2023-10-26: Added one new link
How the intellectual cowardice of some institutions is facilitating the spread of irrational ideology, in this case the denial of biological reality and the binarity of sex.
Sommaire en français Comment la lâcheté intellectuelle de plusieurs institutions facilite la propagation d’une idéologie irrationnelle, en l’occurrence le déni de la réalité biologique et de la binarité du sexe.
We live in a country (one of several) populated by large numbers of intellectual cowards. Cowards who capitulate to fanatics who use scurrilous accusations of bigotry in order to bully, and thus silence, anyone who might dare to question the fanatics’ nonsensical dogma. These cowards pretend to believe the nonsense, even when its absurdity is obvious, because if they dared to question it openly they would risk being “cancelled.” This situation is often called “cancel culture” although it might more accurately be called social censorship. That is to say, not censorship by the State, but by one’s peers and fellows, often via social media. Some are so extreme in their cowardice that they even deny the existence of cancel culture.
One of these nonsensical doctrines is the pseudoscientific notion that sex is not a binary biological reality. This doctrine asserts instead that sex among humans is a social construct, that it is fluid, perhaps bimodal, perhaps even completely arbitrary. One hallmark of this doctrine is use of the highly dubious expression “sex assigned at birth,” as if sex were just an arbitrary assignment. In reality, sex is of course observed, not assigned, at birth. There is no ambiguity except in a tiny proportion of exceptional cases.
We know that sex is a biological phenomenon which is strictly binary. Every human being is either female, of the sex which produces large gametes which are eggs, or male, of the sex which produces small gametes which are sperm. In those very rare cases where an individual is intersex (or hermaphroditic), displaying characteristics of both sexes, we are dealing with a combination of both sexes in a single individual—not an intermediary constituting a different sex distinct from male and female. Such an exception proves the rule, rather than contradicting it.
This pseudoscientific doctrine of non-binary sex is enforced by emotional blackmail. This is done by propagating the outrageous assumption that if one asserts that sex is binary, then one must be a bigot who would deny the existence of trans persons (i.e. those who suffer from gender dysphoria), or deny such persons protection against discrimination, or even wish them physical harm. This assumption is obviously false. There may exist persons who display such hostile attitudes, but that is certainly not generally the case for those who maintain the binarity of sex.
Thus, in today’s world, it has become dangerous to make statements based on biological reality. Emotion has become more important that truth. Someone might be offended! And unfortunately, there are far too many cowards who capitulate to that emotional blackmail.
Back in the 1960s, German Christian socialist Rudi Dutschke coined the expression The Long March through the Institutions to describe his strategy of subverting capitalism and promoting revolution by infiltrating various institutions of power, “to create radical change from within government and society by becoming an integral part of the machinery.”
This phenomenon has been referred to as “idea laundering” in that the academic origins of a set of bad ideas launder them, making them appear legitimate.
More recently, that toxic mixture of anti-Enlightenment ideologies which I call the post-left and which some call “wokism”—a mixture which includes a denial of sex binarity, a neoracist faction which claims to be antiracist and a few other ingredients—was born in the universities, mainly in the social sciences. Thus, it was already well integrated into some of societies’ most influential institutions. Furthermore, its basis in institutions of higher learning has lent it a credibility which it does not deserve. This phenomenon has been referred to as “idea laundering” in that the academic origins of a set of bad ideas launder them, making them appear legitimate.
Anti-Enlightenment ideologues are currently putting Dutschke’s idea into practice, marching though university departments, academic publishers, government agencies, NGOs and other entities. Of course there are differences: the post-left is not really anti-capitalist, and it proposes no specific revolutionary goals. The post-left is not Marxist, but observes a sort of lobotomized post-Marxism. Be that as it may, whether this strategy has been pursued consciously or not, it has been disturbingly successful. It is spreading from the social sciences into the formal sciences, with alarming results.
Here are three examples.
- Astrophysicist and science popularizer Neil deGrasse Tyson conflates biological sex (which is fixed) with gender roles (which are of course socially determined and very fluid), an obvious category error. He has also taken a position against banning biological males from women’s sports and, to rationalize this view, he even draws an utterly outrageous parallel between reserving women’s sports for biological women and reserving some drinking fountains for whites only.
- In a 2019 blog published by Scientific American, “Stop Using Phony Science to Justify Transphobia”, author Simón(e) D Sun claims to prove that “Actual research shows that sex is anything but binary.” As for the scientific angle, the Paradox Institute has produced an excellent video, “A Response to SciAm’s ‘Stop Using Phony Science to Justify Transphobia’” which refutes Sun’s denial of binarity. However, it is obvious that the fundamental topic of the blog is not science, but rather perceived morality. The title alone shows that the real issue is dodging accusations of transphobia. The blog’s conclusion confirms this by declaring that “the science is clear and conclusive: sex is not binary, transgender people are real. ” In other words, if you assert that sex is binary, then the blog’s author says you must be a bigot who denies the very existence of trans persons. Thus, you must agree with Sun or else you are horrible person. (Ironically, if sex were not binary, then transition would have little or no meaning.)
- Recently the American Anthropology Association (AAA) and the Canadian Anthropology Association (CASCA) issued a joint statement entitled “No Place for Transphobia in Anthropology” concerning their decision to remove a session about the importance of biological sex from their 2023 conference program. (The statement is also available as a bilingual handout.) The statement, like Tyson, fails to distinguish between sex and gender, rejecting the idea “that sex and gender are simplistically binary.” It baldly asserts the falsehood that “There is no single biological standard by which all humans can be reliably sorted into a binary male/female sex classification.” The statement implies that recognizing the sex binary would cause harm to “already marginalized groups of people” and that “we are committed to upholding the value and dignity of transgender people.” Like the SciAm blog, the statement reveals that the real issue at hand is a moral one. It even compares gender critical scholarship to “race science.” Clearly, the AAA and CASCA leaderships are terrified of being accused of transphobia and they are prepared to jettison scientific fact in order to save their sorry asses.
Clearly, the AAA and CASCA leaderships are terrified of being accused of transphobia and they are prepared to jettison scientific fact in order to save their sorry asses.
In the face of emotional blackmail, it would be nice if scientists like Tyson and organizations such as SciAm, AAA and CASCA displayed a little intellectual courage, responding with a decisive NO to fashionable nonsense such as the denial of the sex binary, while simultaneously supporting proper medical care and anti-discrimination protection for trans persons.
- The fall of Scientific American, James Esses, sp!ked, 2023-10-24.
Next blog: TBA