New Year Musings

By Daniel A. Kaufman


  1. Middle age is widely believed to be challenging, because it is the point at which we become uncomfortably aware of our mortality. I turned 50 this year, and my own experience has been that the hardest thing about middle age is that it is the time when one simultaneously has to manage one’s children’s adolescence and one’s parents’ old age.
  2. This was the year in which I fully realized that the most significant thing I will have done in my life is raise my daughter. It has been a surprisingly liberating insight and has led me to enjoy my professional work more than I have in years.
  3. Without permanently sharing my life with another human being and raising a child together, I don’t believe I could have become a fully developed adult. Too many of the virtues one has to cultivate depend upon the compromises and self-abnegations that are unique to these kinds of relationships.
  4. Marriage in the US is in trouble because people have a catastrophic misconception of it as a kind of “dating forever.” No one prior to the Baby Boom thought of marriage this way, and unsurprisingly, it is with the Baby Boomers that the divorce epidemic began, with all the socially devastating effects that followed.
  5. My return to playing tennis with a wooden racket has reminded me in a very visceral way how much better and more interesting the game was in the 1970’s and early 80’s. What today is a game dominated by athleticism and technology was then one in which tactics and skill determined who won and who lost.
  6. My effort to do as much of my reading as I can in actual print, on paper has reminded me in a very visceral way how importantly different an experience it is from reading on a screen. I find myself wishing more and more that I was publishing The Electric Agora in the era of the print magazine.
  7. Our current applications of technology differ from those in the past in one key way: rather than presupposing that we already possesses the relevant skill and saving us some labor, current technologies do away with the need ever to develop the skill in question at all. It is as if we are trying as hard as we can to become H.G. Wells’ Eloi.
  8. The wild and otherwise inexplicable spike in mental illness and suicide among young people indicates, beyond any doubt, the harmful effects of being raised from a young age with cellular technology and social media. What we do about it will tell us everything about whether we actually care about our children or not.
  9. With the current, feverish inclination to try and force others to say/not say all sorts of things, by way of intense social pressure (including attacks on their livelihood), I wonder how long it will be before we start to see a rise in interpersonal acts of physical violence.
  10. Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette special on Netflix, her subsequent misandrist rant at the 2018 Emmy Awards, and the overwhelmingly positive reaction to both signals the end of comedy as we have understood it for generations. Of all the negative social developments of the last several years, this strikes me as one of the most ominous, as humor has been one of the essential means by which human beings over the ages have borne what otherwise would have been unbearable suffering.
  11. Given the capitulation of so many scientific, medical, and political institutions to contemporary gender ideology, I don’t see how even the most basic conception of the male and female sexes will survive into the future, even in the short term, at which point we will be entering a truly Brave New World.
  12. The declaration of total war by gender identity activists on traditional feminists and gay and lesbian activists would seem to signal the final disintegration of the civil rights coalition that has existed since at least the 1960’s, one that may effect a significant political realignment. Whether it will be for good or ill will remain to be seen.
  13. Hunter S. Thompson committed suicide in good part because he saw no role for himself in today’s world. The transformation of much of the contemporary Left into self-righteous, bullying, censorious commissars suggests that he was tragically mistaken and that we need him now more than ever.
  14. That Democratic politicians and their friends in the commentariat failed to see that the Ford/Kavanaugh hearings hurt rather than helped them makes me think that we have not learned much of anything from the loss to Trump in 2016.
  15. Though referenda have no place in countries with representative forms of government, the way in which the political class in the UK nullified the Brexit vote may have damaged UK politics beyond repair, at least for the foreseeable future.
  16. Presidential politics in the US has become such a partisan disaster and Presidents have become such mediocrities that I increasingly see the profound wisdom in having an apolitical, mostly ceremonial head of state, as one does in constitutional monarchies.
  17. Our historical and literary illiteracy are a good part of the reason that what should have been a golden age in the West, after the end of the Cold War, has instead been a subtle, but nonetheless discernible disaster.

81 thoughts on “New Year Musings

  1. I know you do not want to admit this, but “marriage equality” is what killed off sexual difference. Again, “marriage equality” is based upon the notion that there is no important difference between same- and opposite-sex couples, which means that sexual difference is trivial. If sexual difference is so trivial such that it’s no longer necessary for our society to have a special institution called ‘marriage’ to acknowledge its importance, sexual difference might as well be left up to the private individual just as, say, religion is. And, violà, we have the concept of ‘gender identity’.

  2. Thank you for calling out THE END OF COMEDY! Your #10 “signals the end of comedy as we have understood it for generations. Of all the negative social developments of the last several years, this strikes me as one of the most ominous, as humor has been one of the essential means by which human beings over the ages have borne what otherwise would have been unbearable suffering”

    Perhaps re-rank to #2? however only as an entre to a possible new #1 – the acquiescent scientific trend toward embracing the Fait Accompli (not Amor Fati) CONSCIOUSNESS IS AN ILLUSION fallacy (no one controls their steering wheel, television channel, phone app button, fork to mouth operation, temporary thought impulse suspension to assess possible courses of action). And of course, if consciousness is an illusion, who is it that is being fooled by the illusion?

    Both without which raising children (most significant for me as well) would be even more challenging in terms of thought, action and transmission of self-governing values. We gain social insight from professional comedians and the awareness of self-control, from giving and receiving comedy force/even insults at our own and others expense (to the degree of one’s personal tolerance level – always worthy of stress testing to build strength versus weakness). From assessing our own internal response. Comedy can be socially initiatory. It can be a bonding experience to overcome racial ice-breaking/tension-relief of subject matter (like when Zikek uttered the “N” word in context – certain black and whites intuitively get it and bond, other’s heads explode).

    If the moderate Jerry Seinfeld is to your taste, he is touring again this year (not colleges of course) perhaps at a theater near you.

    Thank you again for your post.

  3. 2. and 3. are strange coming from a philosopher.

    Most of the great philosophers were not married with children: Plato, Descartes, Spinoza, Hume, Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and many more.

    I originally came to philosophy believing that it was a source of wisdom on how to live a better life. The technical stuff doesn’t interest me in the least, and from what I can see, most of the lay people who read philosophy books read it as a source of wisdom.

    You’re saying that most of the great philosophers did not live as “fully developed adults”. You may be right. It’s certainly worth thinking about, but then I wonder why you continue teaching philosophy (besides inertia and habit).

  4. You did use the pronoun “one” in 3., which does convey the idea that you are talking about people in general or at least a larger group of people than just yourself.

      1. Life is richer if one is able to form stable bonds with others: the formal nature of the bonds doesn’t matter in my experience.

        Maybe Nietzsche would have been a greater philosopher if he had married Lou Andreas Salomé. He might not have written the misogynist dreck that he did. That’s a great subject for a novel: the marriage of Nietzsche and Lou Andreas Salomé.

  5. I thought I would comment on 6. I gave away all my books a while ago and now only use an ereader. The ability to keep , my whole library on one device, fiction and non fiction, has been quite liberating. I read a lot while travelling, and my reading mood can change depending on where I am and how much free time I have.

    As for making this blog a traditional magazine. You’d miss out on all the wonderful commentary provided by your readers. Surely that’s not a sacrifice you’d consider making?

      1. Oh, it is. I still do keep a few old school books around out of habit, and possibly out of nostalgia. Still, I have found ereading technology to have improved to a point that its benefits outweigh traditional reading. At least for myself.

        1. I find myself jumping from one thing to another when reading electronically. Checking email, the magazine, etc. I like having to pick something to read, setting myself down in a designated spot, and not doing anything else.

          1. Like you, I find it easier to concentrate on a physical book than on a screen. I also like having books in a bookcase, arranging them according to author or subject, noticing what I underlined the previous time if I’m rereading a book (I need to read any book worth studying several times), even opening and closing a book as I begin and finish reading.

            Of course that all may be a question of habits with positive associations, and maybe with time I could develop new habits with an e-reader. I feel a bit old (72) to make the effort. And I don’t see any good reason to make that effort either.

    1. Bunsen, I realize I didn’t answer the other part of your comment. Yes, you are right: the capacity to converse in this way with readers is one of the really great things about publishing in this medium.

  6. Yes, raising children is a significant thing. But I think being somewhat of a mentor to some of my students is also quite significant.

    I’m with Bunsen Burner. I prefer e-reading. But my wife still prefers paper.

    I share your concerns about the effects of social media and mobile devices on the young.

    “The transformation of much of the contemporary Left into self-righteous, bullying, censorious commissars suggests …” I not so worried about that. I see this effect on some of the left, but I would not describe that as “much of the left”. I suspect that the numbers are small, but they are noticed because they do make a disproportionate amount of noise.

  7. Well I turned 51 in October and one of the things i like most about your posts and musings is their (if i can be permitted in formulating or framing them in this way) Gen X sensibility. Even while we may not agree on everything we certainly share that sensibility and I am greatly appreciative of it. Happy New Year!

  8. Oh, and to quote the Peter Falk character of Columbo, one more thing! I also really appreciate your sense of humor in these posts while we are on the subject of humor.

  9. Just a short remark on 15. “Though referenda have no place in countries with representative forms of government, the way in which the political class in the UK nullified the Brexit vote may have damaged UK politics beyond repair, at least for the foreseeable future.”

    I agree that referendums don’t have a place in countries with representative forms of government, but Theresa May & Friends aren’t nullifying the Brexit vote in the UK, because there was nothing to nullify.

    A very slim majority voted to be out of the EU, but the referendum forgot to ask what “out” was going to be. Out like Norway? Like Switzerland? Like Turkey? Like Albania? Like the US? Like Canada? With or without a trade agreement? And what sort of trade agreement should it be? Trade on WTO terms? What about trade in services? What about the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland?

    The deal Theresa May negotiated doesn’t nullify anything The People voted for, because nobody actually knows how The People wanted to be out.

    Electing Trump may not have been the smartest move, but the referendum in the UK is the most stupid, shortsighted initiative I’ve ever seen in a modern democracy. A bit of European history could have told the UK that the single nation-wide referendum ever organized in my country – it’s not that far from the UK – almost led to a civil war. Twelve working brain cells could have told David Cameron that “out” was an extremely bad idea without an overall majority of at least 60 % AND a majority in the four constituents of the UK (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland).

    But no. The Tories painted themselves into a corner in a way that even Trump couldn’t have imagined in his wildest dreams.

    On 7. “Our current applications of technology differ from those in the past in one key way: rather than presupposing that we already possesses the relevant skill and saving us some labor, current technologies do away with the need ever to develop the skill in question at all.”

    I think this is an interesting and perhaps even deep insight, and I really would appreciate it if you would develop it more in depth.

    1. I think you seriously underestimate the extent to which Brexit is a reaction to significant failures of both British and European leadership. The economist Mark Blyth has been excellent on this. I suggest you google and YouTube search him on the subject.

  10. “the divorce epidemic” – this will vary by culture, but I see it more as a sign of increasing wealth, especially of women. The well-off (men) were always been able to divorce when they wanted. One reason for the more recent (20-30 y) falls in divorce rates is supposed to reflect women realising they still suffer economic loss following divorce. In many South East Asian traditional societies, I read, there was more economic equality between the sexes, and divorce rates were high eg
    “Rosemary Firth (1966) notes that there are many reasons for divorce, including childlessness, attachments to parental homes, and disagreements over money, but the major factor is incompatibility. Because married women are economically active and often living close to their natal kin, divorce does not lead to economic impoverishment or the lack of social support. Most importantly, there is no stigma associated with divorce.”

  11. Individually, we can always find a way to preserve previous historical experiences; I too have taken to reading real books, and in fact find reading longer texts in digital formats so painful as to be nearly impossible. There are still wooden rackets for tennis, there are still phonograph players for vinyl records. But the sweep of history only occasionally depends on individuals. Generally it presses forward. Individual decisions are merely symptomatic – they only indicate the limitations of our opportunities, not their plenitude.

    I agree with couvent2104 on Brexit. It was a terrible idea, and it will be terribly realized. There’s no question that political leadership in Europe has developed severe problems. But the Brexiteers wanted a way ‘back’ to British independence. There is no way back to any previous historical content or context. England turned a corner when it joined the EU, and leaving EU will not take them ‘back’ to anything – it only turns another corner forward.

    No matter how ‘soft’ the Brexit, the upheavals will cause plenty unhappiness.

    1. For the record, EJ, I never said Brexit was good. I said it was in good part a reaction to serious failure on the part of UK and European leadership.

      1. The EU has many deficiencies, including a lack of leadership in some or even many circumstances. But Brexit is first and foremost a problem created by the failure of leadership in the UK, no matter what Mark Blyth might claim. To get a more balanced view on Brexit, you should read the German, French, Dutch, Belgian etc. press too. It’s often critical of the EU, but I think the general conclusion is that Brexit is a largely home-made mess in the UK, something to be watched with a mixture of horror, amusement, pity and incomprehension.

        Seen from the continent, the behavior of the political class in the UK is weird, to put it mildly. Reaching an agreement with the EU one day, and the next day drawing “red lines” that make it impossible (or at least political suicide) to respect the agreement, creating the impression you never intended to respect it in the first place? Theresa May did it.

        Brexit is the consequence of several disastrous decisions in the UK, in which the referendum plays a central role. It started with negotiations in Brussels, when David Cameron couldn’t get all the concessions he wanted. He called the referendum. There’s no doubt in my mind he thought Remain would win, but with a small margin. That would have strengthened his hand considerably in Brussels: “Hey boys, we want to remain but only barely, you really should be more flexible with the UK.”

        Unfortunately for him, Brexit won, but with an equally small margin. The referendum was only advisory and not binding. It suggested that the UK was deeply divided on the issue (a majority in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain). It was one of those moments that a cautious politician should have frustrated the preferences of the voting public. But no, the UK invoked Article 50. And a few weeks later, PM Theresa May called a general election.

        Again that turned out to be miscalculation of epic proportions. The Tories lost the comfortable majority they had. They had to form a minority government supported by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland. That made a solution for the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland – one of the major problems for an orderly Brexit – extremely difficult. The election also weakened the position of May to such an extent that she now has to fight on two fronts: against the opposition, but also against the dissidents in her own party.

        In the meanwhile, the EU is continuously getting the same message from the UK: we want the economic advantages of membership but without the obligations. To which the reply of the EU is: you can’t have your cake and eat it, sorry.

        I’ve talked with a few Brits who voted for Brexit. It was clear they didn’t have the faintest idea what their vote meant. One of them said – I swear it’s true – “Oh, we still have our empire.” He said it without irony. He was serious. He was not a yob. But he was a living argument against referenda.

        1. Well, I think the EU was a mistake to begin with and the common currency an even bigger mistake. So, despite my disliking the process of Brexit, I’m probably not the best person to have this conversation with. It’s not a topic we are going to be able to debate in the comments section.

          1. No problem. Just don’t forget to read that German, French, Dutch, Belgian etc. press too. It may provide a counterbalance for the opinions of Mark Blyth et al., without ignoring the many deficiencies of the EU.

          2. Again, I am not a fan of Brexit. But I have been opposed to the EU and the common currency from its inception. So, I agree with the outcome of Brexit, but not the method. But I think the EU and Euro is one of the worst ideas to have been implemented since the second world war.

          3. Why are you opposed to the European Union?

            I understand the objections to the Euro, given the differences between the various national economies, but I don’t see why the European Union wouldn’t be a good idea without the Euro.

          4. I believe that the nation state is the largest viable political unit, for a number of relatively complex reasons that probably cannot be discussed well in a format like this.

            I also have a fundamental problem with the governing structure of the EU and its relationship to the sovereign governments of the various nation states that fall within it. There is nothing the EU does well that couldn’t be done by way of treaties. Put another way, I think it is a government and a political entity with neither sovereignty nor legitimacy.

          5. “There is nothing the EU does well that couldn’t be done by way of treaties.”

            I think it’s fair to say that everything in the EU is done by way of treaties.
            It’s one of those things the UK is discovering, much to its dismay: the EU is not prepared to breach the treaties between the member states.

          6. I think that this is a really excellent analysis. Peter Hitchens at the University of Keele, “the EU is a continuation of Germany by other means”

            I recognize my own biases with respect to the question of the EU. First, as a Jew, whose family was almost entirely destroyed by the Germans, Hungarians, French, and other European peoples, and second, as a classical liberal, who believes that the countries of the European continent never entirely understood classical liberalism nor ever really embraced it, I have a very negative opinion of Europe in the modern era. (In contrast with my view of the European continent in, say, the Middle Ages or Renaissance.) In the wake of the 20th century, Europe would have to behave very well for several centuries for me to trust it again.

          7. Bureaucracy? The size of the EU bureaucracy is quite small for one of the richest trading blocks in the world. The annual EU budget is about 1 % of the wealth generated by EU economies every year.

            And what do you mean with “overarching government structure”? One of the things that makes decisions in the EU so slow and difficult exactly is that there’s no overarching government structure. In the end, it’s the member states that have to agree on something, without overarching government structure.

            Not saying the EU is perfect, but you really should read that German, French, Dutch, Belgian etc. press more frequently.

          8. > I have a very negative opinion of Europe in the modern era.

            Well, that’s something I agree with. Europe between 1900 and 1960 was nothing to be proud of. But the EU was created to avoid the mistakes made in that period. Does it work or not? I don’t know. I hope it does.

            I think you’re over-egging the pudding a bit when you write “A classical liberal, who believes that the countries of the European continent never entirely understood classical liberalism nor ever really embraced it.”

            ‘The countries of the European continent” … Which countries? Did you ever read the Belgian constitution of 1831? Read it and tell me if Belgium understood classical liberalism. I think Belgium understood it. More liberal, you die. Europe is a complicated continent.

  12. Dan,
    First off let me wish you a fabulous new year! I am very grateful to you for prodding us to think more and better about issues that make a difference. Keep up the great work!

    I like your observation (#2 & #3) that raising your daughter has helped make your philosophizing more enjoyable but also that it seems to add to your becoming a more fully developed adult human being. One of the things I admire about the way you think and where your thoughts direct you is that it searches out the embodied insights that don’t always motivate the profession. I just read a post by your friend Massimo where he makes an important distinction:

    “Understanding derives from something that philosophers call “knowledge-that,” while the skill required to properly ride a bike is an instance of “knowledge-of.” The two are distinct, the first being conceptual, the second one literally embodied in our biological beings. There is absolutely nothing missing from our understanding if we can’t also ride. Confusing the two is a category mistake analogous to being shown the buildings, faculty, students, and administrations of Oxford University and still ask, “yes, but where is the university?””

    I don’t think I am mistaken to see a parallel here to the observations in Wittgenstein’s On Certainty where ‘knowing’ is a matter of being subject to testing, doubt, etc., but that there is something that stands beyond these things which also matters to what we do when we do things. His interest is not the same category mistake but a similar one.

    I get the sense that the point you are making in #2 & #3 is that there is something we miss when we go all in on abstraction and generalizations. That philosophy cannot hope to do what it so often aims at simply from the outside, that there has to be a *lived* appreciation of why our questions matter. In Massimo’s terms, that “knowledge-of” makes a difference, or in Wittgenstein’s terms that not everything has a place in our lives as the result of some form of investigation. That is, we have to accommodate if not sometimes even start with what it is that humans normally do. Raising a kid IS relevant. Being a developed human being IS relevant.

    Maybe it’s not that no valuable work can be done from outside the drama of a human life, but forgetting/ignoring/disparaging that there is also an inside is surely a mistake. Maybe that also echos a bit of what Sellars was suggesting. When he proposed a stereoscopic appreciation of both the manifest and scientific images it seemed a reminder that leaving the one behind for the other is a trade off with consequences…..

    My new years agenda is reading more Sellars and more Bernard Williams, whom I have to credit you for impressing on me.

    Thanks for all you do! All the best!


    1. Carter: Thank you for your kind words and Happy New Year to you too!

      The distinction Massimo is referring to comes straight out of this essay by Gilbert Ryle, one of the central figures of the Oxford “ordinary language” school of philosophy.

      As for the point about marriage and children, yes, part of the issue has to do with avoiding excessive abstraction and acknowledging one’s place *in the world*. But the main issue for me is the unique sort of self-abnegation that comes from sharing a life with someone and raising a child to adulthood. Of the adults that I know, those who lack it are all “disfigured” in some way or other.

    1. I picked up a bit of helpful Esperanto recently. Here it is. 1. Thanks — Dankon 2. How are you — Kiel vi sanas? 3. Deutschmark — Euro 4. Fourth Reich — EU

  13. Dan:
    That is not an answer helpful to understanding what you view is. There is no obvious inconsistency between representative government and holding referenda. Do you have some ideal democracy theory at work or what? Legislatures in US States frequently frustrate the preferences of the voting populace, districting comes to mind as on obvious example. The Swiss manage a representative government with frequent referenda. What is the conflict between a representative government and submitting some issues to more direct vote?

    1. I do not believe in direct democracy and do not believe referenda are appropriate when one has a representative government. I am hardly the only one who holds this view. Conservative Peter Hitchens was opposed to Brexit for this reason, even if he agreed with the outcome.

      Legislatures *should* sometimes frustrate preferences of the voting public. That’s what is meant by leadership. Otherwise, with our current technology, we could govern entirely by plebiscite.

  14. The endless proliferation of categories in identity politics serves to obscure the one category it doesn’t include: being Jewish. It’s the Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory taken to the level of double-bluff. The extravagant descriptions you give of what’s happening to the Left remind me of typical complaints from the Right, and I wonder if the people you’re discussing this with are really being candid about it, or just teasing you because you’re Jewish?

    Transgender people do exist. They’re people whose somatic map has an incorrect representation of their genitalia. One would tend to describe oneself according to one’s somatic map, rather than an organ that by all internal appearances is not one’s own body. Gender theory on both Left and Right, despite reaching opposite conclusions, start from the same premise that there’s no such thing as a somatic map. The scientific medical community stands against them both, since there are ways of studying someone’s somatic map scientifically. The Leftist sentiments that scientists usually express about gender are just advertising.

    1. I wonder if the people you’re discussing this with are really being candid about it, or just teasing you because you’re Jewish?
      = = =
      I have no idea what you are talking about. In Britain, right now, they are about to make major changes to the law, allowing for unrestrained, self-identification of gender. In this country, in the US, prominent trans-activist professor publicly attacked Martina Navratilova for being a “transphobe.” This isn’t some story the Right is telling. This is what is going on, demonstrably, in public, for everyone to see.

      1. This isn’t some story the Right is telling. This is what is going on, demonstrably, in public, for everyone to see.

        = = =

        It’s both. The Left and the Right are working together to oppress the Center, and “method-acting” to create stories for tabloids. And transgender people are being enlisted as pawns.

        1. Really? So the current debate over changes to the Gender Recognition Act in the UK which will have wide reaching effects in British law is “method acting?” Bill C-16 in Canada is “method acting”? Professional sports allowing biological males to compete with women is “method acting.”

          I don’t think so. Indeed, it demonstrably is not.

  15. Dan:

    Comedy is unstoppable, luckily. My vote for best of 2018 is “Upstart Crow”, with David Mitchell as a beleaguered Shakespeare doing battle against the “Purititties”.

    Free association reminds me of this very funny crow story.

    Regarding “self-abnegation”, I agree, without which not.

    Thanks for all your excellent work in sustaining this forum.


    1. @Daniel Kaufman: Acts of political and cultural theater, so what else is new? As a philosopher, your job is to clarify issues, not to join a common fight about them. You’ve been going to great lengths to avoid the one properly philosophical question behind this: What is gender dysphoria?

      @Paul S. Rhodes: No, it would not require you to be partisan. On the contrary, it would require you not to be. Not everyone who claims to be transgender actually is, but some of them are. Non-partisans debate when this matters, and if so how to tell, and make informed decisions on a case-by-case basis. That’s what the Left and Right want to stop. They don’t see why they should be bothered to consider real people, when it’s so much easier to theorize.

      1. Collin: I don’t think those are examples of “theater.” They are social and political realities.

        As for gender dysphoria, I will leave that up to the psychiatric profession to define. Not my expertise.

        With regard to what my job is, I’ve been doing it now since 1993, so I have a pretty good idea, thanks.

      2. “Not everyone who claims to be transgender actually is, but some of them are.” This is an implicit denial of self-identification, which is enough to make you an extremist, transphobic bigot. Furthermore, to say that it is possible to evaluate claims of being transgender implies an objective definition of ‘transgender’, but no one–and I do mean ‘no one’–has been able to come up with one. The one typically given–having a sense of gender different from that assigned at birth–is useless unless one knows what this ‘sense of gender’ or what is commonly known as ‘gender identity’ is, and no one knows. It cannot be defined as physiological sex for reasons too obvious to mention, but it cannot be defined as a behaviour or sartorial preference because that would just be gender stereotyping and lead to such absurdities as the notion that all pants-wearing women are really men or all men who like poetry are really women. But if you cannot define ‘gender identity’ as a sex, behaviour, or a sartorial preference, then the only thing left is self-identification, and if that’s the case, then, yes, everyone who claims to be transgender is ipso facto transgender.

        1. @Daniel Kaufman
          “As for gender dysphoria, I will leave that up to the psychiatric profession to define. Not my expertise.”

          They’ve already concluded that it’s not their expertise either, and passed the buck to neurologists. You didn’t know this?

          And that’s a far from frivolous distinction. The public ignorance of non-analytic brain conditions is very much the main problem.

          “With regard to what my job is, I’ve been doing it now since 1993, so I have a pretty good idea, thanks.”

          Your job as the editor of this blog? 1993? Was there even a web back then? Your front page is dated August 29, 2015.

          You were the one who wrote the essay On Philosophy and its Progress. You made it quite clear that you consider foundational questions to be open inquiries, and not a search for definite answers.

          @Paul S. Rhodes:
          “which is enough to make you an extremist, transphobic bigot”

          According to whom? The people DK is complaining about?

          “then the only thing left is self-identification”

          What’s left is one’s tactile perception of one’s own organs. And yes this has been suggested and studied.

          1. “What’s left is one’s tactile perception of one’s own organs. And yes this has been suggested and studied.” “Tactile perception”? What? Perception alone can make a female organ male and a male organ female? How is that any different from self-identification?

  16. I agree with most of this. I’m prone to a similar kind of fatalism. But when I’m in its grip I try to remind myself that we’re all susceptible to a status quo bias and that, having grown accustomed to things being a certain way, it can be difficult to discern what’s better or worse from what’s merely different (e.g. was tennis really better in the 1970s or was it just different?). I’m reminded of the scene in True Detective in which Woody Harrelson listens to his father-in-law prattle on about all the ways he’s disappointed with the younger generation. And then he turns to him and says: “You know, throughout history, I bet every old man probably said the same thing, and old men die, and the world keeps spinning.” Then again, I’m really disappointed with the younger generation!

    1. I think of it in the opposite way, along the lines of JS Mill. Of two things, someone who has experienced both is in better position to determine which is better than someone who has only experienced one of them.

      Tennis was also objectively more popular in the 70’s than it is now. It has been hemorrhaging popularity.

      1. Yeah, but Mill seemed to overlook the fact that the order in which you experience them matters a great deal.

          1. You don’t agree that he overlooked that or that the order in which you experience them matters a great deal? I assume you mean the latter, but surely you’d agree that, as people age, they tend to develop a deep nostalgia for how things were and they tend to judge new practices and developments rather harshly, no?

          2. The latter.

            I think it is disastrous that we dismiss the wisdom of our elders. Of course, we are a youth-worshiping society, so this is not a surprise, but it is flat out stupid to dismiss the judgments of people whose experience vastly exceeds your own and who actually have a point of comparison, as opposed to young people who do not.

            Sure, nostalgia operates on the old. Just as presentism and tunnel vision operates on the young. The point I made, however, stands.

    2. Perception alone can present things falsely. Ever heard of the Ames Room?

      Of course, perception can’t actually make an organ male or female. (Although a Naive Realist or a Radical Empiricist might say it can.)

      Some transgender people don’t believe in identity politics. And some are even going so far as to join the Conservative Political Action Committee to escape the mad theorizing that identity politics imposes upon them.

        1. Nobody is sure.

          I have autism, and nobody is sure what that is either.

          Human life is a mystery, and as I mentioned in another thread, people investigate each other.

          To give up on understanding an entire group of people and just chalk them up to “identity” is disrespectful and lazy.

          1. Post this instead, please. This is proofread.

            Okay, so the trans activists themselves are disrespectful and lazy because they are the ones who insist that the concept of ‘gender IDENTITY’ be enshrined into law. Furthermore, they want ‘gender identity’ to replace the concept of physiological sex entirely. Fine, if that is to happen, then I would want ‘gender identity’ to be able to be defined as well as physiological sex. But it’s not even close. A typical definition of ‘gender identity’ is the one in Massachusetts, which defines it thus, “Gender identity shall mean a person’s gender-related identity…”. That’s not a definition, that’s just an empty repetition of words. The definition of autism, as vague as it is, refers at least to a few concrete symptoms and is not simply, “Autism shall mean an autism-related syndrome.”

  17. I loved all of your musings and winked to myself as I read #6 on my iPhone while waiting for an app to load on my work laptop.

    Very insightful. ❤️🦋🌀

    1. Which goes full-circle back to your skepticism of claims and my suspicions of theater.

      Firstly, even though it appears to the public that there’s no definition, the authorities may have working definitions up their sleeve. It wouldn’t be the first time that governments keep secrets!!! Instead of complaining about gender identity without restriction, those familiar with the politics should look deeper to find out what the hidden restrictions are, and hold the lawmakers accountable for them.

      Secondly, activism doesn’t make sense. It isn’t supposed to; it’s just a ritual for making petitions. There are plenty of reasonable opinions floating around, most importantly those of transgender people themselves, outside the activist stage.

      1. Okay, is this a reasonable opinion about transpeople? Transwomen are men, and transmen are women.

        1. I said “floating around”. That is, not from one of us. And not from a precompiled link list either.

          Please don’t turn this thread into one of the theaters I’ve been complaining about. It’s lasted for quite a while, and it may be time for DK to close it.

          1. It *is* a shame that in a post including 17 musings such a disproportionate amount of the conversation is fixated on the few on gender. It really does seem to be a topic on which people become rather unhinged, on every side of it.

            Closing the discussion, since no one seems to want to talk about anything else, and at this point it’s just going around in circles.

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