Peak Woke Philosophy

by Daniel A. Kaufman

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After bearing witness to the train wreck that was the “White Paper on Publication Ethics,” I was convinced that woke philosophy couldn’t possibly get any worse.  I was wrong, of course, and in hindsight, it was foolish of me even to have imagined such a thing.  After all, I had similar thoughts after reporting on Justin Weinberg’s essay celebrating the Daily Nous’s anniversary, which was separated from the White Paper only by a few months.  I won’t make the same mistake again.  When I describe what is happening now as being “peak,” my point is not to suggest that there will be less of it in the future – in fact, I’m absolutely certain that there will be much more of it – but rather that we’ve now seen everything that woke philosophy’s got.  Its hand is revealed.  Its tactics are exposed.  Its shills are clearly identified.  Its self-serving logic is out in plain sight. (There is still one thing I remain unsure of, about which later.)  The only thing left now is for the rest of philosophy to decide what to do about it, and I would be lying if I said I was hopeful, given that woke philosophy already has succeeded in capturing our profession’s primary institutions, something I also have spoken and written about at some length. (1)

So what’s happening now?  Woke philosophy’s most recent moves can be found in an “open letter” to the profession, published anonymously (by “t-philosopher”) and entitled “I am leaving academic philosophy because of its transphobia problem,” as well as a lengthy essay, written by none other than the intrepid Weinberg, “Trans Women and Philosophy: Learning from Recent Events” and published at the Daily Nous. The two pieces are an exquisite pairing: T-philosopher is wounded and empowered and terrified and accusatory and defeated and defiant, all at once – sometimes, even in the same sentence – and then, suddenly, thankfully, as if out of a puff of smoke, Weinberg appears on the scene to help us sort it out so that we all might become Better People.

T-philosopher announces to the profession – all of it – that she is leaving because of philosophy’s “transphobia” and the terrible harm she has suffered at the hands of “bigots” like Kathleen Stock (who else?), whose presence renders her no longer “safe in professional settings.” Then comes the inevitable “call to action”: Journals must refuse to publish articles critical of gender identity theory and activism; conferences must no-platform philosophers seeking to present gender critical arguments; gender critical thinkers must be barred from public discourse, whether on blogs, discussion boards, social media sites, comments sections, or other online venues; and anyone and everyone who is going to engage in both professional and public philosophical discourse on the subject had better accept that “any trans discourse that does not proceed from this initial assumption — that trans people are the gender that they say they are — is oppressive, regressive, and harmful” and that “trans discourse that does not proceed with a substantial amount of care at amplifying trans voices and understanding the trans experience should not exist.”

If you’ve raised a teenager, as my wife Nancy and I have done, you’ll immediately recognize this as typically adolescent behavior. The clueless narcissism (“to the academic philosophy community…”); the catastrophizing (I know Kathleen Stock. You can watch video of Kathleen Stock. One cannot possibly be “unsafe” because of Kathleen Stock); the empty (because toothless) demands; the emotional blackmail (You see what you’re making me do!); even the proverbial running away from home (I’m leaving and never coming back!)  It’s all there.

Weinberg, of course, does as only Weinberg can do, and I’ve written enough about him that it’s unnecessary to do so again in any detail.  Suffice it to say that Weinbergism is alive and well and holding court: the phony even-handedness (a not-very-effective trick is to repeatedly suggest that those on his side of the issue are likely as dismayed by what he has said as his opponents); the credulous embrace of the testimony of those with whom he is already sympathetic (“Reader, what do you do when you are confronted with the anguish of another person?”); the breathtaking hypocrisy (“Be attentive to hostile rhetoric in work you are considering hosting or publishing”); the false modesty (“Yes, that’s my name up there. No, I’m not going to defend myself in this post. That’s not the point of this”); the obligatory swipe at Brian Leiter, with the equally obligatory misrepresentation of things that anyone with a pulse, two fingers, and an internet connection can check for themselves (“a well-known philosophy-blogger’s obsession with belittling graduate students who use Twitter to discuss trans issues” (2)); the by-now legendary lack of self-awareness (“Note the venues. Much of the trans-exclusionary writing by philosophers that has fueled recent controversies has been self-published (e.g., at Medium) by philosopher-activists..,” published on Weinberg’s personal site, in an essay about a politically-soaked letter published on Medium).  It’s classic Weinberg; Weinberg as only Weinberg can be.

The essential thing to realize is that woke philosophy isn’t philosophy at all, but politics by another name. Philosophy, for the most part, is conducted by way of arguments and aspires to relative dispassion and (in the modern era) is largely an intellectual endeavor, the purpose of which is to raise tough, serious questions with regard to a highly diverse set of topics. It’s mode is essentially critical.  The aim is not to win or to feel good about oneself or to obtain a particular policy outcome or to identify and punish wrongdoers of one stripe or another.  These are the aims of social and political activism and agitprop. And yet, this is what woke philosophy is all about: specifically, the advancement and establishment of contemporary identitarian politics within the profession and the society at large. It’s what Rachel McKinnon is doing when she orchestrates Twitter flame-wars against Martina Navratilova and goes after her sponsors and those of other gender-critical athletes; it’s what the signatories to the “open letter” attacking Rebecca Tuvel are doing when they demand that Hypatia retract her already-published article (3); and it’s what t-philosopher is doing, when she slanders Kathleen Stock and Brian Leiter and advocates for the censoring and de-platforming of those in the profession who are not on board with (in this case trans) identitarian politics.

What I’m not sure of is whether woke philosophy represents the tip of a premeditated political spear – whether the hyperventilating and censoring and character assassination and attacks on peoples’ livelihoods, etc., are a tactic – or whether it is the expression of an essentially “adolescent Id”; a function of arrested psychological development on the part of a group of philosophers, almost all of whom, it should be noted, are part of the Millennial and I-generations, the unending juvenility and emotional brittleness of so many of whom has been discussed at length by social scientists and cultural critics. (4) There is much to be said for this second account, insofar as it avoids (a usually fallacious) conspiratorialism and explains so much of the infantile behavior of woke philosophers over the last several years, one of the more memorable examples of which occurred during l’affaire Swinburne, when a notable woke philosopher told an 80-plus year old Christian philosopher (who, to her shock, had said Christian things at a Christian conference) to “suck my giant queer cock.” (When I was in graduate school, it was quite clear that Jerrys Fodor and Katz couldn’t stand one another, but even given the copious amount of mind-altering substances we’d all ingested over the years, none of us ever could have hallucinated a scenario in which we would hear this sort of talk out of them.)

Woke philosophy is reminiscent of those histrionic, scripted WWF feuds I used to watch on WPIX in the early 1980’s, by which I mean that it’s such transparently melodramatic bullshit, performed by such a manifestly absurd group of clowns that a six year old should be able to see through it. But this is academic philosophy in 2019, where it seems that there is nothing so stupid or disingenuous or juvenile that a sizable portion of the current members of a discipline that once counted the likes of Wittgenstein, Quine, and Rawls among its leading lights won’t embrace it.

Notes

(1) https://meaningoflife.tv/videos/41435

https://theelectricagora.com/2018/10/10/time-for-a-change/

https://theelectricagora.com/2016/12/02/provocations-8/

(2)  The graduate students of whom Leiter was critical had been part of the vicious online attacks on Kathleen Stock.

https://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2018/09/complete-and-utter-dickhead-watch-nathan-oseroff-edition.html

(3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypatia_transracialism_controversy

(4)  I’ve both written and talked about this phenomenon quite a bit.

https://theelectricagora.com/2019/02/12/adolescent-politics/

https://bloggingheads.tv/videos/55928

48 Comments »

  1. The Kukla Klan will be after you. (not mine but a good one) I see them toasting marshmallows on your lawn.Like the Fight Club the Trans Club has 2 rules. I read the Quillette article by Stock and thought it quite sensible.

    Like

  2. Perfectly put thank you

    I did a philosophy degree 20 years ago. Although I’ve been out of that world for a long time, it is a huge part of who I am, and one of the things that has shocked me most about the gender ID debate is hearing philosophy professors say things like “people’s identities are not up for debate”. I have no idea what could have happened to the subject in the meantime, but I’m completely bewildered as to what else philosophy is supposed to be if not debate. I’m very pleased that there are some of you who haven’t lost the plot!

    Liked by 3 people

    • This is a joke article, right?

      “Woke philosophy is reminiscent of those histrionic, scripted WWF feuds I used to watch on WPIX in the early 1980’s, by which I mean that it’s such transparently melodramatic bullshit, performed by such a manifestly absurd group of clowns that a six year old should be able to see through it. ”

      Who did we just elect into the office of the President, except a past president of WWF, Donald Trump?
      Both the left and the right are engaged in WWF.

      It ain’t just the lefties that are nuts.

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        • Hilarious that Instapundit linked to your article castigating the left, but remained studiously silent and refused to link an article that pointed out BOTH sides are nuts. And the commentators on Instapundit remain blissfully unaware that Trump is a master of WWF techniques, while the man who linked the article for Instapundit appeared completely unaware that he had punked himself.

          ROTFL!

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          • This is a joke reply, right? Green linked to the Kaufman post because the politicization and intellectual rot manifest in the humanities have been regular points of discussion at Instapundit. Since when are websites or blogs that espouse a particular worldview obligated to give equal time to contrary points of view? Or have the Daily Kos and ThinkProgress been linking to National Review and I’ve simply missed it? It’s you who has roundly missed the point. Kaufman’s piece is ultimately not about the excesses of the political left broadly. Rather it’s about a noxious, infantile strain of leftism that has come to infect the study of philosophy. I have news for you: Everyone knows Trump is a buffoon and a huckster. Most people expect a little more of those who purport to be highly educated.

            Liked by 2 people

      • Politics is and has forever been theater.

        What is philosophy’s excuse?

        In other words, imagine that I’ve used the proper vocabulary and gone on at length in an intellectual manner about the various ways that the two realms operate on completely different assumptions. Imagine that I’ve quoted the article above where the author lamented that what these particular people are doing is politics and activism rather than philosophy, which frames those things as separate endeavors.

        If, for example, we found someone who was insisting on deplatforming anyone who’s philosophy failed to affirm the existence of god, we might have something similar to compare.

        Frankly, I expect philosophers to come up with all sorts of ideas that I find abhorrent or at the very least divorced from having undergone a “reality check”. (Things like moving personhood up past toddler years.) Because there simply isn’t any “you can’t go there” involved. There can’t be. I’m open to being mistaken, but I’d considered that one of the foundational elements of anything related to philosophy. It’s got to be all about those map margins and their illustrations of sea monsters and dragons. If you can’t GO THERE, what do you have?

        You’ve got a social club of conformists.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Julie A. Pascal, you don’t seem to credit the idea that Trump is just as noxious as Obama, Clinton and Sanders. You don’t see any correspondence between the WWF paragraph quoted by Instanpundt and the fact that Trump is a past president of WWF who uses EXACTLY THE SAME TECHNIQUES the left uses.

          You just eat it up when Trump does it, and attack it when the left does it.
          That’s the very definition of a Trumpkin.

          Glenn spoonfeeds Trumpkins what they want to hear and studiously avoids mentioning anything that might set Trumpkins off. That’s why people who laugh at leftists also laugh at Trumpkins. They are mirror-images of each other.

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  3. No doubt about it, when your feelings are aroused you produce some of your best prose. This was a delight to read for that reason alone. I have seen enough in a different country, in a different domain, to support your second conclusion : the unending juvenility and emotional brittleness of so many. The adolescent ID, the arrested emotional development!

    I am still wrestling with the reasons for this phenomenon, though I think some answers can be found in the work of Anthony Giddens who I identified this trend early on.

    You have been very outspoken on this subject and quite rightly so. What has the reaction been in your professional community?

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  4. And by the way, I think your second account quite naturally results in your first account, the tip of the sphere

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  5. Dan,
    As you know, with your encouragement, I came out last year. Yes, it’s true – I’m a Punkrocker. And right now, I’m feeling terribly triggered. With all this talk about the Transgendered, I think the feelings of we Punkrockered (#punksareme) are getting bull-dozed by the insensitivity of PEEACs (Punk-Exclusionary Electric Agora Commentators). Where in the comments do I ever see, if not praise, then at least respect for Punk Rock? When Neil Rickert asks after Realism and Truth, can he not also ask about The Dils? couvent2104 can discuss Einstein’s intuitions, but what about Johnny Rotten’s? And Mark English – did he mention “Rocket to Russia” even once in his article on Lee Smolin – Smolin! I once thought he was a clever scientist, but his failure to include any Clash as background music to his lecture exposes the willful Punkrockophobia of the average academic – which I feel to my very core – my hardcore – as I read articles here.

    The last time I visited a college campus, simply to listen quietly to their library copy of My War, I stepped out onto the quad… my breath came short, my pulse raced… someone was playing a wimpy Lady Gaga song! Oh, the pain! I will never go back to visit SUNY Mediocre Playlist again!

    Some are born female but with the essence of male; some are born white but with the Essence of black (TM; subscription $17.99 a year); and some are born listening to Debussy but with the essence of smashing guitars over people’s head. It’s all there in Aristotle, or it would be if we were to read Aristotle “differently.” (Yes, you know what I’m talking about, Zizek!)

    Dan, since you have failed to consider this issue (*my* issue, which makes it A Very Important Issue), I feel justified in complaining to your editor that you have not created a safe, non-exclusionary space for aging Punkrockers like myself. (I do note that the editor here is also named ‘Dan Kaufman,’ and do I detect some nepotism? Don’t worry, I am not aligned with #antinepotismexclusionary Nepotists and Philosophy UK (NAP, which I may soon take), which recently released the White Paper “Including More Nepotists In Your Goddam Journal Or Else!”)

    But if even editor Dan Kaufman cannot see the evident harm here – and if I had a Facebook page I’d post a video of me crying real tears (not anti-real tears, except maybe…) which I would do, because , you know, “friends?”

    Anyway despite the incoherence of my position I demand that my position be treated because I demand it.

    We can get other editors here who would understand me better, I’m sure – Dr. John Marmysz (formerly of the band Sociopolitical), or Dr. Greg Graffin (Bad Religion); or even Bram Presser, LLB (Yidcore: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L63ET8UTA8I)

    I think with enough Punkrockers involved, the new, improved Electricguitar Agora could become the very model of inclusionary niceness that Punks deserve.

    And I will endeavor, should we Punks be allowed this platform, to never again say bad things about Disco even though it sucks and is danced to by witless morons with no souls! but, oh now, would they ever invite me to their nightclubs or even “Provide explicit statements of support for [Punk rockers] in venues in which” Disco gets played? Noooo!

    “I’m Melting! Melting! Oh — what a world, what a world! Who would have thought a good little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness?!”
    😉

    Liked by 3 people

    • Well the kids are all woked up and they’re ready to roll
      They’ve got their conclusions and they’re going to the disco woke-a-go-go
      But she would not deny
      Distinctions they elide
      She’s a philosopher after all
      Oh yeah oh yeah

      Sheena is a punk philosopher
      Sheena is a punk philosopher
      Sheena is a punk philosopher, now

      Liked by 2 people

  6. My summary of the Weinberg piece. If a venerable philosophical association platforms the claim that Lesbians do not have penises, it must also platform the counter-claim lest transgender philosophers and philosophy students feel that their existence is being denied.

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  7. I can imagine a Talking Heads debate between you and Jordan Peterson. Now that would be interesting.

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  8. Dan,
    When I first read your article it was with admiration for your prose, the fluent, elegant expression of your feelings and the effective way you conveyed your outrage. I enjoyed your prose and nodded in agreement at the content. This was a vintage Dan Kaufman rant. The problem with agreement is that it blinds one to deeper issues. Confirmation bias is heady stuff.

    But then, as I re-read your piece, feelings of dissatisfaction and disappointment set in. Plainly and bluntly, this is not what I expect from a philosopher in the role of a public intellectual. Make no mistake, philosophers have strong feelings and they are entitled to express them, just as the rest of us do. But when you assume the role of a public intellectual you also assume a greater responsibility and you create greater expectations.

    Let me get out of the way two likely responses you might make. I can imagine your huffy reply – ‘this is my blog and I can damn well say what I want’. Yes, it is your blog but it is underpinned by your professional affiliations. If it was truly a private blog nobody would give a damn about what you are saying. Secondly, you might say strong rhetoric and polemic are sometimes necessary to shift certain trends in public or academic thinking(the Overton Window). No, it has the opposite effect. It arouses emotional opposition, increases polarisation and ramps up the conflict. But I am the first to admit that this is all very satisfying stuff for the choir and I am a voice in the choir who sometimes sings in a discordant note.

    So what are my expectations? You are free to dismiss them since I am both an unAmercian and an unPhilosopher.

    1) Understanding
    This unPhilosopher believes the primary role of a philosopher is to promote understanding of issues and not to practice advocacy. But not understanding in a superficial sense, rather deep, insightful, structural, system understanding.

    2) Causes, not symptoms
    This understanding is promoted by looking below the symptoms for systematic, endemic and root causes. These causes often arise out of temporal trends. What are they? What drives them? What in turn are their causes? (Five Cause thinking)

    3) Multiple perspective taking
    The biggest mistake a philosopher can make is to examine an issue from one standpoint only. Multiple perspectives exist. It is only when we have carefully examined and understood each perspective that we can say we are arriving at an understanding of the issue. One popular philosopher urges us to re-state other viewpoints in such a way that their advocates will admit we understand them and have fairly represented them.

    4) Impartiality
    Here the emphasis is on a 360 degree view that looks for balance, saying, on the one hand this, on the other hand thus. This is the natural outcome of multiple perspective taking.

    5) Empathy
    After practising multiple perspective taking with impartiality, naturally comes empathy. Every viewpoint has its sincere and ardent supporters. Why do they feel so sincerely and ardently about the issue. In their own minds they are right. Why? Once we understand this we might begin to feel a certain degree of sympathy.

    6) Conclusion
    Only after having done all of this are we entitled to come to a conclusion, but the manner of our conclusion is important. Are we ramping up the conflict and exacerbating enmity and hostility? Or will our opponents grudgingly admit that we have given them a fair treatment?

    I am fond of advocating De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats technique. We could add a seventh hat, that of the philosopher, who should, in my opinion, practise the steps above since I believe that is inherent in the nature of being a philosopher. The popular expression – ‘lets be philosophical about it’ – captures something of the feel of what I expect from philosophers. You may dismiss all of this, but at least consider the possibility that this is the voice of an unPhilosopher who might in some ways reflect the thinking of the public at large.

    You might reply to all of this that a good rant every now and then is good for the soul. I sympathise, I do this as well, but too much in public. I should reserve this for my visits to my therapist(I have three, my wife, my priest and my psychologist!), who listens attentively, but then gives me unwanted advice.

    But whatever, I very much enjoyed reading your essay.

    labnut

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t disagree with anything on your list, Peter, but don’t believe that everything I do has to include all of them. I would also deny that the essay is simply a rant. I feel very strongly about the damage that the people I’m calling “woke philosophers” are doing to the discipline. I think they have been a terrible influence and believe that their tactics are dishonorable and destructive. T-philosopher’s letter is one of the worst examples of the genre, an exercise in manipulative emotional blackmail, one that cynically attacks good people who don’t deserve it and even more cynically exploits people’s good will, so that this manipulation and blackmail will not be exposed.

      The essay is me standing up for good philosophy, for good philosophers and also for my friends. It could have been a lot tougher than it was, which is why I decided to go the route of humor, which not only takes some of the edge off, but means that it offers something even for those who may disagree with some or all of it. Fun, snappy writing is a good in itself, beyond what it is about.

      I appreciate your readership, your friendship, and regret that I have disappointed you. It certainly was not my intention.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Dan,
        Fun, snappy writing is a good in itself, beyond what it is about.

        Yes, I agree, and you succeeded admirably. I also understand that varied style and content is needed to keep the blog fresh, invigorating and stimulating. Here you also succeed.

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        • If you look at the long comment thread for “Trans Women and Philosophy: Learning from Recent Events” at Daily Nous you will see that many explicitly advocate for overturning the “norms” of philosophy and replacing them with something new. There are other places where one can find this sentiment expressed (e.g. http://moufawad-paul.blogspot.com/2019/06/the-delusions-of-academic-philosophy.html). The argument is as much about this replacement as any first order question about identity. For those of us who (1) prize the norms of philosophy, (2) see them as definitive of the field, and (3) were, all those years ago, sufficiently drawn to them to make philosophy the focus of our thought and careers, the call for new norms is not obviously benign. Depending on the proposed changes, this may very well be the call for the death of the field we admire. So, at the very least critical scrutiny and hard questioning is called for. Many of those who want to do this are accused of bigotry. Given this, it seems reasonable to publish a piece that straightforwardly defends the traditional view of the field – it is, after all, under explicit attack. Also, the writing in this essay is phenomenal.

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          • The are no norms of philosophy at all. Are you kidding me? And that’s why I demand right now to be hired as a philosophy professor and be given tenure.

            Everyone should be allowed to be recognized as a tenured philosophy professor at a public university. One might object that this would entail the re-definition of philosophy, but philosophy has been re-defined all the time from ‘love of wisdom’ to ‘pursuit after the truth’ to ‘learning how to die’ to ‘some peculiar language game we play’. You don’t even have to advocate philosophy to be a tenured philosophy professor. You can, in fact, make it your job to destroy philosophy (whatever it may be) and STILL have tenure as a philosophy professor. Just ask Rorty and Wittgenstein. But, wait, you say, shouldn’t one be able at least to convey his or her philosophy (whatever it may be) clearly and intelligibly to qualify as a tenured philosophy professor? That’s never been a qualification for the position historically. Otherwise, Kant, Hegel, Ayer, Davidson, and Rawls would never have been tenured philosophy professors. Well, shouldn’t you then at least be expected to publish stuff for peer review? Seriously? Would you then deny Socrates tenure, the patron saint of philosophers?

            Philosophy has no definition. It is simply a convention that can be defined however political fiat lists. Since philosophy has no definition, neither can the teaching thereof. Therefore, there can be no reasonable qualifications for being a tenured philosophy professor, save the willingness to be one. Since this is the case, it is simply unfair to limit the honor, prestige, and economic benefits that attend a tenured professorship in philosophy to those few who know how to game the tenure system. Thus, the dictates of equality demand that the position of tenured philosophy professor be made available to all for the mere asking. And if you disagree, then, well, you are a bigot.

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  9. Well, you’ve got to hand it to the woke philosophers, they’ve succeeded in doing what Wittgenstein never could – ending philosophy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, at least one Transactivist, Rachel Anne Williams, cites the late Wittgenstein’s argument against sufficient and necessary conditions for anything to claim that it does not matter that ‘gender identity’ cannot be defined. I suspect there are others, many others as well.

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      • Yeah, I’ve heard that one before. I believe a similar point has been made by popular trans YouTuber, and former adjunct philosophy professor, Contrapoints. But I don’t think the argument holds up, because Wittgenstein still thought that meaningful concepts needed public criteria for correct usage, and so one can’t define womanhood in terms of a private feeling if that’s right. Well, unless, of course, you cash that out in terms of feminine and masculine behaviour and dress and so on, but then it’s doubtful whether there is likely to be enough agreement in judgment for this to be a meaningful concept in the first place.
        It’s also quite ironic that this argument is being used by the exact same people that use the fact that intersex people exist to argue that biological sex categories are fictions, since they don’t have strict necessary and sufficient conditions!

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      • Not really relevant to the topic, but I’ve been regularly watching WWF/WWE since 1984. I stopped in 2017 because Japanese wrestling has gotten so good and WWE has gotten so bad.

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    • *In practice* *in the vast majority of cases* no one has difficulty identifying who is and isn’t transgender, given knowledge of relevant facts about what genitals a person was born with and what they sincerely assert about whether they feel they are/want to be a man/woman now. (Note, being able to recognize trans people partly on the grounds of assertions like ‘I’m a man born in a woman’s body’ or whatever doesn’t require being able to come up with a reading on which those assertions could be literally true, let alone such a reading on which it could be literally true, given some prior feminist analysis of what gender really is.) That’s enough for ‘transgender’ to be fairly well-defined in practice. Of course, there will be cases where it is hard to say, but that just shows the concept is vague (in the technical sorities paradox sense) like virtually every concept outside of mathematics.

      We all know what transgender folk are asking for: they’re asking for to being referred to as men if they say they are men or women as they say they are women despite this being incongruent with their genitals, and to be able to access events and spaces set aside for men, if they’re trans men and for women if they’re trans women. It’s far from clear to me that we need to have a necessary and sufficient conditions account of what having a particular gender identity is in order to be able to fruitfully discuss whether these requests should be agreed to and in what circumstances.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. This won’t surprise the good Dr. Kaufman:

    More than two weeks ago I was at a Leftist Bookstore. I fell into a conversation with one of the clerks about how Poetry Journals are sustained by Liberal Arts Colleges. The clerk noticed that I used a tone of disdain with “Liberal Arts” and asked why. So, I told him that I used to love “Liberal Arts”, but then the rehabilitation of Judith Butler happened. Thereupon I mentioned “gender identity nonsense”, and the clerk told me that he wasn’t going to let me deny the existence of transpeople who co-own the store and work at the store (none of whom were present at that time). I responded that just because I don’t accept one’s claim about who he is does not mean I deny his existence. I can, for example, accept the existence of someone while not accepting his claim that he’s, say, Napoleon. I was going to say after that that every time an attempt has been made to define ‘gender identity’, the result has been really obvious circularity, but the clerk would not let me speak. At first he did so jokingly, but after several attempts by me to make my point, he got very serious and said baldly, “You’re not going to say anything about ‘gender identity’. Not here.” Well, I felt like I was being scolded as if I were a naughty little boy about to say a sniggering profanity aloud, and I resented this. And so I promptly acted exactly like a naughty little boy, albeit without the sniggering. I unfortunately lost my cool, said in a raised voice, “F— you!”, flipped the clerk off, and stomped out.

    Now I am known at the bookstore as someone who harasses transpeople and am, of course, banned.

    Even pointing out the circularity of the definitions of ‘gender identity’ is now considered, apparently, an unmentionable obscenity.

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  11. I thought the comments section of the Daily Nous was better than in the past. It seemed to me that more people were willing to challenge Gender Identity dogma. If academics become less cowed there is some hope that the discussion can move from polemic to facts.

    Good call out to Kayfabe too, the dominant political discourse of the 21st century 🙂 Not a new idea though…

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  12. Interesting piece. I find myself mostly sympathetic towards what you say here, but I also feel like these politics are somehow beyond my ken (intellectually and emotionally). It doesn’t help that the sensitive nature of the subject among many of my peers makes it difficult to become acquainted with these topics in an open and exploratory way (i.e. simply entertaining provisional judgments and seeing where they go), which is the approach I find natural in entering into an intellectual debate. It’s as though I’m already expected to share a certain view from the start. As a result I tend to keep my head down at my institution and around my peers.

    Anyway:

    “the expression of an essentially “adolescent Id”; a function of arrested psychological development on the part of a group of philosophers, almost all of whom, it should be noted, are part of the Millennial and I-generations, the unending juvenility and emotional brittleness of so many of whom has been discussed at length by social scientists and cultural critics.“

    This sort of explanation struck me and I was interested in exploring some of the more reputable work/discussion on this by social scientists. But I have no idea where to start—maybe you could point me in the right direction?

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  13. This piece has many of the annoying and anti-philosophical features of the (also annoying, anti-philosophical) ‘woke’ discourse it’s attacking. Rhetoric about how unbelievably dreadful the other side are. The assumption that the author is right in place of argument (There’s not barely a single argument in the whole piece; generously some might be kind of implied in the bit about Weinberg, who is a bullshitter sometimes, but I think does at least *try* to give the impression that he is arguing for his views.) Statistical claims made without statistical evidence (the inference from what Rebecca Kukla et. al. say on twitter) to what ‘t a sizable portion of the current members of a discipline’ with 10 000 or so members in the US think. (‘Sizable’ also being vague enough to be hard to refute of course.) Psychological speculation about the disqualifying motives of people on the other side (white cis male misogyny/racism/other-ism in their case, millenial narcissism in yours) again asserted without much in the way of hard evidence. Try instantiating the virtues you complain other people lack.

    (The comments are also similar: Bad faith argument (‘how can we possibly recognize people with a trans gender identity’ when people on some level must know they can perfectly well do that in everyday life) sorry-not-sorry boasts about being rude to the enemy side.)

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    • I didn’t write the piece *you* wanted me to write, but the one *I* wanted to write, and the way I wrote it was by design. It does exactly what I wanted it to do.

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    • Hi David,
      I have been critical of Dan’s essay but I think your criticism is unfair. You test it against the standards we would expect of a scholarly paper. But this is an essay, subject to very different conventions. You should judge it accordingly. For example, in an essay literary flair counts for a lot while rigor matters in academic papers. Style, humour, cognitive dissonance, surprise, irony, and elegance all count for much in an essay. A good essay is a work of art while a good paper is strictly a work of the intellect.

      Regards, labnut

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  14. I boarded the troop train that would take me into an unknown destination with unforeseen consequences. But I did not know it then. I was a fit, tough and determined young man on a troop train destined for one of the country’s large military training camps. All around me were young men, clothed in every imaginable way and with the sloppy, confident, insolent bearing of youth that felt free to exercise and display their identity in every possible way.

    They were in for a shock. Soon we were shorn both of hair and identity. We were drilled, cursed, chased and beaten into uniformly submissive compliance. All that was left of the insolence were bewildered expressions of frightened vulnerability. We were ready to be made into soldiers, conditioned to do the unthinkable, unquestioningly. And we did. And we were frighteningly good at doing it.

    Those memories come back to haunt me. I remember how it began with that shocking moment when we were divested of all identity. Shocking because identity is the core of our being. Without it we are bereft of meaning. Our identity is at first a protective shell, hiding our vulnerabilities. It is aspirational. It advertises who and what we think we will be. It gives us belonging. It asks that you accept me for who I think I am. And, if we develop in a healthy manner, we will progress from displays that advertise our desired identity to execution of that identity, through to competence and then to excellence. In that way we earn the recognition of others that affirms our identity. In the process we make useful and lasting contributions to society while we find fulfilment. It becomes a directive force that works for our good and that of society. This is the measure of identity.

    The earliest moment of identity is when we discover our sexual organs. That discovery progresses from interest, to curiosity, to fascination and then to delight, all of which is quite normal. So yes, they play a large role in our sense of identity. But the maturation process means we discover there is much more to life than that. We stop fiddling and lift our eyes above the crotch to focus on higher goals. Well, that was largely true until quite recently, but a combination of influences has made this maturation process pathologically defective, producing a society more concerned with sexual functions than societal functions. The maturation process has become stunted, but in a very dangerous way. That is because a healthy sense of identity is multi-dimensional. It is sexual, it is physical, intellectual, professional and recreational, among other aspects. But a sense of identity that is obsessively focused on sex will diminish all other dimensions of identity. That cannot be good.

    And so as society becomes more concerned with sexual functions its members find increasingly diverse ways to explore those functions. Boundaries are explored and crossed with no concern for consequences other than personal gratification, which has become the greatest good. And of course that exploration and boundary crossing takes us into strange territory. No one should be surprised. And there can be no stranger territory than to flout evident biology. We have reached the inevitable point of reductio ad absurdum.

    But society cannot function on the basis of personal gratification alone. It needs responsibility, duty, focus, discipline, the proper execution of roles, trust and trustworthiness. These are things that require a balance between societal needs and personal needs. This balance has been disturbed by the delightful attractions of the crotch. Is it our destiny to ‘devolve’ into Bonobos?

    There is no doubt that a small number of people suffer from psychic dislocation as a result of a fault in the formation of gender identity. They cannot be blamed for this just as a person cannot be blamed for being born with autism. We cannot pretend that someone with autism is normal. That only creates more psychic dislocation further down the road.

    Instead we provide(or should) a supportive environment directed at enabling a productive, fulfilled life, as far as that is possible within the limits imposed by their disability. And this is just as true for people with gender disorders.

    For that to work we need a “revolution of tenderness“, as Pope Francis put it: (https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2017/04/25/pope-francis-urges-revolution-tenderness-new-ted-talk). For good reason he has been called the Pope of Tenderness. And this is exactly where we fail. We practice pseudo-empathy by writing out cheques for charities. But real empathy is a face to face encounter where we treat everyone supportively, with tenderness, understanding and acceptance. This is where we should go and this is where we have failed to go. Attempting to normalise disorders through denial is an avoidance strategy that perpetuates psychic dislocation and denies the needy of the tenderness that would carry them through a difficult life..

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    • According to the American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organization, being transgender is not a disorder per se and still less a disability. The American Psychiatric Association distinguishes between gender nonconformity and gender dysphoria, the latter being considered a disorder. In the case of gender dysphoria the person experiences “clinically significant distress” regarding their condition of gender non-conformity

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  15. The affair of Jordan Peterson and the T-shirt has made me reconsider my sartorial tastes. As Jordan Peterson painfully found out, association with a T-shirt can be dangerous – https://www.thearticle.com/cambridge-and-the-exclusion-of-jordan-peterson#. I think I know what a t-philosopher is, but what then is a T-shirt? Is it transgressive and transphobic? Or is it trans-supportive? Either way I am in trouble. It has become the victim of concept creep, but which way has the concept crept?. Does that mean that only creeps would wear T-shirts? This is a T-erminal problem. Perhaps I should wear G-shirts(golf shirts) but there are strange pitfalls[!] here. Does it mean that I club seals, or does this signal an undue interest in the G-spot? It seems that a necktie would be the answer. That would tie up all the loose ends.

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  16. Thanks, Daniel. This is an excellent piece of writing, and as for the “syndrome”, you’ve absolutely nailed it. (Also, the analysis of the Weinberg “Better People” essay… love it!) For my two cents, I think the vicious targeting of individuals can be ascribed to the first motive (ie. premeditated tactic) on the background of pre-existing lack of impulse control and generally manipulative behaviour. These people are personality-disordered (there’s an epidemic of mixed Borderline/ Narcissistic/ Histrionic) which gives them a licence to further misbehave. Great article!

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  17. Steve,
    It ain’t just the lefties that are nuts.

    The problem is that our thinking is trapped in a faulty model for politics. It is not a linear continuuum with two opposite extremes at the the far ends of a line and are polar opposites.

    A better model is that of a circle. On the one side of the circle we see infantile thought and behaviour. On the other side we see thought and behaviour emerging through a maturation process. Lets call that the infantile and mature hemispheres.

    The so-called extreme left and right merge together in the infantile hemisphere. What differentiates them are their labels. Labels matter far more in this side of the hemisphere than content. That is because people in this hemisphere are driven more by emotions than by material needs. The labels are rallying points where individuals coalesce into groups that multiply the power of their emotions. This is label politics based on the emotions of the infantile.

    On the other side of the hemisphere people tend to coalesce into groups that represent material needs. Because this group is emerging through a maturation process they are more focused on content than emotion, They have moved through the infantile hemisphere into the mature hemisphere.

    The other thing that differentiates them is attachment. People in the infantile hemisphere show inordinate attachment to their labels, elevating them to God-like status. People in the mature hemisphere have progressed in their thinking and emotions, moving through the infantile sphere into the mature sphere. The result of thought and the reduction of emotion is moderation.

    It is likely that people in the in the centre of the infantile hemisphere suffer from strong attachment disorder – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attachment_disorder. They compensate by finding a new centre for their emotions and focus on it in an excessive, disordered way. This anchors them at some point on the far side of the infantile hemisphere and it becomes the attachment point of their life, compensating for their attachment disorder.

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    • But in discussion, bring up the mental health of some purported group representing some other sides’ positions, is maybe less of a productive step forward, and possibly more of a counter show of artifice.

      Short version, I’m uncomfortable with it.

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  18. DK:
    “What I’m not sure of is whether woke philosophy represents the tip of a premeditated political spear – whether the hyperventilating and censoring and character assassination and attacks on peoples’ livelihoods, etc., are a tactic – or whether it is the expression of an essentially “adolescent Id”; a function of arrested psychological development on the part of a group of philosophers, almost all of whom, it should be noted, are part of the Millennial and I-generations, the unending juvenility and emotional brittleness of so many of whom has been discussed at length by social scientists and cultural critics.”

    Me:
    Those of us on the “right” (pro-capitalism) might interpret all this as the left eating its own. How exactly is the dynamic involved here different from the dynamics behind “deplatforming” and “microaggressions” and the related hard-to-distinguish-from-satire stuff on college campuses that Haidt et al have been commenting on; or how does it differ from the way the left has substituted smears for serious, dialectically responsible debate with capitalism’s strongest defenders and arguments, pretty much ever since the left was a thing?

    For the left, private property isn’t a cornerstone of civilized and humane life so why should traditional gender roles not similarly (and also foolishly) be attacked as something that need to go post haste? In his 1922 book ‘Socialism’ (which the left basically chose to ignore, to its own discredit), Mises picked up on socialism’s tendencies toward what he termed cultural destructionism, its failure to recognize and seek to preserve the wisdom of the ages. Why should any of this stuff – namely and especially the nastiness which the toxic “woke” crowd addresses the skeptical/critical – come as any surprise? They’ve had plenty of inspiration to draw from, after all.

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  19. A further thought: either politics or religion without philosophy is dangerous/toxic. What you’re saying in effect is that political activists have hijacked the Philosophy label to carry out their activism.

    Both the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ are doing a hell of a lot of politics without philosophy. (Contrast with the USA’s Framers, all of the key figures among whom were involved in the American Philosophical Society.) And the ‘right’ is notorious for harboring a lot of religion without philosophy. But I would say that doing politics without philosophy is more notably a problem coming from the left since for many on the left politics serves as a religion-substitute (for “finding meaning in something greater than oneself”, without the supernatural/afterlife part, making the political the most all-encompassing earthly project to undertake), making their activism comparable to the philosophy-free religion on the right. Politics is *very, very important* to many on the left, because they don’t have religion in the traditional sense to fall back on.

    That wouldn’t be so much of a problem, if they put philosophy first. When they don’t, we get authoritarian ugliness; it seems that the more important the political is to the activist, the more authoritarian and ugly the activism gets.

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