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Cruel to be kind

Validating everyone’s wishes leaves us prone to outbreaks of self-indulgence

This article is taken from the November 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.

The story of Kathleen Stock encapsulates the assault on reason that is transgenderism and the symptoms it causes throughout the body politic. Professor Stock was harassed and threatened by activists masquerading as students demanding her dismissal from Sussex University for interrogating the conflicting and incomplete concepts that underpin transgenderism. She is a philosopher who did philosophy, and for that she had to burn. Her trade union, the University and College Union, sided with the mob.

It is commonplace to insist that Professor Stock and others who make similar points must be defended on grounds of liberalism. A free society, it is argued, depends on the free exchange of views and the rigorous testing of ideas. Even people who have never heard of John Stuart Mill today rely on the case he made in his 1859 essay On Liberty when they spring to Professor Stock’s defence.

YouTube is used to tell children to listen to transgenderist lobby groups instead of their parents

Which is a defence liberal true-believers should make. Albeit with rather more vigour, in the face of gruff screechers, than they seem wont. Britain has not done enough to curb the pernicious “trans rights” movement. But liberalism is the wrong arsenal in which to search for the weapons needed for the intellectual fight to come. Indeed, it helped create the problem. The beating heart of the liberalism that Mill helped establish was the individual: each of us must be sovereign and self-regulating, even self-reliant in the libertarian offshoot of liberalism.

There is a lot to be said for treating people as individuals, but it is folly to pretend that is all we are. Each individual belongs to something more than themselves: groups which overlap and overlay one another. Families; clubs; communities; societies, nations. When the individual is wholly severed from these structures, true alienation must follow.

This is the root of demands for transgender rights, and it grows from liberal soil. Simply, transgenderism is the ultimate expression of self-indulgent ultra-subjective individualism. It demands that a person who wants to be something they are not can become that thing just by saying they want it. So someone born male, still possessed of an entirely male body, can be acknowledged as fully female purely on the basis of his own loud male whim. Never mind objective facts about biology or the social rules based on them: the demands of the individual trump them. 

A decade ago, few people had heard the word “transgender” and those that discussed these things talked about transsexuals, a small group who used surgical means to alter their physique but generally made no claim that this was an act of transubstantiation. Today, gender is hegemonic. Throughout the public sector and increasingly in large corporations, all must pay obeisance by displaying their pronouns and never questioning, on pain of dismissal, the catechism. Trans women are women. Even if they have a penis or derive sexual pleasure from dressing as women.

Such “preferences” must be accepted as valid. Anything else is “kink-shaming”. Be in no doubt, this will be one of the next mutations of the genderist agenda. If a person’s subjective identity is unquestionably legitimate, so too are their tastes. The corporate-funded Pride marches celebrating the “LBGTQIA+ community” routinely feature men (we assume) dressed in bondage gear and toting sex toys. These same marches are held up to children by schools and the BBC as the apex of tolerance and inclusion. Overmighty tech giants gleefully amplify the signal worldwide: Google’s current ad campaign suggests searching for advice on pronouns; trans rights activists use YouTube to tell confused children to listen to transgenderist lobbying groups instead of their parents.

We must not be fooled into thinking trans ideologues are losing this battle

Transgenderism demands that the whims of those children (as divined by adults) must be unquestionably validated. If a child says they are trans, give them drugs and surgery. It doesn’t require much imagination to predict the logical endpoint of hyper-individualism in a society where boundaries around sex and gender have been systematically eroded by campaigners accusing those who oppose them of bigotry and intolerance. The history of the Paedophile Information Exchange — affiliated to the National Council for Civil Liberties and promoted by the BBC — shows the dangers, as well as this movement’s inherent connection to liberalism.

We must not be fooled into thinking trans ideologues are losing this battle. Yes, some politicians have roused themselves to offer a few words in defence of Stock and women like her. Yes, the egregious lobbyists of Stonewall have been prised off a few public sector teats. But societies where both economics and politics promise to satisfy and validate everyone’s preferences and wishes will always be prone to outbreaks of self-indulgent identity politics.

People who grow up expecting their Starbucks latte to be custom-made for them and their cultural experiences curated by the algorithms of Netflix and YouTube to match their taste will inevitably demand that their own idea of themselves, no matter how it departs from objective reality, be treated as equally important.

A vital part of raising a child to maturity is teaching them to follow rules, and that they can’t always have what they want, no matter how much they kick and shout. Sometimes these lessons cause distress, but every good parent knows that responsibility means being cruel to be kind. Transgenderism demands similar treatment.

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