considering the levels of vitriol mentioned under Shutting Down Discussion, the lack of loud voices disputing transactivists isn’t too surprising, at least in the US mainstream. (The UK has more protestors.) So the Republicans can point to the Left’s uncritical acceptance of unsavory characters like Yaniv and McKinnon, conflate them with all trans people, and put themselves as all that stands between good people™ and perverts. (Update: Yaniv is finally beyond the pale after evidence of pedophilia and racism and loss of a court case.) I’ll be surprised if whipping up anti-trans resentment isn’t a major get-out-the-vote tactic this time around.
The only hope is clarity on when the Repubs are right. If they are, agree with them. The truth is what matters, not the fight. And then when you have to disagree with them about everything else it’s easier for people to see you’re still being honest.
- Repubs are right about the existence of biological sex. What they’re wrong about is the need to stuff everyone into gender straitjackets. What they’re horribly wrong about is their need to control women’s biology and everyone’s sex lives.
- Republicans are right about the need for women-only spaces. They’re wrong that women are delicate nitwits who need protecting. The problem is too many men are indelicate nitwits whose idea of fun is attacking others.
- They’re right about the need for female-only women’s sports, not because women are special but because they aren’t. They deserve the same level playing field everyone else is given.
The rule of law was taken off life support and euthanized in the US Senate on January 31st, 2020. What does this mean for the future?
There will be an infinite fractal series of spinoffs reflecting the hellishness from the smallest dimensions to the largest. A few things seem obvious, though.
Might now makes right. That’s the only alternative once the rule of law disintegrates, so we’re there.
When might makes right, there can be no trust because nobody knows what’s coming next. It all depends on the whims of whoever has money, guns, and all the attendant power.
Civilization — and I do mean civilization, that’s not hyperbole — depends on trust. Humans live in groups and divide tasks because we’re able to trust each other in very basic ways. Cooking food for a group requires trust, for instance. The cook is in a strong strategic position to just take it all. She (or he) doesn’t because human societies are based on trust.
Cooked food provides much more calories, so we have the energy to build buildings, and invent alphabets, and also do nasty but effortful stuff like organize for war. Contrast that with our near cousins the chimpanzees who could never start down that road because food sharing is minimal among them. When one of them has food, they tend to eat it right quick before some other chimp can beg or steal it away.
Yes, that’s an astronomically oversimplified point, but that doesn’t make it untrue. You get the picture. Civilization is completely based on trust. We have to trust thousands of people not to cheat us so our vehicles actually work, so our buildings don’t fall down on us, so our food is not poisoned. And so our governments will take care of business which allows us to get on with our lives.
You can see that last one eroding away before our eyes, because it’s the highest meta-level of trust and the first one to go.
Now that the Senate has dumped us all into a might makes right society, that trust will erode even faster and farther than it has so far. That means groups of people will hate and mistrust each other more than they already do. That means so-called “polarization” will get worse.
That doesn’t mean the US will fall apart into different countries. Yet. The side with power will be able to continue forcing itself on everybody for a while.
Well, a nonfunctional government means all the accumulating disasters stay unaddressed. The most inexorable of those disasters is the climate crisis. Big economic inequalities, which also destroy trust, we could reverse tomorrow. The climate? Not so much. The emergencies we’re already seeing, the wildfires, floods, famines will pile up more and more. (Have you heard about the locusts in East Africa that flew over from Yemen which had a huge hatch because climate change which people knew about four months ago and which nobody did anything about because war?)
Since people trust each other less and less, their response will be to try to solve their own problems by taking what they can from those horrible other people. Which will do nothing to solve the actual problem of setting the whole and only planet we have on fire.
So we’re now on a bad case scenario trajectory. Just how bad it will get before humans decide to do things differently, who knows. I’m sure it will be patchy. Some places where people still help each other will do better than those that fall for warlords. But one thing is for sure. Maybe soon, maybe in one hundred years, it means the end of the USA.
Unless USians bring back the rule of law. I’m no longer hopeful for November 2020, but that’s our next chance.Print This Post