By J. Thomas Bridges,
I’ll state upfront that I don’t normally weigh in on cultural issues, and I intentionally avoid issues that fall on the ethico-political range of the philosophical spectrum. My area of research this summer is the way some issues in the philosophy of science parallel certain issues in the philosophy of religion. Living in Charlotte, NC, however, I am compelled to sketch my thoughts on the transgenderism issue in this brief essay.
What Makes Us Human?
Aristotle has famously located humans among the taxonomy of beings as “rational animals.” This means that humans share many similarities with animals (sensations and sense imagery, feeding, fighting, copulation. and the drive to educate our young), but where we are specifically different is in our rationality. Notice, Aristotle does not say that humans are “intelligent” animals. All animals have a range of intelligence, from birds to baboons. The term “rational” indicates a unique break with the animal world. It means, among other things, to think in terms of universal ideas or concepts and not just move among a world of sensible particulars. To think in terms of concepts means that one is able to see a particular thing or action as an instance of a kind (e.g. “this particular thing is a horse kind of thing,” or “this particular action is a good or bad kind of action”).
Recognizing this specific difference is important to the debate over transgenderism for at least two reasons: (1) Morality follows upon rationality, and (2) rationality is at the center of public discourse about public policy. Morality follows upon rationality because moral reasoning just is properly locating a particular action(s) as the kind of action that it is. In natural law terms, when we find out whether a particular action is causing the flourishing of the human as human (e.g. according to our nature), it is good; if we find out that a particular action deteriorates the human as human, it is bad. Ultimately this comes down to the first principle of practical reasoning: “What is good should be pursued; what is evil, avoided.”
Rationality is at the center of public discourse about public policy because, as Joseph Pieper attributes to Thomas Aquinas, being reasonable is no more or no less than “being open to reality.” It is in no way prejudice or shameful to ask Reality to confirm what someone else affirms. So, when the transgender proponent affirms “being transgendered now is like being black in the 1950s,” the reflective person can ask, is that a good analogy or are there significant differences that make it a bad analogy. To see why it is a bad analogy, read what Dr. Michael Brown wrote here. In our public debates, what is required is not that one simply uses emotional invective or decibel level to argue one’s position. Rather, what is required is that one makes well-reasoned arguments based on good evidence. What follows here are my reflections on the issue.
A Good Analogy: LGBT vs. the TSA
‘TSA’ stands for Transportation Security Administration, and among other things, they are the men and women who check us through the Security section of the airport. They keep individuals bent on harming us from flying across the country unchecked. Some individuals wish to do harm to our society by killing as many of us as they can in order to inspire terror, and they do this in service to their religious beliefs. Our nation has wisely put safety measures in place to secure travel for its citizens. There is also a provision in place to provide more expedited travel for those individuals who have been confirmed as non-threatening. Everyday travelers who pose little to no threat to our society can obtain a 5-year pre-check status for $85, documentation (birth certificate, driver’s license, or passport), and background check.
What does this have to do with the transgenderism issue? There is a revealing analogy here. Imagine what would happen if the government decided that requiring documentation and a background check for expedited travel was considered ‘discriminatory’ and further that all one need do to qualify is to state to the TSA agent, “I pose no threat to the country”? A reasonable response would be to feel a lot less safe, not because non-threatening people are given expedited travel, but because the policy is so porous that it would open a clear path for many dangerous individuals to visit harm on our citizens.
This is really what is happening with the so-called “bathroom bill” issue. It is possible for our society to genuinely accommodate its .10 – .30% of transgendered individuals. We could ask them to have documentation of their transgendered status (perhaps signed off by an attending physician) and given this, to use the bathroom that reflects this new status. As a father of 4 little girls I am not worried that they might encounter a person who is in appearance indistinguishable from a female in a bathroom or locker room. What I am worried about is, as well-known Christian apologist Frank Turek argues here, that a “predatory, heterosexual male” is using the government’s naiveté as a means to prey upon my wife or daughters. This is the real issue driving the debate. The current effort to avoid discrimination is like the TSA letting anyone on a plane who announces “I pose no threat to the country” and then blows up an airliner.
A Conflict of Interest: LGBT vs. Feminists
This might seem a strange conflict. After all, those who argue vehemently for women’s equality would likely argue for equality in all cases of supposed sexual bigotry. As we probe just below the surface, however, we should note that there is a glaringly obvious conflict of interests between these two groups. The conflict is this: modern feminism is interested in maintaining the equality of men and women on issues related to salaries, benefits, positions, opportunities (in private professions, the government, education, and sports) and issues unique to women like abortion. If the LGBT community is correct in its position on gender identity, however, there is no fixed definition of “man” and “woman” based on biology. How can you argue for equality of “men” and “women” if those terms don’t really identify anyone at all?
The dilemma is this: if the feminist community supports the LGBT community in its views of gender identity, then it loses the distinction that drives its existence. If the feminist community does not support the LGBT community in its views of gender identity, then it risks being isolated from the very vocal liberal portion of the population that supports LGBT. The feminist community must either support or not support the LGBT community’s views of gender identity; therefore, the feminist community must either lose its driving distinction or be isolated from a portion of the liberal population.
Love and a Pimple
I mentioned above that I am a father of 4 daughters. With parenthood comes interesting conversations. One that is relevant to the issue here happened just about a week ago. It was a Saturday afternoon and Mom was out shopping, the girls were playing in the neighborhood, and I was getting in some much deserved Xbox time (working my way through a season on Madden 2015). One of my daughters came in from outside and asked what sounded like “there’s a pimple in Abby’s backyard. Can we play with the pimple?” Like you, I was confused until I found out that what sounded like “pimple” turned out to be “pit-bull.” Apparently there is a family in the neighborhood who owns a pit-bull, and it was loose and rummaging around in our next-door neighbor’s backyard. Now I realize that there are some dogs of this variety that are sweet and the breed has perhaps been unnecessarily stereo-typed, but the answer was “No.” Every parent knows this instinctively; a very quick cost-benefit analysis says that even though there is a chance that this particular dog is nice, I don’t know that, and I am not going to risk my daughter being mauled due to some vague idea of undo prejudice.
There is a parallel here with the transgenderism issue. Often the prohibition of some action is rooted not in the desire to suppress the will of another, but rather in the concern over the other’s well being. Philosopher Eleonore Stump expresses Aquinas’ view of love as boiling down to two essential desires: (1) the desire for the presence of the beloved, and (2) desire for the beloved’s well-being. Recall that anything that causes the diminishing of our humanity is “bad” and ought to be avoided. The Christian can whole-heartedly disagree with the LGBT community’s view of gender identity as it emerges out of a desire for the individual’s well being. There is good reason to believe that transgenderism, the feeling that one is in the wrong body regarding one’s gender, is an issue that should be met more with psychiatric rather than surgical solutions. See what Dr. Paul McHugh former Psychiatrist in Chief of Johns Hopkins Hospital says here.
Trees, Fruits, and Pearl Harbor
I was recently reading Matthew chapter 12 in a morning quiet time. These words of Jesus are particularly important in this present discussion. He says, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. . . . For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” The point Jesus is making is that we cannot see into a person’s heart to see what motivates them for their actions. What we can see and hear are their actions and words. What I see overflow from the opposition are outbursts of rage, and what I hear is abusive language.
I have heard very little argumentation that can withstand any real, pressing analysis. The LGBT side usually is satisfied to draw the unreasonable and bad analogy between transgenderism and racism. When those opposed to their views are unconvinced by this empty rhetoric and strained pathos, they are satisfied to vilify them as ‘bigoted’, ‘prejudiced’, and launch whatever clever or not-so-clever memes can be brought to bear on the culture war in social media.
Perhaps it is a good thing that their real character has been revealed by their demeanor. Otherwise many more might be persuaded to their cause. It reminds one of Pearl Harbor an event that revealed the desires of the Empire of Japan. Hopefully there is a moment of “rousing a sleeping giant” in the form of awakening the commonsense of the culture.
Back to Rationality and Public Discourse
Has the LGBT community given up rationality in public discourse? There are indications that it has. If rationality is essentially one’s “openness to reality,” that is taking one’s position to Reality for ultimate assessment, then ‘yes’ the LGBT community has given up rationality in public discourse. Witness one liberal journalist’s response to Dr. McHugh’s analysis of the gender dysphoria issue along psychiatric lines based on his four decades of expertise here. [I looked up the author’s credentials, and she apparently has a Bachelor’s degree in computer science and Master’s in Operations Research.] I also recently watched a man interview kids at a college in Washington State and ask them questions like “Do you think there are any differences between men and women?” The answers were in the range of “No, those are just social constructs” and “There shouldn’t be.” How does one argue if one cannot present counter evidence or expert testimony? When reality itself and expert testimony are ignored in favor of some pet ideology, what is left to argue over?
What I have yet to encounter is an LGBT proponent who seeks to really understand a conservative position and then to dialogue honestly about the issue, its motivations, assumptions, and far-reaching consequences for society. It might be due to my limited interactions or because such a person is really a fiction. What would it mean if the LGBT community has given up rationality as an element in its public discourse over public policy? There are at least two important things.
First, we have said above that rationality is our specific difference as humans; it makes us a unique kind of animal, a “rational animal.” Those who would abandon rationality in public discourse have exchanged civility for hostility and our rationality for animality. They are obsessed with how we view sex and going to the bathroom more than how we pursue virtues like Wisdom, Courage, and Temperance. It is a dehumanizing of society.
Second, we need not engage with them in public discourse and should move straight to marshalling all the strength of commonsense against their potentially destructive position. The LGBT community is bent on a culture war that forces the will of an extreme minority onto an ignorant or unwilling society. This is not even a façade of tolerance; it is bald-faced tyranny. In the American tradition, tyrants must be opposed.
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