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Self in Society Roundup 12

Eliminationist rhetoric, learning from enemies, Brittany's Marathon, Avatar whales, and more.

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
March 6, 2023; ported here on May 31, 2024

I'm angry. For a discussion of why, see the first major item below, on eliminationist rhetoric directed by some conservatives toward transgender people.

I've been so busy I unintentionally let parts of this draft languish, which is why parts of it might seem a bit dated. But I start off with a "hot" news story!

Eliminationist Rhetoric

I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen the video. Yes, during a talk at CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference), Michael Knowles said, "Transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely."

Oh, but Knowles didn't say he wanted to eradicate transgender people, just transgenderism, right? Following legal threats by Knowles, Rolling Stone even changed the headline for its story from, "CPAC Speaker Calls for Transgender People to Be 'Eradicated'" to "CPAC Speaker Calls for Transgenderism to Be 'Eradicated.'"

So Knowles doesn't think we should literally go out and murder transgender people—good to know—just that—what?—transgender people should not be able to live in society as transgender people? That seems to be what he's saying.

Here is a fuller transcript:

The problem with transgenderism is that it isn't true. The problem with transgenderism is that it puts forward a delusional vision of human nature that denies the reality and importance of sexual difference and complementarity. The problem with transgenderism is that its acceptance at any level necessarily entails the complete destruction of women's bathrooms, women's sports, all of the specific rights and spaces that women currently enjoy.

There can be no middle way in dealing with transgenderism. It is all or nothing. If transgenderism is true, if men really can become women, then it's true for everybody of all ages. If transgenderism is false as it is, if men really can't become women as they cannot, then it's false for everybody too. And if it's false, then we should not indulge it. Especially since that indulgence requires taking away the rights and customs of so many people.

If it is false, then for the good of society and especially for the good of the poor people who have fallen prey to this confusion, transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely. The whole preposterous ideology at every level.

The first thing to note about Knowles's rant is that it demonizes a class of people over fairly minor and usually trivial issues.

How often does a transgender women sexually assault another women in a public restroom? Almost always, transgender people are the ones being assaulted in public spaces, not the ones doing the assaulting. Meanwhile, we've seen widescale problems with Christian leaders (still, a small minority!) sexually assaulting members of their "flocks." But, when the aim is demonization, as Knowles's aim obviously is, certain problems are magnified, others ignored.

Notice also Knowles's hyperbole. We're witnessing the "complete destruction of women's bathroooms"? Wow, a transgender woman lifts up the toilet lid and BOOM! The whole place goes up!

Likewise, in sports, transgender women competing against other women is hardly ever a problem. Yes, when we're talking about sports involving intense physical contact and high-level competition, we need to start talking about some guidelines. Even on hormones, a transgender women often will be a lot larger and stronger than other women competing.

But, contra Knowles, we are not talking about "all or nothing" problems. We can accommodate transgender people and other women too. The solutions actually are not that hard. Although transgender people using gendered restrooms generally is not a real problem, "we" can start building more restrooms that readily accommodate anyone. In sports, "we" can come up with competition tiers based on things such a person's size and strength, rather than whether a person has a penis or a vagina. Currently I'm reading the thoughtful book Beyond Trans, and it has some ideas along these lines.

As to Knowles's claim that transgenderism is "false," he is making the basic mistake of confusing biological sex with expressed gender, or of reducing gender to sex. For my take, see my video discussion with Jon Caldara and my write-up.

In a way, Knowles has done us a favor. He has let slip the mask of pretextual concerns over women and "the children" to show the underlying face of raw, bigoted hatred.

Learning from Our Enemies

People often tend to be deeply tribal, so they often defend or oppose policies just because their political enemies oppose or defend them. This gives rise to biased thinking. We do well to try to recognize this dynamic at play in ourselves so that we can overcome it. This means that we'll have to sometimes take seriously even people who we think are wrong or even evil. Just because Hitler says two and two equal four doesn't mean the correct sum is five.

The podcast series Sold a Story, about the "reading wars," offers an excellent example. Some teachers resisted phonics instruction, even though "the science" richly supports phonics, partly because the George W. Bush administration endorsed it.

Here's another example. Despite conservative freak-outs, there's nothing wrong per se with children attending drag story hours and the like. That said, some drag performances really are sexualized in a way that is inappropriate for young children. But some supporters of transgender rights see anti-trans conservatives complain about sexualized drag performances and conclude there's nothing at all questionable about bringing children to such events.

I think, whether we're talking education, transgender issues, guns, abortion, or other controversial topics, lots of people on both sides often fail to embrace reasonable positions just because people on "the other side" promote them. Try not to do that!

Brittany's Marathon

Previously I mentioned that I enjoyed the film Brittany Runs a Marathon, written and directed by Paul Downs Colaizzo. On Twitter I suggested, "It's a love story in which the lead character learns to love herself. It's an illustration of Rand's insight that to say I love you one must first know how to say the I."

Timothy Sandefur, who suggested the film (see also his Substack), offered a couple of related comments:

What I enjoyed most was the movie's insight into how her newfound pride affects other people's attitudes toward her and also how she'd been using other techniques to disguise her lack of pride before taking up running.

The scene in bed when her date tells her "you don't have to make silly accents and jokes"—and she flees in fear; that was very genuine.

More on Avatar Whales

Recently I wrote up some notes about the new Avatar film. One thing I discussed was the ludicrousness of humans needing the brain fluids of alien "whales" to cure human aging.

A couple others have added comments to this. Mike writes (beneath the article):

Thanks for pointing out some of the absurdities. The anti-aging brain fluid was the best. How do you even discover that it has this effect? Was someone drinking it for the taste first? And wouldn't you synthesize it immediately? I too enjoyed the visuals despite some of the silly stuff.

Someone on Twitter noted:

See they can casually splice human and Na'vi DNA in a way that allow you to integrate a wifi hotspot into the avatars' brain. But they aren't able to synthetically replicate a chemical.

The model for the anti-whaling part of the film, of course, is the hunting of sperm whales for their oil. PBS suggests that the story that kerosene straightforwardly replaced oil whale is simplistic; regardless, it is clear that people developing alternatives helped save the whales.

Incidentally, perhaps the greatest enemy of whales was the Soviet Union. A summary of Red Leviathan relates:

The Soviet Union killed over six hundred thousand whales in the twentieth century, many of them illegally and secretly. That catch helped bring many whale species to near extinction by the 1970s, and the impacts of this loss of life still ripple through today's oceans.

Quick Takes

Boys and Men: For a quick (fifteen minute) introduction to Richard Reeves's book Of Boys and Men, see his Big Think video. Here's a striking statistic: "If you look at those with the highest GPA scores [U.S.], the top 10%, 2/3 of those are girls. If we look at those on the bottom, 2/3 of those are boys."

Phonics: Matt Bateman comments on the "reading wars" and on the podcast series Sold a Story. Bateman's point is that the phonics approach to reading is correct, but phonics can be taught well or badly.

Immigration: Bryan Caplan and Dan Klein have been debating open immigration. Klein closes with the familiar argument that open immigration can undermine the culture on which liberty depends. He further supports political authority. It seems obvious to me that massively violating the liberty of many people does not, in fact, promote liberty long-term.

Abortion: Many Republicans are authoritarians when it comes to abortion. "Women can be prosecuted for taking abortion pills, says Alabama attorney general," reports

Exercise: I also watched Big Think's video, "Harvard professor debunks the '10,000 steps per day' myth" with Daniel Lieberman. The title is bizarre, as Lieberman actually endorses the goal. He says, "Goals can be really helpful." He says 10,000 steps is comparable to "what people in non-Western societies do. It's a perfectly reasonable goal to shoot for. . . . The important thing is to be physically active," whether that's 8,000 or 15,000 steps—far more than what most Americans get. His point is there's nothing magical about 10,000 steps, but no one thinks there is.

Social Justice: "Rest is a form of resistance because it pushes back and disrupts white supremacy and capitalism." (This is from an NPR interview from the "can't make this stuff up" files.)

Racism: On the other hand, Leah Goodridge persuasively argues that racism under the guise of "professionalism" is a problem.

Drug War: I take it that Republican Congressman Ken Buck joking about feeding marijuana brownies to members of Congress is a sign of cracks in the drug war.

AI: Robert Tracinski is among those who think artificial intelligent increasingly will be a big deal.

Affirmations: Snoop Dog house out a song for kids about affirmations. Surreal but good.

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