Bright person, but right person?

Google makes its living by hoovering up all the bright people it can find and then encouraging them to get on with being bright. It’s not therefore all that much of a surprise to find that we’ve one of those few sensible arguments about trans rights coming from a Googler. However, do note that a decent argument isn’t necessarily a correct one. Which leads to our being able to say two things about this one:

People once believed the sun circled the Earth. It was a perfectly sensible model by which they understood the universe. The important word here is “model”. At the time, almost everyone thought that this was accurate. As with our contemporary idea of gender, the model closely matched the observation of physical “reality”.

The philosophers and theologians of the middle ages believed that the sun went around the Earth and that to suggest otherwise was heretical, ungodly and just really, really stupid. Imagine scholars of that age writing on the internet about new theories that the Earth went around the sun – these opinions would read a lot like most of the comments we get today about gender. Basically: “This is just ignoring common sense”; “What is the world coming to?” and “Let’s burn these queer freaks.”

Which they did.

A tad of rhetorical hyperbole is entirely permissible in such arguments. Although I would note that one of the major societies which really does “burn” those queer freaks positively encourages people to go trans instead. That’s why some rather large portion of Iran’s womens’ football team is made up of transwomen. The governmental (note, not in that country, societal) point being that it’s better to have the surgery than commit the sin of homosexuality.

But the argument itself? It’s an entirely reasonable one. Everyone once didn’t believe in heliocentrism, now they do, there was an interregnum of competing ideas with accusations of heresy and all thrown around. Binary gender, physical gender, was once believed by all, now maybe it isn’t.

Which is where the correct part of the argument is. We are indeed in one of those interregnums and we’ve not got a wide societal agreement about what the correct answer is. Which is the very problem we’ve got, we don’t agree.

The obvious solution, as it always is, is classical liberalism. You’re a consenting adult causing no harm to third parties? Get on with it then. And?

Classical liberalism also being today’s most unfashionable answer to anything presumably because of its success.

Which leads to our second thing. Heliocentrism is observably correct. Is this also so of the varied claims about trans and gender? If they are then obviously, as with other provably correct theories like continental drift then we’ll end up with a societal agreement on what actually is the correct answer. If those claims aren’t equally provable then what?

Which is I think where we are and where we’re going to be. The very nugget at the heart of the claim is true. Sex, that biological reality, isn’t 100% binary. It’s close enough for daily life definitions but not still that 100%. Gender, the social construct, might well be subject to less of the 100%. I also don’t think that society in general is ever going to agree that a bloke with tackle is a woman simply because they say so this morning.

No doubt that makes me a hater, ah well.

The reason I don’t think we’re going to get that societal agreement is, well, perhaps a tad odd. It’s because the definition of “woman” (and this runs the other way around as well, to man and so on) is a useful one. It describes something that we want to be able to describe. Doesn’t matter how much anyone who doesn’t accord with that societal definition of woman insists that’s what they are, we’re going to keep on making the distinction. Even if we accept the entire set of trans claims, women’s brains perhaps, women in everything but the physical details of gonads at birth, we’re still going to be usefully making that linguistic distinction. Thus we’re never going to end up with that societal agreement.

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28 COMMENTS

  1. You get rights*. You don’t get special rights for being in a minority. Especially if that infringes others’ rights.

    * Which is not to accept the ridiculous list of rights claimed nowadays. The proper list ought to be way less.

  2. I think, instead of the heliocentric argument, that the most apposite analogy is between Newtonian and Einsteinian physics.

    Newtonian physics is good enough that they can send probes hurtling around the solar system like a game of bar billiards, but you need Einsteinian physics in a few, a vanishing few circumstances. So it is with binary and non-binary biology.

  3. The problem is that we are all being very liberal to the Trans. We are saying to the obviously mentally ill that they should be free to do their thing and we will endorse that. Which they are happy to accept.

    But then they turn around and say we are not free to do our thing in return. And in fact what we are doing is Literally Hitler. And we should be put in jail if we do not agree to have sex with any Trans person who might be up for it.

    A liberal society has to decide what to do with the militantly intolerant. I suggest revisiting that burning thing. We gain nothing by surrendering to these lunatics – and if you think they are bad now, imagine what they will demand next.

  4. “The very nugget at the heart of the claim is true. Sex, that biological reality, isn’t 100% binary. It’s close enough for daily life definitions but not still that 100%. Gender, the social construct, might well be subject to less of the 100%.”

    Gender roles are the social construct. Gender is about how your brain is wired. The brain is biological reality, too.

    “I also don’t think that society in general is ever going to agree that a bloke with tackle is a woman simply because they say so this morning.”

    Agreed. The medical and legal criteria for recognition as TG are quite strict.

    “It’s because the definition of “woman” (and this runs the other way around as well, to man and so on) is a useful one. It describes something that we want to be able to describe.”

    There are *several* things we want to describe, and we’re trying to use one word to describe them all. More, we’re insisting that if you’re in category A for *one* of those characteristics, you’re in category A for all of them.

    A hairdresser wants to charge different amounts for short hair versus long hair, because it’s a different amount of work. But instead of specifying the *actual* basis for the price distinction (hair length and difficulty of the styles), he instead advertises different prices for men and women. So short-haired women get charged more than long-haired men. What exactly does the shape of your genitals have to do with how much it costs to cut your hair?

    Simplifying reality by lumping everyone into a smaller set of categories is useful, but there’s always a certain error rate when the definition doesn’t match what you’re using it for. The error rate is reduced if we pick the definition that matches the most common use of it. Only hairdressers would want to define a person’s sex by their hair length. Only people planning sex or children need to know about genitals. But most interactions between strangers are commercial, and the commercial world is mainly interested in what goods/services you want to buy.

    I agree it’s likely that society will probably continue to pick one definition and apply it across the board, even where it’s not appropriate. But I don’t think it will necessarily be *your* definition they converge on.

  5. I wish I could believe that my future is safer by breaking ties with our neighbours

    Or that I will travel as freely when my passport is less acceptable

    I wish I could believe my human rights will be as protected under the governments we elect that are dedicated to their erosion

    Or that tax cooperation will continue when we are dedicated to tax competition

    I wish I could believe that putting barriers to trade in the path of British exports will make people in this country better off

    Or encourage innovation in anything but financial services

    I wish I could believe that workers, part-timers, gays, lesbians, any minority, the armed forces, those with disabilities, women, new parents and children will be as secure in their rights without a court that has shown its willing to protect them

    I wish thought, study and students would be allowed to flow freely in the future

    I wish I could believe my government loves its neighbours as itself

    Or that it even had any regard for the environment

    I wish I could believe we’ll still have peace in Europe when our leaders stop meeting and getting to know each other, often

    I wish I could believe that the future is anything but lonely, which is a place that is, as they say, in another country

    I wish I could believe in Boris Johnson

    But I can’t

  6. From a medical test results and drugs prescription perspective the reality of your sex/gender is much more important than what you think it is that particular day, so at some level the correct distinction is going to have to be there or people will end up dead or seriously ill

  7. How society treat weirdos and freaks is a serious issue that warrants some thoughtful consideration. Burning weirdos and freaks at the stake is bad way to handle it, I think we all agree. But awarding them absolute moral authority and indulging their wildest delusions seems wrong as well.

    Surely there’s some sensible middle ground.

  8. “How society treat weirdos and freaks is a serious issue that warrants some thoughtful consideration.”

    Yes. Every cultural group has its own social norms, and anyone who doesn’t follow them they consider to be “weirdos and freaks”. The pre-1960s culture certainly regarded gays and TGs as “weirdos and freaks”. Conversely, the SJW culture now considers 1950s-style racists, sexists, and transphobes to be “weirdos and freaks” and wants them burnt at the stake.

    Every culture decides what to do with it’s weirdos and freaks on the assumption that they’re always going to be in control of the definition, and society is never going to classify *them* as the freaks.

  9. NiV: The pre-1960s culture certainly regarded gays and TGs as “weirdos and freaks”

    NiV, old cock¹, pre 1960s culture was blisfully untrammelled by considerations of transgenderism and homosexuality was a crime punishable under the law.

    _____
    ¹/ …or possibly not

    • In the immortal words of Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan…

      When he-she came back to this country
      They made her a popular celebrity
      All the public sentiment
      She got movie contracts and plenty engagements
      People came out of curiosity
      To see this amazing freak of the century
      But behind that lipstick, rouge and paint
      I still wonder, is she is, or is she ain’t?

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9s2hW2PUVtU

      That was about events in 1951, yes? 🙂

  10. “Burning weirdos and freaks at the stake is bad way to handle it, I think we all agree”

    Eh. I dunno. How is pumping 9 year olds full of toxic hormones and then cutting their wing wangs off any less mad than roasting a few troublesome loonies on the village green?

    I feel sure a Benthamite argument could be made for community bonfires.

    Sure, I’m joking, but what if there’s no sensible middle ground? What if it’s not practically possible to peacefully coexist with progressive polymorphic perversity? The slippery slope is, after all, sadly real, which is why supporting the Labour Party’s policy on gay marriage circa 2003 is enough to get you branded a monstrous bigot in 2018, and I feel sure social services would love to snatch people’s kids if they object to “gender transition”.

    At what point do we decide enough is enough? When PIE decides it’s safe to openly campaign again?

    Mebbe Orwell was right about the eternal boot-face intersection, and we just need to accept the fact that we need to be the ones with the Doc Martens on. Because the Manic Street Preachers were right.

  11. “I feel sure a Benthamite argument could be made for community bonfires.”

    You want JS Mill, I think.

    The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him, must be calculated to produce evil to some one else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

    http://www.bartleby.com/130/

    “Mebbe Orwell was right about the eternal boot-face intersection, and we just need to accept the fact that we need to be the ones with the Doc Martens on.”

    Yes. That’s exactly what they *all* say. That’s why it’s eternal.

  12. I think 2 things:-

    1) the agitator crowd has moved on from gays to look for a new problem. They need stuff to complain about. In reality, almost no-one cares about trans. They might snigger at them, but almost no-one in the west wants them executed or tortured or anything else. We might even view them as having mental problems, but we don’t want to punish them for that.
    2) the only things people are really worried about are things like shared access to children or vulnerable women. I don’t know if anyone even cares about actual cock-lopped-off trans people, so much as people claiming they’re pre-op and then, how you determine who is and isn’t.
    3) the rest is utter bullshit anyway. It’s going to be hilarious watching trans men destroy women at sport, especially as women’s sport has been overrun by SJWs bleating about equality.

  13. “Google makes its living by hoovering up all the bright people it can find and then encouraging them to get on with being bright.”

    This person doesn’t strike me as being very bright. ‘In the past what seemed to be common sense was wrong, so our idea of common sense is also wrong’ is a bad argument, and one that is demolished in first-year Philosophy classes.

    ‘Maybe our idea of common sense is wrong’ is all right, but then that doesn’t support anything much. Any belief may be wrong. So what? The question is, is it wrong? Or is it probably wrong? Or is it unhelpful? Do we have good reasons to think that that it should be jettisoned? The mere possibility that it could be wrong doesn’t count as a good reason.

    • “‘In the past what seemed to be common sense was wrong, so our idea of common sense is also wrong’ is a bad argument, and one that is demolished in first-year Philosophy classes.”

      True, but that’s not the argument she’s making. Strawmen arguments are demolished in first year philosophy classes, too. 🙂

      (Although I’d note in passing that the odds are greatly in favour of it, on symmetry grounds. *Every* previous generation’s “common sense” turned out to be wrong, and every one of them was also convinced they were the one that had finally ascended to the peak of Truth Mountain. What makes us think we’re any different?)

      The point of the argument is that “common sense” is an unreliable guide to truth, so all the arguments along the lines of “it’s obvious” or “it just is” or “you’d have to be mad to think otherwise” or “everybody knows that…” are invalid, which is what we normally see being put forward as the arguments saying that TGs are deluded, mentally ill, playing pretend, or perverts and rapists scheming to sneak into the ladies toilets, for some unfathomable reason.

      “The question is, is it wrong? Or is it probably wrong? Or is it unhelpful? Do we have good reasons to think that that it should be jettisoned?”

      Yes. We do. But some people violently reject scientific, medical, and sociological evidence when it conflicts with their “common sense”. They often invent conspiracy theories to explain it. The psychiatrists and psychologists only accept it because they were threatened with violence at some conference in America, was one I saw. Survey evidence comes from the “social sciences”, which is run by left-wing academics. Everything they say is wrong as part of the “replication crisis”. The brain scan evidence was rejected because of small sample sizes. The genetic evidence was rejected because the researchers had to use statistics. The discussion of developmental biology – SRY genes and the biochemical signalling cascade – were asserted to be either about other conditions or far rarer than claimed. The discussion of the impact of social acceptance on mental health and suicidal ideation was rejected as the output of left-wing “social sciences”. The surveys on incidence are repeatedly ignored. Even the survey evidence on public opinions, (not as evidence their condition is genuine, but as evidence that social norms have shifted) was rejected on the basis that nobody *they* know thinks so.

      And while I would never propose people accept stuff just because “scientists say so” (my moniker is short for ‘Nullius in Verba’), at the same time, we do also need equally good reasons to positively reject it. We have to assess both the evidence and its reliability on objective grounds, and assess where the balance of evidence points. If we automatically reject everything that conflicts with our “common sense”, then our beliefs are unfalsifiable. First year philosophy classes have something to say about that, too!

      People are entitled to their opinions. And scientific progress depends on having opponents of even widely accepted science to challenge, criticise, and continually test it. It’s good to debate it, and I vehemently reject the idea that people should not be allowed to disagree with what science currently thinks, or to say they do.

      The problem here is that people can get very emotional about it. They don’t see it as simply an interesting intellectual debate about the science of developmental biology and neurology; they see it as a vicious attack on their beliefs, culture, and way of life. They are just as angry and intolerant of debate about it, and of contrary opinions being expressed. I sympathise, but it’s a point on which I won’t compromise. Either you have free speech for *all* ideas (whether pro- or anti-TG), or you don’t (in which case the moral majority in the UK would probably ban the anti-TG views, nowadays). You can’t have it both ways.

        • Of course not.

          You can accept or not accept for any reason whatsoever. Tradition, Your own personal “common sense”. Because your holy book told you it was so. And others can judge your reasons as they choose.

          But from a science/debate point of view, your obligation is not to be persuaded by the evidence, but to put the best argument or counter-evidence you can up against it. Is the argument valid? Is the counter-argument valid? Is neither valid, each exposing holes in the other? Quite often, the conclusion will be “we still don’t know”. But the scientific approach does require that you present valid reasons for rejecting an argument or evidence. Saying “I’m not persuaded but I can’t explain why” doesn’t get anyone any further forward. Saying “You’ve got no evidence” even less so.

          Rational argument and the scientific method are the best method humanity has found yet for approaching the truth. But the truth of one’s opinions in not the only goal/value people can hold.

          Hector asks “Do we have good reasons to think that that it should be jettisoned?” Yes. They’ve been presented multiple times. But people are still asking the question. So I’ll ask instead “Do we have good reasons to think that that it shouldn’t be jettisoned?” Why is this any different? Isn’t the correct position, in the absence of either, agnosticism?