A Thoughtful Response

So this post was brought on by the modern equivalent of the leaflet: Twitter. Peter Boghossian’s Twitter, to be precise. Now, some of you might immediately groan, but of my extremely limited readership (Hi, mom! Just kidding; my mother doesn’t read this), most probably will just say “Who’s that?” Short answer: He’s a philosopher. Let’s move on, though, because the purpose of this post isn’t to talk about him, but rather to talk about this article by Ben Shapiro.

At the risk of appearing unthoughtful, I would normally ignore an article like this. Its flaws are so deep that it, and its author, are frankly not worth listening to. I know, that seems rather dismissive, but I’d argue it’s a very well-supported idea, and I struggle to see why anyone could argue otherwise with a straight face. Pundits, generally speaking, become pundits because they say inflammatory things. That’s true at any “end” of the spectrum. The reasonable person with a careful dialogue is unlikely to get invited to the screaming match, or to spew an article. Shapiro is, in my opinion, one of these. But then, he makes money writing, so a part of me both congratulates and hates him.

Still, despite my feelings on the man, to crib from a book of very little value: Ask, and you shall receive.

Dr. Boghossian specifically said he’d “like to read a thoughtful rebuttal to these ideas. Or is that asking too much?” So, here is a thoughtful rebuttal to an article.

The article comes in at a svelte 486 words, including the Brie Larson tweet. Now, I could be as terse myself, but doing so would mean sacrificing thoroughness, which would likely be interpreted as a failure of thoughtfulness. And trying to get it all into Twitter is a recipe for poor grammar. So I’m stuck being my normal prolixic self. Also worth noting, to try to minimize repeating myself: all emphasis in quotes will be mine. Shaprio bolds his headings, but that’s it.

To begin with this piece is quite obviously not intended to convince anyone from the opposing side. It’s intended for people who already at least mostly agree with the notion that transgenderism is nonexistent and not deserving of protection. Look at the rhetoric from the introductory section:

“an Obama-era regulation crammed down on public schools across America – no longer will public schools be forced to admit boys who believe they are girls*into the little girls’ room.”

All Title IX enforcement is “crammed down on” public schools. This is not a special case of that. Shapiro also focuses on only *one* side of transgenderism: biological-males-to-women. Even ignoring the “believe” part, which is already loaded language, he’s ignoring biological-females-to-men. Why would he say this? I don’t think anyone can argue that the statements aren’t biased. Note I’m not (necessarily) saying they’re bigoted, but they are biased, that is, there is an implicit position within the statement.

If I were to talk about religion, and say “Christians are people who believe in a non-existent god”, I’m being biased. I strongly believe that god doesn’t exist, I believe I can defend that as justified and true, but I wouldn’t pretend there weren’t hidden necessary premises in that statement, that it already takes a position that, if you don’t already agree with, is very obvious.

Similarly, Shapiro’s comments here have hidden necessary premises. You must believe that this is merely people who “believe” they’re a different gender. You must prefer to focus on m-t-f, to the exclusion of f-t-m. That is a bias, a position you must already take in order for his statements to be agreeable. Heck, the Gavin Grimm case is one of f-t-m.

The principle of charity would make me want to think this is honest on his part. That he’s using the “believe” framework and focusing on one side of the equation because he’s biased, but only because of that, and not to manipulate. Yet it also seems rather like a rhetorical trick. The very next line makes me struggle with interpreting this piece as an attempt at honesty, because he straight-up lies.

First he quotes actress Brie Larson (why her? I have no real idea). I’m going to requote, just because it’s important when I charge him with lying. The exact quote is:

“This is disgusting. This is unacceptable. I #StandWithGavin and every Trans person who deserve nothing less than protection and equality.”

Shapiro says:

“This has been the commonplace line from the entire left and media – Trump’s going to get kids killed!”

That is an incredibly disingenuous thing to say. Brie didn’t say that Trump would get kids killed. No reading of her tweet would come close to that. There is no way that I can interpret Shapiro as being honest, here. Are people on the left probably saying that? Sure, I can believe it. But you can’t get there from what he quoted, which is ostensibly a representative sample. Even true arguments can be made badly or dishonestly, and this one is dishonest. Strangely so, given that I can read the tweet for myself. What’s the point of that? It only appeals to people who already hate “them libtards”, who don’t really care about what their “opposition” actually said, but like it when they’re skewered.

That introduction has, frankly, no value. It uses rhetorical tricks and is demonstrably dishonest. But, for the sake of a complete and thoughtful response, let’s get to the rest of the article. He hasn’t even gotten to his “three reasons” yet.

Here are his three points:

1. This Is Not The Federal Government’s Job.
2. Women Have A Right To Their Spaces
3. Sex Is Not Malleable.

The brief response to each of these points is that 1. is flatly wrong, and 2 and 3 don’t actually support his point or make sense. But that’s being dismissive. A thoughtful rebuttal was requested, and so a thoughtful response is going to be provided, gorrammit.

In support of point 1, Shapiro claims:

“The federal government has no role in redefining sex for an entire country”.

Let’s stop there. No trans person has ever claimed to redefine sex, to the best of my knowledge. The discussion is on gender. This is an error he makes throughout the piece. I struggle to believe he isn’t aware of the distinction.

This argument can be equally applied to *any* civil rights discussion. “The federal government has no role in redefining marriage for an entire country, which is why miscegenation laws should stay in place” was something people said with a straight face in the Loving v. Virginia era. Shapiro, a lawyer, should be *well* aware of this. He offers no differentiation, which leads me to question whether he thinks *that* was wrongly decided. Which doesn’t even get us into protections for LGBTQI folks, because I know his position on gay marriage. But, for a lawyer, he says some other questionable things, too: “the Civil Rights Act [was] specifically designed to protect biological women from biological men in many cases”. That’s an oversimplification that simply doesn’t stand.

He moves on:

“This is an issue for states and localities, if it is an issue for government at all – which it isn’t,”

Is segregation likewise an issue for states and localities? I don’t see a difference in kind to this argument.

Now, you could say “But wait, that’s only if you accept transgenderism as legitimate!”. But I could make the same argument about race. Ending segregation presumes that racial equality is legitimate just as much, and racists certainly don’t agree with that. So should we be okay with a racist municipality enforcing racial bathroom segregation? I would hope Shapiro would agree that that’s absurd. These sorts of “let the locals decide” arguments implicitly require you to accept that the group is not legitimate, because as soon as you accept that they are legitimate, the arguments go away. If we presume that Shapiro is against governmental racial segregation, then there has to be a reason why he’s opposed to transgender segregation. He doesn’t provide it. His argument on the illegitimacy of protections for trans people is based on the assumption that they are not a class deserving of protection, which means it begs the question, because that’s the very point he’s trying to make.

Point 1 is invalid.

(Of note is the end of that section, too: “assaults are already prosecuted, and transgender people have equal access to protection from the police”. This is (in theory) true. In practice, it’s not really true, but that’s another matter. But if assaults are *not a concern*, then why would he bring it up later?)

His next argument is

“Women Have A Right To Their Spaces”.

Curious, because his previous point would seem to completely disavow this notion of “right”; this is contradictory and, more broadly, something tells me Shapiro is opposed to safe spaces. Using a concept only when its convenient for you is hypocritical.

“The left keeps saying that women should stop being bothered by men entering their bathrooms and locker rooms if the men self-identify as women.”

While some people undoubtedly say this, it has nothing to do with the Obama guidelines. The guidelines don’t have a “thought police” section. It’s about what trans people can do, about action. Action is rather distinct from thought. Kim Davis was free to think that gays shouldn’t get married, but she wasn’t entitled to use her office to prevent them from marrying. Or, since I know Shapiro hates the gays, we can simply go back to Loving v. Virginia. It didn’t prevent anyone from thinking bad thoughts about race.

Shapiro says

“That’s insulting to women and dangerous for them. First off, not all transgender women look like women, as some advocates seem to say – the whole proposition of transgenderism is that you can look like Mr. T and be a self-identified woman following other women into the bathroom.”

Shapiro has already argued that assaults are a non-starter. He doesn’t get to use it here, so what danger? And even if I granted it (which I don’t), what the hell does whether a trans person “looks the part” have to do with anything? What relationship to “danger” is that? He’s opposed to ALL trans people. No, not every trans person “passes”. We can discuss whether they should That is a can of worms due to the inherent subjective nature, and it’s pretty shitty in my opinion to make that your major point. But certainly some do pass, so you can’t simply handwave them away. You can’t take a subset and argue against the whole like that. If Shapiro were advocating that only trans people who “passed” for their identified gender could use the bathrooms of that gender, this would be a different discussion than it actually is. It would still be problematic, but for different reasons.

He doubles-down on the hypocritical assault argument:

“There are some men who have taken advantage of this.”

He says this without really citing anything. When he says “some”, he means “like two”.

Which he continues.

“why would [the left] assume that self-identified men are significantly more dangerous to women than men who identify as women?”

There’s one of those rhetorical tricks again. Let’s break it down. It’s not an “assumption”, but rather a brute fact that self-identified men are more likely, based on statistics alone, to commit an assault than a self-identified trans person. There’s a host of reasons for this, and I don’t see a lot of value in quibbling about it; it’s like the argument that religious people are disproportionately represented in the prison system. There are so many elements that can affect a statistic like that, and Trans people are far and away more likely to be victims than perpetrators. But regardless, I don’t think anyone is really arguing that. The real premise is the trans aren’t monsters, that being transgendered is not being used an *excuse* to assault. What a terrible assumption! Quelle horreur! But again, all of this is utterly irrelevant within his own argument, because “assaults are already prosecuted, and” women “have equal access to protection from the police”.

Point 2 is invalid.

His final argument is

“Sex Is Not Malleable.”

Nobody says it is. Though, to be fair, it could be malleable. Sex is biological. We don’t have the means now, but let’s not pretend it’s necessarily literally impossible. But the secret’s in the name, Mr. Shapiro: transgender. Gender is a social construct, reflected in the ways we interact as a society. Gendered bathrooms are a social construct, as well, they are not a natural one. In nature, we all shit in the woods.

“Nobody is arguing that transgender people shouldn’t be allowed to dress how they want, act how they want, and identify however they want.”

This is precisely what he is arguing for. Going to the bathroom is an action. At least it is for most people know. What’s he doing in there? Nothing? Staring at the wall?

“their right to wave their fist – just like everybody else’s right – ends when they hit a nose.”

Assaults are a non-starter by his own argument and just because even if he hadn’t dismissed it, I would have. So if a person tries to go to the bathroom, and someone else is preventing them from going into a bathroom, who’se nose, precisely, is being punched?

“mandating that everybody arbitrarily shift the definition of biological sex to self-identification”

This is, again, very dishonest. Gender is a social construct. This is not a controversial thing. Gendered bathrooms only exist because of the way society is set up. Hell, most Port-A-Potties are unisex…are they “unnatural” because of not being categorized as for explicitly male or explicitly female deuces?

“threatening to punish those who don’t – is an imposition on the entire society”

There is no imposition on letting someone go to the bathroom. The imposition is entirely on the person who’s trying to stop someone from doing something. Even taken the absolute most charitably: Every protection of rights of a minority is an imposition on the majority. So what?

“Society cannot simply begin undermining crucial truths like sex because some people are susceptible to more mental health problems due to that truth. That would be an argument for doing away with truth generally.”

Here we see the bias on full display. If one doesn’t see being transgender as being an illness, it blows away in the wind. And given that he is (whether purposefully or accidentally) conflating sex and gender, the equivocation he engages in invalidates his “truth”. Accepting equivocation, one could say, would be an argument for doing away with truth generally (That said, credit where it’s due, I suspected he would make apologies for Trump’s abusive relationship with truth, but apparently–based on a quick search–he hasn’t).

Point 3 is simply not valid.

Shapiro closes by saying

“the left refuses to acknowledge any of these ideas”.

Here he seems to think “acknowledging” an idea is synonymous with agreeing with it. This is of course not true at all, but it shows part of the problem inherent in his thinking: an arrogance that if he has an idea, it’s truth, and other people’s ideas just aren’t truth like his. Given that the ideas he’s expressing here are actually and simply invalid, I can acknowledge them, and then disregard them.

“They want a new civil rights movement, and that means government action, even without Constitutional or legal mandate or even biological support”.

This here is a hot mess. It’s worth pointing out that the guidance from the Obama administration came out AFTER the courts were already ruling in favor of Gavin Grimm (Which, again, was f-t-m, which is probably why Shapiro isn’t “acknowledging” it). It was, essentially, the administration agreeing with the courts (though it is hardly a completely settled question). It’s dishonest of a lawyer to pretend that’s not the case. It’s transparently false that there’s no grounds to assert “Constitutional or legal mandate”, and “biological support” is idiotic. Again, in the state of nature we just crapped in the woods.

My thoughts in terms of rebuttal of this article is, and I say this with some hesitation because being so dismissive might seem un-thoughtful, that there’s nothing of value here.