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Today In Soft Totalitarianism

Philosopher Maura Priest arguing that the state should take trans children away from parents unwilling to agree to medical transition (

Check out this abstract of a recent paper in medical ethics:

Got that? Maura Priest, the philosopher writing here, says that Love Will Not Win unless parents have no right to say whether or not their children can be injected with sex hormones, have their breasts removed, be treated with psychotherapy to convince them that they are the opposite sex, and so forth. Here’s a link to the abstract; I can’t access the whole paper. In 2018, Maura Priest made similar points in a bioethics seminar captured on video here; she claims, for example, that children should be seized from parents for sex changes on the same principle that allows the state to force blood transfusions on the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses, over parental objections.

Maura Priest has been going on about this for some time. In 2019, Wesley J. Smith analyzed an earlier paper of hers. Excerpt:

The American Journal of Bioethics is a mainstream professional publication with wide distribution among members of the bioethics movement and within the medical intelligentsia. If advocacy appears in AJOB, it is considered respectable; it is considered defendable; it is considered justifiable.

Which is why the article I am about to describe should alarm the hell out of everyone. A bioethicist named Maura Priest, from Arizona State University, argues that children with gender dysphoria have the right to have their puberty blocked medically — and that if parents don’t consent, the state should push them aside and do it anyway. From, “Transgender Children and the Right to Transition:”

The formal argument runs as follows:

1. The state has a duty to protect minors from serious harm inflicted by their caretakers.
2. Harm that leads to suicide is a serious harm.
3. Transgender youth with non-supportive parents are at a high risk of psychological harm leading to suicidal tendencies.
4. Therefore, the state should pay special attention to, and has a duty to protect, transgender minors from psychological harm inflicted via their caretakers.

Notice that the concept of “harm” is turned on its head:  Parents are harming their children who identify as the other sex for refusing to permit radical, body-altering transitioning interventions wanted by the child before puberty, i.e., long before children have decision-making capacity. Why, refusing to block puberty promotes suicide!

This is utterly nuts. Parents can love and support their gender-dysphoric children in many ways beyond yielding powerlessly to a child’s desires. A gender dysphoric kid’s suffering and despair can be compassionately addressed while refusing to allow their child to be injected with strong drugs and hormones.

Besides, blocking puberty is itself a harm. It should be seen as unethical human experimentation, the long-term health consequences of which cannot be known given that it has only been clinically applied for the last few years. Preventing the natural development of secondary sex characteristics and normal maturation can also cause immediate deleterious side effects, such as a loss of bone density.

And guess what: Some dysphoric children move past their other-sex gender identification and go on to live happily as the sex they were born biologically.

That could happen less if Priest gets her way. Rather than treating the condition, she would reinforce gender dysphoria in those so afflicted.

Which is why Priest argues that the state should propagandize dysphoric children to want this radical intervention, and moreover, to strip objecting parents of their right to decide:

My strategy for defending the formal argument above revolves around arguing in favor of two normative claims:
1. Transgender youth should have access to treatment that is not dependent upon parental approval.
2. There should be state-sponsored, publicly available information regarding gender dysphoria, transgender identification, and means of appropriate treatment.

More specifically, Priest argues that schools should propagandize for transgenderism and provide medical and psychological interventions without parental consent:

Implementing this policy only is half the battle. Transgender youth without supportive parents are not helped unless they access health care clinics and counseling that will help with the transition. Hence, there is an additional duty of the state to help facilitate sharing this information with vulnerable youths. I argued that one of the first places this should be done is in public schools. In addition, information should be available at publicly funded health clinics.

Eventually, as you knew she would, the ironically named Priest shouts her bigotry against traditional faith values:

One objection to my proposal is simply a concern about the intrusion it imposes on the autonomy of the family. Imagine that parents have religious values against children expressing transgender dress and behavior. Are not parents allowed to raise their kids according to their own religious values? And if so, how can I argue that parents must be forced not only to accept, but to facilitate, transition?

The mistake here is in thinking that parents have rights to raise their children according to their religious values, full stop. Like nearly all rights, the right of parents to raise children according to their own values is not absolute. Rather, parents have such authority up to and until the point at which a given decision or practice threatens serious harm. According to some religious sects, after all, girls who are raped should be put to death. Obviously, parents have no right to do this regardless of whether doing so accords with their religion.

Good grief. Refusing to allow your child to be the subject of experimental interventions is equivalent morally and should be legally, she says, to killing a child who was raped? That’s just flat-out nuts.

It turns out that the Trans-Industrial Complex and its medical enablers really are coming for your children. A friend in Texas snapped this photo in the Barnes & Noble section for toddlers over the weekend. He said, “There was a whole display about it.”:

Seriously, people: in a major medical journal, they are now talking about why it is necessary to essentially kidnap children from parents to turn them into the opposite sex. This is not Nazi Germany. This is liberal America. And we just keep on chewing our cuds, thinking that It Won’t Happen To Us.


Rat out your own family members to the FBI. Wow. A reader e-mails:

The whole push for citizen informants was mysteriously missing from the ISIS terrorist attacks in the US and Europe from 2014 to present. It illustrates how the left is incapable of targeting jihadists but exceedingly eager to turn them on conservatives.

I’m going to keep saying it: Read Live Not By Lies and start preparing for the future. For example, we need to start building underground railroads now to help dissident families keep their children from being set upon by these Dr. Frankensteins.

Along these lines, let me commend to you Abigail Shrier’s latest newsletter, this time commending Christopher Rufo for his powerful and effective work fighting back against Critical Race Theory. Shrier contrasts Rufo’s methods with the lame methods of other conservatives. Her title says it all: “Want To Save America? Don’t Act Like A Conservative”. Excerpts:

And while academics and other pedants quibble over whether “Critical Race Theory” is the right term, Rufo is out there identifying the problem, alerting the public, and sounding all available alarms. If he hasn’t yet slain the beast, he has at least awakened American parents from their coma, convinced them that they cannot trust the teachers and administrators and school boards who treat children, not as students, but as recruits for their revolution.

How did Rufo do it? By gathering evidence and pointing out the glaring harm in clear, unapologetic (but never crass or rude) language. He speaks not to the elites, but to Americans, and he makes an intelligible argument: “Anti-Racism” is just racism in progressive clothing; it’s teaching our kids to hate themselves and each other.

Rufo engages with the culture in the straightforward manner of a gentleman soldier. He neither grovels to the intellectual class nor strains to fit his arguments into the warped mold of their lingo. And he doesn’t pick fights for their own sake.

In other words, Rufo has thus far sailed clear of the Scylla and Charybdis conservatives so often pinball against: hyper-polite fecklessness on one side of the boat and chest-thumping ignorance on the other. When parents ask me how to combat Gender Ideology in their schools, this is the course I tell them to follow as well.

Contrast this approach with Republican Senator James Lankford’s June 10th questioning of HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. Mr. Lankford noted that the HHS had “shifted in places from using the term ‘mother’ to ‘birthing people’?”

Why the change? Senator Lankford wanted to know.

“I’d have to go back and take a look at the language that was used in the budget,” Secretary Becerra said, as if this were a technical matter of budget arcana—“But I think it simply reflects the work that’s being done.”

“I definitely get that,” Senator Lankford replied affably. “I would only say the language is important always. We don’t want to offend in our language. I get that. But would you at least admit calling a mom a ‘birthing person’ could be offensive to some moms?”

“Senator, I’ll go back and take a look at the terminology that was used,” Secretary Becerra replied.

Consider the scene: The HHS deletes the word “mother” and the Republican response is to muse aloud about this—as if the HHS has done nothing more than referred to “cookies” as “biscuits.” It’s a clip worth watching because it exemplifies decades of Republican failure in culture wars that have seen Leftists wipe the floor with them.


Aw Shucks Conservatives are willing to disagree with the Left, but they first want to get all the terminology right—“Now, which is it again: is ‘non-binary’ the same as they/them? Or ‘she/they?’” They don’t understand that the chaos is the point. While they strain to avoid a faux pas, they don’t even feel the dagger going in. They chuckle with their buddies that Woke beliefs are “nonsense upon stilts,” to use Bentham’s term—and that voters will surely respond in the next midterm election. They do not fight Silicon Valley—they are confused about whether their belief in free market economics allows it. They do not fight for women—not if it means any mud splashed on their full-break trousers. They have lost every important cultural battle and – if given over to their protection – we would lose America.

They pine for a return to debating the Kiddie Tax or privatizing Social Security. They are polite and naïve. To the activist Left, they look like a meal.

There is another sort of conservative, of course—the youthful, chest-beating, triumphalist sort. It lacks neither fight nor heart. It relies heavily on mantras. Some of its instincts are correct—but it rarely seems to know why.

Chest-Beating conservatism offends on purpose, as if offense itself were an argument. It ham hocks the Left’s grist—CRT or Gender Ideology—into an overstuffed and unappetizing conservative burrito: “This is all because of gay marriage!” “This is all because of Roe!” “Ban in vitro fertilization!” “Blame Caitlyn Jenner!” and the like.

Think what you want about abortion or same-sex marriage, but neither has anything to do with the crisis at hand—or how to repair it. Abortion is an important moral and political question—but not every other serious issue we face bears upon it or derives from it. And neither same-sex marriage nor Caitlyn Jenner poses any threat to children.

Conservatives were handed a political gift they did not win and do not deserve—the disaster of the Left’s ascent. The activist Left’s policy agenda is widely disliked. Its positions veer between unreasonable (Defund the Police), unlivable (indulge looters, larcenists, and vandals), unsustainable (open the borders), and untenable (transwomen are women). Almost no one actually agrees with any of this. But rather than find common cause with moderates who would join the fight, Chest-Beating Conservatives would rather heap contempt on moderates, score points for Team Red, and sully themselves in rudeness. They can have no lasting impact on a culture they are quick to condemn but lack the curiosity to engage.

The Left wages war every day, in every school system in America and, no doubt, many a summer camp. It knows the stakes are high and it comes prepared to fight. It has an uncomplicated revulsion for Judeo-Christian religion, American traditions, American symbols, our founders, and individual rights. It despises the nuclear family, like good Marxists do—which is the real reason it cannot abide the words “mother” and “father.” (It understands no one was ever moved to family formation by the dream of becoming a “gestational parent.”) It does not disguise its plan to replace all of these things.

The Aw Shucks Conservatives meet the Left reluctantly and meekly, praying like hell the other side will forfeit. (It won’t.) They allow themselves to be convinced that the current madness will burn itself out, or that they could not possibly respond to even the most outlandish of Woke claims—like whether biological men’s participation is healthy for women’s sports—without a PhD in kinesiology. They dream that America will come to its senses.

The Chest-Beating Conservatives at least do not underestimate the task at hand. But they lack discipline and restraint and occasionally even seem to revel in ignorance. They find their personification in Marjorie Taylor Greene, the greatest thing to happen to the Left since Roy Moore.

Far too impatient to comprehend America’s current crisis, they howl “This is insane!” over and over, until they are the ones who seem unhinged. It is no accident that they are error-prone: they do not believe facts are important and they never bother to learn them. They think the gist of an argument is enough. They win claps from the same smarting-red hands and never manage to persuade a single open mind.

Read it all. It’s so, so good. I don’t agree with every aspect of it, but man, is it ever necessary reading for the Right. We are losing our country, and the Republican Party is either unwilling to fight the actual battle we are in, or its factions are too emotional, undisciplined, and given over to grift to do the hard, hard work of resistance. As I have said here many times in the past, people on the Right are far too easily satisfied by emotionally satisfying outbursts of anti-liberal contempt that actually change nothing.

That can change. It had better. Parents have got to start loudly and insistently fighting back, and asserting our rights. It would be mighty nice if some GOP politicians could find the courage to help us.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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