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Aristotle Vs. The Transpersons

A superb Evans-Manning-worthy comment from reader Annie, on the feminism and transgenderism thread. She’s answering particular commenters further up the thread:

Sarah The Unlikely – It’s possible some traditionalists understand the liberal perspective and simply disagree. As I’ve said before, I was raised in a pagan socialist household. It’s perfectly clear to me many people with sympathetic hearts and good intentions are in favor of redefining gender and advocate TG policies, and they may even have philosophical reasons for doing so. Nonetheless I think, since they reject first principles, they set themselves on a rudder-less course which may lead to ultimate consequences they have not thought through and may not find desirable (and would not because, though they say they don’t believe in essences and are utterly comfortable with self-definition, that is palpably untrue and easy to disprove).

The problem with the nominalist/emotivist position is it leads to a subjectivism that, while being defensible in its own way, really doesn’t do anything to counter objective replies. Modern liberalism co-opts the moral language of realism while being utterly detached from the definitions that lend the words their meaning and coherence. You’re left in an emotivist whirlpool, and really, in there, you’re as right as I am, because there is no right. It’s just will, and the rad-fems have as much “right” to their ideology as the transgender movement, which is to say, no right at all.

This is the crux of your philosophy and where all the danger lies: “If something can be reduced to properties then it there is no such thing as an essence since the “essence” of a thing isn’t distinct from its properties. That being the case, I can understand the idea of changing gender because changing your gender is merely a matter of altering your body’s properties.” You want to say I have the properties of a woman, but I don’t have the ontological essence of a woman. And yet you say there is such a thing as a transgender woman and they can take on a narrative and construct because it is a choice, because these are just properties divorced from the very notion of fundamentals. But if this is a choice, then many other things are also mere choices between properties, and you have left yourself in realm where you are not free to criticize acts or deeds, or rad-fem ideology or TG ideology except as a meaningless act of self-expression, because we are all just picking and choosing our own properties and there is no essence of being, either good or ill.

Which is why I’m not just an advocate of realism or traditionalism because I simply don’t understand your nominalism and liberalism. I am those things because of the fruits of nominalism and modern liberalism, because I believe they lead to a society in where what it means to be human can be redefined at will; where money and power write the rules; where all limits are abolished; where the transhumanist impulse (refusing to examine how governed it is by its own fears) end up making decisions for all of us. One doesn’t come to Aristotle out of mere bigotry, one comes to it because it is the only coherent philosophy there is. It may be simply a choice between Aristotle or nominalist self-definition, with both philosophies having their valid defenses. You pick yours based upon your will, I pick mine based upon the fruits borne. The second route ends in a madhouse, and does not lend itself to anything its inmates claim is part of the good life. It lends itself only to the nihilistic borg, where membership is its own (and only) virtue.

It’s interesting how quickly you jump to technology as being a panacea for any and all ills. Rather than dealing with the causes of our dis-ease, we seek to medicate and drug and cater to the symptoms. Every effort to manipulate and engineer Creation leads to new and more massive problems. It was not the pre-Enlightenment world which threatened global catastrophe through global warming. It was the triumph of Occam paired with the message of technological manipulation which has lead us to our current impasse. The same thinking that got us into this mess cannot get us out of it.

It was Jacques Ellul who taught me the dangers lurking within technological determinism. It was Richard Weaver who taught me that nominalism is feeding off the moral capital of realism. It was Wendell Berry who taught me every technological advance undermines our ability to connect with the natural world. You might think we’re all “bad people” but we may have reasons for what we believe, and presuming we’re acting in bad faith without wanting to genuinely understand our motivations shows its own lack of self-awareness.

Kenneth – the line about your friend having to learn how to dress like a woman on the fly was interestingly offensive, as in it’s curious no one talks about how insulting that kind of remark comes across to many women. Learning how to dress like a woman – there is no such thing. Your friend was co-opting a lived experience of one group in society and turning it into a caricature for their own self-image. For good reason it would not be considered cool for me to take on symbols of Native American society, such as a headdress. So it’s insulting to put on high heels and call oneself a woman and expect access to their spaces and take funding from women’s shelters and counseling centers. The sort of peace found in externalities is no true peace, and merely perpetuates the initial malady.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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