Saturday, June 22, 2013

Do You Think Women are Female? If So, Then It Turns Out That You Are a Bigot...

Ah, the things I learn on Metafilter...


So, this gaming fellow Krahulik tweeted, basically, two things which, as I'm surely realize, make him literally Hitler.His points, basically:

1. 'Cis'* is annoying jargon

2. 'Man' basically means male, 'woman' basically means female.

So far as I can tell, he's absolutely right on both points...  But according to the Tumblerific left, he is a "transphobic" bigot.

I'd like to take this opportunity to remind you of my standing hypothesis:

When conservatism/the GOP ascends again to political dominance, it will be, in part, because liberals shoot themselves in the ass by letting the far left alienate reasonable people.

The PCs of the '90's helped shift a whole generation of college students to the right. I'm wondering whether the so-called "social justice warriors" of the internet left will play roughly that role in the future.

Now, one shouldn't have to say what follows...but, well, one does:

I'm with the old-school feminists on these points. Males tend to be more masculine and females tend to be more feminine, but both lie on a spectrum. There are feminine males and masculine females, and, as with basically every other behavioral difference linked to sex, the distributions overlap. There is often more similarity than difference. Society is often crazy, and used to be crazier than it is now, and, sadly, averages got turned into norms. Men tend to be more masculine than women wasn't good enough for society, and, through the magical irrationality of social convention, got turned into: males ought to be extremely masculine; females ought to be extremely feminine. Which, or so seems pretty clear to me, is nonsense. For example, there's nothing wrong with androgyny, nor with any non-standard combination of sex and gender. It's all cool.

And, so I don't see--and don't see how anyone can see--anything wrong with, say, very masculine-acting women. Dress like men standardly dress, act like men standardly act, whatever. I'm baffled that people care about such things.


That's not good enough for a certain radical segment of the left. They want to insist that...well, they're not very clear what they want to insist...other than that if you disagree with them, you are a bigot...  But, roughly: if you think of yourself/represent yourself as a man (or woman), then you are a man (or woman).

So far as I can tell this is simply false. That's not a moral claim, nor a claim that in any way entails that it's bad to represent yourself as something you aren't, nor any such thing. However: the concept man is primarily a concept satisfied by adult male humans. Linguistically: 'man', in its primary sense, (and ignoring its use to mean, simply, 'human') means adult male human. (You can check the OED if you like, but I'm too lazy to walk downstairs... Dictionary definitions aren't always dispositive, but at the very least they establish the burden of proof...)

You are not--and I am not--and Krahulik is not--a bigot for thinking this. It's simply true. It's not a moral point. It's a point about the concept man (and woman) and the meaning of the word 'man' (and 'woman').

You can think this without thinking that there's a damn thing wrong with people who are biologically male representing themselves as female, calling themselves women, or whatever. Your position on the factual question need not have any morally troublesome consequences.

Look, suppose you are born white, but you really want to be black--in fact, you feel black. You think of yourself as black. Whatever. So you start dressing and acting in ways that are more characteristic of black subculture. You might even have medical treatments to make your skin darker or whatever. Are you black? (Racially speaking?) The answer seems to be in the negative. And, of course, the case seems analogous.

There's more to say here than you might think...  It's really too bad that so much of the lefty orthodoxy on this matter comes out of gender studies--not one of the more rigorous bits of academia...  'Man' does have overtones that aren't entirely biological (consider the admonishion to "be a man"...) So there's room for the other side to maneuver here, and I don't see that discussion should be in any way closed off.

Sadly, the other side doesn't see it that way, and that's part of what's disastrous about this debate. The other position is not particularly strong, it's riddled with confusions and unclarities, and it's largely motivated by the desire to make people not feel bad. That's an admirable goal, obviously, but it has no place in discussions about what e.g. 'man' means, and whether it is more accurate to say that some men are female or that some females (inaccurately) represent themselves as men. Nobody wants to make anybody feel bad. But this debate basically looks like so: one side insists on saying false things, and also insists that anyone who refuses to say false things--or who insists on pointing out that the first side is saying false things--is a bigot. The other side is happy to let people live their lives however they like, but simply refuses to say things that they believe are false, and to accept what they consider to be false analyses of concepts like man and woman. (There's a third, conservative, side that, if I'm not mistaken, thinks that there is something wrong with representing yourself as the other sex... But I'm not interested in them.)

You'll see that the author of The Garden of Forking Thoughts (great blog title, incidentally...) employs the don't try to tell me what I am argument. That argument is fallacious, so far as I can tell. If I'm ethnically Italian but really identify with the Japanese, I can speak, dress, and act like them if I want. But I cannot insist that others are bigots if they refuse to believe that I am ethnically Japanese.

At any rate: the side I defend above has the stronger position, in my current opinion.

Finally, this is all exacerbated by the lefter left's well-known tendencies to spew confused and annoying neologisms, and to play thought-and-word police, insisting that if you don't accept every silly new bit of terminology they throw out, you are an oppressor, jack...

Really finally: it's kind of dangerous to go out on a limb with such issues that we, collectively, are all still thinking through. The other side can spew accusations of bigotry all day long, and if we ultimately conclude that they were wrong, they'll move on at no cost, and, somehow, with clear consciences. If I'm wrong about this, I (and others) will look back on it as an embarrassing bit of bigotry that constitutes a stain on my moral character. That's one reason why so many people roll over for the other side in this dispute.

Really really finally, none of this addresses the ambiguity in 'male' (the genetic conception vs. the anatomical conception). It also doesn't address any interesting sci-fi thought-experiments about futuristic procedures that would allow us to switch sexes at will... But you can't discuss everything all at once...

At any rate, that's how it all looks to me right now, FWIW.

* Short for 'cissexual' or somesuch... The amount of confusion and unclarity among people who assure us that they are experts on this stuff is astonishing...but it's roughly supposed to mean that your sex and your gender match in the ordinary ways: that is, you're male and you represent yourself as a man, or female and represent yourself as a woman. I've seen different accounts of this. Anyway, it's not worth knowing about.


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