June 18th, 2015
Maybe the smartest treatment I’ve seen of the Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner moment is from blogger Wes Fulton. You can read the whole thing here. Some highlights:
How are we to understand the transition of Bruce Jenner into Caitlyn Jenner? As I said before, it seems to me that there are two ways:
Option #1:The polite fiction. In this approach, everybody just admits upfront that Caitlyn Jenner is a normal man suffering from some sort of mental delusion, and we all agree that the best approach is simply to humor her and play along with her fantasies for the sake of her mental well-being.
This view of Caitlyn conveniently dispenses with a lot of the silly “but…but…wait a second…” questions that wise-ass conservatives keep throwing out there to troll earnest liberals. Of course it’s ridiculous to talk about “Caitlyn Jenner” as the world’s greatest female athlete. Of course it’s stupid to ask how this female “Caitlyn Jenner” miraculously managed to father five children. Every rational person understands that “Caitlyn Jenner” is a biological male, has always been a biological male, and will always be a biological male.
Transgenderism, in this view, is nothing more than an adjunct to traditional polite standards of conduct.
Occasionally, polite social behavior obliges us to refrain from pointing out uncomfortable truths, and even humor people about their harmless delusions. People who insist on an absolute commitment to the truth in all situations are generally viewed as weird,antisocialcranks and extremists. I don’t know about you, but if I were putting together a dinner party, I’d rather have this guy or this guythan this guy. . . .
For liberals, the second problem with the “polite fiction” approach is that it raises the question of what other “delusions” we are prepared to humor in modern America. Let’s take an example that will set liberals’ hair on fire: Biblical Creationism. . . .
Liberals often have little problem mocking Creationism, as in their minds, it’s primarily associated with stump-toothed white hillbillies — except that a whole lot of black peoplesubscribe to this idea as well. Oh, it’s not just nice black church ladies who believe it, either: Let extremely-not-safe-for-work black comedian Katt Williams explain the truth of Creationism to you, complete with ample deployment of f-bombs. Creationism is also a popular stance for Muslimsas well.
So here we’ve got what scientists would describe as an objectively crazy-ass delusion that is wildly popular with millions of average Americans — and especially popular among boutique minority communities. It’s way more accepted than the rather oddball notion that Caitlyn Jenner is a woman.
So if we’re just going to blandly go along with the idea that Caitlyn Jenner is a woman — heck, even the Associated Press guidelines instruct news organizations to just treat self-reported gender as a neutral fact, like “it rained on Tuesday” — then why not report Creationism as the truth, at least any time a self-described Creationist puts it forward? . . .
Option #2: Let’s warp reality. According to this approach, Caitlyn Jenner is a woman, period. The fact that she has XY chromosomes is irrelevant; Caitlyn Jenner “feels” that she is a woman, and that emotional certainty is all that is necessary to establish the fact of her womanhood.
Let’s call this what it is: It’s an explicitly religious claim, no different in principle than Catholic beliefs about transubstantiation. You can get around it by trying to claim that it’s all due to the fact that transgender people have a different brain structure than people with “normal” gender identity, but then that brings you back to Option #1: You’re admitting that these beliefs are, in some fundamental way, not congruent with physical reality, and positing that the ideal solution is to humor people about their unavoidable delusions, rather than helping them to accept their inborn physical limitations. All that does is raise the question again: If we can indulge some delusions, why not others — particularly ones that are more widespread? Who’s to say that belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is not due to one’s particular genetic inheritance? . . .
Well, with Caitlyn Jenner, we have an example of a person making what can only be understood as a religious claim. Caitlyn Jenner insists upon a fact which does not correspond with empirical reality, and insists that despite its variance with all observable and testable conditions, this fact represents the literal truth. When Christians talk this way, Richard Dawkins laughs and throws rocks at them (figuratively speaking).
But with Caitlyn Jenner in particular and the issue of transgenderism in general, the left has seemingly abandoned this principle. On what basis will liberals now be able dismiss other preposterous claims, if the person making the claim can simply plead sincere conviction? It seems like a question that many of those who are cheerleading the transgender movement haven’t really thought through.
And now Fulton has a post up about Rachel Dolezal, which is also very smart:
[A]dherence to “reality” is supposed to be fundamental to the progressive way. Throw it out, and where, exactly, do you draw the line? For a conservative, wacky religious claims are limited by competing values of respect for tradition, authority, and order. The modern left rejects those limitations as roadblocks to the betterment of humanity. So if you take away the limitation of objective reality, where do you stop?
The fact that progressives find these kinds of questions so self-evidently preposterous as to constitute bad-faith arguments does not render them invalid. Rachel Dolezal’s actions have been profoundly unhelpful to the left, yet somehow that did not prevent her from doing what she did; the fact that other hypotheticals are similarly uncomfortable — such as questions about “transabled” people — is no basis for dismissing them.
The human race is diverse, remember? People acting in all sincerity do crazy things and make crazy claims all the time; it is one of our defining characteristics as a species. Rachel Dolezal is a perfect demonstration — here is a woman who is making a claim that is at odds with rude, objective fact. So what is the bright-line principle that separates her from Caitlyn Jenner?
This is a serious question: If you have no neutral basis for adjudicating between competing parties, disputes can only be settled with fists and blood and bullets — figuratively at first; literally, if things get out of hand. And ultimately, that means all questions are ultimately settled in favor of the strong. The weak have no voice, no way to appeal, no hope apart from the whims and mercies of the mighty.
I thought the point of progressivism was to get away from that.
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