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Paglia: Transgender & Civilization’s Decline

A reader sends in this clip from a Camille Paglia discussion at last fall’s Battle Of Ideas festival in the UK [1], in which the lesbian scholar and provocateur identifies transgenderism as a mark of a civilization deep into decadence, nearing collapse. The good stuff starts at the four-minute mark.

She says that androgyny becomes prevalent “as a civilization is starting to unravel. You find it again and again and again in history.”

“People who live in such times feel that they’re very sophisticated, they’re very cosmopolitan,” she says. But in truth, they are evidence of a civilization that no longer believes in itself. On the edges of that civilization are “people who still believe in heroic masculinity” — the barbarians. Paglia says that this is happening right now, and that there’s this tremendous “disconnect” between a culture that’s infatuated with transgenderism, and “what’s going on ‘out there’.” She sees it as “ominous.” And she’s right to. This insanity cannot last. Again and again I say unto you: if you don’t like the Religious Right, wait till you get the Post-Religious Right. The post-Christian people who are coming don’t give a damn about your feelings.

Said the reader who sent that clip to me: “Did you ever think Camille Paglia would say something to validate the BenOp?”

Along these lines, here’s a clip from a post I put up last year, about a Q talk given by political scientist Dale Kuehne [2]. He studies the family and society, and he says we have reached “a gender tipping point.” Excerpt:

No wonder journalists are noticing that this is a significant time. But most are still missing what’s most important: while today’s conversations push the boundaries of how we understand gender, they don’t understand that this brave new world of identity is about more than gender.

The students with whom I associate—from middle school to college students—have understood for several years that we now reside in a world beyond gender. The youngest of them probably don’t realize that TIME’s article announced anything “new.”

For many of them, gender discussions, even of the transgender variation, are just so yesterday. When we talk about personal identity, we don’t include the mundane questions about being male and/or female. A person can certainly identify as male or female if they wish, but there is little expectation that one would do so.


After all, today Facebook gives us over 50 “gender” identities to choose from. (Conversations about this can involve questions about why there are so few options.) And rather than looking to gender or variations on a gender, more and more young people are seeking to discover their identity by widening the options to include “otherkins” (people who consider themselves to have a non-human identity, such as various animals, spirits, mediums, and so on).

Young people today are much less binary when it comes to understanding identity because “male” and “female” as categories don’t express a unique or comprehensive identity.

When I tell this to many adult audiences, they laugh, believing that young people will grow out of this “stage.” They’re surprised that I don’t share their sense of the immaturity of our youth.

That’s because the young people with whom I interact are extraordinarily perceptive, compared to adults. As one high school student recently asked me, “Why does our school demand that we figure out if we are male or female or some variation? How could we figure it out even if we cared about gender? Can you tell me what it feels like to be woman? Can you tell me what it feels like to be a man? Of course not. No one knows.”


If everything is reduced to gender—even liquid gender—then how can anyone know by a solely internal exploration if they feel male or female?

What does it feel like to be a man? It can’t just mean that I am attracted to women, because it is okay to be attracted to men. It can’t just mean I feel like a lumberjack—because what does it mean to feel like a lumberjack? It can’t simply mean to be drawn to women’s clothes because what makes some garments women’s clothes?

In short, if the ultimate source of reference is the self, and if no other self than the individual is a reference point, how can you know who or what you are?

Indeed. The kids are right.

We don’t live at a tipping point; we already live beyond the tipping point. Whether adults realize it or not, the most important conversation today is not about gender, but about identity, as released from the confines of gender.

Kuehne thinks this is a very bad thing, because it is part — indeed, perhaps the end point — of the total deconstruction of the relational bases of society and its refashioning to serve the needs of the sovereign Self. You see Paglia’s point. She said this in one of her 1990s essays; it’s still applicable:



64 Comments (Open | Close)

64 Comments To "Paglia: Transgender & Civilization’s Decline"

#1 Comment By JonF On March 10, 2017 @ 11:54 am

Re: Moreover it isn’t deprivation that’s killing many members of the white working class.

MH, I started out by noting that in the US just about everyone’s physical needs are met. Then I pointed out that there are non-physical needs. Are you trying to claim that these other needs (security, community, a sense of usefulness, affection, etc.) are an artifact of civilization not something that is a part of human nature?

#2 Comment By Nom On March 10, 2017 @ 1:10 pm

Rod, here you go again. You claim that you’re not obsessed with LGBT issues and that the ‘opposition’ is always bringing it up, but here you go, yet another blog post about LGBT issues.

And transgenderism as the sign of a civilization’s collapse? I and historians like Edward Gibbon blame the rise of Christianity for the collapse of Roman civilization, pagan Roman civilization, the great in Western history. That’s my opinion, what say you?

#3 Comment By JonF On March 10, 2017 @ 2:41 pm

Re: I and historians like Edward Gibbon blame the rise of Christianity for the collapse of Roman civilization, pagan Roman civilization, the great in Western history. That’s my opinion, what say you?

Well, I say that very awkwardly for this thesis the most Christianized part of the Roman Empire, the East, survived the fall quite handily.

#4 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On March 10, 2017 @ 2:44 pm

@JonF, lets examine some of those using the concept of the human ancestral environment from evolutionary psychology.

In our ancestral environment we lived in small hunter gather groups. You knew everyone in the group well, so the feeling of alienation you can get in a large anonymous crowded city street didn’t exist. The bad news is if you didn’t get along with this group you were unlikely to find a new one.

Muscle power was the means of production, so it was way easier to be useful to this group. If you could haul water, gather wood, or pound wheat, you had a job. The concept of lacking useful skills did not exist, so there were no disposable workers.

Security is more dicey. You and your family are always one cut, bad fall, infection, or drought away from death. The good news is that there’s no mass communication, so you don’t hear the constant stream of bad news moderns are exposed to.

Reality was also more aligned to our flight or fight instinct. If a lion is chasing me, my urge to run or hit it with a club is adaptive. But if my boss is chewing me out, those same instincts are maladaptive. Moreover if I kill the lion I’m unlikely to see another one for a while. But I see my boss everyday, particularly at the coffee station.

Now I’m not saying this environment was paradise, or the people noble savages. But it was a less complicated environment that was more suited to our evolved instincts.

But modern life is so different, so complicated, that we often feel out of our league. Some people literally so because they have no skills anyone wants.

So civilization is a relatively novel environment. for humans. It’s only been around for 6000 years or so and we haven’t had time to adjust.

#5 Comment By Francoise On March 10, 2017 @ 3:13 pm

I am grateful for the points that Camille Paglia made about gender re-assignment for minors.

I am convinced that this radical intervention on children will one day be viewed with the revulsion that lobotomy currently carries.

#6 Comment By El Anciano On March 10, 2017 @ 6:13 pm

Her conclusions sound similar to those of Joseph D. Unwin in his book Sex and Culture written in 1934.

#7 Comment By Fran Macadam On March 10, 2017 @ 10:37 pm

There was this guy who was obsessed with selfies, name of Narcissus…

#8 Comment By Agnikan On March 11, 2017 @ 1:15 pm

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
— Galatians iii:xxviii

#9 Comment By brazilian On March 11, 2017 @ 5:19 pm

No wonder most of the comments are skeptical. Most people who live in a time of decay often do not realize this. People still praised the grandeur of Rome around the year 400.
Modern society seems more and more like Cowslip’s Warren from the book Watership Down. In Richard Adams’s novel, a farmer provides the rabbits of their lands with a nourishing diet and rid them of their predators, keeping them in their habitat, yet surrounded by deadly traps. Under these conditions, the rabbits decide to resign themselves to the situation and deny their ideals of heroic masculinity that would take them against the dangers and spend the day eating and cultivating artistic ideals that are supposedly high but empty, which make them feel very cultured and evolved, But that serve only to kill time, as long as they do not fall into the trap. When that happens, the dead are promptly forgotten. Still, any questioning of the situation within the warren is tacitly forbidden and punished by death by the rabbits, who only able to kill their comrades to treachery, since they unlearned open combat.
Watership Down, in my opinion, is the most underrated literary masterpiece of the twentieth century.
Forgive the bad english. I used Google Translate.

#10 Comment By Thrice A Viking On March 12, 2017 @ 7:41 pm

Brazilian, your English isn’t half bad, I’ve made more mistakes than that in a piece about as long as yours – and I’m a native speaker/writer, albeit a careless one at times. And you make a good point, I’ve always loved Watership Down too.

It may have slipped my attention, but I don’t believe that anyone had made the point that jumps out at me. To wit: our Western society seems so short of “masculinity”, heroic or otherwise, while elsewhere, particularly in the Arab world, there is a super-abundance of it. To be sure, the Middle East points out the toxicity of too much. But how can we defend ourselves against the rising tide of Islamism without having rather more of Heroic Masculinity than is available to us now? That’s the question that haunts me.

#11 Comment By JonF On March 13, 2017 @ 10:45 am

Thrice a Vikming,

Masculinity is culturally determined there is no one-size-fits-all standard for it. Homer, for example, portrayed his heroes as acting like middle-school girls, lots of back-biting and outright weeping. Just because the Middle East has different standards than we do doe not make them more masculine.

#12 Comment By Thrice A Viking On March 14, 2017 @ 4:22 pm

Jon F, I’m not so sure about that. If you believe in evolution, as most of the commenters here seem to do, then there would seemingly have to be some genes that are more common in females, others more often in males. There may be different cultural expressions of it, to be sure, but there must be some underlying patterns beneath the outward appearance. (To confess my bias, I’m a creationist, albeit of an Old Earth variety.) In any event, the way Paglia is using it seems to suggest that she thinks of it as the urge to build, fight for, and even die for causes one believes are right. That does seem to be more common in the ME than in the West, at least to me. I may be wrong about that, of course.

#13 Comment By MCH On June 30, 2017 @ 10:14 am

You left one important information– the demise of “patriarchal” civilizations. If you are a true feminist, the you should be ok with dismantling patriarchy. Greek, Roman, and Germanic societies were all patriarchies. All the European societies you mentioned were patriarchies. They were based on control, ownership and colonialism. I would certainly want them to disappear. Meanwhile, non-Western societies that were more egalitarian, connected to nature, nurturing, and community-based have accepted, respected and even revered what the patriarchal societies’ would conceive as gender and sexual transgressors, e.g., transgender and nonbinary people. For example, the Two-Spirits, Mahu, Babaylans, and Hijras. Your analysis is suspiciously Euro-centric and particularly Patriarchal.

#14 Comment By E On September 21, 2017 @ 8:28 am

There are a lot of comments which may have already addressed the points I’m about to bring up. If so, my bad – nothing to see here. Either way:

1. If we want to talk egoism, please cite social media’s format of sensationalizing communal communications, personal interactions etc.

2. “Gay’s have to accept they can’t reproduce…”
– this suggests that homosexuality is taught. Are you saying that homosexuality would disappear if not for its public presence? I’m sure we both agree that makes no sense. Homosexuality is naturally a part of humanity, there will always be people who are born gay, so then the question is “how will they be treated”. The greater the public awareness is, the higher the chances are that people will be safe and live better lives. There is a culture that exists, sure, but there are many gay people who don’t want anything to do with it.

Y’know, or you could go ahead and try to make this into some weird tribalism thing calling out an infiltration…

3. We simply need proper leaders. To know when to be adaptive and when to be protective.