Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Nature and “Gender”

This is a supplement to my most recent review for HiT (Hollywood in Toto). That piece covers the recent film JT LeRoy which deals with transgender issues. This is an expansion of the preamble.

  1. Human nature is complicated, but it is a nature. This is the claim that there is an immaterial principle that gives shape to this thing we call humanity. A dog is not a human because it is objectively true that these are different things. This would be true even if all the governments of the world decided that dogs had the same rights as humans. Therefore the principle of humanity, the thing that makes it what it is, is discernible and probably self evident. Here self evident does not mean everyone sees this truth rather it is a truth that evidences itself, or a truth that having been seen cannot be unseen. This first claim is actually the most controversial, it is clearly not believed by everyone even though I think it should be.

  2. Human nature does not always function as it should in the concrete. That is the unifying principle of humanity, the thing that makes us what we are, while perfect in the abstract does not manifest itself perfectly within instances of human nature. Christians usually call this sin, but at least it must be called a disordering. The ordering principle of human nature has a goal and purpose for us in mind, but we do not always live in accord with our nature. This happens for a variety of reasons, some of which are beyond our control which is why humans need to extend grace and compassion to each other in order to flourish.

  3. Sex is a fundamental aspect of human nature. As the writer of Genesis proclaimed several millennial ago: “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Human nature is inherently sexed. The sexes are complementary, whether inside or outside marriage, and need each other for humanity to flourish. This has been accomplished in many ways throughout history but the most common and fundamental has been marriage between a man and a woman. Almost every piece of pre governmental society hangs upon this most basic covenantal relationship. This relationship is based in duties not rights, it is not primarily about individual expression and eros but sacrificial love for the other.

  4. Gender is a relatively recent concept and seems to be philosophically vacuous on purpose so that it can be repurposed to whatever political ends it is currently needed for. The category of intersex on the other hand is quite ancient and completely disconnected from contemporary discussions of gender. The concept of Human nature easily accommodates the notion of intersex but not gender. The most recent Salisbury Review, a quarterly conservative magazine founded by Sir Roger Scruton, began with this “A woman who calls herself a man can have a baby, but a man who calls himself a woman cannot...There was a time when there were men and women plus a few unfortunate people whose sexual organs were a mixture of male and female.” Genuinely intersex individuals do not overlap with transgender persons very often and yet when pushed for scientific data on transgenderism they point to the intersex. Transgenderism, and gender language in general, does not seem to have meaningful definitions and this seems to be on purpose. At this point it is unclear to me how helpful or true the concept of gender is, but the political behavior of gender activists alone makes it seem a dubious prospect.

  5. Civil Society and a virtuous public square require patience, compromise, and the assumption of good faith. In this spirit I have agreed to use the pronoun “they” when referencing an individual in this film. That person’s name is Savannah Knoop. They are played by Kristen Stewart. As I intimated in #4 I do not believe the cultural architects of the transgender project are operating under what I would consider good faith, but transferring that suspicion to someone like Savannah or a Hollywood production company does not seem warranted. I think these people are mistaken. We disagree about human nature but when asked nicely to do something, unless that thing requires me to actively engage in what I think is wrong it seems best to simply comply. If threats to freedom of speech were involved or charges of bigotry accompanied the request I would have ignored it. But that is not what happened. I’m assuming this lengthy preamble will be offensive to many readers. Some on the right want every issue to become a culture war, because they correctly understand that mainstream media characterizes them as backwards and bigoted. I am sympathetic with this impulse but I think it is ultimately misguided. Yes words matter, and I am not always willing to acquiesce on this matter. This time I am.

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