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Nobody wins the gender wars Kathleen Stock's new book lays out the irreconcilable absurdities of the trans debate

Diego Radames/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Diego Radames/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)


May 6, 2021   6 mins

In 529 AD, at Monte Cassino, St Benedict of Nursia founded the abbey that would become the first and greatest home of the Benedictine order. According to Gregory the Great, this new institution was built on the ruins of an older one: a shrine to Apollo, Greek god of truth, poetry, music, light and the sun.

The same year, the Emperor Justinian closed the Platonic Academy in Athens, making 529AD a symbolic turning-point: the year pre-Christian philosophy lost its place as the dominant worldview. For the thousand-odd years that followed, institutions such as Monte Cassino represented the centres of knowledge production, which from then until relatively recently was inseparable from the Christian faith.

It took the philosophers of the 18th century to unpick intellectual life from religion. The completeness of their eventual victory is demonstrated by the very term “Enlightenment”, which frames everything that preceded it as darkness.

Even the word “medieval”, a coinage of modern intellectual historians, implies a sort of historical flyover country between the enlightened ancient and modern worlds. And our modern world was only freed from this no man’s land of superstition, squalor, and theocratic violence by the brave rejection of religious authority, and rediscovery of the classical learning whose light was for so long hidden under Christianity’s bushel. Or that’s how the story goes, anyway.

Another few centuries later, we once again live in an age characterised by the sort of disagreement Benedict or Justinian would have recognised: a conflict as profound as “Apollo vs Jesus”, or “Church Authority vs Science”. Except this time, it’s the Enlightenment on the back foot  as new ideas and beliefs overwhelm the old. As these theories have come to engulf not just academia but growing swathes of our political life, increasingly agitated commentators predict a new dimming of the light, perhaps even the end of western civilisation itself.

Reading Material Girls, Kathleen Stock’s new book on the increasingly radioactive transgender debate, my sense is that prophecies of apocalypse may be overblown. But also that the Age of Reason is indeed firmly in the rear-view mirror — a fact that presents the author herself with some difficulties.

Stock herself is a professor of analytic philosophy at the University of Sussex, and approaches the discussion of trans activism with the patient lucidity you’d expect of someone immersed in that most reasonable of disciplines. She defines her terms: “sex”, “gender”, “gender identity” and so on. She clarifies some of the things she is not saying, such as that trans people are delusional, or lying, or predators. She provides a brief outline of some key moments in cultural (and particularly feminist) history that have contributed to trans activism. And she presents, in relatively neutral terms, her understanding of the position she wishes to argue against.

Then, having defined her terms and excluded confounding issues, she argues that humans cannot literally change sex but only “gender” — and that conflating the two has a number of damaging effects.

Having, as it were, set out her own intellectual stall, and provided a whistle-stop tour of the feminist and queer-theory lenses usually applied to this debate, she employs neither. Instead, she borrows from her own area of academic expertise: the philosophy of fiction. Trans identification is a form of immersion in fiction, she argues, which can enrich human life in many ways. It’s both real and not-real.

“Immersion” is also both real and not-real: a state of awareness halfway between full belief and full disbelief. Both these states matter in different ways. We may be absorbed by a film at the cinema, and find a particularly good one deeply satisfying and life-enhancing, but that wouldn’t stop us from leaving in a hurry if the fire alarm goes off and the room fills with smoke. But, she suggests, recent activism has sought legislative changes that in effect compel everyone to act as if we believe these fictions in all ways identical to reality.

And this, she argues, has negative effects, especially for women and same-sex attracted people, because underlying realities continue to be politically salient. Redefining them as unmentionable or irrelevant does not make them go away, any more than making it socially unacceptable to mention the smell of smoke would do anything to prevent a fire at the cinema.

To illustrate, consider the now-notorious case of “Karen White”. This individual, a convicted sex offender, is in all respects physiologically male but was moved to a women’s prison after claiming to identify as a woman. White then sexually assaulted several female inmates.

In her commitment to free speech, good-faith debate, clear and careful argument and upholding reason over dogma, Stock writes faithfully in the tradition of the Enlightenment. The example of Karen White is a textbook instance of the warning sounded in On Miracles by one of that era’s foremost thinkers, the humanist Voltaire: “Once your faith [
] persuades you to believe what your intelligence declares to be absurd, beware lest you likewise sacrifice your reason in the conduct of your life [
] Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”

But here, exactly, lies the rub. The activism she seeks to challenge is the political wing of a contemporary cultural movement committed to dismantling the Enlightenment’s intellectual foundations.

As you’d expect from an analytic philosopher grounded in Enlightenment moral and intellectual priors, Stock wants us to see the world as it is. As she puts it: “Features of the world, and our collective human interests in them, are not arbitrary, and that’s what we should be trying to make concepts responsive to”.

But her antagonists dissent from this basic premise: as they see it, our ideas about the world do help to create “the world as it is”; and to make matters worse, it is arbitrary. What emerges in Material Girls is a tussle between these radically mutually incompatible understandings of the relation between knowledge and power.

When University of Edinburgh students recently censured the anthropology lecturer Neil Thin, they saw the aim of studying as “to learn how to decolonise our thinking and create an inclusive society and environment”. It’s a view that more closely resembles the medieval fusion of intellectual study and religious faith than it does the critical Enlightenment stance that supplanted it.

But for Stock, knowledge is what matters, while power can and should be relegated to background enabling condition for the production of more and better knowledge. So, for example, the “main point” of universities is in her view “to produce and disseminate socially useful knowledge”.

And yet the most compelling section of Stock’s book concerns, in fact, precisely the operations of power: specifically, of those powers (including some at her own university) currently going all out to suppress her worldview in favour of their own.

She lists, for example, the use of institutional power to enforce “preferred pronouns”, and social taboos against “misgendering” in educational contexts. She further details what she characterises as “propaganda” employed by activists in pursuit of their political aims: statistical sleight of hand, emotive talk of suicide risks, and the growing institutional popularity of the startlingly pseudo-religious Transgender Day of Remembrance.

And even as she expertly wields the discursive tools of the Age of Reason — its careful logic, efforts at good-faith representation of the opposing argument, and so on — to dissect this emerging paradigm, Stock herself deftly (and enjoyably) spikes her own guns. She does this rhetorically, through acerbic wit, outbreaks of exasperation (“Frankly, this is mad”) or first-person interjections into otherwise dispassionate analysis.

The same implicit acknowledgement of the limits to rational analysis emerges even more powerfully in her account of the “gender-critical” resistance to trans activist policy capture, in which self-organised groups of activists “held meetings, made websites and wrote blog posts, marshalling their tiny resources highly effectively against well-embedded organisations like Stonewall, Mermaids and the Scottish Trans Alliance”.

Somehow, by dint of determination, these groups pushed back against well-funded and politically connected lobbies to effect meaningful change. In other words: it wasn’t reasonable persuasion as such that moved the needle. It was leaning as hard as possible on every available lever of political power.

This isn’t just about those wicked postmodernists (of which I probably qualify as a member). It’s more that we are now, as a culture, losing such faith as we ever collectively had in facts and reason. In its most grounded version, this manifests as a dizzying discourse of political claim and counter-claim, all supposedly backed by objective statistics. At its more baroque end it drives the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories. The point is that it’s not just angry students with “woke” ideas who think reality is old hat: it’s everyone.

The first Benedictine abbey was built over the ruins of a Temple of Apollo, and a thousand years later the monuments of Christianity found themselves sidelined by a renewed worship of Reason. Today, once again, we’re seeing Reason dethroned, by a form of cultural criticism that first used the Enlightenment’s own weapons against it, and is now committed to demolishing its altars and erecting its own in the rubble.

I’m unconvinced that this new paradigm can be effectively contested using the tools of the old one. Stock’s analysis is razor-sharp, in Enlightenment terms, and her prose is finely-honed. But it doesn’t matter how exquisitely crafted your knife is, if you’re bringing it to a gunfight you’re still going to lose.

For our emerging post-Enlightenment politics has abandoned even the pretence of persuasion when it comes to pursuing cultural and political change. Today’s modus operandi is a pincer approach characterised by policy capture backed by the threat of social sanction, whether enforced by HR departments or by punitive online mobs. And evidence so far – including that cited by Stock — suggests this works just as well in defence of “reality” as in undermining it.

What doesn’t work is pretending we all still agree on what reality is. For that, as the postmodernists are fond of pointing out, you also need power.


Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.

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J Bryant
J Bryant
3 years ago

What doesn’t work is pretending we all still agree on what reality is.
I strongly suspect we all know perfectly well what reality is. The wokerati pretend it is something different and use “the pincer approach” described in the article to enforce that synthetic vision on everyone else. The goal is political power and any narrative will do as a vehicle to obtain that power.
Another fine article from Mary Harrington. Unherd contributors excel at analyzing the phenomenon of wokeism, transgenderism, decolonization, etc. When will they turn their sharp intellects to proposing ways to fight back against these trends, or at least explain why they think these new trends are inevitable and irresistible?

Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
3 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

“we all know perfectly well what reality is”
Yeah I do agree with that. 20 year old undergraduates don’t know what reality is, but they never have. Nothing’s really changed there. What’s different from the late c20 is their ability to exert power.

Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
3 years ago

Oh I don’t know about all that. Some of them, clearly. But I wouldn’t want to generalise. There are the same number of talented and untalented students as there always were. Talented students just are who they are. They haven’t changed. Youth and energy can cut both ways in this. We’ll see.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago

Some of my students complain that unless you’re trans or black you’re often not listened to. Colleges are teaching young people that loud denunciations will get them further than clever industriousness.

Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
3 years ago
Reply to  Brian Dorsley

But that situation, where a lot of people are unable to speak their minds, is inherently unstable. That’s why it has to be enforced. It probably won’t last, but on the other hand it has the potential to get much worse in society at large. We’ve seen both outcomes in the past, although in recent history in the west it has tended to dispell. But it might not this time. Social media is new and unprecedented for example.

Douglas McNeish
Douglas McNeish
3 years ago

It lasted 70 years under Soviet Communism.

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
3 years ago

I’m not so sure its the vast majority of 20 year old undergraduates that have any real interest in all this woke/BLM/trans tosh or if its 20 year old undergraduates that do have interest in woke/BLM/trans tosh but have the ability shout very loud. Maybe when they grow up they’ll all be less interested, just get on with life and find out the perils and pitfalls of earning their own living instead of leaning on their parents for a sheltered existence. Get a job kids and welcome to the real world.

Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
3 years ago

It’s not the majority as far as I can see, the majority are normal 20 year olds and many don’t really believe this stuff, or care very deeply if they do. But they can get cancelled too.

Johannes Kreisler
Johannes Kreisler
3 years ago

It’s a loud minority. Followed by an impressionable, culturally insecure, clueless majority badgered by peer pressure into thinking that wokery (blm/marxism/trans/etc. tosh) is somehow cool, so they parrot all the buzzwords, chants and slogans. Much of the latter group will (hopefully) grow out of it as they grow and develop.
It’s the former group, the loud minority, who ends up in key positions (education, media, politics, civil service) which enables them to set the narrative and to make policies / legislation according to their narrative.

pdrodolf
pdrodolf
3 years ago

This has been my profound hope when I hear my twenty-something year old highly educated daughters dispensing this woke trash. That is that their positions will moderate once they attain some professional success, recognition and the remuneration that goes along with that. Not to mention a mortgage, possibly marriage and children.

Geoff H
Geoff H
3 years ago

They will be too mentally feeble by then – they have to have ‘safe spaces’ now as it is.

Tom Graham
Tom Graham
3 years ago

That is what people were saying five or ten years ago – they will grow out of this obviously insane b.s.
Sadly that hasn’t happened. What they have done is get jobs in academia, the media, politics, and most frightening of all, in education.

Jonathan Weil
Jonathan Weil
3 years ago

I blame Disney (et al). Raise a generation on the myth that anything is possible, just as long as you believe, and this is what you get.

Simon Cooper
Simon Cooper
3 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan Weil

And that breaking the rules is entirely positive because only then can you be who you are truly meant to be.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

“When will they turn their sharp intellects to proposing ways to fight back etc”

Perhaps being able to analyse current social phenomenons and write about them critically is a form of fightback.

Last edited 3 years ago by Claire D
Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
3 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

I vacillate on this.
Is wokeism mostly performative to distract from the increasingly aristocratic wealth and credentials of the woke? The most woke are often the least educated (in an Enlightenment sense) but the most educationally credentialed. Could the absurd demands of our best and brightest be a stage show, all sound and fury, signifying nothing?
More frighteningly, could they really believe it? Does university simply serve as a entry into a new faith and a new god. If so, this portends disaster — American bumper stickers aside, gods do not coexist well.

Douglas McNeish
Douglas McNeish
3 years ago

For the middle classes, it is performative atonement for their privilege when confronted with militant narratives that hold them responsible for the ills of society.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

I suppose we should be grateful nobody has gone full Greek legend and claim to be half man half goat.

Helen E
Helen E
3 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Test

Mike Boosh
Mike Boosh
3 years ago

Something to bear in mind with all this is how few people actually believe it. If you look at twitter or the BBC you’d think all this trans nonsense was a mainstream movement, whereas in reality 99% of the population think its madness. Try teliing anyone outside a university that babies are born without a gender or that a man is actually a woman just because he feels like one, and they’ll laugh in your face.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
3 years ago
Reply to  Mike Boosh

What 99% of the population thinks is irrelevant.
30 years ago, 90% of the population would have laughed at the idea of 2 men getting married. 80 years ago, 90% of the population thought abortion was murder. And 300 years ago, 90% of the population thought slavery was acceptable.
Why did those things change? Because the norms of today’s 1% shape the norms of tomorrow’s 99%. From a book by American siciologist John Hunter: “[a revolutionary idea] does not gain traction until it is embraced and propagated by elites through well-developed networks and powerful institutions.”
What your elites believe today, your entire society will adopt as normal 20 years from now. And what your universities are pushing today, your elites will believe as fact in 20 years.

Last edited 3 years ago by Brian Villanueva
Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
3 years ago

I tend to agree with the premise that new ideas begin as a minority interest, and then spread to a more-or-less-majority norm.

Your examples are apposite. They seem to me to be natural developments in human reasoning.

In the case of the new thinking, though, the problem seems to be not just that the ideas are new, but that they trample on facts and disallow discussion.

In other words, the new thinking is not a development of reasoning, but a rejection of reasoning; an expulsion of reason, even.

Your examples can be accepted and sustained over time, because of their appeal to reason. But how can these new changes be sustained?

Sam McLean
Sam McLean
3 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

Very well put.

Douglas McNeish
Douglas McNeish
3 years ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

Name a religion that doesn’t “trample on facts and disallow discussion.” This is why the analogy of religion applies to wokeism – along with its punishment for blasphemy and heresy.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
3 years ago

I absolutely agree with you that wokeism is a religion. No arguing with the revealed truth. Indeed, I have been describing the movement as a religion (from before the time it had the label ‘wokery’).

My last job was in a US bank – pretty humdrum, you might think – but sometimes a day at the office felt as divorced from reality as being in a cult.

Punishment for blasphemy and heresy, certainly; and the elemental battle between the forces of good and evil, light and dark, the elect and the damned.

No chance of redemption, though.

Richard Lyon
Richard Lyon
2 years ago

Is that true? Here in the UK, the “elites” favour political union with Europe, because it benefits them. The rest of society do not, because it does not. It is the view of the rest of society that has prevailed.
Men getting married to other men, abortion, and slavery are “things to have opinions about”, but they don’t affect those who are not getting married, having an abortion, or being enslaved. The same cannot be said of a working class man being told by a member of the “elite” that he is — unconsciously and irredeemably — racist, colonial and transphobic, and must therefore surrender legal, social, and economic benefits to the “elite” person making the demand.
I agree that what the universities are pushing today, the elites will believe as fact in 20 years. But, in this instance, this will result in the elite (metaphorically, one hopes this time) being guillotined, not the surrender of the rest of society.

Last edited 2 years ago by Richard Lyon
William Harvey
William Harvey
3 years ago

This is not the end of science or Enlightenment philosophy. The author is too wrapped in an Anglophone bubble. None of this nonsense is applicable to 90% or more of the world. There is no big “Trans Debate”in India , China , Indonesia, Nigeria etc. Its entirely driven by a vocal minority in one country … the USA. Quite why any other country should take any heed of this amount of focus on such a tiny minority is baffling.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago
Reply to  William Harvey

Hole in one! Well done Sir.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  William Harvey

Why? Because this is what happens when one has the luxury of marinating in first world problems. Things that 99% of the population does not care about become magnified by the professional social warriors. And they are professionals. Think about it – gay rights have largely been achieved. So have civil rights and women’s rights. These people stand to lose their way of making a living or believing themselves relevant. So, a new victim class must be created.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

An interesting reply Alex. I agree that most people do not care about trans rights but wonder if you think that before gay rights, civil rights and women’s rights were pursued the situation for these three groups was acceptable. I feel that these groups had some genuine grievances but a pendulum swung too far.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

It’s not whether people care about trans rights or not, it’s people don’t like being lectured about pronouns and being told that “only women get pregnant” constitutes heresy. The resident trans writer here summed it up nicely yesterday – “treat me like a person.” I have no quarrel with that.
My point is ALL activism swings too far; much of it has gone from cause to racket. It must be perpetuated because livelihoods depend on it. And a society whose lower-order needs such as food, shelter, and work are met, can afford to concern itself with other things. The same people who used to champion multi-culturalism now scream about cultural appropriation. That’s crazy. Appropriation is a feature of multi-culti, not a bug.

Last edited 3 years ago by Alex Lekas
Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Thank you!

Madeleine Morey
Madeleine Morey
3 years ago
Reply to  William Harvey

Follow the money. Check out the handful of billionaires who are funding the movement. Learn how they have done it – quietly and with worldwide success. And follow the organisations who, unfunded, are opposing them.

marschalljones
marschalljones
3 years ago
Reply to  William Harvey

Also because languages with grammatical genders find the separation of “sex” from “gender” easier to make? As Philip Larkin pointed out, people in the U.K. only found this out after the Chatterly trial and before the first Beatles album. In either Russian or German it is quite normal to refer to the same thing in the same sentience with words ascribed to different genders

David George
David George
3 years ago

No, something else is surely going on in the West, and especially in the Anglosphere, which can’t be explained purely by historical karma. Over the last few years, a new and still-coalescing ideology, which has been gathering steam in the post-modern catacombs of America for decades, has burst out onto the streets and into the studios, and is now coursing through the culture, overturning what was until recently uncontroversial or unquestioned. The energy around it is not that of the self-declared love and justice. It tastes of deconstruction, division, intolerance, hatred and rage.
What, then, is the real significance of the orgy of cultural self-immolation sweeping through the nations of the West? Is it the clearing of the ground for a new way of seeing, a new ideology, a new culture? Maybe. But there is another possibility: that the culture war marks not the birth of a new value system but a last desperate gasp of the old one. It could be that the incoherent semi-ideology of ‘social justice’ will turn out not to be a successor culture at all, but the instrument of our final dismemberment: the flickering of the last thin flames of the Faustian fire.
Paul Kingsnorth

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  David George

Yes, that’s very powerful.

Last edited 3 years ago by Claire D
Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  David George

We’ve had it too good for too long. The Romans went the same way – this is the end of our civilisation playing out in real time in front of our eyes. My worry is what will fill the vacuum of America/Western hegemony because totalitarian communism or Islamist theocracy doesn’t really appeal.

Ian Wigg
Ian Wigg
3 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

Tbh given the choice between the two I’d chose the former. At least under that rational, scientific understanding and query is both allowed and strongly encouraged.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
3 years ago
Reply to  David George

Paul is such a great writer. If anyone here doesn’t know him, you should. He’s an environmentalist who has been searching for transcendental truth for over a decade and recently joined the Orthodox church. It takes a unique life to have a unique perspective, and Paul has both.

Tom Krehbiel
Tom Krehbiel
3 years ago
Reply to  David George

Good quote. But was just the 2nd paragraph Kingnorth’s, or were both?

Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
3 years ago

““As students of social anthropology, we pay to learn how to decolonise our thinking and create an inclusive society and environment by carrying out and learning from research that amplifies the voices of minorities.”
Well, from a university perspective one problem might be this: I think that student is factually correct. That’s indeed what they are paying for.
It’s a vast problem that in this time when propaganda and confusion are on the march, we’re losing our ability to educate our young in a Socratic style of enquiry. It can’t be done if the students are in a position to dictate to their teachers what they want to hear at gunpoint.
But for all that I do feel many on campus are starting to wake up to the seriousness of this. Kathleen Stock has written this book, for example. Many others are worrying about it and writing internet comments in the middle of the night.
It feels psychogically more like a transient macarthyism than an impending 1000 years of medievalism. But it is it’s own thing. It’s new and unpredictable.

J Bryant
J Bryant
3 years ago

I hope you’re right about the transience of this phenomenon, but I’m not yet convinced.

Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
3 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Well I think if this was our only source of instability it would be fixable. But it’s not. It’s all very high dimensional and nonlinear, like the weather. We just can’t say what it will do.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago

I think to write off all the incredible development of thought that went on between 500AD and 1530 as “medievalism” is a mistake.
The atheist view of Christianity may be scoffing (I’m not seeking an argy bargy on that subject) but the fact is it worked for humanity during that period, as did Greek philosophy and warrior culture before that.
IF, if, there is any usefulness to humans in the current social trends they will last, if they are a fashion like the hippies’ peace and love man or a neuroritic response to 9/11 and it’s destablising influence (more likely I think/hope) they will die out.

Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

I think christianity is sometimes opressive and sometimes liberating. It depends where, when and maybe what specific doctrine. I do think medieval society was not especially open to free enquiry or social mobility. I’m not sure christianity caused that, I think there were economic reasons why that society worked that way. But 1000 years is a very long period and it will surely be possible to build a case that they were freer than they seemed.
But clearly you couldn’t just say what you wanted. Some ideas were unsayable, and the social/psychological forces that maintained that situation are perennial and they are emerging again now. Hopefully this is more transient, while we figure out how to use the internet.
Speaking of which I need to turn off the internet because getting stressed about this stuff and writing comments is not productive, but it is addictive.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago

My sympathies, sometimes I have to write forbidding post-it notes and stick them on my laptop to remind me.

Cassian Young
Cassian Young
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

It obviously worked as a meme. Religious societies often triumph in battle – see early Islam. There are signs of religious artefacts dating back 30,000 years. So religion clearly fulfills human needs.
But it didn’t work as a mechanism for producing valid knowledge and that’s what we are talking about here.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  Cassian Young

Sigh.
Yes it did. Monasteries and Nunneries were where and how universities developed, Christian monks and nuns studied, translated or copied Classical philosophy and knowledge alongside new developing ideas in theology, they produced the first books, learnt from their labours as they did so then went on to create more, eg, St Augustine, Aquinas, Hildegarde of Bingen, and many more.

Cassian Young
Cassian Young
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Sigh (let’s not start this)
Are you suggesting that the academy functioned as well at producing knowledge between 500AD and 1500 AD as it did between 500BC and 500AD, or between 1500AD and now?
Note that from 500AD the academy adopted the idea that all important knowledge had already been documented in the earlier period, so your monks and nuns did not actually believe this themselves.

Last edited 3 years ago by Cassian Young
Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  Cassian Young

That’s a strawman if ever I saw one.
I am plainly not “suggesting” anything, I am passing on facts which show your assertion that “medievalism” did not produce any “valid knowledge” to be mistaken.

Last edited 3 years ago by Claire D
Cassian Young
Cassian Young
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

You were arguing with a strawman. No one said that there was no value at all in the activities of scholars between 500AD and 1500AD, rather that the church was a long lasting impediment.
There are two reasons scholarship collapsed after 500AD. One was the fall of Rome, the other was the suppression of the tradition of sceptical enquiry on the Socratic model by the church, because it put religious faith at risk.
The quality of scholarship inside our universities only rose consistently at the end of the 19th century as they left church control.
There is a reason why the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions all took place outside our universities and that reason is clerical control.

Last edited 3 years ago by Cassian Young
Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  Cassian Young

Sorry this is a bit late.
I don’t think I was arguing with a strawman.
In your original reply to me, you say; “religion clearly fulfils human needs. But it did’nt work as a mechanism for producing valid knowledge . .”

In the case of Christianity that is a mistake I think, on the contrary, between 500AD and 1500AD, there was a great flowering of scholarship and culture directly out of the Catholic religion and the institutions it created.
An early example, Archbishop Theodore, appointed to Canterbury 669AD – 690AD, with his colleague Hadrian, Abbot of St Augustines, established a remarkable school there, the first in England that we know of. It revolutionised learning in England, and included poetic metre, the study of chronology, astronomy and scripture.
Another example, the extraordinary Gothic cathedrals and the new building techniques developed to create them as earthly visions of the heavenly city.

I’m not saying Medieval religion was perfect, it had it’s dark side, which at times, in certain places, predominated, but overall it’s impact was profound and vast. It propelled us forward into the early modern period, protestantism and the new thought that that produced.

(My apologies for the sigh)

Last edited 3 years ago by Claire D
Fennie Strange
Fennie Strange
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Excellent answer Claire – now have a look at your post-it notes!

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago
Reply to  Fennie Strange

Cheeky !
(but thanks)

Douglas McNeish
Douglas McNeish
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

Any preservation of classical texts was the work of a small number of people in a limited number of monasteries – like St Gallen in Switzerland. Christianity was a millenarian movement in the sense that it prepared souls for the end of this life and the coming of the next. Hence, classical reason had only a peripheral and transitory role to play in the goal of salvation. This is why it can indeed be called a “flyover zone” (so apt) in the history of knowledge.

Cassian Young
Cassian Young
3 years ago

Thanks. I find that each time I mention that the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions all took place outside our universities because of clerical control, someone argues that the work of St Augustine somehow makes up for this.

Michal Sasiadek
Michal Sasiadek
3 years ago
Reply to  Cassian Young

The mathematics necessary to create the modern calendar were instituted by the Catholioc Church in order to accurately place the date of Easter.

Ian Wigg
Ian Wigg
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

I agree, if students (predominantly) hadn’t pursued creating a reality based on what they wanted it to be the civil rights movement would likely never have achieved what it did.

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Wigg

The difference is that the students in the ’60’s wanted to oppose the falsehood that minorities were inferior to whites. The woke generation wants to oppose the truth that men and women are different.

Ian Wigg
Ian Wigg
3 years ago
Reply to  John Jones

Agree 100% but just because some ideas are monumentally ridiculous doesn’t mean pursuing an ideal is.
University should be the time when the youth should explore radical ideas before they are constrained by the shackles of the drudgery of the real world.
The blame lies with those of the preceding generations who should not be unconditionally accepting those ideas rather than blindly pandering to them.
We all want utopia tomorrow but we all need someone to tell us why it’s both impossible and ultimately undesirable.

Christian Moon
Christian Moon
2 years ago
Reply to  John Jones

Are not both these claims testable hypotheses? Or are they articles of faith? Or moral constructs around which we intend to construct our world without regard for their validity?

Adam Steiner
Adam Steiner
3 years ago

Universities used to be places where young people went to be educated by experts in their field. Now they’re places where experts in their fields go to be educated by young people.

Last edited 3 years ago by Adam Steiner
Jonathan Smith
Jonathan Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Adam Steiner

‘Customer service’ trumps free inquiry now.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Adam Steiner

Young people have always thought they ‘know it all’ but now that notion is not slapped down, it is actively encouraged. The adults have abdicated their authority and no longer teach kids they have responsibilities as well as rights.

Nicholas Rynn
Nicholas Rynn
3 years ago
Reply to  Adam Steiner

I would replace “educated by young people” with “Intimidated by young people”.

Douglas McNeish
Douglas McNeish
3 years ago
Reply to  Adam Steiner

Brings to mind that favourite retort of progressives in debate currently: “You need to educate yourself!”

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

The lunatics have taken over the asylum.

Ray Zacek
Ray Zacek
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

They usually do, because weak mediocrities allow them to.

Grant Turner
Grant Turner
3 years ago

I know this isn’t discussing the main focus of Mrs Harrington’s piece but I wish if journalists are going to make reference to an event in history and make it part of their argument they would at least be accurate with it (not just her fault, but historical illiteracy seems a common problem amongst journalists).

Emperor Justinian (who I’m far from fond of) never shut down Plato’s Platonic Academy, it had come to an end before Christianity existed, and centuries before Justinian was born. It was destroyed during the First Mithradatic War (89-85 BC) which dragged Athens into conflict with Rome. In 86 BC the Roman general Lucius Cornelius Sulla besieged and sacked it, causing massive destruction. As Plutarch says Sulla ‘laid hands upon the sacred groves and ravaged the Academy, which was the most wooded of the city’s suburbs, as well as the Lyceum’ (Sulla, XII). The last head of the Academy, Antiochus of Ascalon, fled to Alexandria and when he returned didn’t refound the Academy but set up his own small school elsewhere. Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero, student of Antiochus, visited the site of the former Academy a generation later describing it as ‘quiet and deserted’ (De Finibus, V).

The Academy that existed at Justinian’s time was not that of Plato but a pale imitation founded in the fourth century AD by the neo-Platonist scholar Plutarch. This small private school was dominated by the teachings of Proclus and was far from the centre of devotion to rationalistic thinking and learning many putting out the fiction Justinian shut down Plato’s Academy imagine.

Proclus and the neo-Platonic devotees of new Academy were of the late neo-Platonic school of Iamblicus. They held to a semi-Gnostic cosmology whereby humans were mired in the physical world that separated them from their true intellectual and spiritual form and nature. They saw the gods as manifestations and emanations from the divine, cosmic One, beings which needed to be invoked by ritual, sacrifice, hymns and the pronouncement of ‘words of power’ and appending sacred and divinely inspired scriptures. Animal sacrifices, stories of visions, miracles and talking statues, practices of ritual magic were their beliefs and practices. At this time some of their leading teachers had also been involved in a event in which in protest to Christian ascendancy they had kidnapped and taken a number of Christians prisoner and in the stand off proceeded to torture a number of them to death. Although the place they held out was stormed, most including the teachers were let go.

But did Justinian shut down this small school of hymn-chanting, magical mystics in some Empire-wide campaign against ‘pagan’ learning? Not it wasn’t (see ‘Justinian, Malalas and the End of Athenian Philosophical Teaching in AD 529’, The Journal of Roman Studies, 94, 2004, pp. 168-182), Justinian issued a general decree that the few remaining overtly pagan schools were no longer to be funded from the imperial treasury. The Athenian Iambican school was clearly not viable without this funding, so it’s last master Damascius closed it down himself, not Justinian. Evidence that his mystical philosophy was more hobby for aristocratic dilettantes than some lively movement being suppressed.

Damascius and some of his small group did decide to leave the Roman Empire in a huff and take refuge in the court of the Sassanian Persian Great King Khosrow 1 in around 532. But Persia didn’t prove to be the idyllic refuge they imagined and a few years later they pertitioned to come home and the apparently terrible Empire under Justinian looking to smash all pagan knowledge said … Sure, come back. They were accepted back and continued to teach unmolested, though not on the imperial payroll.

So that’s it, Justinian neither shut down Plato’s Academy destoryed long before he was born or Christianity emerged, nor did he shut down the small school of mystic followers of Iambicus, just would not pay for them out of the imperial treasury. Nor did thid mean the death of ancient learning, other major schools, far larger and more important by the 6th century than Damascius mystic circle continued to operate with full health in cities like Constantinople, Antioch and Alexandria, which continued to teach the late Roman curriculum of the classics, rhetoric, philosophy and science as they always had. And so no, places such as Monte Cassino did not become the centres of learning in the Greek East as they did in the Latin West (where due to the chaos and collapse politically and economically of the Empire in the West made such centres unsustainable, it was only due to the Church and monasteries that learning did survive, and ironically thanks to Irish monks preserving knowledge and then as part of Anglo-Irish missionary monastic movement into the Continent that reintroduced many works lost and restored/reignited classical learning, particularly under Charlemagne’s reformation under the English Alciun drawing many works found by then only in England or Ireland). It was later pressures such as the Arabic invasions that saw schools close or be cut off from the Empire or become unviable. But the East never lost this classical learning, nor was it’s instruction ever suppressed.

I know this might make me a bit of a ‘well acukkually’ guy, but seeing historical falsehoods repeated by journalists who should know better is becoming increasingly frustrating.

Last edited 3 years ago by Grant Turner
John Tyler
John Tyler
3 years ago
Reply to  Grant Turner

Well, achally, that’s fascinating! Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

Of course, no one wins. That’s the point. The grift lies in perpetuating the war itself, not in prosecuting it. If the war is settled, then a lot of people’s livelihoods in the grievance industry would end. We’re at the point where a minority within a minority is driving an outsized portion of the discussion and anyone who points to the reality of the emperor’s clothes is deemed to be a horrible person.
In one sense, men are doing far better. The trans issue is an existential threat to womanhood, not to men. No one is debating about biological females getting into men’s sports, no one is freaking out over a male equivalent of “only women have periods,” perhaps because there is no such equivalent. Women are being erased and the feminist movement is strangely silent about it. The few women who have spoken up have been attacked.
The second group in this quandary is gays, as the article mentions. Imagine the pressure an effeminate young male or tomboy can face, the questions that he or she is not a he or she, but the opposite. Kids are now subject to medical experimentation, including surgical intervention. And then move to adults, where a gay man who refuses a relationship with a biological woman – because he’s a gay man – is suddenly labeled as phobic.

Kathryn Allegro
Kathryn Allegro
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Lesbian feminists are also being attacked as being ‘transphobic’ for refusing to have relationships with ‘transwomen’, i.e. men.
The Guardian recently had an article about the effect of teargas on protesters in Portland, Oregon. One effect was the disruption of menstrual cycles. The subjects of the study were referred to in the article as ‘people’ (including ‘pregnant people’) and as (‘protestors’ and ‘participants’ but never as ‘women’.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

the same mentality that brought us “people who chestfeed.” Chest feed. Like it’s something I could do. So, destroy womanhood and destabilize gays. And people cheer for this.

Natasha Felicia
Natasha Felicia
2 years ago

Refusing to have (sexual) relationships with men (while having sexual relationships with women) was I thought the definition of Lesbian. I didn’t think you needed to be a feminist to be a Lesbian.

Al M
Al M
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

“No one is debating about biological females getting into men’s sports”

Kerching! Nope, nobody. When a trans-male athlete KOs Tyson Fury or wins World’s Strongest Man, I’ll admit defeat and revise my own objective reality in light of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Douglas McNeish
Douglas McNeish
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Yes, that is the point. Grievance ends when it achieves its goal. So it must be perpetuated. Thank you Alex.

The value of women began it’s long slow path of degradation with the attempt to masculinise them, and then to portray motherhood as a burden in that process, supported by birth control and abortion, leading to greater “freedom.”

The end result is to downgrade the creation of new life to a function best handled by a neutral state, so presciently portrayed in Huxley’s Brave New World.

Last edited 3 years ago by Douglas McNeish
Waldo Warbler
Waldo Warbler
3 years ago

Trans debate? What debate? There’s no debate; rather, there are angry trans people demanding that others share their fantasies.

Lena Bloch
Lena Bloch
3 years ago
Reply to  Waldo Warbler

for some reason, these angry trans people have the State and the whole State power on their side. Whoever demands censorship and persecution of the disagreeing ones, gets it. Gets it right away. How come the depravity and ignorance has so much power to “cancel” and delete human legacy?

Lang Cleg
Lang Cleg
3 years ago

Plaintive cries of “eppur si muove” don’t work against “so what?” – you are right.
That said, I agree with commenters below: it’s transient. Trust human beings, Mary: we won’t live for long under the boot of cluster Bs backed up by a weird mishmash of anarcho-libertarianism-come-theocracy. There are too many contradictions for starters!

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Lang Cleg

Don’t you know that contradiction is not a problem, because it reflects a hetronormative hegemonic sexist racist worldview?

carmykle
carmykle
3 years ago

“What doesn’t work is pretending we all still agree on what reality is. For that, as the postmodernists are fond of pointing out, you also need power.”
We don’t have to agree.
At one point in his career Einstein was presented with a letter signed by 100 or so physicists claiming that his theories were wrong. His reply went something like: “Well, if they are right it would only have taken one of them.”

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
3 years ago

When he converted to Christ, Emperor Constatine’s remade the Roman school system around Christian norms and theology. In 2 generations though, the rest of Rome remained largely unchanged (Pantheon worship, daily sacrifices, vestal virgins, etc…) However, once the children of Constantine’s school grew up, they rapidly remade Roman society along the worldview of their Christian education. This was quite traumatizing to their elderly parents, who truly didn’t understand why their children were burning their family idols and ransacking the temples their family had worshipped at for generations. From their eyes, their children had gone insane. But they hadn’t; they had simply been educated in a new philosophy and theology, and were now using their power as Roman elites to apply that education to their society.

Western civilization surrendered the school system to radicals somewhere around 1980. This is the logical consequence of that. Doubtless there were many Roman pagan elites in AD 350 that wrote off the early Christian iconoclasm. They were deluding themselves. It wasn’t a fad. Neither is this.

You are living through the re-paganization of the Western world.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago

Yes, it’s the hatred of the ancient world rising up against the modern.

expeditiy
expeditiy
3 years ago

Personally, it seems that these misgendering, non binary, gay individuals have taken what is truly no one, outside of the bedroom of consenting adult’s business, and turned these issues into political tools and rules that those of us with more traditional, non issue driven, lives are now supposed to become involved in. If we are voting on these personal issues and passing laws to appease those who believe the general population, responsible for what is done in the privacy of a bedroom, then the collective we, are now involved in private issues of the few. I, as one, am starting to resent the hell out of it. I don’t care with whom one has adult sex. Don’t care if you’re a cross dressing hetero or a transder (how’s that for non binary?). It is not business! Why it is that others are threatened, in their own self identity, by my own identity, is their own personal problem. Work it out, get some therapy. Surely no one should be persecuted, in any way because they are different but neither should the collective rest of us, have to kow tow to they who are different. Why should I have to let go my womanly, girly girl-ness, which is my birth right and given me by mother nature, simply because it may offend someone who is confused? Other people’s sexuality and insecurity, is not my problem nor my business. Stop trying to rob me and the women and men, of the future generations of their right to be manly men and girly girls, if they want to. If they don’t, let them choose or find their own personal way, without pre & re-labeling. I could go on but have overspoken already.

Douglas McCabe
Douglas McCabe
3 years ago

Well, the Chinese will put an end to all the youth ‘woke’ nonsense when they take over the West. And there are vast numbers in the West who will congratulate them for putting the woke brigade to productive work in China’s new ‘re-education’ camps, and will ask themselves why the West’s political class was so afraid of offending twenty-something year olds.

Richard Pearse
Richard Pearse
3 years ago

I have only recently become a huge Mary fan – excellent article. Now, Whenever I see all these seeming attacks on Reason, which are really agenda-driven plays to impose obligations on average citizens to “approve” of a lifestyle, or abandon or condemn parts or all of Western Civilization, I start to wonder – who wants this and why? What is their objective once the ancient culture is in tatters? Was it all just a quiet, piecemeal evolution of people seeking attention or meaning? Or something deeper?
I get real nervous when I get glimpses of the answer. In order to prefer “knowledge” (over power), it is necessary for there to be a culture that respects reason and honest inquiry (also known as Western Civilization às it evolved over centuries)

Last edited 3 years ago by Richard Pearse
John Riordan
John Riordan
3 years ago

“It’s more that we are now, as a culture, losing such faith as we ever collectively had in facts and reason.”

It’s not faith that is the problem here, it is awareness. It would not have been possible to restore superstition to its traditional place above reason if our societies had not first become ignorant of reason. The past two generations in the West have been characterised by a dumbing down of education, news, entertainment and politics, to the point where most people now no longer understand that rationalism isn’t an attitude or a belief system, but a toolkit possessing practical effect.

This is why it is now possible for millions of people to regard the baseless narrative of an emerging statist clerisy as possessing equal or greater than force compared with rational arguments that are capable of logically defeating the narrative. It is tragic that this is so, but it’s where we are.

The conclusion of this article appears to be that we must accept this, and that it’s simply a matter of who has the most power that decides the outcome of social conflicts. This surely is wrong, even if only because no society organised upon such lines can possibly survive. However, even that endgame is not likely to be how this is settled, because this new ideology is already causing havoc wherever it comes into contact with reality, and it is surely impossible for it to keep winning the arguments once real people’s lives start to come under attack. It is one thing for state-salaried bureaucrats to accept wokery in their professions, because they are not the ones paying the costs. The rest of the world, though, experiences the costs of this sort of nonsense immediately, and will simply refuse to pay for it.

Last edited 3 years ago by John Riordan
Cassian Young
Cassian Young
3 years ago

Civilisation is built upon the rejection of the idea that power should overcome reason.
This battle has been fought repeatedly. The church was prevented from silencing scientists. Government was prevented from overruling the courts. Absolute monarchs were prevented from imprisoning dissident clerics and scholars.
This is where the effects of Foucault and the postmodernists are entirely pernicious. His denial that there is any real difference between power and “reason” unpicks perhaps the greatest achievement of Western society.
As far as I can tell, this article endorses this outlook.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago
Reply to  Cassian Young

How often has reason (logos) triumphed over power in the history of the Western World?

How is reason doing this very day with the current Corona nonsense?
Ancient Greek humanism proposes that “Man is the measure of things”, a rather optimistic point of view as it has turned out.

I admire your sentiments but fear that you will be disappointed.

Cassian Young
Cassian Young
3 years ago

> How often has reason (logos) triumphed over power in the history of the Western World?
Are there not three examples above?
There are two ways of triumphing. Directly and memetically. Galileo lost the first and the won the second for instance.
To put it another way, the history of Western civilisation over the last millennium is one of progress despite its own best efforts to hold it back.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago
Reply to  Cassian Young

Those three examples took centuries bitter of conflict, some of it still unresolved.

True the last seventy years of the Pax Americana have been beneficial for most, but it’s still very early days and I would say the omens are not good.

In fact I doubt very much if we will surpass the vaunted Pax Romana on present showing.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  Cassian Young

Isn’t it generally those with power who determine what is ‘reason’? The enlightenment was a rejection of the false reasoning of the power of christianity, monotheism was a reaction against the false reasoning of the power of polytheism and post-modernism suggests that power and false reasoning are inevitably linked. Wherever there is power there will be a system of reasoning to support it. The power determines the reasoning, not the other way round. That seems like a fairly pragmatic view of the world to me that can be evidenced by history over millennia (although, of course, what we consider history is also dependent on the power structures creating that particular history (story))

Cassian Young
Cassian Young
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

> That seems like a fairly pragmatic view of the world to me that can be evidenced by history over millennia

Last edited 3 years ago by Cassian Young
Cassian Young
Cassian Young
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

> That seems like a fairly pragmatic view of the world to me that can be evidenced by history over millennia
Really?
Christianity was (more or less) a sl ave religion yet it won over the world’s leading martial culture, one that fed its believers to the lions.
Later, the church had a st ranglehold over universities and were able to sanction thinkers like Galileo. Yet they were unable to hold back the growth of science.
Memetics often beats the conscious exercise of power.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  Cassian Young

I think you’re right – the way power is exercised isn’t always conscious and there is an inextricable link between the evolving discourses (systems of reasoning, information and culture) and evolving power structures.

Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

“I think you’re right – the way power is exercised isn’t always conscious and there is an inextricable link between the evolving discourses (systems of reasoning, information and culture) and evolving power structures.”
Honestly, Mark, as a working scientist who is bunking off when he’s meant to be doing some reasoning, I don’t think what you are saying really means anything. I first encountered postmodernism as an undergraduate in the humanities in the 90’s. I hated it. I really did. I dropped out. It’s nonsense.
It’s true that, as the great philisopher and neurobiologist Francisco Varela said, “Everything said is said by someone”. You’ll get no argument from me on that.
But power doesn’t determine what is true. Reason can approach truth only asymptotically. But it can indeed approach it. You don’t need to power to apply reason. Actually, I think power might be an impediment to the application of reason.
Reason is what happens when we agree to put power aside, temporarily, and discuss what holds water and what does not.

Last edited 3 years ago by Colin Colquhoun
Cassian Young
Cassian Young
3 years ago

Reminds me of Michael Walzer’s “Spheres of Justice”.
He argues that our culture is defined by efforts to keep the invalid moves out of each cultural game e.g. love should be decided by lovableness, not power or money. Hence the fairy tales about girls resisting a tyrant to marry her one true love.
Power and knowledge fit this framework, with the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes playing the same role.

Last edited 3 years ago by Cassian Young
Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
3 years ago
Reply to  Cassian Young

Another enormous demerit for postmodernism, apart from not being especially true, is its incapacity for romance. It’s horrible. It’s just the endgame of cynicism.

Last edited 3 years ago by Colin Colquhoun
Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago

Yes, I’ve studied critical (race/queer/feminist) theory at college. The loaded terms, the language, the mawkish narratives – all of it is ugly. It does nothing but create a concentration camp of the mind.

Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Isn’t it generally those with power who determine what is ‘reason’?”
If that was true, why would powerful people need to stop people from saying certain things? Reason is reason, it’s a form of questioning and discussion. Power tries to shut down that discussion sometimes, understandably. For example, by cancelling Socrates as they did.

Cassian Young
Cassian Young
3 years ago

Nice counter to Foucault.

Peter Dunn
Peter Dunn
3 years ago

Reasonable discourse has proved to be impossible with these destroyers of OUR reality.
De-legitimising them is the only tactic that will work…by fair means or foul.

Peter Dunn
Peter Dunn
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter Dunn

Like the sign on the zoo snake-pit…DO NOT FEED or ATTEMPT TO FEED.

Athena Jones
Athena Jones
3 years ago

Gender and sex are the same thing and cannot be changed. All that can be changed is how one expresses being male or female and that has changed many times in human history, but never before literalised into the delusional belief that a man can become a woman or vice-versa.
We live in an age of mechanical materialist-reductionism, driven by a scientific system sourced in such beliefs and attitudes, and science has become the religion of the modern age so it is hardly surprising that people have come to believe that biological and physiological realities like sex/gender are optional when they are not and never will be.
The dysfunction in the transgender movement can be seen readily, in the same way it is often seen in homosexual, which includes lesbians, cultures,i.e. the male who wants to pretend to be a female does so in a stereotypical way, a caricature in fact, reflecting the most traditional and rigid interpretations of being female. The same forces are at work in females who want to pretend they are male.
No amount of surgical or chemical change, i.e. deformity, can turn a male into a female or vice-versa. Sex/gender is written into our DNA and the pretence is always obvious in voice, body structure and movement, which no amount of surgery or synthetic hormones will ever change.
So, let us celebrate the innovative nature of humans in finding different ways to be human, different ways to be male or female, but let us linger longest in the rational knowledge that sex/gender cannot be changed.

Last edited 3 years ago by Athena Jones
David Yetter
David Yetter
2 years ago
Reply to  Athena Jones

Actually, no. Gender and sex are not the same thing. Gender started as a grammatical concept, with English having three (masculine, feminine and neuter), surviving now only in third person personal pronouns, even as Latin does, while French has two. As such it is most assuredly socially constructed, there being no agreement even within the same language family about which things (aside from human beings specifically in reference to the biological sex of the person, masculine for males, feminine for females) are referred to by words of which gender. And, gender survives to this day as a grammatical concept.
The Victorian squeamishness about speaking about sex led to the use of “gender” as a euphemism for sex (as the classification), and later social scientists started using it to describe cultural concepts derived from or overlaid on biological sex. There was nothing controversial about this: scholarly fields are free to create their own technical language. The problem arises when gender is substituted for sex, and a term of social scientific analysis is held to have more reality than an objective fact of human biology.

Last edited 2 years ago by David Yetter
michael stanwick
michael stanwick
3 years ago

“What doesn’t work is pretending we all still agree on what reality is. For that, as the postmodernists are fond of pointing out, you also need power.”
Fine. But define “reality” and “power” as they are used in this claim. I may then be able to adjudicate their relationship as intended.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
3 years ago

“For the thousand-odd years that followed, institutions such as Monte Cassino represented the centres of knowledge production, which from then until relatively recently was inseparable from the Christian faith.”
The latter claim might take a little parsing IMO, so as to lay out the more nuanced issue of “knowledge production” as separate from the Christian faith – if this is meant that knowledge was commensurate with Christian faith?
There was a robust search for ancient texts of knowledge such as those of ancient scholars Euclid(geometry), Galen(medicine) and Ptolemy(astronomy). Violet Muller, in her readable account “The Map of Knowledge: How Classical Ideas were Lost and Found” does a credible job of laying out how three particular ancient texts were saved and added to and modified over the centuries until the Renaissance. The journey of their protection runs from the ancient library of Alexandria to the great libraries of islamic Baghdad(where Indian algebraic notions were added to Euclid’s writings) to Islamic Spain then to Italy and Venice etc.

Johannes Kreisler
Johannes Kreisler
3 years ago

I see a large chunk of thoroughly innocuous comments disappeared in thin air. Again.

Jeff Mason
Jeff Mason
3 years ago

People, like the transgender lobby, treat their social beliefs like a religion. They will shout down, denounce and cancel anyone who attempts to use logic, reason and science to point out the flaws in trans philosophy. For people who shout ‘follow the science’ on any number of topics, they are exceedingly quick to discount science when it leads them away from their desired social outcome. Adults should be able to live their lives however they want so long as it doesn’t harm someone else. A man living as a woman doesn’t harm anyone. However, to ignore the scientific fact that biological sex is binary and determined by your chromosomes will open the door for everyone else to deny facts they find inconvenient. Just like Galileo was punished for the heresy of saying the Earth rotated around the Sun, sane people who point out that XY chromosomes make you exclusively male are being labeled heretics.

Natasha Felicia
Natasha Felicia
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Mason

I would disagree that “a man living is a woman doesn’t harm anyone” if we are not allowed to say he is a man.

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
3 years ago

Besides Mary’s review I read Stella O’Malley’s review on the Standard website. It seems that Ms. Stock’s book only considers transgendered females and doesn’t discuss intersex females in any detail, if at all. The current Olympic champion in the women’s 800-metres, Caster Semenya, is an intersex person of the 46XY DSD kind, with a vagina but no uterus, and internal testes. By one definition of male and female, what type of gametes the body produces, she is not a female, but a male, and should only be allowed to compete in sports as a male. World Athletics, however, has chosen to cut things fine, and has ruled that “regulations were necessary for athletes with differences in sexual development (DSDs) in races ranging from 400 metres to a mile.” Thus, there was some question whether Semenya would compete in the Tokyo Olympics in the 200 metres. Semenya has only recently said she won’t. The limits on distances did not prevent her from successfully defending her South African women’s 5000 metre championship earlier this year. I wonder how the South African women who were not intersex in that 5000-metre race feel about competing against her. I don’t mean to pick on Semenya in particular. She is 30 years old and near the end of her career, but this will be a continuing issue in women’s athletics as younger intersex runners take her place.

Eddie Johnson
Eddie Johnson
3 years ago

“The activism she seeks to challenge is the political wing of a contemporary cultural movement committed to dismantling the Enlightenment’s intellectual foundations.”
Brilliant. As was the entire article.

Graff von Frankenheim
Graff von Frankenheim
3 years ago

Nice article, particularly the last four paragraphs about post-Enlightenment. Two points of criticism: (a) it’s not everyone who is on the post-Enlightenment side, this is still a game for dumbed-down intellectuals, not for adult society at large. So it’s the cultural and political midwit intelligentsia conducting a power struggle against everyone else for their own gain and glory and (b) the non-elite population won’t stand for it, so this won’t end well. The author seems fatalistically resigned to the outcome she predicts; I say take heart and support the next populist leader. He will either lead the people to secede and form a separate country where reason and reality still reign or he will conduct a civil war against the wokerati cult. In the US these two options have been seriously debated by the right/conservative analysts before and during the entire Trump reign. The civil war is a cold one for now, but any time it could spill over into a hot one if the elites keep pushing….

GA Woolley
GA Woolley
3 years ago

The key difference between the Enlightenment and wokeism is doubt, the rejection of certainty, the recognition and awareness that you don’t know everything, and that there is always something more to learn. It is certainty which turns unreason and belief into ideology which can only overcome reality by force and repression.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago

It’s more that we are now, as a culture, losing such faith as we ever collectively had in facts and reason.

As a culture? No. While there certainly are elements within western culture today that deny facts and reason and science and even logic, the vast majority of people in western cultures do not. Even practices such as referring to people by their preferred gender does not equate to a belief that people can change their gender. It’s simply calling people what they prefer to be called. Males are still males and females are still females. There’s not a way to prevent people from recognizing reality. Let’s not magnify what a small number of people do into a vast cultural shift. The fact that some do not agree on what reality is, doesn’t change reality.

Pierre Whalon
Pierre Whalon
3 years ago

You might find some history helpful, concerning your mythical conflict between Christianity and Reason. https://pierrewhalon.medium.com/the-peace-between-science-and-religion-a834d0c2383c

Tobias Langley
Tobias Langley
3 years ago

I think that the mode of argument, if one can call it that, used by the progressive lobbyists is nothing new. It is merely a reiteration of the Epicureanism satirized by Swift in A Tale of a Tub.

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago

“What doesn’t work is pretending we allagree on what reality is. For that, as the postmodernist are fond of pointing out, you also need power.”

If that’s a fair summary of postmodernism, then it might also serve as a definition of fascism. The notion that reality can be constructed purely from human will to power, and not from adherence to scientific methodology, which allows nature to be interrogated to reveal its secrets, helps explain why postmodernists find science anathema: it provides a counter narrative to Enlightenment claims that root reason in evidence and logic, not feel-good narratives.

From that perspective, postmodernists are no different from Trump supporters who think that Trump won the election, in spite of his inability to actually supply evidence to support that view. If evidence and logic don’t matter, then the claim that he won is just as valid as the fact that he didn’t.

All of this, of course, was predicted 70 years ago in 1984. O’Brien, the madman who tortures Smith, is a pure postmodernist, who declares that “2+ 2= 5, or 4, or 3. Sometimes it’s all of them at once.”

That’s where the idea that reality depends on power ultimately and inevitably leads.

q9szgdrv45
q9szgdrv45
2 years ago

I’ve been worried about the central point of this article for some time. Though props for articulating it far better than I could; not trying to steal your thunder!

Transactivists are totally uninterested now in logic and reason. They see a power structure that must be toppled at any cost.

But like their predecessors, the postmodernists, they don’t truly understand the relationship between reason and power. Reason is the tool used to engage with reality.

The colonists that the postmodernists rallied against took over the world not because they wanted it more, but because they started engaging with actual reality before the rest of the world. With the liberating power of the Enlightenment, they quickly learned to build better ships, guns, and railways; this is how they won.

Postmodernism never actually won; the colonisers just changed tack. Instead of pursuing the expensive business of conquering countries, they learned to build and maintain power by owning companies and monopolies in those countries instead. More effective, cheaper and better optics.

Now, while Nike bend over backwards and bend their knee to the woke cause, those with a staunch commitment to reality and reason will grab power when the moment strikes. Clearly, China is the favourite in this race.

Reality always wins.

Steve
Steve
3 years ago

It is less about the end of reason, and more the logical endpoint of the slippery slope of caring more about the well being of individuals than about the thriving of society as a whole, in my horrible opinion.

Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
3 years ago

Reality is Ecology including the spectrum of interspecific interactions between Competition and Cooperation.

In this respect, human reality is indeed contested, as is human politics. However the version of human reality that wins out is the one that can provide the human species with long term sustainability, resilience and sufficiency.

Thus, within the context of the gender wars, which gender realities help to resolve the human growth crisis and steer the human species towards a sustainable, resilient and sufficient future.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
3 years ago

Moderators, can you please explain why a comment (perfectly mild in content and expression) that I posted seven hours ago, and which received some up votes, has suddenly been marked ‘awaiting for approval’.

Because it does seem a little odd.

parkalot01
parkalot01
3 years ago

“What doesn’t work is pretending we all still agree on what reality is. For that, as the postmodernists are fond of pointing out, you also need power.”
This is the paradox most peripheral groups refuse to face. The yearning to validate an internal identity without the capacity to export it to an uncaring world, for some, is a burden too heavy to bear.
Technology is what has changed this in the present day

Last edited 3 years ago by parkalot01
Clive Mitchell
Clive Mitchell
3 years ago

“The same year, the Emperor Justinian closed the Platonic Academy in Athens, making 529AD a symbolic turning-point:”

No he didn’t, he simply withdrew state funding.

forrest.higgs
forrest.higgs
2 years ago
Reply to  Clive Mitchell

Instead, the state funding went to the Christians, something they’d been after since a Christian clergy began to form.

Edward De Beukelaer
Edward De Beukelaer
3 years ago

Interesting article and interesting debates following this article.
lets stand back and look at this from a distance;
truth = what a group of people agree upon however objective some of the truths may well be
Natality in the western world is dropping+++: is this one of nature’s clever way of limiting overpopulation? Or a ‘normal human response’ to an easier life (no need for babies to look after us in old age???) … if you don’t make babies what do you do with everything relating to sexuality? mmmm, difficult.
Truth: even though a population shares and agrees on many truths, we each of us have our own individual ones (which we share with smaller or larger subgroups). This is good because it provides debate which can enrich us … on our way to the truth…? But a debate needed to live together: we have to debate to see how we can trust each other to ‘live in each other pockets’ (urban life) with so many people.
Jean Gabin sang a song in which he sang that in every stage of his live he though ‘I will know’ and at the end of his life concludes: now I know that i will never know.
Hence the debate is what it is about, it allows us to live together with different ideas and ways of feeling and valuing things.
The ‘gender’ discussion seem to be a reflection of the consequence of the way we live: Maybe the issues around gender are just a symptom (or symptoms) of the state of health (or non-health) of our society and signs of distress due to changes: some in society changing faster than others (without making a judgement of good and bad) which creates debates between (in simple terms) ‘for’ and ‘against’ and a ‘indifferent’ group in the middle.
And so society moves on and it is interesting to see how different we all are.

Tom Graham
Tom Graham
3 years ago

“She clarifies some of the things she is not saying, such as that trans people are delusional, or lying, or predators.

She should say that, because it is true.

Hadyn Oriti
Hadyn Oriti
3 years ago

Two sexes – male and female. Three genders – masculine, feminine and neuter.
Call me old fashioned, but at least I know what’s what.

forrest.higgs
forrest.higgs
2 years ago

“What doesn’t work is pretending we all still agree on what reality is.” 
Agreed…
“For that, as the postmodernists are fond of pointing out, you also need power.”
Which is basically the sort of coercive behaviour that we don’t need. Instead, we need to understand the implications of the Rashomon Effect, viz, that there is no such thing as “objective” truth that can’t be intelligently contested.

Emre Emre
Emre Emre
3 years ago

Excellent article, I think you’re one of the most prominent voices highlighting the significance of what’s happening today. I see that many people still appear see this as some kind of fad.
I did however want to highlight something else:

Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.

Ironically, it was the people who were waving the banner of “Reason” who murdered the millions up on millions since the time of Voltaire: for social Darwinism, Bolshevism, and various other kinds of “materialism”s convinced of being on the side of “truth”.
The point being, Enlightenment stands out as just another fiction, a point of view, that seemingly failed to deliver, or rather delivered a catastrophe of previously unknown scale, in hindsight, going on what the likes of Voltaire promised.
So, here we are discussing the politics of power. The only possible measure of truth appears to be what a set of beliefs delivers, and time may be the only thing capable of showing.

Last edited 3 years ago by Emre Emre
GA Woolley
GA Woolley
3 years ago
Reply to  Emre Emre

‘Ironically, it was the people who were waving the banner of “Reason” who murdered the millions up on millions since the time of Voltaire:’ No they weren’t, they were waving the banners of doctrinaire ideologies. The Enlightenment is not a ‘fiction’, it’s a process, the process of scientific inquiry, the search for evidence and the drawing of conclusions, theories, ideas, opinions etc from, and in direct proportion to, the evidence. In recognising that we can’t know everything, Enlightened thinking avoids the certainty on which ideologies are based, and which inevitably corrupt them.