Feeling Like a Man

by Daniel A. Kaufman

If someone who looks like a man and has XY chromosomes tells me he feels female – I cannot tell her she is ‘wrong’. Would you?

–Prof. Alice Roberts, University of Birmingham (1)

____

The thought behind the idea of gender self-identification is about as confused as any in contemporary public discourse, which explains why the conversation on the topic is so fraught. Those in the vanguard fighting on behalf of the rights of people who fall under the “trans” umbrella are convinced that the concept of gender self-identification is absolutely essential to their success, which means not only that they are incapable of recognizing its (ultimately disqualifying) problems, but that they are inclined to double, triple, and quadruple down when confronted with them, lending a desperate, shrill aura to any discussion of the issue and inducing aggressive protests, histrionic public displays, no-platformings, attacks on peoples’ livelihoods, and even outright violence. (2)

Elsewhere, I addressed the issue of gender self-ID from the perspective of the “self” portion of the concept and suggested that social identities, of which gender is one, are not self-made, but publicly negotiated. (3)  Along this vector, the problem with gender identity activism is that it misunderstands what kind of identity a gender identity is, conceiving of it as personal, when it is, in fact, social. My interest here, however, is in a somewhat different problem, having to do with the “identify” portion of gender self-ID.  Sexes are not things one can “identify with,” and identifying with genders is tantamount to embracing sexist stereotypes, something that any genuinely feminist – and more generally, liberal – philosophy and politics must oppose.

The use of ‘identify’ in the context of sex and gender is odd.  A judge can order that a plaintiff not be identified, meaning that the person’s identity should be kept a secret. One can identify oneself with a political movement, by which one means that one should be associated with it.  One can identify with the plight of a people, meaning that one has sympathy for – or even empathizes with – them.  A doctor can identify the cause of a cough, meaning that he has found the bacterial or viral or other thing that is responsible for it.  A suspect can be identified by the police, meaning that they have determined who he is.

But what could it mean to “identify as a man/woman”?  From what I can discern from gender self-ID theorists and activists, it could mean one of two things, both of which strike me as untenable.

The first is reflected in the Alice Roberts quote, above: for me to identify as a man/woman is to feel like I am one.  Now, I am a man, but if you asked me what it feels like to be one, I couldn’t answer; while I am a man, there is no sense in which I feel like one.  Being a man is a matter of belonging to a certain sex-category, specifically, the male one, but there is nothing that it feels like to be male. Certainly there are things that only males can feel: in my middle age, I know what it feels like to have an enlarged prostate – a distinctive sort of discomfort that only males experience.  But to feel something that only males can feel is not the same as feeling male, and certainly, it is not something that makes you male.  After all, there  are any number of males that don’t feel it, because their prostate glands are not enlarged or because, perhaps, their prostates have been surgically removed as part of a cancer treatment. (4)

So “feeling” male or female is not going to help us make sense of “identifying as a man or woman,” because there is no such thing: one is male or female, but one doesn’t feel male or female, just as one is a mammal, but one doesn’t feel like a mammal.

The second follows the line of gender: to feel like a man/woman is to feel masculine or feminine; manly or womanly.  And certainly, there is something that feels like.  I might feel manly after an especially tough workout or while moshing at a Slayer concert or upon realizing that women are checking me out (I haven’t felt the latter, since middle-aged decrepitude set in), but such feelings of manliness are little more than the products of sexist expectations. It is because males are expected to be macho and muscular and aggressive and “players” that the experiences associated with these things are deemed “manly” experiences. And because the opposite sorts of expectations are held of females, males who are not into working out or thrash metal or strutting in front of women are deemed unmanly and even effeminate or womanly.

It would be regressive, then, to take this tack in trying to make sense of “identifying as” a man/woman and even worse to suggest that meeting these sexist expectations makes a person one or the other. For decades, feminists and other forward-thinking people have been fighting against precisely these sorts of expectations and rejecting the idea that such notions of manliness or womanliness should determine what one is or what one should do.  In a previous essay, I referenced Marlo Thomas’s seminal Free to Be You and Me, which my parents gave me as a young child and the entirety of which is devoted to opposing these sexist conceptions of manhood and womanhood and to making the case that beyond our sexual identities as males and females, which are determined by nature, the rest should be up to the individual person and the course he or she chooses to pursue in life. Particularly effective in this regard is the wonderful opening skit, in which Thomas and Mel Brooks play infants, trying to figure out which one is the boy and which one is the girl.

The notion of “identifying as” a man/woman, then, is either incoherent or retrograde. It is the farthest thing from being liberatory or progressive, and I find it hard to understand why anyone interested in advancing the cause of trans people would want to have anything to do with it, let alone plant their flag in it. As I have argued (by now many times), everything required to make a complete and compelling case for trans civil rights is already contained within the liberal tradition. And beyond the advantage of being grounded in a stronger, more rigorous, more universal set of principles, to pursue such a course would avoid the sexist logic and tropes that have done so much to put trans activism in conflict with its feminist and gay/lesbian counterparts.

Notes

(1) Alice Roberts, Professor of Public Engagement in Science at University of Birmingham and President of Humanists UK.

https://twitter.com/theAliceRoberts/status/1141261931556286464

https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/biosciences/staff/profile.aspx?ReferenceId=122726&Name=professor-alice-roberts

(2) https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-47301007

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/trans-goldsmiths-lecturer-natacha-kennedy-behind-smear-campaign-against-academics-f2zqbl222

https://www.standard.co.uk/news/crime/transgender-activist-tara-wolf-fined-150-for-assaulting-exclusionary-radical-feminist-in-hyde-park-a3813856.html

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/julie-bindel-the-man-in-a-skirt-called-me-a-nazi-then-attacked-8dfwk8jft

(3) https://theelectricagora.com/2017/05/25/self-made/

(4) Our own E.J. Winner also was quite critical about this notion of “feeling like” a man/woman, although on somewhat different grounds.

https://theelectricagora.com/2017/12/07/sex-gender-politics/

116 Comments »

  1. From English language Google Scholar “self-identification” 1900-1930

    “This self-identification process is designed to allow parents to document their beliefs concerning the English status of their children…”

    “He learns an obedience which amounts to a self-identification with the saving will of God through His sufferings”

    “‘self-identification with the oppressed’. To help the poor and suffering was not enough; he must be one with the poor and suffering …”

    “This claim upon Zeus which the Suppliants are able to establish through their self-identification
    with their ancestress…”

    “The Socialized Recitation, as we have seen, has as its object the self-identification by
    the pupil with his social group.”

    “the process of Arabic uplift of Arabic national self-consciousness and national self-identification took place…”

    “Familiarity, during school life, with the best examples of our musical heritage and their relation
    to Jewish living may establish a basis of self-identification with our people,”

    It is the imaginative act the individual performs to join with another individual or a group.or “a celestial personage” ie socialization. As such, I think it a perfectly coherent concept to want to join the society of men or women.

    “In transgender communities, agency is a complex and multifaceted issue. Like lesbian and gay activists, trans people often make sense of their gender identities as innate and even biological in origin, in contrast to normative discourses that frame a gender role transition as an unnecessary, even indulgent, deviation from the natural order. This stance, which disavows the ability to choose one’s internally felt gender identity, works to legitimize transpeople’s social positionalities through an intertextual relationship with other discourses of authenticity and recasts a gender role transition as a means of realizing an inevitable inner truth. At the same time, however, agency is of critical importance in the discourses about self-definition and bodily self-determination that dominate trans communities in contemporary North American contexts… That is, a core socio-political goal of many trans communities in the United States has been to secure individuals’ freedom to choose what kinds of gendered body modifications they might wish to pursue and to name the identity categories to which they most authentically belong. This [is a] tension, between rejecting control over one’s sexual or gender identity and claiming freedom to act in a particular framework of culture and power…” [Zimman 2016]

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  2. It is personal if the impression of gender derives from specific biological factors, however, such that individuals who have their feet in both worlds (physically appearing as one gender, but genuinely *experiencing* another) are incapable of communicating to people who have no such experience of involuntary duality. Take, for example, the hormone theory of sexual orientation (i.e. sexual orientation, which includes homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgender individuals, is a function of the hormones a fetus is exposed to in the womb). Medical practices that have become increasingly socially acceptable without a full understanding of their consequences, like women receiving regular hormone injections as a form of fertility treatment (or to prevent premature births, which is even more common), are now scientifically associated with a fetus being several times more likely to be gay, bisexual, or transgender – something that doctors rarely discuss with women and their partners that are exploring fertility treatments (for better or worse) and that rarely is discussed among the “gender is a social construct” crowd (or their critics). No amount of negotiation between an individual and an unsympathetic community can reverse what is biologically given, but what is biologically given is more complex than current discourse makes it out to be. That in turn creates artificial opportunities to discredit someone’s real experiences (to stigmatize them). It can become a form of pretending on the part of both the individual and their society that biology is not real. The purpose of ratifying one’s impression of gender can be a means of saying that the complicated sensations that come with being an embodied being should not be socially discrediting.

    There is a lot of resentment in certain quarters that issues of perceived sexuality are becoming trendy. I think it would be more interesting to bracket off social justice warriors and the rage they invite and start asking questions about ethics in medicine. If more and more women in developed countries are waiting beyond the ideal years biologically to bear children, resulting in fertility treatments becoming a very lucrative business in medicine, and it is known at this point that some of the most popular fertility treatments influence sexual orientation, then is there something to be said about the consequences physicians playing God can have on the structure and harmony of our society? Are these practices truly benevolent or does it not matter?

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  3. “while I am a man, there is no sense in which I feel like one. Being a man is a matter of belonging to a certain sex-category, specifically, the male one, but there is nothing that it feels like to be male.”

    Do you think that a trans rights activist might simply deny this? If the argument is simply grounded in a missing subjective experience, perhaps they will say that trans people *do* have that experience. After all, they certainly say that they do.

    You might wonder what this experience could possibly be. Well, here’s an analogy: it also strikes me that, for me, there is nothing it “feels like” to be heterosexual. But if I grew up in a society which consistently identified me as homosexual and expected me to act in corresponding ways, I can imagine a certain “sense” forming in me, born of frustration and of the constant need to confront my own failure to “fit” the prescribed category. So your personal sense (which I share) that there is nothing that it “feels like” to be a man might simply be the product of rarely having been treated in ways which force you to confront your own masculinity.

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      • Dan, I genuinely respect your blog and your contributions to this discourse. You’re a hell of a writer and a great philosopher. So I find this comment kind of beneath you; surely you can recognize that I just gave you an argument for the conclusion that your second sentence is shaky at best. There can be something that it “feels like” to be an X that passes entirely unnoticed because one is never forced to confront it or notice it. I.e. there is something that it “feels like” to have arms but it is very hard for those with arms to identify that proprioceptive feeling. If we disconnected the feeling to your arms for 10 minutes, you’d certainly notice what it’s like to have arms once the connection was re-established. What’s so hard about this basic point?

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        • How do you plan to separate the legitimate ‘feels’ from silly ones? Anyone can say they feel like X. A white person can say they feel black, an old man that he feels like a twelve year old, a twelve year old that he feels like a 60 year old man. What are we as a society supposed to do about that? Also, why do you think there is only one way to feel X? How do you know that everyone who says they feel like a woman, is actually ‘feeling’ the same way?

          Anyway, a more important question is so what? How you feel doesn’t change biological reality. It certainly doesn’t compel anyone else to share your delusion, let alone force society to throw away all of its cultural norms.

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        • The point I was making was not epistemic. I would maintain that “there is something it is like to feel male” essentially commits a category error. It seems to me that you also did not give sufficient consideration to the distinction I made between “things only males feel” and “feeling male.”

          My reply was short, because I thought the essay already contained all the answers to the challenge you posed.

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    • You guys should read the book As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl. It’s about one of the most horrific experiments in psychiatry. A boy has his penis burned off during a botched circumcision. The family (who are Mennonites and not especially accustomed to technology and the medical world to begin with) go to a crank psychiatrist who was really popular at the time, who convinces them to raise their biological boy as a girl. This was horribly traumatic for the kid, who “knew” he was a boy even though everyone in his sphere treated him like a girl, he had a series of surgeries to give him female parts, and his parents scolded him for doing any stereotypical male activities. It tormented him to the point that he ended up committing suicide. The book is excellent, however, in that it discusses what science thinks about gender and the nutso experiments that were done that made perspectives evolve over time. It’s also a riveting story. I finished the book in under a day. https://www.amazon.com/As-Nature-Made-Him-Raised/dp/0061120561

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  4. Feels pretty thin. If you’re worried about shitty gender stereotypes, then I welcome you to address the vast majority of people perpetuating them, and a lot more cis people fall into that net. Our president, for instance, is a parody of manhood, a kind of perversion of a drag show in which he wigs, spray tans, and Mussolinis himself into a fever dream of masculinity. The assumptions he embodies are for more common and pernicious than anything you’re addressing here.

    More fundamentally though, you’ve collapsed any distinction between what an individual identifies with and what they expect everyone else to identify with. Most trans people probably don’t give a shit if a cis person of their gender identity doesn’t adhere to the same slue of characteristics they do. A femme trans woman can feel like a woman in one way and (holy balls) not consider that at all mandatory for a butch woman’s sense of herself as a woman. In fact, I’d wager that’s primarily the case. Criterial conceptions of gender can eat it. Ta-ta, Necessary and Sufficient conditions. It’s open-textured, overlapping, and non-essentialist enough for us to man up (oopsy) and allow people some personal leeway here. And for the most part, we do.

    Even just sticking to people assigned as male at birth who present feminine later (the people who receive the bulk of the focus in these “discussions”), it can go any number of ways. Divine was a drag queen. He still identified as a man, but embraced a campy, obscene performance of femininity. Good for him. Eddie Izzard used to identify as a transvestite, “a lesbian in a man’s body”, but has lately expressed a more gender fluid self-conception. Good for him/her. We no longer speak of the Wachowski brothers but of the Wachowski sisters (two good movies is two more than most people manage). Good for them. Melissa Etheridge can and still gets to be her own kind of woman. And honestly, beneath all the arguments and the philosophizing and the fancy-pants distinctions, its them as people that carry the day. I see this weird profusion of sentiments and personalities, the different flavors of personal integrity (dog shit among them!), and I ask what kind of order I’m supposed to put on them and why I’d ever want to.

    Nietzsche put on a big posture, but in letters, he admitted that all it took was a friendly conversation for it to melt away. Consider him in conversation with a trans person. Consider yourself. If you were in the midst of a good conversation with a trans person, would your positions on gender and trans people matter to you more than the basic, human experience of recognizing someone’s self-concept, of allowing room for their ambiguities, of just giving it all a good goddamn rest? Probably not.

    All that said, if you want some real, politically-incorrect, blood-boiling red meat, then here’s a woman I can stand with:

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s conceivable that hormone treatments might affect sexual orientation, however I can’t see what it has to do with transgender. Are you implying that it might be a cause of gender/body dysphoria? In that case it can’t explain the vast number of trans identifying people that do not have that condition. It can’t explain the rise of trans lesbians, who are still male bodied, have no interest in transitioning, and are sexually attracted to women.

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    • ‘ If you were in the midst of a good conversation with a trans person, would your positions on gender and trans people matter to you more than the basic, human experience of recognizing someone’s self-concept, of allowing room for their ambiguities, of just giving it all a good goddamn rest?’

      So what would you say if that conversation was with a male bodied trans woman that wanted to use the same shared showers as your teenage daughters?

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    • Zac, why would someone who feels feminine identify as a woman unless they thought femininity was somehow part of what it is to be a woman. Sure you might say it’s sufficient but not necessary, but if the sex eliminationists get their way they then there will be no other way of being a woman, and regardless, it still has the implication that biological females who aren’t feminine are in some important sense not women. I mean, it’s precisely because trans women don’t want to be thought of as women in one sense but not in another and therefore less a woman than someone’s who is a woman in both senses, that many trans activists now resist the idea of biological sex – hence the nonsense about ‘assigned Male at birth, etc.’ So I’m sure that those activists can appreciate that a lot of women wont like being told that they’re less a woman than someone who also has a vagina but wears more lipstick too in some sense!
      And it’s funny you bring up contrapoints, because she explicitly says she thinks of gender identity in terms of social roles. In fact, I believe she even compares gender identification with an adoptive parent-child relationship, but if that’s the way to think about it then you can’t claim the identity isn’t normative.
      But I guess, more fundamentally, I just don’t see what one communicates when one says one is a woman in the gendered sense other than that one is feminine. But I’m that case people who deny that trans women are women aren’t agreeing with anything that is coherently asserted by the claimant of a gender identity, since no one denies that biological males can be feminine and females masculine. And if this is so then we have a situation where people are deeply hurt because people are denying their identities aren’t actually being opposed on any substantive factual claims about themselves. And the language of gender ID only obscured this, and I don’t see how that can do anything. But lead to more and more unnecessary hurt and cause more people to be unhealthily dependent on everyone sharing their self-perception to be happy. Yet I see no reason why that needs to be the case, except in cases of biological dysphoria, which go beyond not fitting into a gendered box comfortably

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    • “Even just sticking to people assigned as male at birth who present feminine later (the people who receive the bulk of the focus in these “discussions”), it can go any number of ways. Divine was a drag queen. He still identified as a man, but embraced a campy, obscene performance of femininity. Good for him. Eddie Izzard used to identify as a transvestite, “a lesbian in a man’s body”, but has lately expressed a more gender fluid self-conception. Good for him/her. We no longer speak of the Wachowski brothers but of the Wachowski sisters (two good movies is two more than most people manage). Good for them. Melissa Etheridge can and still gets to be her own kind of woman. And honestly, beneath all the arguments and the philosophizing and the fancy-pants distinctions, its them as people that carry the day. I see this weird profusion of sentiments and personalities, the different flavors of personal integrity (dog shit among them!), and I ask what kind of order I’m supposed to put on them and why I’d ever want to.”

      Doesn’t your final sentence here stand in contrast to the main gist of your post? It seems, that is, that it would be a problem for a gender realist, as it were, if gender categories defy categorization. I agree that people should express themselves however they want, and I suspect Dan does too. But why not just say that males should dress and behave however they want and females should dress and behave however they want and stop short of making claims about gender categories? If gender categories resist definition, and if we agree that people should behave however they want, then it’s not clear to me what work the concept of gender is really doing except confusing everyone, reinforcing harmful stereotypes, and making everyone irritable. If we agree that people should dress and behave however they want (within the context of our discussion here), and if gender as a concept either defies categorization or reinforces harmful stereotypes, it seems to me that we could just do without it altogether.

      I largely agree with Dan. I know what it means to be female, but I have no idea anymore what it means to be a woman, where this is supposed to express something in addition to what I express when I say I’m a female.

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    • “Nietzsche put on a big posture, but in letters, he admitted that all it took was a friendly conversation for it to melt away. Consider him in conversation with a trans person. Consider yourself. If you were in the midst of a good conversation with a trans person, would your positions on gender and trans people matter to you more than the basic, human experience of recognizing someone’s self-concept, of allowing room for their ambiguities, of just giving it all a good goddamn rest? Probably not.”

      I don’t think the point is to have a tough exterior, but to explore a philosophical idea, a bad one. In a conversation one would hopefully just relate to the person in front of you with kindness and compassion, and engage with them on the merits.

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  5. Consider him in conversation with a trans person. Consider yourself. If you were in the midst of a good conversation with a trans person, would your positions on gender and trans people matter to you more than the basic, human experience of recognizing someone’s self-concept, of allowing room for their ambiguities, of just giving it all a good goddamn rest?

    = = =

    This like so much of the rest of your comment is essentially a dodge, with a very light touch of emotional blackmail. What it isn’t is convincing in any way. And yes, I’ve watched that video, as well as many others by the same person. Not persuaded in the least.

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    • Dan:

      “This like so much of the rest of your comment is essentially a dodge, with a very light touch of emotional blackmail. What it isn’t is convincing in any way. And yes, I’ve watched that video, as well as many others by the same person. Not persuaded in the least.”

      You tried to dodge my response with a sentence fragment. I guess it’s in the air.

      Whether or not your disdain for gender stereotypes should extend to the far more common and dominant people purveying them is a natural question, and itself a question it’s natural to dodge here.

      As for your not recognizing a fairly basic distinction between what someone personally identifies with and what they think other people should be allowed to identify with under the same label (an issue addressed in the video you say you watched), that’s hardly a dodge. Likewise for the offshoots of this point highlighting the non-criterial, open-textured nature of the terms. There’s no single “feeling” that all men share as men? People can have very different self-conceptions under the term? My shrug reaches the heavens. I hardly require any such essences or uniformities in my everyday concepts. And my examples stand.

      It’s weird to me that raising the notion of a genuine encounter with another person, having to deal with them on a human level, is “emotional blackmail” to you, but I think that speaks more to you being lost to abstraction and sour-faced ideology here.

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      • If you advocate a ‘social definition’ of woman, you need to answer this question: what activities/etc will you disallow to women?

        Because if there is a way of qualifying as a woman by social convention etc, there must be another set of such things by which one does not qualify — otherwise there is no classification. You cannot have everyone allowed to do whatever they please, since, again, there would be no association between those features and being male or female — and then one could not use those features to claim such statuses.

        ‘Social definition’ seems fatally flawed, unless one likes arbitrarily repressive societies.

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        • I’m puzzled as to what you think the alternatives are. If our identities are not socially constructed then what? Do they exist in some eternal platonic realm waiting for us to discover them?

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          • Clarification: “‘social definition’ of woman” just meant this: defining ‘woman’ by reference to behaviour/dress/roles/activities/etc – ie, various conventions one might observe in social life.

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  6. Dan, thanks as always for the stimulating work. On your view, are sexist assumptions of the kind to which you refer in the essay always all bad? You write critically of the notion that we might rightly expect men to do “manly” things and women to do “womanly” things. I agree that whether someone does such things should not be the conceptual barrier to entry, so to speak. That is, being manly doesn’t make or break one’s being a man. However, it seems to me that on a societal and political level manliness (and related terms) is a concept worth preserving. It is interwoven into larger institutional concepts like fatherhood, protection in the line of duty, etc. Again, I don’t think it should be the barrier to entry for any individual wishing to enter these areas (professionally or conceptually), but I nonetheless wonder if there isn’t some value, on a societal level, of preserving concepts like “manly” and their associated expectations. If thats true then such sexism could not always be said to be bad in the way that I wonder if you were implying.

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    • I am probably not nearly as negative about some of the sex-associated stereotypes and expectations as someone like Kathleen Stock or Jane Clare Jones likely is. It *does* seem a problem to me, however, when one uses them to say what it *is* to be a man or a woman and especially, under a progressive banner, as trans activists and theorists do.

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      • Fair enough. I agree.

        Now I wonder if there is a tension worth exploring between endorsing (or at least not condemning) “some of the sex-associated stereotypes and expectations” on the one hand and rejecting their employment as rigid barriers to entry on the other. I don’t think there is a logical contradiction here but perhaps a difficult psychological and therefore, on the national scale, political dissonance problem. If some of our fundamental institutions and traditions have formed around the sort of concepts/expectations i suggested above, and which, by implication of your post *do not* seem a problem to you, then it will demand of every citizen a certain amount of skillful framing in order to simultaneously employ those same concepts in a way that accords with the non-essentialist, non-traditionalist application, which you, I, and the feminists you mention all endorse. Maybe this demand for skillful framing is a necessary consequence of living in a liberal society with a culture as complex as ours and is thus a duty each individual in such a society is expected to fulfill. Maybe this isn’t a problem, since the rapid advancement of the modern progressive movement suggests people are capable of taking on novel category distinctions that don’t accord with the past in all sorts of ways. But, there is a difference between a country whole-heartedly rebuking the conceptual distinctions of it’s past, as is the case with some progressive conceptual shifts, and the country maintaining the traditional conceptual logic of it’s past insofar as it supports our fundamental institutions, while simultaneously rebuking it as a valid way to categorize people in practice.

        What do you think? Am I making a problem out of nothing? Have I got it wrong?

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  7. After thinking on your essay on Peak Woke Philosophy, it finally sank in that what the “t-philosopher’ who so complained of bias that leaving the profession was preferable was really arguing for was a kind of ‘post-modern’ Neo-Platonism.

    From Lloyd Gerson’s SEP article on Plotinus: “Persons want to belong to themselves insofar as they identify themselves as subjects of their idiosyncratic desires. They do this because they have forgotten or are unaware of their true identity as disembodied intellects. If persons recognize their true identity, they would not be oriented to the objects of their embodied desire but to the objects of intellect. They would be able to look upon the subject of those embodied desires as alien to their true selves.”

    ‘t-philosopher’s meta-argument might be reconstructed thus run: “Neo-Platonic philosophy is the true philosophy; it assures me that, although born male, my True Soul is as female. The matter of my body is irrelevant, and indeed potentiates towards evil, since it denies the truth of my Soul. That being the case, denial of my self-identity on the basis of the matter of my body is a harm to my Soul; further, inquiry into this reasoning justification threatens the philosophical ground of my self-identity. It follows that this philosophical ground ought to be accepted as the true philosophy, and those who cannot so accept it should at least alleviate any harm to my Soul (of which I am the only judge, being, as a self-identified True Soul, closer to the One of real wisdom).”

    What we’re looking at, of course, is a quasi-religious cult – the adherence of which have not yet codified it as such (probably not having investigated Neo-Platonism). The question is, to what extent must a liberal state allow any religious adherents protection from the ‘threat’ of having their religion questioned.

    (We can see that this has long been a problem in the US; one thinks of the laws banning the teaching of evolution, predicated that such teaching corrupted the young from the True Faith. Nonetheless the proper defense of religious freedom is not kowtowing to any particular religion’s needs or grievances, but defining the right of practice as long as it does not threaten harm to others. Obviously this still leaves wide range for disagreements; but that’s what we have courts for.)

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  8. First of all, understanding gender identity involves listening to people describe it. You can’t get far with just a single phrase (“feel like a man/woman”).

    You say you don’t feel like a man, but that’s probably because you’re not in situations where that’s disputed. If people started treating you like a woman—asking what the hell you’re doing in the men’s locker room, calling you “Ma’am,” etc.—you’d probably feel it wasn’t right. Similarly, you might not feel that you’re white, but if people started treating you as some other race, you probably would feel white. In other words, you have a disposition to feel like a man (and to feel like a white person) in some situations.

    Or to take another facet of identity: You probably don’t consciously feel that you have two arms and two legs, but it’s part of your body schema. If your leg were amputated, you’d probably feel like an amputee. And people with body integrity identity disorder do feel that their limb is not “really” part of them. They feel that they’re “really” amputees, even though you might object that “there is nothing that it feels like to be [an amputee].”

    Regarding gender identity and gender stereotypes, it seems really doubtful that we construct our gendered self-conceptions based on gender stereotypes. I obviously don’t remember when I developed a self-conception of myself as a boy rather than a girl, but I think it’s because that’s what people told me I was, just as most other biological males (and some biological females) are told they’re boys. I don’t think I developed that self-conception because I was dressed in blue rather than pink.

    And some transgender people say that they do not identify as a gender because of its stereotypes; rather, they adopt the stereotypes because they identify with that gender. For instance, they wear dresses because that’s what women do; they don’t identify as women because of the fact they like to wear dresses.

    And a final point on stereotypes: Consider those lesbians who transition as adults, after years of being lesbians, often after years of displaying typically masculine behavior. Some of them know lots of feminist theory, too. Are these lesbians so ignorant of gender stereotyping that they suddenly, mistakenly start identifying as men because they’re unable to see that subjective gender identity is really just all about stereotypes? They’re unable to see that they can behave in stereotypically masculine ways—as they’ve been doing for years—and still be women? Why are these lesbians unable to see what you can see?

    Anyway, this is already too long (sorry!), but there are more facets of gender identity that are also relevant besides “feelings.” Identity is a lousy concept of analysis, it’s really an incoherent bundle of other concepts. It’s best to look at those concepts, like self-conception, group affinity, etc., separately.

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    • A feeling? Then the question must be: a feeling of what? And the problem is, there is only one answer, and it disproves the claim, at least in the cases at issue: transgender.

      If someone says ‘I feel like a woman’ the word ‘feel’ is working as if to claim evidence: it says, here is an effect of the thing being referred to. One uses ‘feel’ because it has an authoritative character, of substantial contact with its reference.

      But what is it referring to? It must be bodily male/female-ness — there isn’t anything else that means male/female. And of course, with someone without that body, that claim of evidence is simply false.

      So one has to reject ‘I feel’ as a claim of ‘I am’, and instead take it to be something like ‘I want’. That makes straightforward sense, for what it is, but it will run into another, normative, problem …

      Liked by 1 person

      • maybe self-ID claims are best understood as expressive/prescriptive, rather than descriptive. Or more fancifully, it might even serve as a hinge belief in some people’s self-understanding. But if this is so, the superficially empirical appearance of the claim is best dispelled, and the claim that sceptics are ignoring the facts due to bigotry must go.

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      • “So one has to reject ‘I feel’ as a claim of ‘I am’”

        No, because you’re confusing two different categories: women+girls, and biologically female people. Women+girls is a social group. Both its operative meaning and its extension are different from the category of biologically female people.

        And importantly, the group women+girls is defined according to subjective self-identification at the boundaries, mostly for people with certain DSDs—I’m not talking about trans here. That is, some biological males are women/girls and some biological females are not, and the classification is based on their subjective identities (given their objective biological facts).

        Liked by 1 person

        • Those people, as you describe them, are simply incorrect: they say they are male/female when they are not. Female/male is not determined subjectively; it is a form of body.

          Assuming human adults, women and females are the same thing. You cannot make a group from: members, plus non-members who say they are. If someone tells you they are a member of such a group, what does that tell you about them? Nothing, because it requires no particular qualities to be a member.

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          • We seem to disagree on whether, for instance, people with AIS 46,XY and similar DSDs can be women/girls—members of a particular social group—depending on whether they identify as such. I say they can be, and you imply that they can’t.

            I’m saying that
            (1) some infants with certain DSDs are (or have been) socially classified as girls based partly on subjective criteria like predicted quality of life;
            (2) these people are legally recognized as girls/women, are expected to comply with female norms (e.g. using women’s bathrooms), and are recognized as girls/women by others in society, including (crucially) when the biological facts are known;
            (3) and that (2) is basically what it means to be “socially female,” i.e. a woman or girl, therefore they are women/girls.

            I’m guessing that your objection is to (3), my claim that what I described is part of the ordinary, operative conception of woman/girl (regardless of how one considers trans people). I emphasize “operative” in contrast to the manifest definition of woman/girl—human biological female—which is the one you’re insisting on.

            I’m talking about how the social group is actually defined in practice, not how people believe that they’re defining it. You can defend your conception of girls+women as human biological females as a correct revision to the ordinary, operative conception. You can argue that “women” with some DSDs are not women, or should not be women. My point is just that you are, in fact, revising the current conception of “women.”

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    • “First of all, understanding gender identity involves listening to people describe it.”

      = = = =

      I have. I don’t think there is any such thing, beyond a set of socially negotiated roles and expectations.

      As for your other point, regarding “feeling like a man,” like Avalonian, it seems to me that you missed the key elements of the argument.

      = = = = =

      “For instance, they wear dresses because that’s what women do”

      This makes my point for me. It is precisely this claim and its alleged relationship to being a woman that feminists have been fighting for decades. And it’s why trans ideology is ultimately regressive and even reactionary.

      Like

      • “beyond a set of socially negotiated roles and expectations”

        That goes back to a point that you didn’t respond to: Are you claiming that children develop an initial self-conception as boys or girls (which is one facet of gender identity) based solely on “socially negotiated roles and expectations”?

        I don’t doubt that gender roles and expectations reinforce our self-conceptions, for those who are not trans. But given our childhood development, not to mention the causes of similar things like sexual orientation, it seems obviously wrong to say that gender identity is based solely on roles and expectations.

        Re self-identification being prior to stereotypical behavior like dress-wearing: How could that possibly support your argument? The point is that one’s own stereotypical behavior is to some extent a result, not a cause, of trans identity. So eliminating gender stereotypes, as the TERFs want to do, would probably not eliminate subjective trans identity. Transwomen just wouldn’t wear dresses. I do agree with you, though, that trans adoption of stereotypes is reactionary from a second-wave feminist point of view.

        Finally, you say I missed your main point, I assume the one about it being meaningless to “feel like a man/woman”. I didn’t miss it; it’s blindingly obvious that feeling like a man doesn’t mean feeling “something that only males can feel” (unless one redefines “male” that way), so it’s irrelevant whether such a thing would be possible. “Feeling like a man/woman” just means all the stuff that we’re describing to you.

        That’s what I meant about your focusing on one particular phrase. You say, taking it absolutely literally, that it’s a category error? Fine. You can either engage with all the things people mean by it—all the aspects of sex-related self-conception, body schema, social-group self-identification, etc.—or you can simply ignore them because they’re not aptly using the phrase “feel like a man/woman.”

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Because of a stampede of freemartins let’s not discard the evolutionarily (word?) useful gender complementariness. Roles are o.k. they give security, you know what to do and what’s expected. A few generations is a blip of the screen of evolution.

    Not talking about the war is not a good practice. On Crooked Timber the reliably left wing blog, not woke but dreaming, the utopian anarchist Chris Bertram has suspended comments. No comment!

    Like

  10. This is 80% of what’s going on, in my view. The rest is the result of genuine psychiatric conditions and earnest efforts at remedying them. (It is worth noting that many of the old-school transsexuals want nothing to do with contemporary gender self-ID and its politics.)

    From my essay, “Self Made”:

    “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.”

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    • “an almost pathological discomfort with any sort of givenness and thus, with any loss of control over one’s identity”

      That is for me the paradox at the center of the whole identity debate.

      Ten or fifteen years ago I read a book by a Belgian philosopher (not translated) about identities. At that time, I didn’t think too much of it ; now I feel it was prophetical.

      In one of the essays he argues that it’s impossible to say really important things about your identity *without* losing control.

      It’s possible to declare certain things about yourself. “I’m 1,73 m and 65 kg, my hair is brown and I have a scar on my leg where a dog bit me when I was making a cycling trip,” and so on. The meaning of these expressions is clear; I know exactly what they mean and you know exactly what they mean. I don’t control my weight, but I don’t lose control over the meaning of my words when I declare that I’m 65 kg.

      But usually that’s not what we do when we describe our identity. We use expressions like “I really hate that scar, it’s ugly”, “I’m the social type”, “I think Dostoievski is overrated”, or- indeed – “I’m a woman”.

      The thing is: no individual controls the meaning of those expressions. If we define what’s really important about ourselves, we always lose control. Others might avoid me at parties, judge me illiterate or accept that my gender expression is female while thinking privately that I’m a man in women’s clothes.

      The Lavery piece Average Protestant refers to, makes a valid point. “I have XY chromosomes” is an uninteresting way to describe your identity. It’s in the “I’m 1,73 m tall”-class. It’s undisputable, everybody will have to accept it. But it doesn’t say very much about the person you are.

      The problem is that some people want expressions like “I’m a woman” to be in the “I’m 1,73 m tall”-class. Everyone has to accept they’re a woman, just like it’s indisputable they are 1,73 m. But that’s not the way socially constructed meanings like “woman” work.

      Zac writes: “It’s open-textured, overlapping, and non-essentialist enough for us to man up (oopsy) and allow people some personal leeway here.”

      That sums it up for me. “I’m a woman” may have another meaning for you than for me, but at the same time “I’m a woman” just like I’m 1,73 m. Therefore, I should be treated by society & everyone, well, like a woman.

      It just doesn’t work that way.

      Liked by 3 people

      • couvent2104:

        “The problem is that some people want expressions like “I’m a woman” to be in the “I’m 1,73 m tall”-class. Everyone has to accept they’re a woman, just like it’s indisputable they are 1,73 m. But that’s not the way socially constructed meanings like “woman” work.”

        I think most trans women who want others to call them women don’t use these phrases in the same sense. Most are insisting on their womanhood in terms of social recognition under a social concept. They’re obviously aware that people might not recognize them–many people refuse to with great hostility. That’s the context they’re speaking in and that’s the underlying issue. “Some people”, on either side, might reify it in a mock-attempt to settle the issue, but “some people” aren’t very interesting to me. “Some people”, and there are many, primarily criticize the notion of trans people out of a visceral disgust at the notion. Does that determine your position on the question? Of course not.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I think most trans women who want others to call them women don’t use these phrases in the same sense. Most are insisting on their womanhood in terms of social recognition under a social concept.
          = = = =
          This clearly is not true of trans activists, if you’ve been following the public debate for the last year or two.

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        • Zac, my point is that you can’t have it both ways.

          If you insist that “most” are insisting on their womanhood in terms of social recognition under a social concept, than you should recognize the implications. In other words: “some people” may not see womanhood at all, not because they’re “hostile” or because they have a “visceral disgust” but because “woman” for them doesn’t have the meaning (some) trans-people or (some) trans activists try to give it.

          “Some” of them will be perfectly accepting of female-gendered expression, but that in itself will not be enough for them to call trans-people women. in all contexts.

          And Dan it absolutely right: it’s not difficult to find trans-activists who feel that it’s enough to assert “I’m a woman” to *be* a woman, social recognition under a social concept or not.

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          • Dan:

            “This clearly is not true of trans activists, if you’ve been following the public debate for the last year or two.”

            I said most trans people. Not trans activists. Let alone the specific kind of activist you’re thinking about. I think an obsessive focus on the activists you resent is unhealthy and a poor way of addressing the issue. If my analogy to the sixties didn’t make it clear, I think resentment of radicals is an awful springboard for tackling these problems.

            couvent2104:

            “If you insist that “most” are insisting on their womanhood in terms of social recognition under a social concept, than you should recognize the implications. In other words: “some people” may not see womanhood at all, not because they’re “hostile” or because they have a “visceral disgust” but because “woman” for them doesn’t have the meaning (some) trans-people or (some) trans activists try to give it.”

            I don’t get why you think this wasn’t directly part of my point. Most trans people seek social recognition and I join them in framing it that way. They’re perfectly aware that this recognition is a matter of social acceptance as opposed to underlining a simple empirical fact. That some have tried to frame it as such a fact doesn’t sway me from the way I frame it. Likewise, that some people opposed to trans definitions do so for bigoted reasons doesn’t sway you in how you judge trans definitions. If you’re allowed to come to your own conclusions regardless of a misguided subset of people, then by Jove, so am I.

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          • Think what you like. It is the activists who are doing things like pushing for terrible legislation, seeking the unemployment of good people, and doing everything they can to dismantle the civil rights coalition. I will continue to highlight it and criticize it as I see fit.

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  11. Thank you.
    A short time ago, assistant professor Grace Lavery (English dept at UC Berkeley?) wrote a response to the challenge made by British GC fem academics to discuss ‘self-ID’.
    https://grace.substack.com/p/you-keep-using-this-phrase-adult
    A quote from Prof Lavery’s reply:

    “I don’t use the phrase “gender identity,” so I can’t describe the metaphysical properties ascribed to it by those that so. I don’t “identify as” a woman; I assert that I am a woman.”

    Whatever else is written about ‘gender-self-ID” follows on, it seems to me, from philosophy deployed in the literary crisicism academic departments Prof Lavery inhabits, in which gender is “performativity”.
    To perform gender trumps anything. What is your reply to that line of argument?

    Like

    • I think what is most telling is the reponse to the question: ‘Do you think facts about male physical development and gendered male socialisation have any causal connection to male violence patterns?’

      Note the hysteical reponse: ‘This question is outrageous and offensive, and you should apologize for having phrased it this way.’

      Bringing in concepts like socialization in the gender identity debate is a bit like throwing a grenade into a crowded room. You must be able to say to you are woman even if you have never experienced menstration, pregnancy, menopause, and so on, and have grown up entirely being treated like a male. Hence socialization is an example of wrongthink.

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  12. I am a man (I think). But if being a man or a woman is a question of “feeling” that you are one or the other, and i don’t “feel” that I have a specific gender/sex, then how can I be sure that I’m a man and not a woman?

    Like

    • Whoa, that Lavery piece is something.

      The wordplay is hilarious. Calling fallacious arguments “phallacious”, calling bad analogies “manalogies” …

      Does the author realize she’s an absolute amateur at wordplay? She is. It’s strictly playground level. Even I could fly circles around her (not in English, in my own language).

      Anyone with enough money can hire a consultant that will out-wordplay her until she begs for mercy. Does she really wants to be out-played by (rich, rightwing etc.) people who have more money and more linguistic skills at their disposal than she has?

      Or does she want rational arguments? If she does, I don’t see it. I stopped taking this piece seriously when the author wrote “One’s chromosomes are like one’s astrological sign”.

      The author obviously doesn’t know what an astrological sign is. Or, more likely, she doesn’t care.

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  13. I think that the sorts of defences the proponents of self ID give against the feminist charge of sexist stereotyping ignore the essential normativity of linguistic meaning. If I apply the word ‘woman’ to myself on the basis of my having certain traditional feminine characteristics, I am thereby committed to those characteristics being criteria for womanhood generally, for that is just what it means to apply the word to myself on that basis. If my self ID doesn’t carry that implication, then I’m not calling myself a woman on that basis, and so am using the word without any public criterion for correct usage about which I might be wrong, in which case we are back to the incoherent feelings view. I think people like Zac want to have it both ways. But as a conceptual matter I don’t think it possible.

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  14. Bunsen:

    “So what would you say if that conversation was with a male bodied trans woman that wanted to use the same shared showers as your teenage daughters?”

    Sounds like a crappy conversation. I’ve also had it before with you. See my comments starting at Dec 15th:

    https://theelectricagora.com/2018/12/10/the-end-of-traditional-civil-rights/

    Kripkensteinsmonster:

    “Zac, why would someone who feels feminine identify as a woman unless they thought femininity was somehow part of what it is to be a woman”

    They think it can be, but that doesn’t mean they think it must be. You mention normativity, and I’d agree that a trans person is making normative judgments, but of a much weaker variety than the dogmatic, universalistic, essentialist stuff you’ve projected on them. They’re participating in norms consistent with a kind of womanhood that jibes with them. But this fits with there being a huge amount alternative kinds of womanhood as well, and with them having no problem with that. (Whether or not a trans woman is labelled a woman, this plethora will remain.) This isn’t the Gender Categorical Imperative. As ContraPoints said, she’s perfectly happy with women being women however they damn well want to be, even when that means adopting characteristics drastically different from her own. “Woman” is not a one-size-fits-all term. I’m fine with it as a family resemblance term. If people want to tear their hair out over the boundary cases and conditions, they can have at it, but it’s not a great look.

    bloveall:

    “If we agree that people should dress and behave however they want (within the context of our discussion here), and if gender as a concept either defies categorization or reinforces harmful stereotypes, it seems to me that we could just do without it altogether.”

    (To continue checking off the Wittgenstein boxes) I don’t think it defies categorization any more than games defy categorization. In fact, it’s probably more easily defined than games. I just don’t think that it’s characterized by some fixed set of criteria or, put another way, that the categories are rigid and clear-cut. I also don’t think that, absent an essentialist definition, gender SIMPLY reinforces harmful stereotypes. It tracks real, if various and mutable, forms of life. Some of them can be regressive, some not. It’s really not an all-or-nothing proposition, and clearly I don’t buy into either horn of the dilemma. Again, I look at the cases I laid out, and I see that this is how things have been playing out here, the leeway these people have had to define themselves, and I see no good reason why it should go another way. Dan’s sense of his own gender isn’t important or very distinct for him. For other people it may be.

    Liked by 1 person

    • In a liberal society, people can think of and express themselves anyway they like. What they cannot do is force others to accept characterizations that are matters of social negotiation and not determined by mere assertion. Nor can they overturn basic biological distinctions that play a number of crucial medical, social, and political roles. Nor can they intrude upon or otherwise erode essential and hard fought rights and prerogatives attained by women over the course of the last century.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree with all that generally, although I’m sure we disagree on where the rubber meets the road in various cases.

        (Force)

        If force extends to genuine, pernicious coercion, as opposed to some hand-wavy use of the term “violence” or some such, then I agree. Of the examples you mentioned, my feelings follow.

        Navratilova getting sacked from the advisory board of a LGBTQ athletes group is small beer. I know you agree with her stance and disagree with theirs on trans athletes, but that has nothing to do with whether not they’re within their rights to dissociate themselves from her based on that disagreement. Their choice. I didn’t bother dodging the paywall of the Kennedy article and was finding it difficult to suss out anything significant in descriptions elsewhere. A FB group of trans women talking shit about universities, sometimes veering into digital threats of harassment. Did the “blacklist” or the harassment extend beyond it? If so, then by all means, join in your own shame brigade to shit on their shame brigade. An anti-trans feminist activist hit by a trans woman? Yes, don’t hit people. There. An anti-trans feminist claiming that a trans woman seemed like she was going to hit her? Not my favorite Rashomon.

        Let’s recall that in the late sixties to early seventies anti-war activists blew up thousands of bombs in California alone, Black Panthers were having shoot-outs with cops in the streets, and riots were rampant. The Vietnam War and black oppression were still the greater evils hands down. These were not excuses to ignore the legitimate claims of the anti-War and the Civil Rights movements. These were radicals having pathological reactions to fucked up conditions. What we’re talking about right now is slight by comparison.

        (Biology)

        I’m fine with respecting biological distinctions for medical purposes. Biological sex isn’t fluid like gender. As for “social and political roles” based on biology, I don’t know which ones you mean off-hand.

        (Rights)

        OK, but what rights? If we’re talking bathrooms, showers, prisons, and sports, I’ve made my thoughts known on these in your elsewhere on the site. Not sure a rehash is really worth it.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Nothing I’ve said commits me to any kind of essentialism. Wittgenstein himself thoughts that meaningful language required widespread agreement on standards of application. And that is going to have to be the case for gender categories, even if there aren’t sharp boundaries. Either the general standards will end up being too loose and will become meaningless, or we’re going to end up with standards that exclude some people who identify as women. And at any rate, you’ll have people needlessly worrying about whether they meet the criteria accepted by society.
      There’s isn’t any way to make the idea of gender ID coherent that doesn’t undermine at least some of the political motives behind it.
      Why do you think so many trans activists have resorted to such an incoherent notion of feeling like a woman? I doubt they would have had it not been apparent that any concept of gender ID governed by public rules has unsavoury consequences.

      Like

      • Kripkensteinmonster:

        “Nothing I’ve said commits me to any kind of essentialism.”

        You haven’t claimed an essentialism for yourself, but you certainly think that trans people are stuck in a dilemma where either they render gender meaningless or else fall into wrongfully exclusionary essentialism. I don’t think either is the case, and I’ve taken the unorthodox route of actually appealing to a trans person’s opinion on the subject.

        “Wittgenstein himself thoughts that meaningful language required widespread agreement on standards of application. And that is going to have to be the case for gender categories, even if there aren’t sharp boundaries.”

        LW didn’t think that language required actual widespread agreement in every given case. (And even if that was a requirement, you’d be on the wrong foot anyway, since widespread usage, as recognized in dictionaries, already acknowledges the social and cultural, as distinct from biological, underpinnings of the word “gender”.) It’s not like he encouraged us to poll people for definitions of words or consult a linguist in order to settle philosophical questions (see: Stanley Cavell and “Must We Mean What We Say”). Two people could share a language game that no one else knew how to play, but so long as THEY agreed on how to play it, that would support the basic kind of intelligibility he was concerned with. He wasn’t doing ethics or sociology, asking what kind of concepts and practices it would take to have an acceptably functioning society. He wasn’t at bottom asking how we SHOULD live with and regard each other, which is a central question here.

        Consider LW on religion, a practice involving far more obscure experiential claims. A believer speaks of the eye of god and an atheist might not understand. They don’t find agreement—in fact, widespread disagreement persists, even among believers when it comes to interpreting this. Does this mean that god has eyebrows? Is that, LW asks, an implication the believer would accept? (“You say you grew your hair long because you’re a woman, but does that mean you think all women have long hair?”) What picture are they forwarding and what weight rests in this picture? I’m an atheist, so I don’t buy into the believer’s picture, but I can still work my way somewhat into the basic kind intelligibility LW was talking about. But my not buying into it is for higher order reasons than anything at issue there, reasons LW hasn’t provided me.

        “Either the general standards will end up being too loose and will become meaningless, or we’re going to end up with standards that exclude some people who identify as women.”

        Like I said, I think the standards on call for defining gender are far less loose than the standards for defining a game. We still use both perfectly well.

        “There’s isn’t any way to make the idea of gender ID coherent that doesn’t undermine at least some of the political motives behind it. Why do you think so many trans activists have resorted to such an incoherent notion of feeling like a woman?”

        At bottom gender ID isn’t political, but personal. I think they resort to the notion because they genuinely associate these feelings — or better put, conceptions—with notions of womanhood. Like I said, though, a specific kind of womanhood that needn’t bar others from pursuing divergent kinds of womanhood. I’m not particularly sure how you think trans women can exist at this point if you think that self identification is totally worthless. That’s a pretty key step in the process of becoming a trans woman in the first place.

        Like

        • ‘I’m not particularly sure how you think trans women can exist at this point if you think that self identification is totally worthless.’

          What, they will just disappear in a puff of logic, and we’ll end up in the Hague for committing epistemological genocide? We don’t take self-id seriously in most cases and no one has ceased to exist so far.

          ‘That’s a pretty key step in the process of becoming a trans woman in the first place.’

          But the self-id crowd assures me that you don’t become a transwoman, you are born one, having your sex assigned to you incorrectly by those stupid doctors.

          Like

          • Bunsen:

            “What, they will just disappear in a puff of logic, and we’ll end up in the Hague for committing epistemological genocide? We don’t take self-id seriously in most cases and no one has ceased to exist so far.”

            Speaking of category mistakes. The actual existence of these people is one thing. Their social recognition is another. I’ve made it perfectly clear I’m talking about the latter, so if you want to draw implications from what I’m saying, you’ll have to start from what I’m actually saying. I don’t see how we leaves

            “But the self-id crowd assures me that you don’t become a transwoman, you are born one, having your sex assigned to you incorrectly by those stupid doctors.”

            They’re trans women beforehand only in the sense of identifying psychologically with certain notions of womanhood. Post-transition, they’re manifesting these notions more directly in body and behavior. Sex is determined at birth. Gender can develop differently later, since beyond biology, it’s constituted by a variety of social factors.

            Like

          • Speaking of category mistakes. The actual existence of these people is one thing. Their social recognition is another. I’ve made it perfectly clear I’m talking about the latter,
            = = = =
            Again, that’s not what the gender self-ID activists are mostly talking about. And no one automatically has a *right* to be socially recognized in the manner they prefer.

            = = = =

            Your last paragraph makes no sense or once again is at odds with what the trans movement is actually claiming. One cannot identify with social norms when one is an infant. And yet, the trans movement wants to claim that a trans woman was a woman all along, even to the point of pressing to falsify historical records, by way of changing birth certificates, and attacking people for “dead-naming,” which essentially involves telling the truth about a person’s sex.

            Look, I think you are well meaning. But the movement you are defending is grounded in such intellectually incoherent or flat-out false ideas that it finds itself with no choice but to engage in the dirtiest, most underhanded forms of political combat.

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          • Dan:

            “Again, that’s not what the gender self-ID activists are mostly talking about. And no one automatically has a *right* to be socially recognized in the manner they prefer.”

            This ?% of 0.6% of the population. Very well. I think the majority of the cases you point out are disputes over when it’s appropriate to use or emphasize sex over gender, or vice versa. We can have those arguments separately, but when the discussion veers into denying trans gender identity as such, I obviously think this goes too far and probably just encourages the more radical sentiments of the trans community.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Zac, you clearly have a different, and possibly more reasonable, take on these things than a lot of GI activists. In which case I don’t know what point you are trying to put forward. None of us are arguing for exiling trans people to some remote island. Geneder critical feminists have put forward many pragmatic proposals for integrating different types of trans people into sex segregated spaces. But this does require accepting that there is a difference between say a completely male bodied trans woman and someone who has gone through a complete transition.

            The whole GI concept, not only doesn’t help but is too incoherent to be of any value. Instead of helping trans people this whole concept seems more of a political tool to attack cisnormativity in the mistaken belief that it will somehow end all sex based discrimination if we are too confused to know what a man or a woman is. Yet, somehow all it seems to be doing is attacking women and their benefits, lesbians, and of course many transexuals who also disagree with the idea. In the UK its tearing the LGBT community in half as many LGB people no longer understand what the point of the LGBTQWERT++ alphabet soup is. They want to know how are these people being persecuted? Can you in fact persecute an Asexual? Many are very uncomfortable with the notions of gender fluidity and gender non conformance. The old trope that gay people are just trans people in denial is making a comeback on the right. GI is a very regressive and harmful concept.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Bunsen:

            “Zac, you clearly have a different, and possibly more reasonable, take on these things than a lot of GI activists. In which case I don’t know what point you are trying to put forward.“

            Not sure how I can be any more clear. When people say that trans women adopting a certain kind of womanhood means that they’re implicitly demanding all women have to be a woman in the same way, that they have to adopt the same suite of preferences and characteristics, it’s perfectly natural for me to respond that this isn’t the case in theory or practice. Likewise for any number of other claims that I feel miss the mark.

            “None of us are arguing for exiling trans people to some remote island.”

            Probably why I haven’t accused you of this.

            “Geneder critical feminists have put forward many pragmatic proposals for integrating different types of trans people into sex segregated spaces. But this does require accepting that there is a difference between say a completely male bodied trans woman and someone who has gone through a complete transition.”

            Yeah, one has transitioned and one hasn’t. Regarding bathrooms, barring crotch checks at the door, I’m not sure how much we can do beyond hemming and hawing.

            “The whole GI concept, not only doesn’t help but is too incoherent to be of any value.”

            Then why are you even using the phrase “trans woman” in the first place if they can’t even coherently claim gender identity as a woman?

            “Instead of helping trans people this whole concept seems more of a political tool to attack cisnormativity in the mistaken belief that it will somehow end all sex based discrimination if we are too confused to know what a man or a woman is.“

            Bracketing out the question of whatever ?% of the 0.6% genuinely believes this, my cis-knickers remain untwisted. Nation of Islam adopted a white devil mythology wherein whites were the creation of an evil scientist. In part, this probably sprung from the mistaken belief that pushing this narrative could help undermine white supremacy. Still, if I was plopped back int the sixties, I’d devote considerably more attention and concern to white supremacy than to NOI. Call me crazy. My positions on transgender issues, etc., will hinge on my “possibly more reasonable” takes than they will on resentment of radicals.

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          • Zac:

            ‘When people say that trans women adopting a certain kind of womanhood means that they’re implicitly demanding all women have to be a woman’

            No one cares what transwomen adopt. What people care is how it affects our everyday norms around sex segregated spaces. Certain kinds of womanhood, those involving male bodied people with a sexual preference for women, do not get access to female only spaces.

            ‘Regarding bathrooms, barring crotch checks at the door, I’m not sure how much we can do beyond hemming and hawing.’

            Why try to deflect everything to talk of bathrooms? Implicit crotch checks do occur in changing rooms, shared shower and sauna facilities, shared sleeping quarters, inside a prison cell, and many other places. You always become coy whenever nudity, or partial nudity are mentioned. Why not address the real issue which is if you allow men into female spaces simply because they say they are women, then you have effectively eliminated sex segregated spaces. And that includes spaces where nudity is involved, often with young children.

            ‘Then why are you even using the phrase “trans woman” in the first place if they can’t even coherently claim gender identity as a woman?’

            Your are now becoming completely incoherent. I use transwoman as a useful label because everyone else does. It does not commit me to a belief in gender identity any more than talking about flat-earthers commits be to believing in a Flat Earth.

            ‘..0.6%…’

            It doesn’t matter what percentage believe it. The point is, it is a view that has gained political ascendancy. This view is having an affect on our social and cultural norms around sex segregated spaces. To the detriment of everyone. You appear to have carefully compartmentalised your reasoning on this to leave out all the complex, real world issues that are the reason for this debate in the first place.

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          • Bunsen:

            “No one cares what transwomen adopt. What people care is how it affects our everyday norms around sex segregated spaces. Certain kinds of womanhood, those involving male bodied people with a sexual preference for women, do not get access to female only spaces.”

            Clearly you don’t speak for everyone. You ask me what I’m objecting to and I point to a specific example (one of the first I responded to in here), namely a comment responding directly to Dan’s paper (not segueing into related topics you find more compelling). Kripkensteinsmonster made an argument and I objected to it. That’s that. You can come along and state “Well IIIIIII don’t care about that” but it’s dishonest to act like my responses were coming out of nowhere or that I’m being unreasonable for actually responding to what someone else is saying.

            “Why try to deflect everything to talk of bathrooms? Implicit crotch checks do occur in changing rooms, shared shower and sauna facilities, shared sleeping quarters, inside a prison cell, and many other places. You always become coy whenever nudity, or partial nudity are mentioned. Why not address the real issue which is if you allow men into female spaces simply because they say they are women, then you have effectively eliminated sex segregated spaces. And that includes spaces where nudity is involved, often with young children.”

            Ocular pat-downs? *chest flex*

            Again, I haven’t been coy. I’ve laid out my positions on bathrooms, showers, and prisons elsewhere, and specifically in conversation with you:

            https://theelectricagora.com/2018/12/10/the-end-of-traditional-civil-rights/

            I’m closer in spirt to this older essay from Dan:

            https://theelectricagora.com/2016/04/29/provocations-6/

            If you’re talking about adults mixing with children in nude spaces (how freaking common is that nowadays?), I don’t see how you’ve addressed the issue. Whatever the issue is, ultimately, since you’ve just raised the specter of naked adults and children and haven’t really clarified where you’re going with it. If it’s a question of kids seeing something that confuses or upsets them, it could happen either way for a trans woman with a penis. If it’s a question of the child being sexually assaulted, I don’t see why this child is in such a situation without a chaperone in the first place, and it’s not clear why we should be treating trans people as a greater threat in this regard, let alone specifically to children of their adopted gender, for whatever reason.

            “Your are now becoming completely incoherent. I use transwoman as a useful label because everyone else does. It does not commit me to a belief in gender identity any more than talking about flat-earthers commits be to believing in a Flat Earth.”

            There’s already a more neutral term available. It’s just “trans”. If you don’t even think that the notion of a male being gendered as a woman makes sense, if you don’t think that they should be recognized as women, then it’s not clear to me why you’re adopting their terminology. This is more like calling a Holocaust denier a Holocaust revisionist than it is calling a flat-Earther a flat-Earther. But at times it seems like you take it even further, to the point where “trans” is stripped of content. There are trans people who think that feeling like the opposite gender isn’t sufficient for being trans, but you take the further step of saying that trans people are mistaken to claim that they feel like the opposite gender at all, that they’re delusional. Which all jibes poorly with you voicing concern for the silent majority of trans people who are poorly served by the activists.

            “It doesn’t matter what percentage believe it. The point is, it is a view that has gained political ascendancy. This view is having an affect on our social and cultural norms around sex segregated spaces. To the detriment of everyone. You appear to have carefully compartmentalised your reasoning on this to leave out all the complex, real world issues that are the reason for this debate in the first place.”

            Again, see the prior comments linked above. One of my overarching points there was that you, in fact, were failing to address the complex, real world issues and trade-offs at stake here, that the examples you were raising and the way you were framing them didn’t do justice to the questions. Of course, that’s still more nuanced than what you’re doing right now, which is completely ignoring the specifics I’ve discussed and accusing me of having never dealt with any at all.

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          • ‘If you’re talking about adults mixing with children in nude spaces (how freaking common is that nowadays?)’

            I think I understand now. You’re not being disingenous nor are you deflecting. You really have no idea about the lives of working women with young children. The answer is all a simple platitude to you becuase women, girls, children, are all an alien concept to you. You don’t undersand that mothers are usually the one to take their children into changing rooms. Often they will band together with other women so that they can use the toilet or showers and have their children looked after. Sports clubs in small towns can have their changing rooms constantly packed on busy days, with adults and kids needing access to the toilets and showers. There are good reasons why these places are segregated by sex. No one is going to accept male bodied people showering with their daughters.

            ‘…and it’s not clear why we should be treating trans people as a greater threat in this regard…’

            How do you tell the difference between an untransitioned tranwoman and a man pretending to be a transwoman?

            Liked by 1 person

          • Bunsen:

            “I think I understand now. You’re not being disingenous nor are you deflecting. You really have no idea about the lives of working women with young children. The answer is all a simple platitude to you becuase women, girls, children, are all an alien concept to you.”

            Women? Girls? Children? I’m backfooted.

            “You don’t undersand that mothers are usually the one to take their children into changing rooms. Often they will band together with other women so that they can use the toilet or showers and have their children looked after.”

            A chaperone system, in other words. Meaning that the overwhelming concern is with children seeings thing they wouldn’t understand and might be upset by. In which case, I don’t see why you’d think there’d be any place for a huge chunk of trans people in any of these spaces. Maybe the fully transitioned, given a passing pass but whatever department of whatever, but the rest are SOL. This is something like you pointing to the case of a trans woman raping women in prison. When I said our knowledge of her history of sexual assault as an individual should’ve swayed our judgment about how to house her, you insisted that we should judge her case relevant to all trans people because history is no proof of what anyone will do. When I pointed out that trans people are at a significantly higher danger of assault (sexual or otherwise) in prison, you didn’t have anything to say about that. When I raised the issue of male guards in female prisons, you didn’t have anything to say about that. Yes, the world is very real and very complicated when you get down to it.

            “Sports clubs in small towns can have their changing rooms constantly packed on busy days, with adults and kids needing access to the toilets and showers. There are good reasons why these places are segregated by sex. No one is going to accept male bodied people showering with their daughters.”

            And when these women have boys? And when there isn’t a woman because we’re talking about a single father with a daughter? And when an otherwise passing trans woman still has a penis? And when an otherwise passing trans man still has a vagina? Even insisting on strict sex segregation, we’re going to run into odd outlier cases and we’re just going to have to figure it out. While there have been times and cultures where mixed bathing was a common thing, I don’t see societies going in that direction, unless there’s some bizarre shock to our societal system requiring it. Overall, we’re becoming more guarded, more sensitive, more protective. In the other thread, I’d already highlighted some options of investing in gender neutral facilities and more private stalls in communal showers, routes that are already being explored as we speak. I’m perfectly happy to discuss these options and talk through trade-offs, but if you’d rather claim that I don’t know what children are, you can go that way.

            “How do you tell the difference between an untransitioned tranwoman and a man pretending to be a transwoman?”

            Can you tell the difference between just a guy and an untransitioned trans woman with a penchant for young boys who passes her way into male shower? Can you tell the difference between just a woman and an untransitioned trans man with a penchant for girls who passes his way into a female shower? Can you tell the difference between an untransitioned trans woman in the male shower who’s just there to shower and a cis pedophile cruising for kids? Or can you tell the difference between the latter and a cis pedophile who’s a longtime member of an anti-pederasty support group and is just there to shower?

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          • Bunsen indicated some very common, well-formed concerns, and your reply consists of Rococo invocations of possibilities. The former will be convincing to the vast majority of ordinary people — which is why, ultimately, sex segregated intimate spaces will persist — the latter, not.

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          • Women with male children aren’t Rococo. Poor single fathers with female daughters aren’t Rococo. Pedophiles aren’t Rococo to parents in public facilities, and I’d bet they’re ultimately a larger cohort than the 0.6% of the population that are trans, which itself is bigger than the trans women you all are focusing on. I also gave specific, good-faith suggestions speaking to these concerns. Were those Rococo? Baroque? Or just inconveniently direct?

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          • Zac, I raised a daughter and have dealt with all the situations Bunsen invoked. He is absolutely correct that there are good reasons for sex segregated intimate spaces.

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          • So tell us about those situations and how you worked them out? Maybe you weren’t a mother banding together with other mothers to provide a protective space in public facilities. Perhaps you were poor single father raising a daughter and you had to rely on public showers. What reasoning did you go through? What workarounds did you find? What compromises did you make?

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          • You want me to describe the occasions on which I took my daughter to the pool or gymnastics classes or hosted sleepover parties? What for?

            Look, man, the common sense regulations we maintain, according to which we sex segregate intimate spaces, are a good idea and aren’t going anywhere. (Incidentally, I feel the same way about sports — in the end, they will remain sex segregated.) What’s the point in me running through all of my various excursions with my daughter at various ages through airports, public pools, etc?

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          • Zac:

            Ok, I guess it time to wrap up. I’m not sure where to take this further. Let me just correct a few mischaracterization.

            One, these are not just my concerns that I came up on the spur of the moment. They are the concerns of women and mothers throughout the UK. They have been vocal enough but for some reason a lot men are having a great deal of trouble hearing them. I and they are not out exclude all trans people from all sex segregated spaces. The gender critical feminists have made a lot of practical suggestions regarding this. The gender identity people on the other hand are the ones that want a one size fits all policy.

            The idea that you think the only reason that women don’t want male bodied people around where there is nudity because their children ‘might get upset’ shows you real don’t understand women’s concerns over safety, exhibitionism, voyeurism. And yes, mothers often also take their young boys into the changing rooms with them. Sex segregation may be an imperfect coarse grained approach, but its one we’ve build up many social norms around, and there is a lot more at stake than ‘children seeing something they don’t understand’

            I left the prison stuff because I find your views on how prisons work to be just as naive as your view of parenthood and women’s safety. I know people who have worked in the prison system, and have experience myself in helping rehabilitate a family member. Criminals lie and decieve. Many prison staff are over worked and underpaid. Sexual predators tend to be very good at carefully biding their time. The protections in place will always be imperfect and any changes have to be based on the ‘Do No Harm’ principle first.

            At least we agree that there is no way to tell an non transitioned transwoman from a man masquerading as one. That’s a start.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Bunsen,

            The problem wasn’t that your concerns were spur of the moment. It’s that you weren’t being clear about some of your assumptions and I wanted to tease them out. I think you declare sex segregation and call it a day, and I don’t think you recognize how little that gets you. Exceedingly difficult circumstances and questions remain. Women aren’t alone as victims of voyeurism and assault. So are trans people, especially when they’re intimidated into using facilities which don’t fit their presentation and when they’re constantly spoken of, hand in hand, with sex crimes. Meanwhile the prevalence of men abusing these policies has been grossly exaggerated:

            https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/no-link-between-trans-inclusive-policies-bathroom-safety-study-finds-n911106

            https://abcnews.go.com/US/sexual-assault-domestic-violence-organizations-debunk-bathroom-predator/story?id=38604019

            I’ve offered options to pursue (already being pursued in many places), but you haven’t considered them worthy of mention. OK. But at least I’ve offered something. Merely gesturing at smart things gender critical feminists have wrote without mentioning what any of them are is fine virtue signaling, but poor conversation.

            As for “the prison stuff”, I’d find your indefinite appeals to experience more convincing if this cashed out into credible answers to the concerns I raised. It feels like the raising of concerns is a one-way street here. You cited an example of a trans woman sexually assaulting women in prison. This trans woman already had a known history as a sex offender. When I said this spoke to segregating her in different quarters, you’ve argued elsewhere that a person’s history doesn’t tell us anything about what they will do and now you’ve declared all criminals liars. Hence, we specifically have to target transgender people. I think that’s nonsense, much like the notion that it’s “naive” to consider a criminal’s offenses and history in deciding how to house them. That’s something you’ll have to take up with prisons generally as this has been part of their procedure for ages. Add on to this that at no time have you ever addressed the fact, which I’ve raised multiple times, that trans people are at a higher risk of assault (sexual or otherwise) in prison and in the general population. Those, too, are real rapes. Likewise, you had no comment on the issue of male guards in a female prisons, which on its face compounds the worries you’re forwarding as it adds to the potential of institutional abuses of power.

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          • The question of violence against transwomen has been discussed by various gender critical authors. white middle-class males that transition late in life are some of the safest people on the planet. Women are still by far more affected by violence. In the US many trans related statistics are biased by the a large number fo young poor black males working as prostitutes. Man with drug and alcohol problems. They suffer the same levels of violence as you might expect of someone in that situation. Whether they are trans or not is the least of their worries.

            As for male prison guards. This is why it’s clear there is nothing more for us to discuss. I don’t know where you live but in the UK male prison guards do not sleep or shower with the female prisoners. They are not even allowed to be alone with them. There exist in fact many restrictions, like not being allowed to do body searchs, and stuff like that.

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          • “The question of violence against transwomen has been discussed by various gender critical authors. white middle-class males that transition late in life are some of the safest people on the planet. Women are still by far more affected by violence. In the US many trans related statistics are biased by the a large number fo young poor black males working as prostitutes. Man with drug and alcohol problems.”

            If being X means you have more chances of being stigmatized and discriminated against, and being more stigmatized and discriminated against means more chances of leaving in poverty, and more chances of living in poverty means more probability of prostitution, and more probability of prostitution means both more drug use and more risk of violence, then being X is clearly related to more risk of violence.

            And the link between X and violence isn’t broken because some X are middle class and some others are using drugs.

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          • Bunsen,

            I’m not sure where you get your figures on the safety of “white middle-class males who transition late in life” but I’m not sure how much I should bother considering what a carefully hedged demographic you’re talking about. I’m with Mark on this one. On the one hand, you’re ignoring how stigmatization leads to the marginalization you write-off as statistical noise. I’d like to hear you tell them that being trans hasn’t contributed to their worries, that their abuse doesn’t count. On the other hand, I’d wager that the numbers in the Violence and Harassment section of this report, even apart from the super-marginalized groups, exceed the general population:

            http://www.transequality.org/sites/default/files/docs/usts/USTS%20Full%20Report%20-%20FINAL%201.6.17.pdf

            As for male prison guards, I can’t say I trust your judgment here. I think it would be pretty easy to make a case that, however prominent it is or isn’t on the whole, it’s certainly more prominent than the circumstance you’ve latched onto:

            https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-26324570

            http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/05/23/11830574-frequent-and-severe-sexual-violence-alleged-at-womens-prison-in-alabama?lite

            https://www.miamiherald.com/news/special-reports/florida-prisons/article49175685.html

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    • *Maybe* I can distinguish between things that are genders and things that are not genders with a similar rate of success as I distinguish between games and non-games. But distinguishing between genders and non-genders isn’t really the issue here. I can distinguish between genders and sunsets and lollipops but what I can’t do with any success anymore is distinguish between the indivisible genders—and that’s what we are supposed to be able to do with our gender concepts. So a better analogue is distinguishing between individual games, on the one hand, and distinguishing between individual genders on the other. And it’s simply false that individual genders are as easily demarcated as games. Chess and basketball are different games and it’s easy to distinguish between them. Anyone who mistakes chess for basketball simply has no concept whatever of those games, and the same is true of quite similar games, such as poker and euchre, boxing and MMA and so on. It would be quite unusual indeed for anyone to mistake one of these games for another. The same is not true of ‘man’ and ‘woman’, and certainly not true of the dozens of genders with which people identify. Indeed, the fact that people familiar with the concepts ‘man’ and ‘woman’ routinely *have to ask* whether someone is a man or a woman is decisive evidence of this, as is the ongoing disagreement about these terms amongst professional philosophers—people who are payed for their ability to categorize stuff and make fine distinctions and teach others how to do it. In order for our game concepts to be as unclear as our gender concepts, we’d need some speakers to introduce confusion by beginning to use terms for different games interchangeably. Over time, if enough speakers began to do this, our concepts of ‘basketball’ and ‘volleyball’, say, would be as confused as our gender concepts have become. And if it came to pass that we actually didn’t even really need to distinguish between them, we might decide to give them up entirely.

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      • Susan:

        “I can distinguish between genders and sunsets and lollipops but what I can’t do with any success anymore is distinguish between the indivisible genders—and that’s what we are supposed to be able to do with our gender concepts. So a better analogue is distinguishing between individual games, on the one hand, and distinguishing between individual genders on the other. And it’s simply false that individual genders are as easily demarcated as games.”

        99% of the time I bet you have no issue determining gender, and that isn’t guided by a clearly defined set of criteria. Even if you did write out and insist upon such criteria (say, require that sex and gender be co-extensive), you’d still run into the odd cases where you misidentified people based on their appearance. So what then?

        “Indeed, the fact that people familiar with the concepts ‘man’ and ‘woman’ routinely *have to ask* whether someone is a man or a woman is decisive evidence of this, as is the ongoing disagreement about these terms amongst professional philosophers—people who are payed for their ability to categorize stuff and make fine distinctions and teach others how to do it.”

        Are you routinely going around asking people what gender they are–man or woman? Intersex? Hispanic? I’m sure you make it by just fine.

        As for deferring to philosophers, practically no one does, save for when the philosopher agrees with them. Do you defer to Rachel McKinnon, a professional philosopher and trans woman? Probably not. I just finished an essay and a reply between two philosophers concerning the “identity” of a table based on the origin of its hunk of matter and Elizabeth II based on her zygote. The concerns, categories, and ambiguities multiply into parody, and while it may be fun to play the game, but these conceptual gymnastics aren’t compulsory on or always all that relevant to my everyday thought and practice. Theseus has a miraculous genetic mutation (SRY, DMRT-1, and god knows what other monsters act in a way thought impossible) and once he reaches adolescence, he naturally transitions from the male to the female sex. He considers himself and asks us to consider him the original gender, though sometimes sassily goes by Lady Orlando. My main concern here wouldn’t be finding rigorous concepts, but finding the right way to live with this other human.

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  15. I think I misunderstood your original post as making an epistemic argument, and I am sorry for that. (I do think folks should read the book As Nature Made Him though, because it takes on many of these arguments from a negative standpoint – i.e. a person who is treated as transgender against their will and intellect and discovers that it diminishes their bona fide identity.)

    That said, I think there are many ways in which reality is completely and utterly failed by the “gender is a social construct” crowd. Psychiatric research is totally okay with the idea that there are people who genuinely believe they are a gender that is other than what they present as physically. You can call that a dysphoria or something else, but they will say there are real, physical, measurable aspects of their biological composition that create that situation, which is not all that different than saying you are a boy because you have boy parts that produce boy hormones.

    I have been thinking a lot about what it means to “feel” like a woman, and I do think is that a thing, but not at all a construct. It seems to me that is very much is something with content and that does not come from my woman-ness ever being challenged by my community (as others have suggested). I have had the experience of giving birth, which is something no man and no transgender woman will ever experience, no matter how much science progresses. Before that, I felt what it was like to crave a baby. And I don’t mean to want a baby in a social sense (because other women had one), but to have the experience where the mere smell of a baby makes you want to tie your husband to the bed. These are essentially female experiences – and utterly primal – and I doubt telling them to a bunch of men will elicit any considerate response.

    I can already see where folks would go with such an argument too. “Would you say that women who cannot have a baby are less female? How dare you.” To which I would say that women who are in this position do generally feel less feminine and that is a very painful thing to endure for good reasons. There is a mental health aspect to reinforcing social roles, if you want to call them roles. This is what the Aristotelian concept of flourishing is about. People are born as male and female but they are also made into men and women. It is possible to fail at your purpose on this planet.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. “Now, I am a man, but if you asked me what it feels like to be one, I couldn’t answer; while I am a man, there is no sense in which I feel like one. Being a man is a matter of belonging to a certain sex-category, specifically, the male one, but there is nothing that it feels like to be male.”

    There’s a view of gender identity in Julia Serano’s book Whipping Girl (ch. 5) that I find pretty plausible. She says identifying as male (e.g.) is simply expecting to find oneself male-bodied. If expectations are met, they become subconscious. But if expectations are not met, the dissonance is conscious and uncomfortable. When cis folk like you say you aren’t aware of feeling male, it just means your expectations are constantly being met. Serano, a trans woman, says that pre-transition, she did not identify as male (did not expect the male body she was in), but she didn’t come to identify as female until after transition. She had to actually remake her body somewhat before being in the state of mind of expecting a female body.

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    • That’s a helpful comment. Thanks, Jean. However, I was under the impression that many trans-activists would reject Serano’s characterization of her experience as a necessary condition. I.e., some trans-activists say that there’s no need to have any kind of surgical procedure to be done to “become” trans; for some transpeople, that’s the case, and for others it’s not.

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      • I don’t think she’s ruling out that some could identify as female pre-transition, but simply says she didn’t. She needed some bodily cues to expect a female body, so first started dressing as a woman, taking hormones, etc., before starting to identify as female. Pre-transition she felt not-male, but post-transition, she came to feel female. This contrasts with the familiar narrative where trans women have a female gender identity before transitioning but she welcomes the idea that these things go differently for different folks.

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    • This is one of the better accounts I’ve heard. Of course, it won’t work for the myriad “non-binary” and “gender-queer” identities, which would mean that an entirely different account of gender self-ID would be required for those, which I take to be a deal-breaker.

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    • What is meant by ‘expect’ here? If I expect to have a female body, I will be surprised to see that I don’t when I look in the mirror. Yet I take it that isn’t generally the experience of trans people. This isn’t intended as an objection, but as a request for elaboration. I just don’t understand what the relevant sense of ‘expect’ is here..

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    • I see the question a bit differently. How does identifying as X actually make you X? There are lots of different types of body dysphorias, yet we still don’t accept that an anorexic is actually obese. Why is it that only in this case are we expected to take seriously that if someone ‘feels’ like a woman then they are a woman?

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      • I think it’s a bit like the feeling you have when you get old and still feel young inside. You look in the mirror and expect to see a young face. Or the feeling when you’ve been thin all your life and get fat. You are surprised to see a fat body when you look in the mirror. It’s not like you are literally surprised every single time you brush your teeth and see your face, but there are these experiences of expecting one thing and seeing another.

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        • As I said somewhere below, this account is not going to work with the “non-binary,” “gender-fluid,” and other such categories, which will mean that there will be one account for M/F and F/M transsexuals and entirely different ones for the other 87 “genders”

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          • One thing the “expectation theory of gender identity” could say is that the non-binary person doesn’t expect a male body and doesn’t expect a female body. So if they are biologically male (or female), they can’t get rid of their dysphoria by transitioning to having the opposite body (to whatever degree that is possible). Instead, they tend to transition to a mixed male-female appearance. That makes their inner expectations match their outer appearance better–with reduction of dysphoria.

            That story leads to some complexities about Serano herself. She says initially she felt “not male, not female”–so on this story, she was initially non-binary. That might make you wonder why she transitioned all the way to female, making body modifications that match the expectation of a female body. Well, maybe these things go bit by bit. It might actually take experimentation to have the body and outward appearance that matches your inner expectations. After experimenting, you may discover that once you have a female-seeming body, you have the best match between inner expectations and outer reality. That seems to be how things went for her.

            As for “87 genders”. You could just think about them like this: how feminine/masculine a body/appearance must I have to have a sense of inner expectations matching outer reality? If I am non-binary female leaning, then somewhat female. If I am non-binary but male leaning, then somewhat male. I think you can get your “shades of grey” out of that kind of talk.

            This is obviously vague and sketchy but doesn’t seem hopeless to me (yet).

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          • I think you should re-read all of this. To say it’s pretty convoluted is to put it mildly. Indeed, it sounds to me like pretty wild grasping — or elaborate, baroque exercises in special pleading — and I still could pose a number of serious difficulties along the “non-binary” and “gender queer” vectors.

            The point is just this: (a) this will never become a mainstream view or even anything close to it; (b) trans people can make a full, robust case for their civil rights, without any of it. Given these two points, I can’t think of a worse strategy than that being employed by trans activists right now. The mother of all backlashes is coming, and you can already see it forming around women’s sports.

            The everyday trans person is very poorly represented by and advocated for by their “leadership.”

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          • I did reread! This is “philosophy of gender identity,” not talk you’d necessarily want in the public square, if you’re a trans advocate. So sure–it sounds convoluted, like most philosophy does.

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          • The idea that transwomen are women is going to go mainstream, maybe not where you live, but among young progressive people, including women, the world over. Lots of young people see traditional gender roles as oppressive, and in that context transwomen are the most subversive, the vanguard of the “revolution” against traditional gender roles.

            I’m aware of the criticisms of Professor Stock, but young kids, angry at the system, are not going to pay attention to such subtleties because for them transgender people represent pure rebellion against the oppressive gender system.

            So be prepared. At least among liberal youth the trans movement is going to win hearts and minds.

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          • For sure. But I can see it even in Santiago de Chile, among radical liberal “liberated” young people transwomen are the coolest rebels around. That always produces a backlash, but all our societies are already very polarized and this is only one more issue that they will be polarized around.

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          • I also am of the view that this has all the earmarks of a fad. I don’t believe it is going to last. And there is going to be an enormous comeuppance, when a good number of these young people become adults and discover that the radical medical interventions they engaged in while young have devastating long-term consequences. I think a lot of the current trans organizations involved in this stuff are going to find themselves the targets of lawsuits, with an outfit like Mermaids being perhaps the first.

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          • Once a fad becomes very massive, it leaves its mark, especially when it’s a fad that primarily affects young people at the age when their core values are formed. Once you’ve committed yourself to a certain path in life, it’s impossible or very hard to backtrack, to go home again. Even more so when you’ve changed your gender or tried to change your gender or played at changing your gender.

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          • This one is so incoherent and destructive that I am of the view its legacy will be almost entirely negative, and especially for those who were brought into it as children.

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          • I don’t see it as negatively as you do. Most people aren’t philosophers and base their lives on very irrational beliefs, for example, that Jesus’s mother, Mary, was a virgin. As long as people with irrational beliefs receive support from a community of peers who think as they do, they can live very happy lives. With internet, it is ever more easy for people to find a community of peers.

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          • Young children are being put on very dangerous hormone regimens, are encouraged to engage in self-harming practices like breast-binding, and are having their puberty arrested. This is flat-out child abuse, and if we mean anything by what we ever say about ethics, it is an absolute catastrophe that we are allowing this sort of thing to go on. We will be called to a reckoning on it down the road, as the children become adults and come to understand the devastating legacy of these interventions on their lives.

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          • I don’t know at what age children are capable of making informed decisions about their gender. I leave that question open for experts on child development. Above when I was talking about young people, I wasn’t referring to children, but to teenagers, age 16, 17, or 18 and even a bit older. At my age, 73, anyone under 25 is a kid.

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          • This boy is 11 and is dancing in a gay bar, with money being thrown at him.

            Kids are being socially transitioned when their ages are in the single digits. I don’t think you understand entirely how far this train has gone.

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          • We all agree that 11 year old children should not be dancing in bars, whether they are gay bars or straight bars. There are laws against sexual abuse of children and against child labor (dancing for money).

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          • As with most things in this world, especially mass phenomena, there are abuses, excesses and just plain stupidity in the trans movement. I can understand your preoccupation when it infiltrates the philosophy profession.

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          • The following dialogue documents the devastating experience of one young woman who went through the trans-ID movement and came out the other side. It is very disturbing to listen to and should give everyone cheering this runaway train on some serious pause.

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          • And as I pointed out, the backlash is starting already, in the area of sports. It will spread elsewhere as well, as the hard-fought gains women have women begin to erode across the board. That will not be tolerated for long. Of course, this is a guess, but I’d be willing to bet quite a bit on it.

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          • ” The everyday trans person is very poorly represented by and advocated for by their “leadership.” ”

            But why then, if the average trans person doesn’t consider them their representatives or advocates, are they being portrayed as such ?

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          • The video which you link to about how children are being “transitioned” is very disturbing. Thanks for linking to it.

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          • “Young children are being put on very dangerous hormone regimens, are encouraged to engage in self-harming practices like breast-binding, and are having their puberty arrested. This is flat-out child abuse …”

            I more than agree, this kind of stuff is awful, but I’m maybe more optimist when it comes to societies ability to spot and correct this kind of thing, especially medical procedures, when it’s obviously gone too far and clear steps need to be taken so things like those don’t happen anymore.

            “This boy is 11 and is dancing in a gay bar, with money being thrown at him.”

            I’m not supporting this in any way and laws need to be changed, because it looks like it’s legal for a minor to be doing this kind of thing (a performance by Desmond is Amazing in an adult only venue) if one of his parents are present and they have the right permit with them.

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  17. Dan,
    I followed the comment thread with mixed responses, but much of the thread pretty much proves your basic case that the arguments for either transsexualism or transgenderism, as they are being propounded by ‘identitarians,’ are either incoherent or simply confused. (And thanx for linking to my essay wherein I took great pains to make the distinctions that such arguments lack.)

    I admit my remark on the Neo-Platonism I see at work here needs greater elaboration to make a real ‘point.’ But the fact remains that the insistence that there is an interior, true self in opposition to the biologically determined self, should raise alarms. The last time this was a serious issue philosophically was among the early German Romantics/ Idealists. Strange to see it resurface as fetishized fixation on the biological other as desired ‘inner self.’.

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  18. marc levesque: ‘But why then, if the average trans person doesn’t consider them their representatives or advocates, are they being portrayed as such?’

    To understand this look up people like Debbie Hayton or Buck Angel. The truth is most trans people are not like the gregarious stereotypes on TV, nor like the histrionic narcissists on Twitter. Most are just trying to live quietly, without being mocked or ridiculed. Those that have been brave enough to stand up to the current GI dogma have been bullied and abused, just like the gender critical feminists. They have been kicked out of LGBT organisations that they have helped built, and are routinely suspended and even banned from Twitter. Its no surprise that a large number keep quiet.

    Why have LGBT organisations been taken over by this cult? Its a complex issue but this article is a good start in understanding where the funding comes from.

    https://thefederalist.com/2018/02/20/rich-white-men-institutionalizing-transgender-ideology/

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  19. s. wallerstein:

    ‘but young kids, angry at the system, are not going to pay attention to such subtleties because for them transgender people represent pure rebellion against the oppressive gender system.’

    So how is this any different from every such rebellion from the Bloomsbury set to Glam rock? I had plenty of friend who were ‘gender non conforming’ in the 70s, especially after David Bowie made it cool. Now they are all your typical boring middle-class middle-aged types who talk about school districts and holidays in the south of France. Luckily they can laugh back at their younger selves because no harm was done with hormones and cosmetic surgery. Though to be fair some did go a bit far with tattoos and piercings.

    ‘But I can see it even in Santiago de Chile, among radical liberal “liberated” young people transwomen are the coolest rebels around.’

    So in Santiago trans is the new punk? That is amusing but I’m afraid I don’t see that in London. Maybe trans is outrageous and unusual in Santiago, but for Londoners it is downright boring. The gay and drag scene is large and middle aged here, and most families will have an Uncle Jane somewhere in the closet.

    Also, what makes the gender system so oppressive in 21st century Western societies, that it requires trans people to overthrow it? How is it worse than say 50 years ago? Can they articulate this oppression?

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  20. After reading the thread, I come to the opposite conclusion regarding any contribution of philosophy. We are all presumably aware of the history and anthropology of men-living-as-women (hijra, berdache, baklas, serrers) and women-living-as-men. For example there are ~1000000 Hijras in India – “approximately 1 in 400 post-pubertal males…undergoing sex change by ‘nirvana’, a native and unsophisticated surgical method of castration..[T]he hijra community [has] a recorded history of more than 4000 years” [Vinay et al 2010]. This is despite the severe loss in social status entailed by becoming a hijra, both now and in the past.

    So claims that rationalizations offered are “categorical errors” or “incoherent” are really beside the point. The question is whether a) should modern medicine being offering more successful surgical and medical interventions that a subset of the population has always demonstrated a strong desire for; and b) should the generally poor social treatment of open (as opposed to covert marginalized) transsexuals be reversed, and if so, what form does this reversal take?

    In the case of homosexuality, we (the medical profession in most places) no longer regard this as a mental illness, even though it is just as “deviant from the natural order”, and we don’t blanket ban them from working as teachers or sharing the same toilets as heterosexuals and adolescents, even though I am sure there are many parents of the latter who might think this a potential threat in the same way we have been hearing about male-to-female transsexuals in the ladies’ toilets. In the case of medical interventions, we have all the usual questions about consent and competency about younger people. In the case of criminal behaviour, we have a few corner cases that are hard to resolve, but not more so in other domains.

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  21. ‘Feeling’ something is often a rhetorical expression for a thought or belief one cannot fully articulate or defend. One cannot argue with how one says they feel, but one can argue with an idea.

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  22. One can be gender non-conforming within the ‘free to be you and me’ framing of the issue, where one’s anatomy shouldn’t limit how one lives, who one loves, or how one chooses to express oneself. And, one can argue for civil rights for persons irregardless of these things. One might even argue this should extend to the extreme of the freedom to modify one’s body, from clothing, makeup and hairstyle, through tattoos and piercings, through cosmetic surgery and enhancements, all the way to gender modifications. All of this is possibly arguable without the self-idenification based on feeling notion. The issue is about an ontology that defines Being as somehow derivative of a feeling, and whether such an understanding makes any sense. I tend to agree with daniel here, I think. I think though that the argument goes there due to a legitimation or justification issue which remains unspoken. The person not only wants to act as they wish without fear of violence, something quite understandable, but also wants to feel solid and secure as not mentally ill and as justified and validated by society and others in their social world.

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  23. On ‘leadership’

    What social to corporate media’s tend to focus on, and what university administrations open up to, and by doing so what both end up promoting (inadvertently*) as the LGBT+ ‘leadership’ in the public’s mind, I think should be clearly corrected as not actually being the case when ever the idea of that leadership is likely to come up.

    I think it also helps whenever exposing the problems that follow from some of the more radical activists/theorists’ ideas to do so in a concise fashion that minimizes the risk of conflating more radical positions with more reasonable ones, thereby also reducing the risk of inflaming the debate and spreading those bad ideas further. And at the same time, also covering the valid LGBT+ claims, at least briefly, can help reinforce the idea that the extremists are not representative of the issues.

    Otherwise, I see a parallel (more or less tenuous depending) with how some of the Democrats’ critiques and tactics towards Trump and some of his supporters, can be counter productive and end up empowering Trump in the end.

    Of course, what the valid claims are, and what should be done about them isn’t always agreed upon and is often the start of an escalation of more radical positions from all ‘sides’, for and against, radical and mainstream. But one thing I’m sure of is that science and biology can be shown to support the idea that a much larger proportion of individuals don’t fit into as clear categories as current norms seem to imply.

    * inadvertently mainly on the individual level, but on higher organizational levels, I think responsibility is clearer or at least can be shown to stem from, or be expected to follow from, a (dysfunctional?) tendency to maximize various forms of profit.

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