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Self in Society Roundup 14

Rowling and the TERFs, transgender care for minors, Epicureanism, Zwolinski's bleeding heart, and more.

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
April 21, 2023; ported here on May 30, 2024

The Debate over Rowling

Natalie Wynn (ContraPoints) is a remarkable YouTube success. Her latest video (April 17, with 1.8M views within three days) responds to the Free Press's "Witch Trials of J. K. Rowling" podcast series (which I've listened to and recommend).

Wynn begins by reviewing the history of Anita Bryant's anti-gay activism in the 1970s. Bryant said, "According to the word of God, it's an abomination to practice homosexuality"—straightforward faith-based bigotry. She worked in opposition to a Dade County anti-discrimination provision that protected gay people.

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As Wynn summarizes, Bryant became active in the Save Our Children Coalition, "which sponsored provocative TV ads implying that gay people are degenerates who ruin communities and seduce children." Also, "Anita argued that allowing 'flaunting' homosexuals to teach children was tantamount to gay recruitment." Sound familiar? Conservatives are using exactly the same playbook fifty years later only targeting transgender people.

Then Wynn Compares Bryant and Rowling, and paints the Free Press series as akin to treating Bryant as "the real victim." There's something to this. The podcast series overall is relatively friendly to Rowling, but mostly its aim is to provide relevant background. It does provide the critical perspective, if less forcefully. I personally came away from the podcast series thinking Rowling in the main (but not in every detail) is quite wrong about transgender issues.

And, look, it's okay to point out that some of Bryant's opponents acted badly. It's okay to criticize "both sides" so long as you don't lose sight of the broader context. Bryant was an ant-gay bigot; her opponents ought not have physically shut down her events, thrown pies in her face, or sent her death threats. Both sets of statements are true. The key is not to let the latter facts obscure the first.

Still, the parallels between Bryant and Rowling, as Wynn presents them, are striking.

Then Wynn discusses in greater detail the Free Press series, hosted by Megan Phelps-Roper, for which Wynn agreed to be interviewed. But then Wynn said participating in the series was a "serious lapse of judgment" on her part.

At the 35:22 mark, Wynn directly addresses Rowling's transphobia (and I agree that's the correct characterization). Rather than try to recapitulate Wynn's arguments, I'll recommend that people watch the video. Wynn also points viewers to her 2021 video on Rowling.

Tavris on Transgender Issues

Carol Tavris reviews Hannah Barnes's Time to Think: The Inside Story of the Collapse of the Tavistock's Gender Service for Children. Tavris discusses the important problem of distinguishing "children distressed because they were trans" from "children who identified as trans because they were distressed."

Tavris also mentions the problem of discussing such issues rationally without giving "ammunition to bigots." Some people will accuse Tavris of doing precisely that; for example, she mentions the criticisms by Jamie Reed without mentioning the criticisms of her.

Still, I think we do well to take seriously the sorts of concerns that Tavris raises. Tavris raises the spectre of lawsuits, which I think are a much better way to address potential problems than legislation. If there's real evidence that some doctors or clinics are rushing treatment or failing to properly notify people of potential risks, let the courts hear it.

Notes on Epicureanism

Emily Austin has out a remarkable essay on Epicureanism. Here I include a few excerpts.

Epicurus readily concedes that we often struggle to pursue pleasure without making a mess of it. Our failure might even lead us to believe it's pleasure's fault. Epicurus, though, thinks we're doing pleasure wrong. We navigate the landscape of pleasure and pain artlessly and inattentively, sometimes without any sort of plan at all. Epicureanism aims to point us in the right direction, to help us find security and joy, to do pleasure right. . . .

Unlike other animals . . . humans have distinctively souped-up brains. We have a sense of ourselves in time, so we can plan for the future in light of the past. We can experience pleasure from calling to mind past pleasures, and we can savour current pleasures by giving them special attention. We communicate our ideas using language and symbols. We also have an awareness of our own mortality. These higher-order mental capacities increase our available psychological pleasures, but they can also introduce anxieties like the fear of death or divine retribution. . . .

Prudence helps us determine what produces pleasure over the long-term, encouraging us to choose pains that produce greater pleasure (eg, exercising to increase health), and avoiding pleasures if they result in more pain (eg, credit card debt; hangovers). . . .

The art of Epicurean prudence, then, involves acquiring and maintaining what we need for tranquility, enjoying extravagances that enrich tranquility without undermining it, and avoiding whatever undermines tranquility.

Read the entire piece, or see Austin's links to podcast episodes and her book further exploring the topic.

Zwolinski's Bleeding Heart

Matt Zwolinski has defibrillated Bleeding Heart Libertarians on Substack, and I definitely recommend that you subscribe. See also my review of the new book by Zwolinski and John Tomasi and my podcast interview with MZ.

Here's part of what he writes in his introductory essay:

Shortly after the [original] BHL blog shut down, the Libertarian Party of the United States was captured by a group that has sought to curry favor with the Trumpist, populist right. The Twitter feed of the national party and the perversely misnamed "Mises Caucus" has espoused a vile mixture of nationalist, anti-democratic, anti-semitic, and transphobic rhetoric. Rather than speaking out against the authoritarian threat to liberty worldwide, they have actively signal boosted Russian propaganda, depicting Ukrainians as neo-Nazis while steadfastly avoiding any criticism of Putin or his military invasion of a neighboring country. . . .

That's what libertarianism looks like in the United States today. But it doesn't have to look this way. . . . Libertarianism once was, and could be again, a radical, progressive ideology devoted to the cosmopolitan ideal of maximum equal freedom for each and every human being.

Quick Takes

Pronatalism: It's a thing! Via Marginal Revolution.

Racism: From the Oklahoman: "Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt said Sunday that McCurtain County officials who were allegedly recorded making racist and violent remarks in early March should resign, after accusations were published mid-April in a local newspaper. . . . On March 6, [the officials] were allegedly recorded during an impromptu conversation discussing how to kill a local reporter and how frustrating it was that Black people could no longer be lynched because they 'have more rights' than others, according to the McCurtain Gazette-News."

Immigration: "Why aren't we taking every Chinese refugee we can?" Good question from Noah Smith.

Self-Help: Gena Gorlin explains why you shouldn't "fake it till you make it" but rather "remember what you know."

Woo Woo: Stuart Ritchie discusses "the recent seeming increase in popularity of astrology."

Health: John Burn-Murdoch shows that Americans live shorter lives, on average, relative to people in England.

Space: The Mars Society hosted a great conversation with NASA's James Green about going to the Moon and Mars.

SpaceX: Chris Hadfield has a great perspective on the launch and then "rapid unscheduled disassembly" of the Starship rocket, via Alex Tabarrok.

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