Monday, November 12, 2018

Cut your nose to spite your race

Arminian theologian Randal Rauser has posted a response to my own:

Since Rauser and I occupy opposite ends of the theological spectrum, he may disagree with some of my illustrations. 

All it would mean is that one should carefully evaluate which are the serious psychological cases where accommodation to the requested use of alternative pronouns, titles, and proper names would be justified for the sake of minimizing psychological harm.

i) Is Rauser proposing a policy in which the speaker has the right to make that determination? But surely that's unrealistic. Current and prospective policies will require that the speaker conform his usage to the demands of the transgender individual. 

ii) In addition, to say that addressing a transgender individual with nouns and pronouns that accurately characterize their biological identity is psychological harmful begs the question. And even if, for argument's sake, it's psychologically harmful, Rauser's position overlooks the fact that reinforcing their delusion is psychologically harmful. 

iii) Apropos (ii), I suffer from acrophobia and partial color-blindness. In that respect I'm "defective". But it doesn't hurt my self-esteem to say I'm "defective" in that respect. 

Christian apologist David Wood admits to having a personality disorder. He lacks natural empathy. He admits that he's "defective" in that regard. As such, he can't base his code of conduct on empathy, because he lacks that capacity. 

Some people suffer from birth defects like deafness and blindness. There are advocacy groups that oppose cochlear implants for the deaf because they think that's demeaning to the deaf. Should cochlear implants for the deaf be banned to accommodate the scruples of advocacy groups? 

Suppose, in the future, we can cure someone of congenital blindness by cloning a healthy pair of eyes from his own cells. Should there be a ban on medical R&D in that regard because some advocacy groups are offended by the concept of a disability? 

According to Christian theology, humans are morally defective due to original sin. 

To see why we can start with a non-controversial example. I submit that it is possible in principle that caregivers could be justified in providing plastic surgery for a bullied child with protruding (but otherwise healthy) ears.

Thus, we have at least one case where an invasive surgical or medical procedure of a physiologically healthy individual could be justified to reduce the psychological distress of the individual. The next question concerns what degree of invasive surgical and/or medical intervention could be justified as a means to reduce psychological distress. And until someone presents a persuasive argument on the limits of that kind of invasive action, I will retain my modest caveat.

That raises a host of issues. Before addressing the specific example, let's step back. 

i) We need to distinguish between legality and morality. Between what you should or shouldn't do and what you should be free to do or refrain from doing. The current question at issue isn't in whether the speaker should accommodate his usage to the demands of a transgender individual, but whether he should be required to. It is not, in the first instance, about the merits of the issue but a matter of law and public policy. Compelled speech. 

To take a few examples, Chain-smoking is harmful to the smoker, but that doesn't mean it should be illegal. 

It's wrong to raise a child as a Muslim, but it would be worse to terminate the custody rights of Muslim parents and raise their kids in Christian boarding schools. For better or worse, there's a built-in psychological bond between biological parents and their children. Only in extreme cases should custody be terminated. 

It's wrong to let homosexuals adopt kids. On the other hand, if the child's biological father is homosexual, it would be worse to terminate custody rights. 

There are tradeoffs between a free and open society, on the one hand, and a totalitarian state on the other. Not all wrongs are crimes. Unless you want to live in police state, some wrongdoing must be permissible. 

I'm not conceding that refusal to accommodate a transgender individual is wrong. Indeed, I take the opposite position. My point, though is that even if, for argument's sake, it was wrong, that doesn't mean it should be illegal or intolerable. Up to a point, people must be allowed to do things that other people disapprove of. That's essential to social life, since everyone will never see eye-to-eye on a wide range of issues. 

ii) In general, I think the state has less right to compel behavior than to forbid behavior. Compulsion has a higher threshold than prohibition. One of the dangerous developments in the modern age is the ever encroaching regulatory state. Compare that to the classical principle of the right to be let alone (Brandeis, Frankfurter).

iii) We need to distinguish between the public sector and the private sector. The immediate issue concerns a Christian professor at a state university. Practicing Jews and Christians pay taxes, too. Should Jews and Christians be forced to pay for the financial support of public institutions that discriminate against Jews and Christians? Should their tax dollars go towards the maintenance of institutions that refuse to hire practicing Jews and Christians? 

iv) Apropos (iii), to make a transgender speech code a condition of employment in the public sector violates the Constitutional rights of free speech and the free exercise of religion. From what I've read, Enlightenment political theorists distinguished between natural rights and political rights. But there was a mediating category of derivative natural rights. If freedom of speech and the exercise of religion are either natural rights or derivative natural rights, then those civil liberties extend to employment in the public sector. That outranks so-called transgender rights. 

v) There's a distinction between minority and majority age. Minors are not allowed to do some things. Likewise, some things are not allowed to be done to minors. 

vi) Rauser is always on the lookout for a wedge issue. And in ethics there are often wedge issues. The question is whether this is just a matter of extrapolating from a wedge issue to an analogous case, or if this is like the sorites paradox where once you grant an exception, that obliterates any general policy unless you can specify exactly where to draw the line. But that leads to moral and practical chaos. 

vii) The professor under fire is a philosophy prof. At the risk of stating the obvious, in philosophy, every position must be open to rational scrutiny. That includes the political orthodoxies of the day.  

With those caveats in mind, let's revisit Rauser's example:

i) I don't think cosmetic surgery is inherently wrong. But be alert to a bait-n-switch, where we suddenly shift from what's permissible to what's compulsory–as if those are equivalent. Consider conscience clauses. 

Moreover, this isn't a matter of granting exemptions, as if there's a general presumption to the contrary, which must be overcome. Rather, the overwhelming presumption favors Constitutionally protected civil liberties. 

ii) I don't have a problem with a boy who undergoes cosmetic surgery for bat ears. But how much does that concede? It's a short step from the non-controversial case to a similar case. Take Asian-Americans who undergo rhinoplasties or surgery to remove the epicanthic fold, in order to look more Caucasian. Or take Jews who used to undergo rhinoplasties to be more socially accepted in the then-dominant WASPish culture:

Now, at one level that's none of my business what they do to get ahead in life. There is, though, something pathetic about that. It betrays a lack of self-respect for your own ethnicity or race. And it wouldn't surprise me if some people who undergo cosmetic surgery to efface their racial distinctiveness suffer from self-loathing–either beforehand or afterwards. It's not psychologically healthy.

iii) There's a difference between cosmetic surgery to make an Asian a better-looking Asian male (or female), and surgery to erase his Asian appearance–as if that's shameful. Just as Bruce Jenner is a self-hating man, there are self-hating Asians. 

That's different from Amerasians who have naturally blended features. Biracialism is a natural and interesting variation. 

Indeed, there's a cottage industry of self-hating groups. Self-hating men (transgender women). Self-hating women (lesbians, radical feminists, transgender men). Self-hating whites (guilt-ridden white liberals). Self-hating Jews (who support the enemies of Israel). Self-hating "Christians" ("progressive Christians). Self-hating black men (Michael Jackson). That's a trend which needs to be vigorously discouraged rather than vigorously encouraged. 


  1. “Christian apologist David Wood admits to having a personality disorder. He lacks natural empathy. He admits that he's "defective" in that regard. As such, he can't base his code of conduct on empathy, because he lacks that capacity.”

    Great point!

    One would think, given the rising popularity of total sexual fluidity on a day to day (maybe even hour to hour?) basis, that this argument would not be a strong as it once was against those who tried to ground homosexuality’s moral permissibility in the genes. It seems to me it’s even stronger since so much of the emphasis in popular discourse is on the diversity, and therefore goodness, of people’s experience. Can’t get more diverse than lacking empathy!

    1. Excellent!

      Behold the 'diversity' lunatics' bigotry towards those who lack empathy for, or in general have conservative attitudes towards, 'diversity'!

      Where's the empathy!

      Isn't postmodernism marvellous.

  2. Superb. Characteristically thorough, Steve.