Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Germaine Greer Still Under Attack By The Illiberal Left At Cardiff

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   This is perhaps the most bafflingly irrational attempt to create thoughtcrime by fiat and enforce it by indignant quasi-moral rhetorical force that I've seen in my lifetime.
   Even if Greer were wrong, this would be a matter of great concern. But the icing on the cake is that--at least with respect to the main outlines--she is absolutely right. "Trans" women are not women. This is not a hateful position, it is a purely descriptive non-moral, non-political, philosophical/biological position. The arguments in this vicinity are somewhat complicated--but only because the reasoning used by Greer's opponents is so confused. The main argument for Greer's view is clear, simple, and easily defensible: a woman is an adult female human. Being female is a purely biological matter. Furthermore, We do not, at our current level of technology, have the ability to actually turn a male human into a female human. Thus no "trans woman" is, in fact, a woman.
   The position in question is not a moral nor a political position. It may, of course, have moral implications (though I don't think that's actually clear)--but that's a very different thing. But the straightforward philosophical and scientific arguments that support Greer-like positions are met almost entirely with quasi-moral, politically-motivated outrage from the left. It's a bit like someone saying F=MA and someone else responding, by way of disagreement: "This equation kills people! You are advocating murder!"
   Are liberals standing up against this? It doesn't seem so to me, but I can't tell. The illiberal left is ascendant--at least on campuses and in many sectors of the interwebs--and it rather seems to me that liberals are either tolerating this or even abetting it. That's certainly what happened during the paleo- PC wars of the late '80's and early '90's.
   Behind this disagreement--or battle?--is a clash of philosophies. Liberalism is associated with a fairly ordinary collection of fairly common-sense views bequeathed to us from antiquity and, especially, from the Enlightenment: realism about truth, some kind of empiricism in epistemology, and, especially, a vaguely Millean view to the effect that all ideas are welcome in the marketplace of ideas, where, to do the mixed metaphor thing, justification is sought and (at least provisional) consensus is forged. The anti-Greer side is associated with a collection of views we might call the post-post-modern mish-mash. Some vaguely postmodern and poststructural stuff to the effect that the Enlightenment is dead, no measure of objectivity is possible, science is always a tool of hegemonic something-or-other, etc. etc....some views inspired by critical theory to the effect that the goal of emancipation trumps disinterested inquiry, and, of course, a large dollop of "social constructionism" strategically ambiguous as between claims to the effect that (a) society creates everything and (b) rather less insane views. (Such ambiguities allow defenders of the view to switch back and forth depending on the rhetorical needs of the moment.)
   One of the main disagreements here is over the question "can political premises be employed to answer scientific/philosophical questions?" Note that the response to Greer-ish arguments is almost invariably "that's transphobic!" or something similar.  From the perspective of common sense, the Enlightenment, and almost everything/everybody else, this is a massive confusion. There are moral questions in the vicinity--but everyone we're talking about right now agrees that no one should be persecuted for looking or acting in nonstandard ways. The disagreements are about non-moral, non-political questions about the nature of women and men. From the perspective of science and standard-issue philosophy, these questions are no more moral than questions about what makes something a tree or what makes something a dog.
   (And it's worth noting at some point that no one, anywhere, would ever be inclined to believe that a man can literally become a woman (or vice-versa) simply by feeling as if he were one, dressing like one, etc. if not only political grounds. The radical position, stripped of the rhetorical power of political outrage, is almost entirely without force. It is politics that motivates these arguments, not dispassionate inquiry. But, of course, that's permissible according to aficionados of the post-post-modern mish-mash...)
   There's a lot at stake here. This is, whatever else it is something very similar to a battle between reason and unreason. This is not a disagreement about which liberals should be indifferent...much less come in on the wrong side of.

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