Self-Made

by Daniel A. Kaufman

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A to B:  “You’re an asshole.”

B to A:  “No I’m not.”

A to B:  “Well, it’s not up to you whether you’re an asshole or not.  It’s up to everyone else.”

—Louis CK (1)

The “self-made man” traditionally was someone who had made his own fortune, rather than inheriting it  Today, many would point out that by ‘men’ we surely mean people, which seems perfectly reasonable, while others (more regrettably) would tell us not to speak of anyone as being “self-made,” because we are all connected to and dependent on one another and all make use of publicly supported infrastructure. This latter point is true, if you take ‘self-made’ and ‘dependent’ in a literal, deadpan sorts of way, but as these notions are commonly understood, it is clearly false, as there is an obvious and meaningful difference between, say, a person who starts and owns a business and the son or daughter who inherits it or the employee who works in it.  The rhetorical purpose behind the admonition  is to suggest that some richer, cooler, more successful or otherwise better-off (than you) person doesn’t deserve what he or she has or at least, doesn’t deserve to be too proud of it or talk about it too much.  Hence Hillary Clinton (remember her?) and “It takes a village”  and Barack Obama and his “You didn’t build that!” each of which, in its own way, was an effort to deflate claims of personal achievement and thereby undermine ascriptions of desert or lack thereof.  Of course, this attitude has an equally distasteful counterpart, in the view that those who are not self-made or who have been unsuccessful in one way or another and require assistance deserve what they get and either should not be helped or should be publicly shamed for asking for and receiving it.

It is a bit weird, though, now that I think about it, because for the most part, being self-made is all the rage today.  That is, aside from those self-important, thankless jerks who are too  proud of or claim too much credit for some achievement or other, our reaction to people who insist that they are self-made in virtually every other respect is largely congratulatory and in many quarters swooning.   Indeed, so cherished are some of these forms of self-madeness (madedness?) that to deny them or even express mild doubts about them will earn you a savaging, at best, and at worst, all manner of administrative sanctions and even sometimes legal penalties.  I am thinking in particular of the still-unfolding madness involving “preferred gender pronouns” and the legal sanctions that have been proposed (or already exist) for failing to use them, but one might also consider the recent “Hypatia fiasco,” in which a clearly progressively-minded scholar published a paper in the feminist philosophy journal Hypatia, suggesting that since race is as much a social construct as gender, perhaps we shouldn’t be any more put-off by people claiming to be transracial than by their claiming to be transgender.  She was immediately and viciously set upon not only by trans activists but by the journal’s own associate editors, who demanded the paper be retracted, despite the fact that it had passed peer review. (2) Confusions abound throughout these emotionally fraught situations and events – more on that in a bit – but what interests me the most about the matter of self-madeness lies beneath rather than in any particular instantiation of it, the contemporary versions of which, in my view, simply represent the modern notion of the self taken to its logical extremes.

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In the pre-modern worlds of classical antiquity and medieval Europe, a person’s identity would be defined in terms of his or her social relationships and roles.  As Alasdair MacIntyre described it in After Virtue:

In … pre-modern, traditional societies it is through his or her membership in a variety of social groups that the individual identifies himself or herself and is identified by others.  I am brother, cousin and grandson, member of this household, that village, this tribe…  (3)

Indeed, it was precisely this publicly defined self that made it possible to straightforwardly, factually ground evaluative judgments ascribed to the person in question.  Who and what one was, as a person, was a publicly verifiable fact, and thus, whether one was a good or bad person of the sort one was – and even morally – was also a publicly verifiable fact:

From such factual premises as “He gets a better yield for this crop per acre than any farmer in the district,” “He has the most effective programme of soil renewal yet known” and “His dairy herd wins all the first prizes at the agricultural shows,” the evaluative conclusion validly follows that “He is a good farmer.”

[This] argument is valid because of the special character of the concept of [a farmer].  Such concepts are functional concepts; that is to say, we define ‘farmer in terms of the purpose or function which … a farmer [is] characteristically expected to serve.

[M]oral arguments within the classical, Aristotelian tradition – whether in its Greek or medieval versions – involve at least one central functional concept, the concept of man understood as having an essential nature and an essential purpose or function … ‘Man’ stands to ‘good man’ as … [‘farmer’ stands to ‘good farmer’]. (4)

This conception of self and identity is fundamentally transformed in the modern era, where – most notably in Descartes and Locke – it is defined in terms of one’s internal consciousness: that is, in terms of one’s private mental states – one’s experiences, beliefs, desires, and significantly for Locke, one’s memories.

[W]e must consider what person stands for; which, I think, is a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and places; which it does only by that consciousness which is inseparable from thinking, and, as it seems to me, essential to it: it being impossible for any one to perceive without perceiving that he does perceive. When we see, hear, smell, taste, feel, meditate, or will anything, we know that we do so. Thus it is always as to our present sensations and perceptions: and by this every one is to himself that which he calls self … For, since consciousness always accompanies thinking, and it is that which makes every one to be what he calls self, and thereby distinguishes himself from all other thinking things, in this alone consists personal identity, i.e. the sameness of a rational being: and as far as this consciousness can be extended backwards to any past action or thought, so far reaches the identity of that person; it is the same self now it was then; and it is by the same self with this present one that now reflects on it, that that action was done. (5)

Thus, while a modern person would not deny any number of identifications that derive from one’s social connections and roles, the question of one’s true self – of who one really is – can only be defined from within.

MacIntyre’s interest in this story is that therein lies the origin of the is/ought gap. From the old, teleological conception of the self, there was no difficulty in moving from how a person is to how he ought to be, given that how he is and how he ought to be are both functionally defined, according to publicly accessible criteria.  But with the modern notion of the self defined entirely in terms of a person’s private mental states, how the person is isn’t functionally defined, according to public criteria, and thus, any notion of how he ought to be, other than as determined by him, clearly would seem to be unwarranted.  My own interest, though related, is slightly different.  From this new version of the self is born a distinctive sort of potential resentment; one in which any effort to assign a person an identity not of his or her choosing or to resist or even reject one of his or her choosing, becomes grounds for serious offense.  And when combined with a culture in which offense is routinely – and in my view, often deliberately and thus, quite cynically – conflated with explicit, tangible harm, you have a recipe for social, administrative, and legal sanctions of the sort we find ourselves confronted with today.

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I doubt that the older conception of the self can be revived or even that doing so is desirable.  The new conception is embedded in a number of fundamental, modern institutions and forms of life that virtually all of us would be loath to give up and lies at the heart of a number of key ideas we have about ourselves that it is hard to imagine dismantling.

The modern self is, at bottom, an emancipatory concept.  That one’s identity should be publicly defined in terms of relations to others that are more often than not involuntary was manifested, historically, in very tangibly oppressive caste systems (and still is in places, around the globe), where one’s class, one’s profession – pretty much one’s entire life – were determined by the accident of one’s birth. That one should be able to become anything, at least in principle – that You could even be President! as we often tell our young – is something that relies, essentially, upon the modern conception of the self (and much more, of course).  You don’t get liberal democracy without it, and you don’t get the modern conception of autonomy – upon which liberal democracy and modern ethics depends – without it.  Indeed, those like Descartes and Kant would argue that you cannot even have intellectual and cultural enlightenment without it.  As Descartes wrote in the Discourse on Method:

I was persuaded that it would indeed be preposterous for a private individual to think of reforming a state by fundamentally changing it throughout, and overturning it in order to set it up amended; and the same I thought was true of any similar project for reforming the body of the sciences, or the order of teaching them established in the schools: but as for the opinions which up to that time I had embraced, I thought that I could not do better than resolve at once to sweep them wholly away, that I might afterwards be in a position to admit either others more correct, or even perhaps the same when they had undergone the scrutiny of reason. I firmly believed that in this way I should much better succeed in the conduct of my life, than if I built only upon old foundations, and leaned upon principles which, in my youth, I had taken upon trust. (6)

And as Kant so memorably put it in the pamphlet, “What Is Enlightenment?”:

Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another. This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another. The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own understanding!

Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large proportion of men, even when nature has long emancipated them from alien guidance (naturaliter maiorennes), nevertheless gladly remain immature for life. For the same reasons, it is all too easy for others to set themselves up as their guardians. It is so convenient to be immature! If I have a book to have understanding in place of me, a spiritual adviser to have a conscience for me, a doctor to judge my diet for me, and so on, I need not make any efforts at all. I need not think, so long as I can pay; others will soon enough take the tiresome job over for me. (7)

So I don’t see us going back to the pre-modern conception of the self or even wanting to.  But the contemporary, radically “self-made” version has become an anxious parody of its noble, modern predecessor.  A parody because it now extends to such patent absurdities as white people claiming they are black simply because they want to be – a la Rachel Dolezal – and anxious, because it reflects an almost pathological discomfort with any sort of givenness and thus, with any loss of control over one’s identity.  What was a healthy desire to wrest authority from others over one’s economic, political, and even (to a degree) one’s social fortunes has been transformed into a need not only to micromanage every last bit of one’s public identity but to force others to accept it; something that has been both driven and exacerbated by the fact that so much of peoples’ public lives – and especially young peoples’ – are lived online, where this sort of hyperactive-self-control is not only possible but expected and even encouraged.

It is no accident, then, that it is young people who are most likely to feel such a desperate need to control their public identities and who are least likely to tolerate the fact that in a liberal society one’s public identities must be negotiated, at least if one is going to venture beyond the circle of one’s family, friends, and the like-minded.  That so many young people today are happy to jettison liberalism – and even democracy – in order to force others to accept their public identities is a testament to how desperate they are that their chosen identities should be publicly sustained at any cost. (8)

Of course, there remain parts of our public identities with regard to which public negotiation is still expected and accepted.  One cannot simply call oneself an attorney or a physician or an NBA player and expect others to accept such identifications, unless one has met certain publicly developed and managed criteria.  But even these sorts of identities are beginning to dissolve at the edges.  Is one an “artist” just because one says so or a “musician” or a “writer”?  Is one any of these things if one engages in them but isn’t any good, as determined by the public’s reaction?  Just a few decades ago, the obvious, overwhelming answer would have been “no.”  Indeed, Joan Didion, in her (in)famous takedown of some of the more excessive versions of Second Wave Feminism in 1971, unmasked the essentially child-like dimension of a certain brand of feminist self-madeness:

More and more we have been hearing the wishful voices of just such perpetual adolescents, the voices of women scarred by resentment not of their class position as women but at the failure of their childhood expectations and misapprehensions. “Nobody ever so much as mentioned” to Susan Edmiston “that when you say ‘I do,’ what you are doing is not, as you thought, vowing your eternal love, but rather subscribing to a whole system of rights, obligations and responsibilities that may well be anathema to your most cherished beliefs.”

To Ellen Peck “the birth of children too often means the dissolution of romance, the loss of freedom, the abandonment of ideals to economics.” A young woman described on the cover of a recent issue of New York magazine as “the Suburban Housewife Who Bought the Promises of Women’s Lib and Came to the City to Live Them” tells us what promises she bought: “The chance to respond to the bright lights and civilization of the Big Apple, yes. The chance to compete, yes. But most of all, the chance to have some fun. Fun is what’s been missing.”

Eternal love, romance, fun. The Big Apple. These are relatively rare expectations in the arrangements of consenting adults, although not in those of children, and it wrenches the heart to read about these women in their brave new lives. An ex‐wife and mother of three speaks of her plan “to play out my college girl’s dream. I am going to New York to become this famous writer. Or this working writer. Failing that, I will get a job in publishing.” She mentions a friend, another young woman who “had never had any other life than as a daughter or wife or mother” but who is “just discovering herself to be a gifted potter.” The childlike resourcefulness— to get a job in publishing, to be a gifted potter—bewilders the imagination. (9)

But today, in a world of blogs and Photoshop and Pro Tools?  One in which we lionize self-madeness?  Not only are such claims routinely accepted with nary a blink or a chuckle (good natured or not), it is increasingly thought impolite or even terribly rude to react otherwise and one is likely to be deemed somewhat of an asshole if one does so.   That this sort of informal social sanction is considered sufficient and that no one (yet) is proposing administrative codes or civil or criminal laws mandating that people publicly voice their acceptance of others’ self-identifications as artists or musicians or writers simply testifies to the fact that these identifications have not taken on the social, cultural, or personal significance that gender and racial identities have.

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It is understandable that racial and gender identities should be held more preciously and the desire that they be publicly acknowledged pressed with more vigor, though it is not immediately obvious and one easily could imagine things being otherwise (as they undoubtedly are with any number of individuals, whose souls burn with the conviction that they are artists or writers or musicians).  But there is something puzzling about the current effort to publicly force these sorts of identifications, and it lies in the fact that the very terms in which they have been defined entail precisely the sort of public negotiation that people are insisting should not occur.

We are told that race and gender identity are “socially constructed” rather than biologically determined, and it is worth noticing what this does not say, which is that race and gender identity are personally or privately determined.   Thus, when we say that gender is socially constructed, what we mean is that the gender roles and tropes associated with the physiological sexes are not in any way inherent or natural to those sexes, but rather, determined by social consensus; one that has evolved over the course of millennia.  Certainly, they were determined neither by individuals or small groups of people, nor at a particular moment in time.

The proposal now is that these should be reconceived; that we should move away from the long, socially-established gender binaries, tied to the sexes, to fluid and shifting genders, unmoored from physiological sex, and for the sake of the discussion, let’s stipulate that the proposal is a sound one.  Whatever the new consensus will be, it will have to be a consensus – that’s what socially constructed facts are grounded in – and this means it will have to be a matter of public negotiation.  It also means that it will take a long time and that we will not be able to predict precisely what the consensus will be.  It took the current consensus millennia to form, and while a new consensus certainly won’t take that long to develop, given modern modes of communication, it equally certainly will not happen overnight, as is evinced by the current public conversation on the subject.

I should point out that this is true, regardless of whether the new view of gender is supported by “the science,” whatever that currently is and wherever it goes.  It’s not just that clinical gender dysphoria is exceedingly rare (and barely understood) or that the notion that the twenty or more percent of millennials and members of Generation Z who claim gender fluidity and “queerness” are clinically dysphoric strains all credulity (10), but that regardless, whether people, at large, in a free society, are going to publicly express acceptance of identities that are by every account socially constructed is ultimately going to depend upon whether they come to agree with those identifications.  This seems like it would be obvious – a social construction is not self- but publicly made – and clearly it is, in the case of racial identity, as evinced by the near-ubiquitous rejection of Rachel Dolezal’s claims to be black, but one would never know it from the tenor of the current conversation regarding gender.  That this has caused such a degree of distress that it has led so many to agitate on behalf of the most illiberal means possible to force such a consensus, immediately, clearly is due, in part, to the appalling treatment that so many transgender people experience, but I would maintain that it also is due to the extent to which self-madeness has not only captured, but defined the contemporary and especially the youthful imagination, regardless of whether it is expressed in an entirely consistent fashion.

Notes

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18y6vteoaQY

Relevant portion begins at 1:50.

  1. http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/05/transracialism-article-controversy.html
  2. Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, p. 33.
  3. MacIntyre, After Virtue, p. 58.
  4. John Locke, “Of Identity and Diversity,” from An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. (1689) http://enlightenment.supersaturated.com/johnlocke/BOOKIIChapterXXVII.html
  5. Rene Descartes, Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason and Seeking Truth in the Sciences. (1637)

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/59/59-h/59-h.htm#part2

  1. Immanuel Kant, “What Is Enlightenment?” (1784)

http://philosophy.eserver.org/kant/what-is-enlightenment.txt

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/29/world/americas/western-liberal-democracy.html?_r=0

http://www.newsweek.com/have-millennials-fallen-out-love-democracy-495080

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/20/40-of-millennials-ok-with-limiting-speech-offensive-to-minorities/

  1. Joan Didion, “The Women’s Movement.” (1971)

http://www.nytimes.com/1972/07/30/archives/the-womens-movement-women.html

  1. https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/teens-these-days-are-queer-af-new-study-says

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/23/gender-fluid-generation-young-people-male-female-trans

Categories: Essay, Essays

Tagged as: , , , ,

89 Comments »

  1. Dan-K,
    Labnut: My major take-away had to do with the point regarding common experiences, which I thought was powerfully put and obviously correct.

    Yes, I recognise that and agree with you. Nevertheless I am severely discombobulated by the entire discourse.

    Like

  2. Hi Dan,

    “I think many of the old guard feminists’ complaints against the new trans activism are correct. ”

    While I’m not sure I’d quantify it as “many” I think both sets of radicals have some legitimate complaints about the other sets’ claims and activities. That is because we are looking at two radical groups doing very irrational things with some obvious problems. If we pull back and look outside of them we can find non-radicals making the same complaints without the excess baggage.

    “This, for example, strikes me as spot-on.”

    I think some of the author’s criticism is correct. Some I think is partially correct. And some pretty well off the mark. One of the most devastating points she delivers (to my mind) is how interest in stereotypical or limited subset of “feminine” activities is used by some transactivists as signifying a male is really a female. This point was examined in greater detail in the counterpunch article which showed that family and doctors (and scientists!) make that same mistake.

    But the problem is she goes on to make the same kind of error.

    You liked her discussion of common experiences as somehow being capable of defining what a woman is…

    “No trans women has had the adolescent experience of having her first period. Or the experience of pregnancy and childbirth. Or of miscarriage. Or of a hundred other distinctively women’s experiences.”

    The things listed are powerful experiences that only women can have. But it has to be pointed out that not all women do have them, and some women may have (depending on the list) none of them. So does that makes these people non-women?

    It gets worse when she starts (and this was also found in the counterpunch article) cultural experiences. To make differential pay, or lack of safety on the street, or being hurt in some way a defining “common experience” of being a woman seems errant. That it is a common experience for many, most, or all in a specific society is one thing, to say treat it as “making a woman” is something (especially when they are all negative) horrifying. But of course that is necessary when one wants a revolutionary, class-based definition of a group. It’s not that women are being hurt, it is that the property of being a woman is to have been (and continue to be) hurt.

    If we are going to allow for such cultural-based criteria, that is experiences that are common to women in a specific cultural, why can’t Jenner or others point to things common in US culture like wanting to wear nail polish or lipstick? Because those are common positive experiences? They need to be balanced out by negatives? Again, what of the actual women who have not suffered through most (or any) of the negatives and mostly only had the positives. Are they not women?

    “There is something deeply wrong, then, not to mention offensive — given the profound significance of some of these experiences — for someone who has been a man for decades and transitioned to say, “I’m a woman. Let me into Smith.””

    I think that depends on the type of woman (meaning the kinds of experiences women have had) Smith is meant to cater to. It could be broad and it could be narrow. These are valid choices of course, but then to make it narrow and expect to only single out a transwoman? I mean… what you just said, could apply to an otherwise understood biological woman who grew up in a healthy culture (and so none of the negative cultural commonalities) and had no biological functions common to most women (due to genetic or developmental problems).

    But I do understand your point, it’s just that the solutions are not so easy or cut and dried.

    This is a mess.

    One of the first things that needs to be accepted (and this is by radical transactivists as well) is that we are dealing with outliers of experience. Intersex and transgender (biological and neuro-psychologically variable) identities are not going to come in to any situation “clean” according to some stereotype list of what it is to be X. Perhaps Smith wants “pure” women.

    Is that bigoted? Maybe.

    Is that bad?

    Like

  3. db,

    I agree with Dan. If gender choices indeed are a social construct, then the words “I identify as female” (or male) is a philosophical contradictio in terminis. The identifying is at least partially done by society, and not only by fiat of the individual person making the statement.

    This makes some sort of social negotiation necessary. I suggested – in an indirect way – that for once the first party doing the negotiations with the trans movement should perhaps be women, and not white, male patriarchy. These negotiations aren’t go to be easy. Social practices based on specific notions of gender, biological sex and the relations between those two, are deeply embedded in society. To illustrate that idea, I offered two examples: boardrooms and sports. They were the most innocent examples I could think of and, in the case of boardrooms, on purpose slightly absurd.

    And then you write:

    “To be honest, the worry you express seems reminiscent of when people worried about allowing blacks into sports.”

    That’s a pretty grave insult, db.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yeah, we just aren’t going to agree on this. I think the feminists’ claims, by and large, are far better established and make much more sense. The point that “not all women have had a first period” etc., is just irrelevant, I’m afraid, to the point, which has to do with the formative experiences of the overwhelming majority of women, who are 50% of the population on the earth.

    But, we’re juts going to go around and around, so I’ll leave it at that.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. To be honest, the worry you express seems reminiscent of when people worried about allowing blacks into sports.

    = = =

    I hadn’t noticed this until Couvent pointed it out. It’s outrageous, obnoxious, and cheap. Really beneath you Dwayne.

    Like

  6. Hi Dan, ok we can leave it where it is. Just remember I was being critical of radical transactivist positions as well, suggesting they have to take this very thing “the formative experiences of the overwhelming majority of women” into account.

    “It’s outrageous, obnoxious, and cheap. ”

    You mean compared to a claim that people transitioning might actually eliminate biological women from the face of sports?

    I’ll try to do better. I hope others will do the same.

    Like

  7. Dan-K,
    Whatever the new consensus will be, it will have to be a consensus – that’s what socially constructed facts are grounded in – and this means it will have to be a matter of public negotiation.

    You have several times stressed the importance of public negotiation, and I agree with you, but it is more complicated than that. Public negotiation is both explicit and implicit. We are here engaging in explicit public negotiation but you would need to see the expression of disbelief and distaste on my face as I read those articles for there to be implicit public negotiation. Your face might in return reflect your strong disapproval of my bigotry, which would be the other side of the negotiation. This implicit public negotiation, or signalling, was a powerful channel that shaped much of our behaviour.

    This channel is being lost as we transition into a world where we are insulated from signalling, the implicit public negotiation channel. The inflection point in this transition took place ten years ago when the iPhone first appeared. And as this channel is being lost we are being freed from the salutary corrective force of implicit negotiation. There is no sneer on my interlocutor’s face to shame me for my inappropriate behaviour. We are exquisitely fine tuned to read each other’s signals in subtle hints of expression, gaze, intonation and bearing because it was vital to conduct in a social world. It shaped us more powerfully than the explicit content of public negotiation.

    It is this fact of being freed from the salutary force of implicit negotiation which is liberating. But it is liberating in a dangerous sense. That is because I possess a private identity which defines how I see myself. It is an aspirational identity which might be far from reality. Ordinarily our private identity is held in check and grounded by the feedback we receive through the public signalling channel. This meant that I could not arbitrarily construct my private identity in any way I chose. With the weakening and dissolution of the public signalling channel I am increasingly able to construct my private identity as I choose.

    But a private identity only has meaning when recognised publicly and this is a contradiction if private identity is shaped with no regard for public forces. This can be resolved in two ways. First, by endeavouring to impose, through various means, one’s private identity on the public consciousness. And that is exactly what is going on. Secondly it can be resolved by seeking out the company of like minded people, which the Internet enables. But this is a pernicious process which further insulates the person from healthy feedback and increases hyper-partisanship.

    But it gets worse. The gap between our private and public identities is a measure of our mental health and maturity. The larger the gap the more delusional we become and more disconnected from reality. We become floating islands of self-confirming cognitive bias at war with other islands of self-confirming, cognitive bias lest they disconfirm our chosen bias. This is what is happening to the country and the two articles illustrate it admirably.

    Like

  8. Hi Couvent, it seems that no matter how many times I agree on a general point being made in this thread, my criticism of what I see as an errant extended portion has me being accused of disagreeing in total.

    “I agree with Dan. If gender choices indeed are a social construct, then the words “I identify as female” (or male) is a philosophical contradictio in terminis. The identifying is at least partially done by society, and not only by fiat of the individual person making the statement.”

    Yeah, I agreed with that at least three times in this thread already, and has *nothing* to do with the criticism of the very specific claims you made.

    “I suggested – in an indirect way – that for once the first party doing the negotiations with the trans movement should perhaps be women, and not white, male patriarchy.”

    You do understand that this involves a whole range of people, including people that never were males, right? There are intersex people which fall into this category of discussion. And where did you get white from? Do you know how many non-whites are trans or transactivists?

    But yes, I understand that to radfem doctrine it is seen as all white, male patriarchy.

    If it matters, I *agree* that much of this will have to be a dialogue between trans and biological women, and that biological women will be better arbiters of distinctions/categories they want to use. Nothing I said suggested otherwise. My only disagreement is that radfem positions are the only or best representatives of *all* or *most* biological women.

    “Social practices based on specific notions of gender, biological sex and the relations between those two, are deeply embedded in society. To illustrate that idea, I offered two examples: boardrooms and sports.”

    Oh come on. You go on to claim that I insulted you, please do not insult me. I criticized two specific claims… completely outrageous claims… that suggested the existence of transwomen would threaten biological women in some way.

    I showed how those examples were simply based in fear, and not on any real threat.

    If you want to dispute the actual arguments I made against your examples, that’s great. But all you have done here is argue a position I basically already argued for (as if I was arguing against that) and then tried to soft- or back-pedal the same arguments I actually disagreed with, as if that makes them reasonable.

    No, transwomen will not pose a threat to women in sports or the boardroom, particularly in the fashion you laid out.

    “That’s a pretty grave insult, db.”

    Well it wasn’t meant to be. And frankly, before I apologize, I’d like you to unpack that statement for me. What exactly have I accused you of, insulted you as being, and why is it “pretty grave”?

    I made a connection between an irrational fear that transwomen would wipe women out of sports, to the earlier irrational fear that allowing racially integrated teams would wipe whites out of sports. Please let me know how those are entirely different.

    I also did not move beyond that to say you were afraid of transgenders (or blacks).

    So, I am sorry (not sarcastic) that I offended you in some way. I meant to make a parallel to the kind of worry, not to say that *you* are or remind me of bigots… which I take it is what you are accusing me of doing.

    Like

  9. Dan and Couvent, I take accusations like those you guys levelled at me pretty seriously. Given that it came from two sources, one trusted from experience, I decided to reality check myself.

    So I ran Couvent’s claims by a female–we have all agreed they are the authority here–who is definitely a feminist (fierce, though not 2nd wave), and experienced in competitive sports. The first words out of her mouth were “What???” She thought it was as patently outrageous and paranoid as I thought it was.

    I then told her that people were offended that I compared it to past arguments regarding the effects of allowing blacks into sports. Her immediate comment was “What was wrong with that?” She went on to say that it seems directly comparable… which is not even the strength of claim I was making (I said “reminiscent”).

    While I’m still sorry that I caused offence, whatever the reason, I’m disappointed that accusations of being insulting is all I received to a clear argument against a patently outrageous claim, which itself can be seen as offensive (she thought it was, to women and transgenders alike). And this is not to get to the bizarre boardroom argument, and the patronizing “have transgenders ever considered what some old guy likes to say” non sequitur.

    I’ll be interested to see if any counterarguments to support the original claims ever get made, though I won’t hold my breath.

    Since the topic of this reply is being offensive, I will note there is a suggestion in arguments being made that transitioning (or being transgender) is something as simple as declaring “I identify as X”. This seems deeply ignorant of what is involved in most cases. I’m sure there might be people that try to abuse the blurring lines in this fashion, but that is not the common experience. And the idea that real transgenders are part of a “white, male patriarchy” seems to miss entirely what they are saying and how they are treated by the white, male patriarchy. Again, I think radical transactivists make mistakes of their own, and need to be called on it. But really… part of the patriarchy? Heck, no one has even addressed my mention of intersex populations… it’s always with the old, white dude scarecrow.

    Finally, since Couvent cared so much about threats to women in sports, what I did not say originally, but will point out now (after my convo with the athlete), is if I agreed with the argument and then thought transwomen should really compete with men, that would de facto argue that transmen should compete with women. Not sure how happy radfems will be with prior biological women, who look like men, and take hormones that can boost physical performance, competing against biological women without the hormonal enhancements.

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  10. There is a suggestion in arguments being made that transitioning (or being transgender) is something as simple as declaring “I identify as X”. This seems deeply ignorant of what is involved in most cases.

    = = = = = =

    Baloney. The number of clinically dysphoric people is vanishingly small. So, the alleged 20% of millennials who are claiming to be trans and queer are doing precisely what is described. And yes, I think it is part of the “self-made” phenomenon, which is misapplied, if gender is socially constructed.

    Intersex is even less common of a phenomenon. .018%.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12476264

    .

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  11. It’s also worth noting that the essay is not about trans. And yet, predictably, that’s the part that everyone’s fixated on. I knew that would happen, but it’s disappointing nonetheless.

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  12. Dwayne: Re the thing between you and Couvent, I doubt he seriously believes that men are actually going to transition in sufficient numbers to actually address gender imbalances that currently exist in various domains. The point is an intellectual one — would we be satisfied that those imbalances had been addressed if they did? It’s a way of getting at the intuitional question — one that will be part of whatever social consensus arises — as to whether trans women are *women* in the relevant sense: the sense in which we talk about women’s colleges; women’s sports; etc.

    I think the answer is *obviously* “no” and I think that will be society’s answer as well. On this I think the feminists are absolutely right, and you know very well that I don’t agree with them on a lot.

    For this you compared couvent to an old school, hardcore racist. That’s what I said is outrageous.

    I’m also starting to wonder about “radfem” which sounds to me like a variation on TERF. Unsurprisingly, feminists are starting to hit back against this sort of characterization of people who after decades won very hard-fought battles for equality for women, who make up 50% — not .05% of the population.

    https://terfisaslur.com/

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  13. Hi DB,
    I have no intention of entering the debate of the merits of radfems vs the trans. Much more interesting to me is the phenomenon the debate reveals.

    But we do have recent experience in SA of the pitfalls that can be incurred were it possible in sport for someone born male to declare himself female. This is the problem that Couvent was referring to.

    Caster Semenya was born a woman in a small South African village. She became an outstanding competitor in 800 and 1500m races, setting several records. Her rapid improvement attracted unfavourable attention and she was tested for being a female. It turned out that she had hyperandrogenism, having high natural levels of testosterone. A furious debate resulted and after first being disqualified, she was eventually allowed to continue competing as a woman, though many continued to believe she had a grossly unfair advantage over other female competitors.

    This provoked a nasty debate and the only innocent person in the debate was Caster Semenya, who simply continued to be herself. My heart goes out to her for her undeserved pain.

    But this does illustrate the problems that could arise if male competitors could declare themselves to be female so as to compete as females. With their higher natural testosterone there is every chance that they would dominate many events(but this is controversial). It would be a shortcut to achieving sporting recognition and I think there is no doubt that some unscrupulous male competitors would exploit it.

    See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caster_Semenya
    and
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperandrogenism

    This is complex and I don’t really want to debate it, except to point out that, as usual, the law of unexpected consequences applies with a vengeance.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Hi Labnut, just to be clear this response is not an argument against what you said. If anything, I am grateful as your reply allows me to expand on what I said in a neutral (at least non-antagonistic) way.

    Yes the case you mentioned appears to be one of intersex, or at least an outlier of hormonal balance found within women. This gets to exactly what I was talking about so I am very glad you brought it up.

    You are right that the question of how to deal with intersex and transpersons in sports competitions has been, is, and will be complex. It’s been going on since the 70s, and there are top sports women that are for transgenders playing in their transitioned sex, and some against it. Billy Jean King who famously fought the “battle of the sexes” tennis match against a man, is for it.

    My argument was that the fear of this leading to women losing their place in sports is totally unrealistic (given the arguments I made and as yet no one has argued against). While some theoretical potential may exist, it demands a series of assumptions that are extremely unlikely, including that transgenders lack some concept of justice or honest interest in sports.

    Could there be a few people who try to take advantage? Sure, all sorts of people cheat, so why not?

    But that’s why rules will develop, as they already have been since the 70s. Earlier I gave my guesses to the kinds of changes that will occur. Apparently US boxing has a pretty strict guideline in place, which is based on time after transition (which is verifiable) including changes to show advantages have been reduced sufficiently. That makes sense. My guess is cases like Caster could introduce new rules related to our advancing knowledge of physical diversity within sexes.

    Here are a list of some of the more famous transgender (and intersex) sports stars:

    http://www.thesportster.com/entertainment/top-15-famous-transgender-athletes/

    And a case of where insistence of birth biological sex, rather than actual physical development from hormones, backfired (on women):

    It was a tragedy for the transboy, who was equally as innocent as Caster.

    I guess this is why I have little tolerance for hypotheticals, particularly those that rest on radfem positions (as the case above shows the shortcomings and as you said “unexpected consequences”), and an assumed base dishonesty of transgenders. Transathletes will be like most athletes, some will cheat, most will want an honest competition.

    The kinks have to be worked out, and like other disparities in sports have been (age, size), I am confident they will be too.

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  15. My argument was that the fear of this leading to women losing their place in sports is totally unrealistic (given the arguments I made and as yet no one has argued against).
    = = =

    Sure we have. No one was suggesting it as a real possibility. The point was just to imagine if one would accept that current gender disparities would be satisfactorily solved if they were filled with trans women. It gets at the intuition-based question of whether trans women are women in the relevant gender senses. And I stand by my claim that they are not. If the current corporate CEO disparities were addressed by filling the gaps with trans women I don’t think anyone would be satisfied that the problem had been solved.

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  16. Hi Dan,

    “Baloney. The number of clinically dysphoric people is vanishingly small. So, the alleged 20% of millennials who are claiming to be trans and queer are doing precisely what is described.”

    I don’t know what you were calling baloney. I have already discussed your mistake about demanding dysphoria, and agreed that some people may be claiming things incorrectly. I admit I’m somewhat sceptical of the 20% figure meaning millenials are claiming to have transitioned, and by transgender it is not clear what is meant by that (it has different meanings to different people)… throw in queer and you get to the broad mix of sex, gender, and sexual orientation categories I was talking about. So I don’t know if that figure, as broad based as it is, is accurate or not.

    That said, let me repeat… I agree there is something problematic in someone simply saying “I identify as X”, I agree that there are people making mistakes along those lines, and so in reality… when we are talking about actual transgenders… the suggestion being made that *that* is as simple as “I identify as X” is ignorant. That ignorant people think they can do it (presumably the millennials), does not absolve ignorant people thinking actual transgenders are doing it. That is what I was referring to as “most cases”. Real transgenders. These are the only ones that are athletes open to competition as opposite gender and about which any serious discussion of the issue is about.

    Since the counterpunch article was extensively about actual transgenders and not simply vapid Millennial whimsy, I was forced to take Couvent’s comments (which cited the counterpunch article as the source of his ideas) as meaning actual transgenders. And even if I were to assume he meant the whimsical stuff, then how does that boardroom scenario hold any water? Indeed, that doesn’t seem to play into questions about women’s colleges, sports, or whatever. And what of the bon mot?

    Anyway, I’ll let Couvent argue his own case and not bother you about it.

    “I think the answer is *obviously* “no” and I think that will be society’s answer as well. ”

    That may be true for many things. And as I suggested that could even be valid, and something transgenders will have to take into account. But basically the “relevant” sense you stated just means case dependent, not whether some true definition of a woman was found for which they ultimately fail. That is to say any particular group is looking for *this* kind of woman and not that kind of woman. *This* is the *relevant* category of woman… and then it can be born biological, or current biological, or broader gender-based. It will depend.

    Labnut gave the excellent example of a biological woman who may not fit the *relevant* criteria for women’s sports. This stuff is real which is why I brought it up. My own work involves a genetic condition which effects such things, so I am a bit sensitive when people think the subject is so easy and use what I see as rather flippant hypotheticals.

    As far as sports go, your guess seems to be wrong for some fields already. And I recommend reading the clips I gave Labnut, especially the one of the transboy. There the idea he was not a boy, appears to be a big mistake. Very unfortunate.

    “For this you compared couvent to an old school, hardcore racist. That’s what I said is outrageous.”

    That would be outrageous, which is why I didn’t do it. I compared the argument. Again, someone else saw the same thing.

    “I’m also starting to wonder about “radfem” which sounds to me like a variation on TERF.”

    I was using the terms within the article for convenience since the discussion was primarily about that article. My usual term for the feminism I criticize is 2nd wave, which I made explicit in my first reply about the article. Radfem was shorter so…

    But I’d rather switch than fight. I’ll go back to 2nd wave.

    “characterization of people who after decades won very hard-fought battles for equality for women, who make up 50% — not .05% of the population.”

    Well I wouldn’t agree that 2nd wave was responsible for anything like that. They have created more problems than they solved. And I am not certain why I should care if the hard fought battle is for 50 or 0.05… as long as it was just.

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  17. My only reason for linking to that article was to indicate how complicated this stuff is from a social constructivist point of view and just how difficult any social negotiation will be regarding a reconceptualization of the genders. (It certainly wasn’t because I agree with most of it, which I didn’t.) And the intensity and aggressiveness with which the issue is being pushed “Now! Now! Now!” and actual laws being passed to force people to use absurd pronouns and refer to individual people using plural pronouns like ‘they’ not only is not going to work, it’s going to decrease the likelihood of activists getting what they want.

    And I can’t agree with you about Second Wave feminism. Sure there were excesses, and few people probably dislike the Catherine Mackinnons and Andrea Dworkins of the world than me. But I can remember when the only women in the workplace were secretaries. Second Wave feminism played an enormous role in helping create the world we have now, where women can pursue pretty much any profession they like, all the way up the ladder. That represents an unprecedented, complete transformation of our society for the better, so I categorically reject the claim that “they have created more problems than they have solved.”

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  18. Hi Dan, missed your post before posting my last one to you. You just answered some of what I said to you, so let me make updates…

    “Sure we have.”

    Look, that really does not look like what he was saying, and someone else saw it the same way I did. That said, I am a guy that believes you have to accept what a person says they meant (no matter how stretched it seems) rather than insisting on the point.

    Since I see that Couvent has agreed he meant what you said…

    “It gets at the intuition-based question of whether trans women are women in the relevant gender senses. And I stand by my claim that they are not.”

    Then the hypothetical itself is flawed in that it assumes these transwomen are not like real transwomen in sports, and also requires them to be unjust and uninterested in actual sports. But ignoring that, Labnut just gave a case where a biological woman opens up the notion she might not be *relevant* to women’s sports, because of a hormonal balance that does not in any way effect the reality that she is a woman.

    At best this hypothetical… and the argument you have been making… realizes something about demands people make regarding identity, not something about what makes a real woman (or man). Demands are going to be context dependent. Sometimes it will be based on born biology, sometimes on current physiology, and sometimes broad-based gender will be ok.

    “And I stand by my claim that they are not. If the current corporate CEO disparities were addressed by filling the gaps with trans women I don’t think anyone would be satisfied that the problem had been solved.”

    Well you are wrong about some sports, as I have shown.

    I do agree about the fact that no one would be satisfied with corporate CEO disparities being “fixed” in the way suggested. As I said (which still applies) neither would the CEOs, or the transgenders unless we assume their base immorality, so bang up hypothetical that is.

    I’m still working on figuring out how hypotheticals, leading to thought experiments about the nature of gender identity and not indicating any potential realities, leads to chastising actual people for not understanding the bon mot about individual rights.

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  19. Dan… Argh, we keep cross-posting. I will post this last bit and let you have the last word (to my last post or this).

    “And the intensity and aggressiveness with which the issue is being pushed “Now! Now! Now!” and actual laws being passed to force people to use absurd pronouns and refer to individual people using plural pronouns like ‘they’ not only is not going to work, it’s going to decrease the likelihood of activists getting what they want.”

    We are in agreement about almost all of this, particularly about the legal techniques and coercion. The specific issue of choice of pronouns? Eh. I’ve seen things I thought wouldn’t work catch on. Some became president.

    “But I can remember when the only women in the workplace were secretaries. Second Wave feminism played an enormous role in helping create the world we have now, where women can pursue pretty much any profession they like, all the way up the ladder. That represents an unprecedented, complete transformation of our society for the better, so I categorically reject the claim that “they have created more problems than they have solved.”

    I’m the same age as you so we’ve seen the same things. Clearly we will continue to disagree on this. Given that we’re two old white dudes, I suppose it really doesn’t amount to much which group we think did more harm or good.

    At least things have gotten better, and hopefully will continue.

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  20. Hi Dan, sorry for the delayed response I was out all day yesterday.

    “You think Second Wave feminism *did not* play a huge role in this development? I would argue that’s straightforwardly, factually false.”

    I was actually talking about disagreeing on how much damage it caused (toxic cultural products), compared to any betterments.

    Again, I don’t see much point in arguing about this, but I guess I will set out a more detailed explanation of my position.

    There is absolutely no question that 2nd Wave played a huge role in the development (perhaps shaping is a better term) of the women’s rights movement, and altering cultures across the world. You can’t escape that fact. There wouldn’t be anything for me to complain about if they had been ineffectual… they would simply be forgotten.

    Regarding contribution to women’s rights, I can’t say what % 2W actually made to any progress. This is not to claim or suggest they made zero, little, or less than majority contribution. I’m openly saying I don’t know. What I do believe is that it cannot claim sole credit, or that if not for 2W such progress would not have occurred. That it did play a role, did help generate progress, is factual and a credit.

    The flipside of this comes in two forms.

    First, is that there were plenty of women, feminists and non-feminists*, who disliked 2W, did not have any part in that movement, and also helped generate the progress we are talking about. I personally prefer to credit the people and not the sub-movements for having achieved progress because the entirety of the women’s rights movement has been a diverse team effort. Given all the women I have known that loathed 2W and yet worked for specific rights, including during the period where 2W held prominence, it is odd for me to say 2W gets some sort of special credit… that would seem to dishonor the rest.

    Second, is that I do hold each sub-movement accountable (for good or ill) for any additional products they bring to the culture, and for which you can’t really look to other sources. 2W has been terrible for *other* civil rights issues, especially free speech and sexual rights, of both women and men. Part of this was promoting a victimhood culture and identity politics with many toxic spinoff products (like language policing and legal acts in place of social negotiation). Ironically, you have spent much time skewering one of these as being a major problem in modern society, including in the essay above. Without 2W we would not have the bizarre manifestations which are costing the left its political capital.

    Maybe that last statement isn’t fair. Perhaps they would have arisen without 2W (and then I’d blame that source). But historically it did arise or spinoff from their works. Which again, is why I laughed at the first article. To watch them get tagged with the same BS I watched them tag people with when I was younger… nice.

    The energy and commitment and work of 2W feminists is great. I just don’t want to confuse the laudable work, with the detrimental work, as if the latter were required for the former.

    *when I mention non-feminists, and there are a lot, I mean women who disavow being feminists, not engaging with stated ideals and causes. Some of course fought reforms, preferring status quo, while others fought for individual rights, while not seeing (or interested in knowing) how that was connected with broader ideology. Roe of Roe v. Wade can hardly be said to be insubstantial in the women’s rights movement, yet she was decidedly not a feminist ideologue, and later regretted the decision and her part in it.

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  21. It’s also worth noting that the essay is not about trans. And yet, predictably, that’s the part that everyone’s fixated on. I knew that would happen, but it’s disappointing nonetheless.

    Rebuke duly noted. Sexual behaviour has become the nation’s fixation in a way never seen before outside Ottoman harems. Soon the nation’s horizon will extend no further than its genitals and the discussion seems determined to confirm this trend.

    A blurb from the forthcoming book by David J Friend

    The Naughty Nineties
    The Triumph of the American Libido
    by David Friend

    A sexual history of the 1990s when the Baby Boomers took over Washington, Hollywood, and Madison Avenue. A definitive look at the captains of the culture wars — and an indispensable road map for understanding how we got to the Trump Teens.

    THE NAUGHTY NINETIES: The Triumph of the American Libido examines the scandal-strafed decade when our public and private lives began to blur due to the rise of the web, reality television, and the wholesale tabloidization of pop culture.

    In this comprehensive and often hilarious time capsule, David Friend combines detailed reporting with first-person accounts from many of the decade’s singular personalities, from Anita Hill to Monica Lewinsky, Lorena Bobbitt to Heidi Fleiss, Alan Cumming to Joan Rivers, Jesse Jackson to key members of the Clinton, Dole, and Bush teams.

    THE NAUGHTY NINETIES also uncovers unsung sexual pioneers, from the enterprising sisters who dreamed up the Brazilian bikini wax to the scientists who, quite by accident, discovered Viagra.

    Is it a triumph? Or a sign of decline?

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  22. Hi Labnut, I had let Dan’s comment go (about his essay not being about trans) because I didn’t want to start a new argument. Since, you have mentioned it and expanded on it to make discussions of sexuality symptomatic of a societal problem, I am now going to respond, to his comment and then yours.

    First, regarding Dan’s statement, I fully understood it was not about trans, and yet when I attempted to move beyond that subject matter, I was bizarrely accused of Hitlerism… when I explained how my expansion to an example using race (beyond his given, and easy Dolezal example) was appropriate, there was crickets. So he sort of self-limited discussion to trans.

    Second, your comment about US fixation on sexual behavior is accurate in some sense, but totally misses the context, and is highly inappropriate to this particular topic (trans rights). There is no person more fixated on sex than the prude, and the West has been in the grip of prudes and prudish religions* for millenia. In the US, the culture is more heavily influenced by this puritanical moralizing than Europe, and so intensely fixated on sex. It is more exciting, either in the doing or the condemning. That’s how you get farces like an Attorney General covering up breasts of Greek statues, IIRC one depicting Justice. National outrage and discussion after seeing a second of Janet Jackson’s breast on TV. Or the slew of anti-sex moralizing, conservative Republican politicians and religious leaders caught up in sleazy sex scandals. It seems the Devil really is in the details.

    Regarding the issue of trans rights, what does that have to do with an obsession about sex? Unless you are talking about the obsession of those trying to fight it, trans rights are about the difference between physiological sex (not the activity) and gender identity. Again, this can include issues like intersex which can hardly be said to come from societal fixation on sexual behavior. Unfortunately, due to fear of the unknown, and sex-fearing prudes, honest discussions about these minorities have been limited until modern times, and expanded due to better information sharing technologies.

    *And not just prudish, but intensely focused on sexual organs. Long before there were sex change operations, there was male and/or female genital mutilation mandated by the leading religions of the West (and midEast).

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  23. Hi Couvent, there is a saying that the best defense is a good offense. And I’ve found that in the web, *taking* great offense is often used when no defense is possible. I have a suspicion this is what just happened, and after reading back through our exchange I want to make some observations and conclusions…

    1) My reply to you started with, reinforced in the middle, and ended with the idea you were influenced by reading too much feminist ideology, and so came up with some crazy scenarios which I was refuting to calm you down. My intent, and that is the only straightforward read, is that I was assuming you were *not* a bigot and that by pointing to the claim’s extreme flaws, and it’s similarities to other arguments that are widely accepted as flawed, you would drop it like a hot potato. That those earlier, similar arguments were made by bigots only served to make the potato a little hotter. It would make no sense (logically or thematically) for me to have dropped some serious bombshell accusation that you are in fact a bigot in the middle of everything else.

    So, if you really were offended, it took work on your side.

    2) Dan gave a valiant (and actual) defense of the claims I was refuting, by arguing not against the refutation (if anything they hold) but that I had strawmanned you. However, the idea that your claims were mere intuition pumps to consider the concept of “woman” is also not a straightforward read of your writing, and require that the claims be pulled out of context from everything else in your reply.

    You started that section with…
    “But the article highlighted in some weird way a problem I haven’t been thinking about enough. Wouldn’t this self-identification as a certain gender be detrimental to women in the first place?”

    … reinforced that concept in the middle by saying…
    “Biological women would be wiped from the charts if society (and therefore sports associations) would accept self-identification as a female. Biological women would simply disappear from view.”

    … and ended with…
    “He always says: “your rights stop where mine begin”. Do self-identification activists know that bon mot?”

    There is no language suggesting any change in subject from potential threat that should be a concern, to hypothetical intuition pumps… and the conclusion chastising real people makes no sense outside the context of a potential threat.

    So, I call BS on that idea. If you really want to maintain that was your intent, I will accept your claim, but I doubt it, think your writing terribly misleading if it was, and the end sentence in need of explanation. Where did it come from? What did it mean?

    Plus, making it an intuition pump arguably makes it worse. Your only stated target is “self-identification activists”, and yet your “pumps” only depict unjust cheats who would be using those activists (and actual transgenders) as much as anyone else. You think activists would support that kind of activity? Why? Why would they not care about other women? I doubt even the most whimsical of Millenials would think nothing’s wrong if out of the blue Mike Tyson said “I’m a girl” and began pummelling women across all weight categories in the ring. Yeah, it is more than mere words. If I were to take any other rights activists, and then use such gross caricatures of them, would it help to say the outrageous claims were just “intuition pumps”? And it raises the question why you’d require such apocalyptic proportion of threat to women, to make the simple statement that you could have cheats. That only acts to make transactivists look like a threat, without adding anything to the point.

    3) Your exact “fear the effects of self-identification” argument is being used by anti-LGBT activists and not as “intuition pumps”. I refuse to link and so send traffic to such people, but you can Google to check my claims (if you doubt), one is Brandon Morse and another David Kupelian (and his book “The Snapping of the American Mind”).

    Morse wrote, “If men can claim to be women and invade a sport that only women are allowed to compete in, then it’s a safe bet men will win. All the accolades, rewards, and recognition will be taken from the women who rightfully deserve them and given to a man who essentially cheated by putting on makeup, injecting himself with hormones, and saying he’s a woman.”

    Kupelian argues the same thing and goes further… “The insanity of this affects not just the transgendered individual and the women athletes thus victimized. It also contributes to a sort of mass delusion infecting our whole society in which, thanks to the influence of the powerful LGBT movement, everybody now has to either affirm the absurd and crazy – that a man who is essentially a female impersonator can fairly compete against women – or they have to suffer abuse and persecution as bigots just for speaking the truth.” …Plus…
    “This sexual anarchy movement – which, for example, recently announced dozens of brand-new genders that never existed in the history of humanity until a few years ago – is really part of a revolutionary political movement rooted in a mixture of personal trauma, utopian ideology and demonic forces that is unfortunately ever-expanding in today’s America.”

    Uh, yeah. So if you want to use the irrational talking points of anti-LGBTs as hypothetical “intuition pumps” be my guest. But it seems as offensive as it is gratuitous to make your point.

    4) I take back my apology. I doubt you were actually offended and, even if you were, your (by proxy) defense is arguably more offensive than what you (falsely) accused me of saying. Not sure how it was missed (or not commented on by anyone else) that the functional conclusion (pump or not) is that all transactivists are bigoted cheats, or dupes of them.

    I feel certain you are not a bigot, and did not mean to convey such a message. I think you made a mistake, and in refusing to fess up, dug a deeper hole.

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  24. I just wanted to clarify something, before there is a misunderstanding (and possible uproar). In my last reply to Labnut I referred to “male and/or female genital mutilation”. Yes, that meant circumcision (for both). No, the language does not mean I am against it. If it seems too dramatic (though I maintain it is accurate) I’m willing to call it by a more neutral term such as “surgery” or “alteration” or “modification.” I don’t want to get into an argument about its legitimacy.

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  25. The essay was not about trans. That should be obvious from reading it.

    I certainly didn’t accuse you of Hitlerism. I accused you of using “reductio ad Hitler” style arguments in comparing your interlocutor’s views to that of an old school racist.

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  26. While this is to Couvent, parts can certainly apply to me, so let me just be clear about one thing.

    To the extent to which feminist and trans concerns clash, I am certainly, undoubtedly more sympathetic to the feminist ones, both for intellectual and emotional reasons.

    As indicated in the essay and in my comments, aside from cases of gender dysphoria, I am not particularly interested in or sympathetic to the more “pop” gender fluidity movement. It’s not just that I find many of the most visible personalities unsympathic, but that I find the claims of radical social constructivism involved to be both intellectually convoluted (for the reasons discussed in the essay) as well as very unappealing.

    I’m sorry if this is offensive to you, but these are my views. It seems like our exchanges as of late have become harsher and more unpleasant, which I lament, and to the extent that I am culpable, I am sorry for it.

    Liked by 3 people

  27. Hi db,

    I don’t know how to react to what you write, because I get the impression that we actually largely agree on many things. As far as understand we agree that social practices based on gender, biological sex and the relation between those two are deeply embedded in society. We also seem to agree that self-identification as a certain gender doesn’t make the difficult questions about the relation between gender and biological sex go away.

    By the way, I never wanted to say something about transgenders and people with gender dysphoria. They aren’t the subject of Dan’s OP, and I thought that was clear.

    We seem to agree that some sort of social consensus should be reached, and perhaps we even agree that males who want to identify as women should conduct the social negotiations (a metaphor, of course) with women in the first place and not with white male patriarchy in the first place. (I don’t know where you got the idea I thought the self-identifying males are themselves part of white male patriarchy).

    Now the examples. You noticed that they aren’t realistic. They weren’t meant to be. I made them on purpose rather farfetched, because I wanted to avoid discussions about the examples. They were so farfetched – especially the one about the boardrooms – that I couldn’t imagine someone wouldn’t understand they were chosen to illustrate an idea. Do you really believe I think the US women’s soccer team is going to be beaten in the next WC final by a team consisting of 6 biological women and 5 males who identify as women? But to my great astonishment, you turned it into a discussion about the examples.

    But OK, these things happen. I don’t mind you didn’t understand the purpose of my examples. Differences of style, etc.

    But then there was the suggestion of racism. That was a mistake. You know it was. A real mensch would have admitted it immediately. Everybody makes mistakes, even you and me.

    I have little theory about this particular mistake. I’ll leave it to the others here to judge it. My theory is that discourse has become quite a bit harder in the US in the last decades. When I was living in Texas in the beginning of the century, I noticed that educated, intelligent 20 yr. old women would say without hesitation “I’ll kill her if she does that!”

    Kill her? I’m way over 50 now, and don’t think I’ve said “I’ll kill him” three times in my life. In the US, however, it seemed to be rude but quite common. These young women didn’t realize what they just said, and I think you didn’t realize what you actually wrote when you made the comparison with blacks in sports. Circumstantial evidence for my theory comes from the fact that Dan at first didn’t even notice what you wrote.

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  28. DB,
    There is no person more fixated on sex than the prude, and the West has been in the grip of prudes and prudish religions* for millenia. In the US, the culture is more heavily influenced by this puritanical moralizing than Europe, and so intensely fixated on sex

    This kind of harsh judgemental statement is quite out of place. You will deny this but you are plainly creating the implication that I am a prude for having made my earlier statement and of course your mention of ‘prudish religions’ is a wholly unwarranted dig at myself and my Catholic faith. Pejorative language and implications are wrong, undesirable and must be stopped. I think Couvent would agree with me.

    But worse still, I think your statement is a reflexive, unthinking labelling of people that you do not agree with. It is not a form of argument that shows any insight.

    Let me quickly state the obvious and you will see what I mean. Sex is one of our most powerful drives. It is so powerful that society carefully limits its expression. There are no exceptions. It is always channelled and limited. All that varies is the place we put limits. Placing the limits on sexual behaviour in different places does not make one a prude. It means quite simply that one has reached different moral and practical judgements than you have.

    You may question which limits are appropriate but you will inevitably conclude that some limits are necessary. As an example of this you will agree(I hope) that sex with children is wrong. That is a well agreed limit and we don’t call people prudes for insisting on this limit. But what about the case of sex with your neighbour’s 17 year old daughter? It is perfectly legal but her father will be outraged by your behaviour. Is he a prude? Or is he a concerned father who wishes to protect his impressionable daughter from older men? Now what about having sex with your neighbour’s wife? It is perfectly legal but he will be tempted to break your skull. Is he a prude for having different standards of sexual conduct or is he protecting the sanctity of his marriage? Turn that around, how will you feel if he has sex with your wife? Does that make you a prude? Consider this. You go walking in a public park with your young daughters and you come across a couple openly engaged in vigorous sex. What do you do? Do you stop and gaze on while you say to your young daughters, ‘that is how it is done, their technique is really good!’ Or do you hurry off? Does that make you a prude?

    Society always, everywhere, all the time, places limits on sexual expression. There are no exceptions. This is not prudery. This is a necessary practical and moral judgement of when, where and how sexual expression may take place. Other people may place the limits in different places than you do. The easy, cheap and thoughtless thing to do is to accuse them of prudery. But if you stop, inquire and think about it you will discover they are thoughtful people who have given the matter careful consideration and do not deserve pejorative labels.

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  29. Hi Dan, before I start my reply, keep in mind I am not angry, answering in some challenging way, or trying to extend argument. I am explaining my position and, if anything, hope this moves towards something positive.

    “The essay was not about trans. That should be obvious from reading it.”

    I agree. I thought it was obvious. You had even touched on race, but it could lend itself to other issues.

    “I certainly didn’t accuse you of Hitlerism. I accused you of using “reductio ad Hitler” style arguments”

    That’s what I meant by “Hitlerism”. I guess I should have been more clear, sorry about that. The point remains the same. I thought I was doing the conversation a service by moving beyond trans issues, to get to (explore) what problems you had with social constructs and proponents coming in with strong “insistence” against common usage. And while there is no question the word was used by hardcore bigots, at the time Baldwin was making his case against it, it was used by many people, including those who were not bigots but did not understand how it was taken by people actually suffering oppression. They had simply grown up with the usage and did not understand the problem. He was shaking them awake to this.

    In fact, the usage was so commonplace in some regions and times (in the US) that Twain captured it in his book Huckleberry Finn, which is considered a classic. Despite that status, censorship is considered ok today by some who generally promote free-speech, because of the power that word is conceived to hold in today’s society compared to its casual use (not by racists) in the book (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/huckleberry-finn-and-the-n-word-debate/). It would seem Lenny Bruce is right, and yet thoroughly dead.

    So, I thought that was the direction I was taking the conversation. And you cut it off by arguing it as a reductio ad Hitler. I explained why it was not, and you did not continue discussion. That is why I was surprised when you later commented this was supposed to be about more than trans. I let it go, but it’s not like I wanted to turn it into, or keep it, about trans.

    “To the extent to which feminist and trans concerns clash, I am certainly, undoubtedly more sympathetic to the feminist ones, both for intellectual and emotional reasons.”

    I’m sympathetic to both feminist and trans sides. Outside of the extremist positions of either, they both have points. The problem is that they both can’t come out on top, and so there must be a negotiation. If the extremists are allowed to hold the dominant positions in the negotiation it won’t come to much (which is what we saw in the articles). I don’t mind if you side more with the feminist position, that’s the reason it ends up having to be a negotiation: there will be people coming down on different sides. You can’t hold that against people.

    “It’s not just that I find many of the most visible personalities unsympathic, but that I find the claims of radical social constructivism involved to be both intellectually convoluted (for the reasons discussed in the essay) as well as very unappealing.”

    Ok, I think I probably side with you on most of that. While I have no issue with exploring gender fluidity, the language policing issues (and expansion of pronouns… why not just eliminate gendered pronouns?) is something I’m not a big fan of. Again, this goes back to my dislike of 2nd Wave language policing. Most of it is absurdity with no real use beyond cosmetics.

    Given what you just said, I am somewhat curious… wouldn’t you agree that many of the most visible personalities of 2W were unsympathetic?

    “It seems like our exchanges as of late have become harsher and more unpleasant, which I lament, and to the extent that I am culpable, I am sorry for it.”

    This is true, and I’m pretty sure if we were talking in person this wouldn’t be happening (and wish we shared more favorable time zones to make that happen more often). I’ve found the internet, and perhaps writing in general, to make conversations more hostile and aggressive, lead to more confusion, than it ever had to be. Perhaps it is because there is a lack of seeing body language and hearing vocal cues to actual intent and meaning.

    I also find it interesting (and I don’t understand the reason) that people on roughly the same side of an argument, end up getting into the most bitter disputes over the small bits of sunlight between their positions.

    As part of constructive criticism along these lines, if there seems to be an issue from your side, I would say it is taking my writing as more angry and with containing more loaded meaning than is there. In this thread there were two instances of my bringing up race, neither of which was meant to smear anyone in any way, and yet you felt that is what I was doing. One thing I might recommend is that if you see something that seems surprising or disappointing for me to be saying (particularly if it is outrageous), assume that may not be the case, and ask me to clarify before getting upset and arguing against that position.

    If you see something from my side that I can improve, I am open to constructive criticism (BTW, this is open to everyone, not just Dan).

    Like

  30. Hi Couvent, and still…

    “… I get the impression that we actually largely agree on many things. As far as understand we agree that social practices based on gender, biological sex and the relation between those two are deeply embedded in society. We also seem to agree that self-identification as a certain gender doesn’t make the difficult questions about the relation between gender and biological sex go away.”

    Yes, that is correct.

    “I never wanted to say something about transgenders and people with gender dysphoria. They aren’t the subject of Dan’s OP, and I thought that was clear.”

    Although they are not the sole subject of Dan’s essay, they naturally fall within its scope. When you gave your target, it was broadly enough worded that it had to include them. But, as I said, even if we limit it to the mere whimsical variety of the movement, where we would likely agree there are problems, your arguments were themselves problematic.

    “perhaps we even agree that males who want to identify as women should conduct the social negotiations (a metaphor, of course) with women in the first place and not with white male patriarchy in the first place. (I don’t know where you got the idea I thought the self-identifying males are themselves part of white male patriarchy).”

    Yes, we would agree on that. If you want to know where I got my idea, go back and read the comment I reacted to. You give only one target, and it is not the “white, male patriarchy” separate from the “self-identification movement.” It is only in your reply to me, you first mention the WMP, and so I was forced to assume you meant (or included) the SIM. Otherwise, your reply does not connect with mine at all.

    “But to my great astonishment, you turned it into a discussion about the examples.”

    Sir, you made the examples important by fronting, reinforcing, and ending with a discussion about the threat that SIM posed to women. The examples (by any straightforward read) were meant as evidence to support (even if theoretical) a *threat* posed by SIM.

    Now we can leave the examples out entirely, if you wish, and discuss the front, middle, and end comments alone. I will point out that *you* are making it solely about the examples, by refusing to address my criticism of your end chastisement of real people posing some sort of threat to women’s civil rights. Why did you make it? Without a potential threat to real women, the examples being somewhat valid, where did that patronizing admonition come from?

    My guess is the sound of crickets will continue to be the only answer I get.

    That or the rattling sound of an old Dodge going by…

    “But then there was the suggestion of racism. That was a mistake. You know it was. A real mensch would have admitted it immediately.”

    Holy… I have already explained (twice) how it was not. And how someone else thought the same thing about your example. There was no mistake, and here I will make the same statement again to drive the point home: your claim about a threat to women in sports, posed by men who self-identify as women, is *reminiscent* of the same worries people had about blacks wiping out whites if they were allowed to compete. In short: the claim is bizarrely irrational, real threats would not be posed (as I argued in the original reply), and so cannot be used to tarnish the idea of SIM.

    I agree, a real mensch would have admitted they made a mistake. Immediately. Mine wasn’t. I even apologized… immediately… when I thought you had taken some actual offense, even if it was mistaken. It took a day or so to figure out what was really going on.

    I’m comfortable with people reading through our exchange and figuring out the difference between your charge and my actual intent and so the meaning of what I said. It is clear by any straightforward read, of the sentence, and in context of the entire reply.

    “My theory is that discourse has become quite a bit harder in the US in the last decades. ”

    Well that is certainly true. But it has nothing to do with me. Perhaps your experiences have led you to read more loaded meaning into what people say, than is actually there. Or maybe, as I have found in the hardening of dialogue, you are engaged in a dodge, by using a smear to avoid actual criticism.

    Given human psychology, it could be you even feel it is true, just so you can avoid the actual meaning and so weight of the criticism. Nothing to do with you being a bigot. All about using a historically bad form of argument.

    “I think you didn’t realize what you actually wrote when you made the comparison with blacks in sports. Circumstantial evidence for my theory comes from the fact that Dan at first didn’t even notice what you wrote.”

    I know *exactly* what I wrote. I have adequately defended what I wrote. And as I said, someone else had the exact same opinion of your claim, agreeing my loose analogy was not just not insulting, but directly comparable (which was not even what I said).

    The fact that Dan had not found it problematic at first could be for many reasons (perhaps he never even saw it). However, I do see how you *misinterpreted* it, and by pulling it out of context of the rest of my reply, made it seem like a possible interpretation.

    BTW, I’m closing on 50 and have lived outside the US for quite some time.

    Anyway, I *am* sorry that this exchange has been so frustrating. Hopefully future exchanges will be more positive and fruitful. I don’t remember our being in any major conflict before.

    Like

  31. > My guess is the sound of crickets will continue to be the only answer I get.

    You got it right.
    I don’t mind disagreeing with people etc.
    But no way I’m going to have discussions with people who throw around suggestions of racism like you do.

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  32. Hi Couvent,

    “You got it right.”

    I know.

    You have no answer to that very simple question, so the only thing you have left is to make it about *me* instead of the actual argument…

    Like so…

    “But no way I’m going to have discussions with people who throw around suggestions of racism like you do.”

    Throw around? Are you seriously upping the charges now?

    I’ve explained many times already that I was not suggesting anything about your being racist (in fact stating a few times since that I don’t think you are), and what the analogy was actually about.

    Here I will say it again: I don’t think you are a racist, and in no way intended to suggest you were.

    Seriously, you need to chill out.

    I remain hopeful that future exchanges will go better.

    Like

  33. > I remain hopeful that future exchanges will go better.

    So do I.

    > I’m comfortable with people reading through our exchange and figuring out the difference between your charge and my actual intent and so the meaning of what I said. It is clear by any straightforward read, of the sentence, and in context of the entire reply.

    Your actual intent? Context?
    And what about the “actual intent” and the “context” of the others participating on Electric Agora?

    To have a fruitful discussion two thing are necessary.
    1) A common language in which words, expressions etc. have a common meaning and common denotations.
    2) The assumption of good faith.

    Both are lacking in our exchanges, the second one very predominantly from your side, if I may say so.

    There was no assumption of good faith when you associated something I wrote with racism.
    There will be no further discussions between us about this issue.

    Have a nice day.

    Like