Gods And Monsters
Reader Siluan, in the following comment on the “Metaphysics of the Men’s Room” thread, explains succinctly why yes, transgenderism actually is a much bigger deal than accommodating a very small number of individuals who believe they were born in the wrong bodies:
What must be remembered in all of this is that the leftward impulse in human politics (the propelling force behind Progressivism) has always been the impulse towards transcendence. That impulse is of course not a bad thing – indeed it is a necessary check and balance on the rightward impulse – but in Progressivism it is allowed to become the only impulse, unchecked by anything at all.
This is precisely why the transgender movement is taking off so unbelievably. The left has won its other objectives. The idea that two men can marry and live as a couple has transcended – if not demolished – thousands of years of human culture, tradition and morality. It has all been smashed. The defenses of the family and the church are breached, and the remaining offensive against them is now only a mop-up operation.
Transgenderism, however, is a whole new offensive. This movement is an attack on reality itself; an attempt to transcend not just human constructs like culture and tradition, but to transcend the very “givenness” of human reality itself. If you remember your De Beauvoir you will surely remember her observation that human freedom is always finite due to this very “givenness” of the world. Man is “cast” into the world, without his consent, and as such can never be truly free. Gender is, of course, one of the primary “givens” of human existence. We are born either one thing or the other, and until recently, there was little we could do about it. No choice – no freedom. You are what you are.
The transgender revolution attacks this very thing. It promises that we can transcend one of primary givens of our existence. As such, it becomes an immensely powerful condensed symbol for the future course of the entire Progressive, leftward movement.
An immensely powerful condensed symbol for the future course of the entire, Progressive, leftward movement. We need to understand this truth, and its implications for the future. I refer you again to this paragraph in a 1993 essay in The Nation, at the dawn of the second, post-Stonewall wave of gay activism that began with the massive march on Washington that year. The original piece is not available online; I quoted it in my “Sex After Christianity” essay a couple of years ago:
All the crosscurrents of present-day liberation struggles are subsumed in the gay struggle. The gay moment is in some ways similar to the moment that other communities have experienced in the nation’s past, but it is also something more, because sexual identity is in crisis throughout the population, and gay people—at once the most conspicuous subjects and objects of the crisis—have been forced to invent a complete cosmology to grasp it. No one says the changes will come easily. But it’s just possible that a small and despised sexual minority will change America forever.
I don’t know who the author was, but he or she was a prophet. The struggle for gay rights was, as the author notes, the consummation of all contemporary “liberation” struggles. It was the “immensely powerful condensed symbol” of its day, and the movement achieved nearly all its goals. It has not yet converted all the holdouts, or achieved total legislative success, but the latter goal will be realized within the next decade or two, and the holdouts will be made pariahs.
But progressivism is never satisfied. There is always some new fence to tear down to build utopia. Siluan’s observation brought to mind something I heard an academic researcher on human sexuality and society say once, before it could have gotten him blacklisted: that transgenderism is a threat to social stability on far more serious level than homosexuality. When he was asked to explain that, he said more or less what Siluan does above: that homosexuality mostly works within received gender paradigms, however subversive it may be to longstanding customs and religious teachings. Transgenderism, though, denies the meaning of gender and givenness, and that there is any such reality to our bodies that is not self-chosen.
This is going to be the common view soon enough. From a story two days ago about a new Reuters/Ipsos poll:
Support for transgender rights on the bathroom issues was strongest among those aged 18 to 29, who supported gender identity over birth certificate gender by 62 percent to 29 percent.
The poll was on bathroom issues, but I think it’s safe to say that one’s opinion on the bathroom corresponds closely to one’s opinion on transgenderism in general. So this is the future for us, most likely. True, nothing is fated, but ask yourself: what force is likely to stop it?
Here is where the lazy metaphysics of consumer-capitalist America is taking us, beyond transgender: to transhumanism. According to one of transhumanism’s proponents:
Humans are handicapped by our biology. We operate tens of thousands of years behind evolution with our inherited instincts, which means our behavior is not suited towards its current environment. Futurists like to say evolution is always late to the dinner party. We have instincts that apply to our biology in a world that existed ages ago; not a world of skyscrapers, cell phones, jet air travel, the Internet, and CRISPR gene editing technology. We must catch up to ourselves. We must evolve our thinking to adapt to where we are in the evolutionary ascent. We must force our evolution in the present day via our reasoning, inventiveness, and especially our scientific technology. In short, we must embrace transhumanism—the radical field of science that aims to turn humans into, for lack of a better word, gods.
Transhumanists believe we must stand guard against our natural genes, less they chain us to remaining as animals forever. We believe our outdated instincts can easily trick us from knowing right from wrong, practical from impractical. If one looks closely, the human body and its biology constantly highlight our many imperfections.
I think I have an idea of what it must have felt like to be a spectator in the first decades of the 20th century, watching the eugenics movement start. The best, most progressive and scientific minds of the day supported it. Lest you think that what happens on elite campuses stays there, here’s a bit from a recent article in Harvard Magazine about the role of the university in founding and promoting the movement:
None of these actions created problems for [university president emeritus and eugenics advocate Charles William] Eliot at Harvard, for a simple reason: they were well within the intellectual mainstream at the University. Harvard administrators, faculty members, and alumni were at the forefront of American eugenics—founding eugenics organizations, writing academic and popular eugenics articles, and lobbying government to enact eugenics laws. And for many years, scarcely any significant Harvard voices, if any at all, were raised against it.
Harvard’s role in the movement was in many ways not surprising. Eugenics attracted considerable support from progressives, reformers, and educated elites as a way of using science to make a better world. Harvard was hardly the only university that was home to prominent eugenicists. Stanford’s first president, David Starr Jordan, and Yale’s most acclaimed economist, Irving Fisher, were leaders in the movement. The University of Virginia was a center of scientific racism, with professors like Robert Bennett Bean, author of such works of pseudo-science as the 1906 American Journal of Anatomy article, “Some Racial Peculiarities of the Negro Brain.”
But in part because of its overall prominence and influence on society, and in part because of its sheer enthusiasm, Harvard was more central to American eugenics than any other university. Harvard has, with some justification, been called the “brain trust” of twentieth-century eugenics, but the role it played is little remembered or remarked upon today.
We know how that all turned out. What is past is prologue. The philosophical and cultural foundations are being laid right now. Watch.