The Transgender “Issue”: A Response to Wiggins

By insisting that “male” and “female” mean nothing other than the production of one or the other gamete, and that the lack of such production places an individual in a category outside of both “male” and “female” (100% or nothing), compels Wiggins to regard “boys” and “infertile men” not as male and “girls” and “infertile women” not as female, but as taxonomic fallacies.


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Letter to the Editor _
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In ridiculing the “transgender phenomenon,” (A Discussion on the Transgender Issue, February 5, 2018) Jim Wiggins insists that:

In species that produce two morphologically distinct types of gametes, and in which each produces only one type, a female is an individual that produces the larger type of gamete—called an ovum (or egg)—and a male produces the smaller tadpole-like type—called a sperm. [Emphasis removed, AP]

I have no problem with this for as far as “the transgender issue” is concerned, this is not the problem.

I open here primarily because the phenomenon of one physical sex experiencing a debilitating discomfort with their physical sex together with a distressing sense that they are or should be of the other physical sex, to our best current knowledge, stems from the way males differentiate from female in utero, where, if no such differentiation were to take place, we would all be born physically female regardless of what gametes we might be programmed to later produce.

Much more than that we simply do not know and there are many scientists hard at work on this very question.

I say gamete production is not the problem, secondarily, because of postmodernism, identity activism, and in this case, trans-activism, do not address themselves to the fundamental distinction between male and female.

That is not what they are about.

Aside from the enormous damage postmodernism and trans-activism continue to do to our efforts to get to the bottom of what is, at the end of the day, a medical condition, viz., gender dysphoria, dealing with it the way Wiggins does is to set up two dogmas to shout at each other about which is the True God, for he is as unscientific as many of those he accuses of it.

Notwithstanding our lack of knowledge, we do find ourselves today in a situation where we are medically capable of offering permanent relief from gender dysphoria through enabling an individual to undergo a transformation from one physical sex to the other.

Many such patients report relief from the most distressing aspects of their condition already shortly after they commence hormonal intervention, suggesting that at least part of the problem might lie within the endocrine system. Be that as it may, a great many people are returned to functional and fulfilling lives after having undergone sex reassignment intervention.

This does not mean that they are all necessarily either clear about what their bodies and minds have been through, or articulate in explaining it. They may even themselves be bogged down in a postmodernist or identity activist quagmire, where they are sitting ducks for the likes of Wiggins. None of this detracts from the reality that gender dysphoria is a real transgender condition and we are able, in this twenty-first century, to do something about it.

Note that I am pointedly avoiding the myriad of controversies attendant to postmodernist perspectives and the countless opportunities they present for downright nastiness and bigotry. All of this notwithstanding, we are nowhere close to understanding the transgender phenomenon and the scientists and doctors labouring in this area should be commended for their thankless efforts.

Striking about Wiggins’ piece is the lack of interest, firstly, in what is going on with people who suffer this distressing “issue” (the scientific question), and secondly, an a priori rejection of a recognised medical condition as the crazy concoction of postmodern identity activists.

I am probably at one with Wiggins in not expecting that we shall ever learn anything useful from either postmodernism or trans-activism. I share Wiggins’ dismay at the mess that postmodernist “thought” and identity politics are making of the world. I have no patience with either and will no longer waste my time on them. But what Wiggins offers in their place is no less mistaken.

He achieves nothing by setting up a forest of postmodernist and trans-activist straw men and then proceeding to knock them down one by one, except perhaps to take pleasure in his own slapstick victories. He has not touched trans-activists in any way, nor contributed anything to our understanding of gender dysphoria nor helped anyone suffering from it. Boldness does not confer authority.

Psychologist and university lecturer Dr Oren Amitay freely informs us that we simply don’t yet know what gives rise to the phenomenon of someone of one gender being unable to live a meaningful life unless they continue it in the other gender.

He does make the admission with authority.

Interested readers may find this short clip instructive. Not knowing, as Dr Amitay amply demonstrates, does not preclude our humanity and does not preclude our compassion. What is the point of our accomplishments if by them we cannot to improve the quality of our lives?

Wiggins sees only his self-constructed activist straw men and conflates the activists’ so-called “gender spectrum” — a potpourri of conflations — with the breadth of the terms “male” and “female” that makes language useful in practice, that is to say, outside the pages of a taxonomic encyclopaedia.

Presumably, the scientific journal Transgender Health is likewise a grand illusion stemming from scientists’ ignorance of taxonomy. In responding to Dr Debra Soh, Wiggins manages to patronise her (“clearly no slouch in the science department”), then condescend to her (“not everyone knows about taxonomy”), and finally presume to educate her:

A person either produces sperm – and is then 100% male – or “he” doesn’t – and is then 0% male. There really isn’t any “spectrum” there at all, any possibility of being other than all or none.

Wiggins fails to see that his having to employ inverted commas around “he” immediately negates the very point he is making, but he would rather be a victim of his own dogma than admit its flaws.

By insisting that “male” and “female” mean nothing other than the production of one or the other gamete, and that the lack of such production places an individual in a category outside of both “male” and “female” (100% or nothing), compels Wiggins to regard “boys” and “infertile men” not as male and “girls” and “infertile women” not as female, but as taxonomic fallacies.

Presumably defective gametes are not taxonomically permissible. Dogmatists jump tracks before their arguments run into their own contradictions, which makes it hard to label Wiggins a dogmatist. This leaves me with a bit of a taxonomic conundrum on which I would have to defer to Wiggins’ expertise. In the meantime, I shall leave the last word to Pablo Neruda:

A man says yes without knowing

how to decide even what the question is,

and is caught up, and then is carried along

and never again escapes from his own cocoon;

and that’s how we are, forever falling

into the deep well of other beings;

and one thread wraps itself around our necks,

another entwines a foot, and then it is impossible,

Impossible to move except in the well—

Nobody can rescue us from other people …

Emerging, Pablo Neruda


13 Comments

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  1. Thanks for your comments and perspectives Anjuli, and I will readily concede that you raise a number of reasonable & interesting points – particularly appreciate the link to the Oren Amitay video. Although I am cut to the quick by “sitting ducks for the likes of Wiggins”. 🙂

    However, with all due respect, I kind of think you missed my point about taxonomy, although I’ll concede also that it’s a thorny and obscure one, and I probably haven’t addressed it as clearly as I’ve hoped. But the crux of the matter, the dilemma on whose horns we’re more or less impaled, seems to be whether, as you phrased it, one can in fact “undergo a transformation from one physical sex to the other.”

    While there is maybe some justification for your assertion that “trans-activism, [does] not address [itself] to the fundamental distinction between male and female” – even if some transactivists rather boldly if foolhardily insist “trans women are female”, your “transformation from one physical sex to another” seems to repudiate your earlier acceptance, as quoted from the Wikipedia article on gametes, that “female is an individual that produces the larger type of gamete”. One might reasonably ask whether you seriously think that, for example, Bruce Jenner having “sex reassignment intervention” means that he magically acquires a fully functional set of ovaries and the endocrine system necessary for its operation and maintenance.

    Kind of think you’re “guilty” there of the “sin”, of the logical fallacy, of equivocation (“calling two different things by the same name”). Although that fallacy seems characteristic of many, particularly in discussions of the transgenderism issue. But while I’ll concede too that “breadth of the terms … makes language useful in practice”, sometimes it is crucial to be precise, to call a spade a shovel. And specifically that means that while it may be reasonable at times to use “woman” to refer to any number of stereotypical behaviours and attributes that correlate with the “essence” [so to speak] of “produces ova” – even if many feminists have spent some time and effort to repudiate those stereotypes, when people – transactivists in particular – attempt to deny any and all connections to that “essence” there seems to be some urgent necessity to draw the proverbial line in the sand. And to let the chips fall where they may.

    Expect you and many others think it is “unkind” to deny the claims of transactivists to that “title” – and to the attendant pronouns – or to “ridicule” them or to take cheap shots. But there seems to be no shortage of evidence that, in effect, pandering to the delusional quite simply destroys many lives, some even before they’re well started. No doubt there are many difficulties to “understanding the transgender phenomenon” – I certainly don’t claim to fully understand the psychology and neurology behind it, although I kind of have an inkling it’s related to the phenomenon of imprinting. But I think it kind of short-sighted to ignore or to discount or to, in effect, blunt the edge of a tool – i.e., taxonomy – that has some value in separating the wheat from the chaff.

  2. Thanks Jim. Given the sensitivities around this discussion, may I propose we continue addressing the editor, rather than each other? Let’s revive the fine tradition of polemic. That way we’ll stick to the third person and have more chance of avoiding attracting the standard of commentary that so poisons the Internet. I hope you’ll be OK with this. Of course, this proposal has no bearing on our private correspondence.

    Dear Ed.,

    With all respect to Wiggins, I think he misses my point about taxonomy. I do not address taxonomy not because I find it “thorny and obscure” (leaving aside the presumptuous patronisation), but because it is irrelevant. Wiggins fails to address my point that gender dysphoria precedes the body assuming the form associated with the production of one or the other gamete. I neither deny the distinction between the sexes, nor am I fudging that distinction, as Wiggins finds necessary to do by placing inverted commas around “he”, another point he fails to address.

    I must make clear straightaway that I am neither an embryologist not an endocrinologist, and would not presume to encroach on their domains. What I do understand (and am happy to be corrected on) is that in order to end up being born male, a complex and delicate series of hormonal interventions needs to take place in the early life of the foetus (starting at twelve weeks, I think). Should none of these interventions take place, the baby will be born anatomically female. Should all the interventions take place in the right order and at the right time for the right durations, then the baby will be born anatomically male. One slip-up anywhere along this series of steps, and something will deviate from the norm for that particular individual. That this can occur has nothing whatsoever to do with whichever gametes the individual may or may not be programmed to produce and make available for reproduction later. This point also, Wiggins fails to address.

    Wiggins makes great play of the definition of female as “an individual that produces the larger type of gamete,” seeing in it the undermining of my acceptance of the possibility of transformation from one physical sex to the other. To have arrived, in this case in the female sex, would require, Wiggins now adds, “a fully functional set of ovaries and the endocrine system necessary for its operation and maintenance.” There has been a goalpost shift away from producing gametes, adding a further qualification beyond the supposed taxonomic gold standard that an individual must now meet to qualify as female. With one sweep, billions of people whose Birth Certificates say that they are female now learn from Wiggins that they are not. Lacking what is necessary for the operation and maintenance of a fully functional set of ovaries, thus precludes any such person from the “status” of female. One wonders how Wiggins breaks this shattering news to his pre-pubescent daughters or his post-menopausal wife.

    Save for a medical examination, nobody knows for sure, until they actually successfully reproduce, whether they produce any gametes, and if so, what kind of gametes they produce, whether those gametes are fully functional, and whether they can successfully by delivered to where they will meet their complementary opposite. We assume that someone with a female body can do all these things, unless we know otherwise beforehand. And even then, we accept that such a person is a female who may or may not be able to do what other females naturally can. You do not have to have been born male for this to be the case. Did Wiggins require his wife to undergo a Gamete Confirmation Examination before he proposed to her? Yet he demands to know whether someone with a female body who might previously have had a male body has “a fully functional set of ovaries and the endocrine system necessary for its operation and maintenance.”

    One cannot help noticing that for someone for whom “it is crucial to be precise,” Wiggins does allow himself a great deal of imprecision when it suites him. No less than four times within one page does he “kind of” respond to precise argument. It is hard to take him seriously when he asserts that there is “no shortage of evidence,” that recognition of gender dysphoria is “pandering to the delusional,” yet fails to offer any of that evidence. This supposed abundance of evidence equips him only to “kind of have an inkling,” of what’s going on, yet that “inkling” suffices for diagnoses of delusion. If taxonomy could have improved on this “inkling”, one wonders why Wiggins manages to get no further. Yet this is the basis on which we are asked to turn our backs on a particularly tortured and vulnerable section of humanity.

  3. Anjuli – sure, willing to address The Chair – so to speak, particularly as there may be some benefits therein.

    However, en passant or as a preamble, harkening to the Wikipedia article on polemic, I’m decidedly less interested in “πόλεμος (polemos), meaning ‘war’ …” than I am in the “Hegelian dialectic … the tension between the two [sides] being resolved by means of a synthesis” – if at all possible; this discussion doesn’t need to be a zero-sum game, or at least entirely so.

    Dear Editor,

    Michael Shermer in his The Believing Brain justifiably argued that “so incongruent are the interpretations [by Democrats and Republicans] of the simplest goings-on in the daily news that you wonder if they can possibly be talking about the same event.” [pg 263] And it seems clear that Pandavar and I – more or less representing the two “sides” in the transgenderism issue, i.e., a more or less a scientific versus a humanities perspective, an objective versus a subjective perspective – have rather different “interpretations” of what it means to be “male” and “female”, to be “man” and “woman”. And rather different understandings of what the consequences are of, in effect, choosing those different interpretations.

    But I don’t see that much progress is possible if “we” are unwilling or unable to create or agree on a common frame of reference. As building a bridge between, say, Chinese and English cultures requires dictionaries of different words (letters and sounds) for the same objects, so building a bridge between the “two cultures” – science and the humanities – will require some agreement on common definitions for, and understandings of, the same concepts and categories.

    And part of the problem there is that, as suggested by Shermer, all of those different interpretations tend to be the result of mental processes that more or less happen “underneath the hood”, that are more or less inaccessible to examination and critique, that are largely subjective. For instance, there is the analogous case of what are called “kinetic, bistable, optical illusions” in which one can mentally – as if by “magic” – see those dynamic illusions at different times in two different states. And a prime example of that is the spinning dancer illusion in which one can use various mental tricks to “kick” the mind from seeing the dancer spinning, say, clockwise into seeing it spinning in the opposite direction.

    Fascinating process, and trying to understand those differences, the neurology and biochemistry behind them, provides a window into how our minds work, both relative to such prosaic illusions and to more problematic cases where our unexamined and unidentified assumptions may not be particularly tenable – and are therefore the source of no end of quite unnecessary animosity.

    And, as suggested, all of that seems entirely applicable to the different interpretations of, in particular, “female” and “woman” held by both Pandavar and myself, and by many others on both sides of this issue. Seems to be a fundamental difference in perspective there, a fundamental difference in mental processing: she, and many others, apparently see “female” and “woman” as encompassing a broadly diverse and amorphous set of attributes and characteristics that are more or less immutable if not eternal, and which they see as undergirding their “identity” – and woe betide anyone, particularly a mere man, who attempts to even question that “essence”; while I and, apparently, much of the biological and taxonomic community see those terms as denoting – ONLY – a quite circumscribed and limited though manifestly real physiological capability, but one that is fully subject to the vicissitudes of time.

    Clearly a rather profound difference in interpretations there that bedevils any rational discussion and tends to preclude viable solutions. For which reason there is some urgent necessity to understand the roots of those interpretations, and to see if one has more utility than the other. While it is common that different perspectives are complementary – science and the humanities (“The Two Cultures”) for example, that is not always the case – a flat earth and a round one for example.

    And Pandavar nicely illustrates that dichotomy in her statement here where she somewhat peevishly though amusingly betrays an emotional attachment to the exalted “status of female” – attended by some “shock” should anyone wish to merely state the facts of the matter:

    With one sweep, billions of people whose Birth Certificates say that they are female now learn from Wiggins that they are not. Lacking what is necessary for the operation and maintenance of a fully functional set of ovaries, thus precludes any such person from the “status” of female. One wonders how Wiggins breaks this shattering news to his pre-pubescent daughters or his post-menopausal wife.

    She and many in the transactivist and even “feminist” cohorts seem unwilling to consider that in my interpretation – though one which is buttressed and undergirded by sound and commonly accepted science, including that of taxonomy which she cavalierly dismisses with “irrelevant” – the word “female” is merely a label that denotes a particular physiological ability in the specific context of reproduction. More particularly, and to put her wonder to rest, if I had had “pre-pubescent daughters” then I probably would have told them that they weren’t currently women but that they would likely – in the fullness of time – become them. And if I still had a “post-menopausal wife” – though I’m grateful we’ve remained more or less as friends, then I might have told her that the loss of that ability was no big deal as far as I was concerned – really only relevant if procreation is the name of the game, that I still loved and had a great deal of affection for her, that I appreciated the passion and projects we had shared, and that I looked forward to more of the same in the future.

    In addition, while Pandavar commendably, and quite justifiably, throws stones at “postmodern identity activists”, one might reasonably wonder whether she realizes that her interpretation of “female”, and of “woman” (“human female”), looks rather like a group identity that is paramount and which supercedes any individual ones; like an argument that a person is defined only by their membership in a particular group: “I am woman! Hear me roar!” Seems to me that she and many others are short-changing women by suggesting that their reproductive capacities are essential parts of their identities as individuals, and that they fear that the loss of those abilities somehow makes them less worthy or deserving of love, respect, passion, or even civil rights.

    So, some fuzzy thinking and questionable interpretations there apparently predicated more on identity, on membership in particular groups that are remarkably fuzzy at the edges, than on quantifiable and objective substance. Although that’s hardly the end of it, and other equally flawed or questionable perspectives may actually be the cause of that one.

    For instance, she commendably accepts, apparently, “the distinction between the sexes” yet nowhere specifies precisely what she thinks, or what she thinks credible science thinks, constitutes the essential difference between the two – between male and female. She talks of someone “with a female body who might have previously been born male”, and boldly insists, in an untenable and unevidenced ipse dixit, that “we would all be born physically female regardless of what gametes we might be programmed to later produce” which totally disconnects the body from the reproductive capabilities it might possess. And she talks of babies that are “born anatomically female” or “anatomically male” – and from all of those statements one might infer that she thinks that specific genitalia are the sole measures of what it means to be female or male – which is not at all the case.

    But unless she thinks that being female is only a matter of feeling – which many feminists rather soundly and justifiably reject, one might reasonably ask her what other specific objective attributes she thinks “male” and “female” are defined and characterized by – other than the standard “produces sperm” and “produces ova” which figure centrally in virtually every last dictionary and encyclopaedia on the planet – and for some very good reasons.

    No doubt there is much justification for a subjective interpretation of what it means to be a “human female”, for an appreciation of the personal experiences of those who are or have been women – as there is for subjective interpretations in general. Although equating the experiences with the objective correlates seems a bridge much too far. But, somewhat parenthetically, both she and your readers may wish to peruse The Identity Of Man by Jacob Bronowski [The Ascent of Man] which makes a decent attempt at synthesizing the subjective and the objective, at building a bridge between the sciences and the humanities.

    However, one might suggest that, despite genuflecting in the general direction of “the scientists and doctors labouring” to understand “the transgender phenomenon”, she and many in the transactivist and “feminist” cohorts seem remarkably and problematically reluctant to give anything more than lip service to what Bronowski suggests is a guiding principle of science, i.e., “to discover what is true about the world”. Which seems likely to be of more utility in helpling a “particularly tortured and vulnerable section of humanity” than are wan hopes, vague “feelings”, and inconsistent definitions.

    But, as something of a framework for that bridge, one might also suggest that a phrase from Barbara Kay’s The Torah And Transgenderism hints at a principle that is or should be at the heart of both science and the humanities – “categorization is the basis of all cognitive knowledge”; that it is for both, truly, “where all ladders start”.

  4. Dear Editor,

    Wiggins’ position and substantial response is well captured within his first two paragraphs:

    “Pandavar and I – more or less representing …a scientific versus a humanities perspective, an objective versus a subjective perspective – have rather different ‘interpretations’ of what it means to be ‘male’ and ‘female’, to be ‘man’ and ‘woman’. And rather different understandings of what the consequences are of, in effect, choosing those different interpretations.

    But I don’t see that much progress is possible if ‘we’ are unwilling or unable to create or agree on a common frame of reference. As building a bridge between …the ‘two cultures’ – science and the humanities – will require some agreement on common definitions for, and understandings of, the same concepts and categories.”

    Leaving aside Wiggins’ convenient conflation of ‘female’ and ‘woman’ as he tries to avoid acknowledging a prepubescent girl is female, the quoted passage does encapsulate our differences well. It will not do, however, to set up “a scientific versus a humanities perspective,” or “an objective versus a subjective perspective,” for it sets up yet another convenient straw man for him to easily knock down. This construct still misses (or avoids) the point. I entirely agree with Wiggins that fundamentally, the distinction between male and female consists in the type of gamete they produce and of which there are only two. There would be nothing to discuss if gametes were all there was to it because we already agree on that. Perhaps we may now put that to bed.

    Wiggins is right. We do have different interpretations of “male” and “female”. Males and females are, for Wiggins, simple upwards projection of one or the other gamete, the inverse of Deepak Chopra, who argues, equally simplistically, that everything is conscious right down to the atom. What the gamete-is-all-and-all-is-gamete notion implies is that no matter what accretes around the gamete, it is never more than the gamete itself. Thus, to Wiggins, man = male = sperm, and woman = female = ovum.

    Wiggins does see the problem, though, which is why, instead of honestly accepting the implication of his premise — that his post-menopausal wife is no longer female — he tries to escape his own snare by yet another elaborate track jump, “the loss of that ability was no big deal as far as I was concerned – really only relevant if procreation is the name of the game, that I still loved and had a great deal of affection for her, that I appreciated the passion and projects we had shared, and that I looked forward to more of the same in the future.” I repeat the question: is she or is she not female? The same goes for his (hypothetical) pre-pubescent daughters: are they or are they not female?

    The problem lies in the gap between “gamete” and “male”, and in the gap between “gamete” and “female”, respectively. Wiggins insists that the gap amounts to zero. I am saying that the gap has content and we do not have a complete picture of what that content is. Put another way, the difference between males and females is not the same as the difference between sperm and ova. Our starting points are both scientific, but where for Wiggins there is no question to be asked, I am saying that there is, and that we only have a partial answer.

    It is therefore not a distinction between an objective and a subjective perspective, but between Wiggins’ more incomplete and my less incomplete objective perspectives. Unfortunately, Wiggins allows his perspective to become operational as mean-spiritedness towards transgender people, even though mean-spiritedness doesn’t necessarily follow from his perspective. I make my perspective operational as readiness to support relief from the distress of gender dysphoria, even though that doesn’t necessarily follow from my perspective either. Operationally, we are both subjective.

    Incidentally, since überfeminist Germaine Greer shares Wiggins’ perspective, one clearly does not have to be a “mere male” to hold it. Now there’s a fellow I’m sure Wiggins did not expect to find in his bed.

  5. Dear Editor,

    Well, I’m certainly pleased to see some progress in the exchange of “polemics” with Pandavar, that she has at least conceded that the “distinction between male and female consists in the type of gamete they produce and of which there are only two”. Hopefully that is something we can build on.

    However, one might reasonably suggest that her rejection of my proposed framework of an “objective versus a subjective perspective” as a way of dealing with the transgender issue at least, my olive-branch of sorts, looks like a fig-leaf at best to hide what seems little more than a naked appeal to subjectivity; little more than a rejection of science – or at least a studious unwillingness to consider its perspectives and principles – hallmarks, in both cases, of a significant and problematic portion of the humanities.

    But for instance, right out of the chute she more or less accuses me of trying “to avoid acknowledging a prepubescent girl is female”. Yet she seems not to realize, or is unwilling to face the fact, that that assertion of hers is just begging the question, that is, it “assumes the truth of the conclusion of an argument” which has yet to be resolved.

    It is nice that she at least concedes that “we do have different interpretations of male and female”, but it might be useful if she realized that she has yet to demonstrate that her perspective holds any more water than mine, nor has she adduced any information or objective evidence at all that might justify her claim, or lend any credence whatsoever to the truth of her preferred “conclusion of [our] argument” – only a series of ipse dixits, which, one might suggest, is subjectivity writ large. Nor has she given any indication of having considered the article on the spinning-dancer illusion – founded on good, solid science – which underwrites and illustrates the tendency of all of us to make untenable assumptions that is at the heart of the logical fallacy of “begging the question”.

    Further, in asserting that I supposedly think that “man = male = sperm, and woman = female = ovum”, and in claiming that I think that the “gap between gamete and male, and … the gap between gamete and female … amounts to zero”, she seems to exhibit a rather profound lack of knowledge, and an unwillingness to learn, about the science, the “oldest profession” of taxonomy. And about the collection of words that is, in large part, the result of, in particular, “naming groups of biological organisms on the basis of shared characteristics” – AKA, a dictionary. Although I will readily concede, or argue, that all of those charges can also be leveled at many others entering the lists, and possibly with more justification.

    But more particularly, and to start with, Pandavar may wish to note the following definitions, most from the OED, “adjective” from Merriam-Webster:

    male: Adjective:
    1 Of or denoting the sex that produces gametes, especially spermatozoa, with which a female may be fertilized or inseminated to produce offspring.

    male: Noun:
    A male person, plant, or animal.

    man: Noun
    1 An adult human male.

    Adjective: Noun:
    : word … serving as a modifier of a noun to denote a quality of the thing named, to indicate its quantity or extent … The word “red” in “the red car” is an adjective.

    Of particular note is that “male” in the definition for “man” – i.e., “male human” – is used, primarily, as an adjective to denote the “quality of the thing named”, i.e., the ability to produce sperm. And while “male” is also used in one definition as a noun, it is quite clear that, in an apparent case of ellipsis, it is still “denoting a quality” of an implied noun or a group of them, i.e., a “person, plant, or animal”. But the quality is not really a thing in itself, or certainly not in the same category – somewhat analogously, an element of a compound.

    In addition, it is clear that, harkening back to the principle of taxonomy, both men and women have, as separate classes, the “shared characteristics”, the shared qualities of, respectively, “produces sperm” and “produces ova”. And presumably those qualities are named, in an analogous application of the principle, because they are “characteristics shared” by many different “biological organisms”.

    So, far from giving any suggestion that I subscribe to any wooish “gamete-is-all-and-all-is-gamete notion”, or that I think that “man”, “male” and “sperm” are in any way equivalent terms, I have said, repeatedly – including in the original Post Millennial article, and entirely consistent with the above constructions and definitions, that, for example and analogously, “woman is [by definition] a female (produces ova) human being”. That is, “female” is only a quality of a person. And that is why I have said, repeatedly, that my ex-wife and hypothetical pre-pubescent daughters aren’t “female” simply because they’ve lost that quality or haven’t yet acquired it – all without seriously detracting, if at all, from their basic humanity, a quality I assume Pandavar at least would agree is a bit more important and valuable than “female”. Not sure about everyone else though.

    But to address in a bit more detail the specific claim that, for example, I am supposedly insisting that the “gap between gamete and male … amounts to zero”, one might suggest at the outset that that is badly or obscurely phrased. For one thing, gamete is a particular type of cell produced in the gonads, and male, depending on whether Pandavar is using the term as an adjective or as a noun, means either a particular quality of a biological organism – the actual process of producing those gametes – or the organism itself. Rather different kettles of fish – which makes comparison and quantifying that “gap” difficult if not impossible – at least from a scientific perspective, although it is presumably child’s play from that of the humanities.

    But since Pandavar and many others in the transactivist and gender-essentialist crowds seem rather decidedly desperate to promote the rather unscientific and anti-intellectual idea that a person can be male (a man) or female (a woman) without actually being able to produce either sperm or ova – rather inconsistent with her earlier “the distinction between male and female consists in the type of gamete they produce” to the point of being flagrantly illogical – one has to infer that the gap she thinks exists, and which I’m supposedly so “mean-spirited” as to deny, is that there is some kind of subjective quality of maleness or femaleness that trumps the definitions for “male” and “female” predicated on quite objective and quantifiable – and scientific – attributes.

    Not sure what the roots of that desperation – and probably fear – are, but that is most definitely NOT how science and logic and reason work. And one particular principle undergirding them all is that, in general, any system of logic can not include contradictions – otherwise there is no way at all to distinguish truth from falsehood.

    And in the case under discussion, that means that you simply cannot say that it is only the ability to produce, say, ova that grants or bestows the quality of being female – the scientific and objective position, and then turn around and rather dogmatically insist that some vague will-o’-the-wisp, subjective, unquantifiable, and wooish attribute can do likewise, and that in spite of objective attributes (actually producing sperm) that are contrary to it – the position of many in the humanities.

    Now I expect that one possible way off the horns of that dilemma is to argue or suggest that many transactivists and their fellow-travelers are, for example, conflating being female – i.e., having the ability to produce ova – with various physiological and psychological attributes that correlate, statistically speaking, to a greater or lesser extent with “produces ova”. For instance, I notice that Pandavar had intially suggested, in her first comment, that specific configurations of genitalia were sufficient to grant femaleness and maleness, a position she seems to have (sensibly) abandoned. But that was probably predicated on the observation that females and males typically have what might be construed as concave and convex mating surfaces – so to speak.

    And this is probably why electrical plugs and sockets are termed male and female because they too have convex and concave mating surfaces. And plumbing fittings likewise have male and female threads because they’re on the outside or inside of similar mating surfaces. But that is within a different context, and is entirely different from that of reproduction on which the biological definitions are based, and which seems rather essential to understanding humans.

    Simply will not do to try and conflate those perspectives and interpretations and contexts, or to engage in some fraudulent bait-and-switch, simply to pander to the delusional or to the confused, or to take advantage of them. I might suggest some serious reflection on another passage from Bronowski’s The Identity of Man:

    What the scientific mode has to teach the conscience [the mode of the humanities] is the code of values of science, which makes the pursuit of truth its first endeavor and an end in itself. Nothing erodes the public morality so much as the acquiescence in what is expedient when what is true is unpalatable.

    Indeed.

  6. This is a very interesting article and discussion. It might interest readers to know that an interesting exploration of this very topic was recently broadcast to the 20+ million listeners of the Joe Rogan Experience podcast (episode #1081) and was quite well received. The guests were biology professors Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein, and they covered much of the grounds covered here with some interesting ideas about evolutionary psychology that I’m not qualified to summarizing. My understanding was that gametes (a word I only learned last week when this podcast was recorded) might play a role in shaping gender-stereotypical behavior. Apparently many species on earth have independently evolved two sexes (outgoing mobile gametes being male, fixed gametes being female) and each tend toward stereotypical masculine and feminine behavior as reproductive strategies. Even flowers!

    Perhaps their insights could offer some new context or ground across differences. I say so because, given the enormous reach and cultural influence of this particular podcast, I think their ideas will be informing the opinions of many people, including myself, on this sensitive issue.

    The podcast is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYJFgyqs0sM

    1. Thanks. Definitely an interesting and “sensitive” issue, but a rather crucially important one too – and for many reasons. Apropos of, you might check out a couple of posts, one by Barbara Kay here at The Post Millennial, and another on the same topic at The Spectator by Brendan O’Neill:

      Why the CBC chose not to air the BBC documentary on transgender kids;

      Questioning gender fluidity is the new blasphemy

      And thanks too for the link to the Rogan podcast, although at 3 hours I don’t think I’ll spend a lot of time listening to it. 🙂 But anything of particular interest or relevance? Why I like to see transcripts – they help to reduce wasted time.

  7. Dear Editor,

    The underlying premise of objectivity is the presumption of incompleteness. We presume our understanding at any given point in time to be the best we can achieve at that point in time, rather than the final word on the subject. Greater scientists challenge themselves, leaving no stone unturned in doing so, and do not necessarily need a challenger to drive them towards more complete understanding. Lesser scientists will leave others to prove their positions wanting, defending those positions until they become untenable, sometimes involving an investment of ego. Things are so arranged that, one way or another, new discoveries are sought and when made, lead to new understanding. Scientists, greater or lesser, do not take encyclopaedias as Scripture and definitions as dogma. To do so would be to presuppose completeness of understanding, which would make definitions pre-eminent over that which they defined, rather than the other way round.

    Under such conditions, nothing can be discovered about an object that does not comply with its existing definition. Thus ossified, a definition, rather than serving as a stepping-stone towards better understanding, becomes a barrier to understanding, a fetter on enquiry. By this thinking, there would still be only four elements: earth, wind, water and fire, plagues would still be the wrath of God, and the earth would still be flat. This is the very negation of objectivity, for its premise is the fixed notion in the mind of the observer, rather than the object being observed. It is pseudo-objectivity, otherwise known as dogma.

    In order to be able to claim an objective basis to the denial of the plight of sufferers of gender dysphoria, it is necessary to deny gender dysphoria itself, or at the very least, its objectivity. It would be extremely foolish to argue that because something isn’t understood, it doesn’t exist, and Wiggins doesn’t make that mistake. He gets around this by sticking to “transgender” and insisting that it is a postmodern/trans-activist construct, both arbitrary and subjective, and incompatible with caste-iron definitions of “male” and “female” that are faithful extensions of a caste-iron definition of gametes. It is refreshing, in this dire postmodern context, to see scientists’ sophisticated and subtle handling of the complexity of gametes. Had they approached gametes as if a clause in a legal contract, they would not have been able to move once the earliest, crudest definition had been formulated.

    Wiggins can ignore “Gender dysphoria” while postmodernists/trans-activists ignore it, a convenient service they unwittingly render to their own detractor, for it can be dismissed without acknowledgement in the same swoop that dispenses with postmodernism and trans-activism. It becomes more troublesome, however, when scientists talk about it, for science implies objectivity and so threatens to undermine an a priori prejudice against trans-people, especially when that prejudice lays claim to objectivity.

    Thank you to Clinton for the link to the video of Joe Rogan’s interview with the two eminent biologists, Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein. Rogan starts out promisingly, sharing his guests’ dismay at what postmodernism has done to our world, and bemoaning those instances when debate descends into point-scoring, by which point the search for truth is over. The two scientists are incredibly measured and level-headed, and their readiness to enquire, coupled with their great humanity, stand in sharp contrast to Rogan’s prejudices and ignorance. He tried, quite crudely, to get them on side, but in their own very civilised way, they were having none of it. Had Rogan not had an a priori position that he was trying to harness them to, he might well have used his three-hour opportunity to get them to go deeper into gender dysphoria when they mentioned it. When they so carefully separated the wheat from the chaff in the postmodern/trans-activist confusions, it was to preserve understanding already achieved, build on that understanding, and help make the world a better place for everyone, not least for their own children. There was a definite point when Rogan recognised that if he learned more about transgender people, his prejudices would unravel. This is where he steered the scientists onto safer ground, rather than have them spend two hours throwing light on something he prefers not to understand. It is an object lesson to us all.

  8. Dear Editor,

    With all due respect to Pandavar, one might still suggest that she is grabbing at straws, that she is putting the Descartes of objectivity before de horse of categorization – so to speak.

    And, briefly addressing the latter first, she seems reluctant to consider or even give so much as a nod to Kay’s entirely justified argument that “categorization is the basis of all cognitive knowledge”. Which was the essential element in my original article that emphasized the venerable if not ancient antecedents of the science of taxonomy. In addition, Pandavar seems not to have realized that her entire argument related to “objectivity” – and its implicit complement of “subjectivity” – is predicated precisely on the prior process of characterizing and defining those two categories – “where all ladders start”.

    But relative to the “cart” of objectivity itself, while it may be somewhat justified to characterize science at least in general as accompanied, at least periodically, by a “presumption of incompleteness” – see for example Wikipedia’s Theory of Everything, Pandavar’s assertion that that is the “underlying premise of objectivity” seems rather idiosyncratic and not well, if at all, supported by any credible sources. And one of the latter, Wikipedia, asserts, in the context of philosophy although within the context of science virtually identical criteria hold, that:

    Objectivity is a central philosophical concept, related to reality and truth, which has been variously defined by sources. Generally, objectivity means the state or quality of being true even outside a subject’s individual biases, interpretations, feelings, and imaginings. A proposition is generally considered objectively true (to have objective truth) when its truth conditions are met without biases caused by feelings, ideas, opinions, etc., of a sentient subject.

    However, far more problematic is Pandavar’s assertion, apparently shared by a great many transactivists and their postmodernist fellow-travelers, that under the supposed condition of construing “definitions as dogma” “nothing can be discovered about an object that does not comply with its existing definition”. And that is because it apparently suggests, if not manifestly exhibits, a fundamental and profound misunderstanding about the nature and processes and principles of science, and, in particular, that of taxonomy – “two cultures”, indeed.

    But more particularly, as an analogous example, one might reasonably ask whether she seriously thinks that the definition for “bachelor” – i.e., “A man who is not and has never been married” – precludes finding out that a particular one, or even many of them, have or share interests in other topics or pursuits or hobbies. And likewise with many other applications of the “by definition” principle as in “A volunteer by definition is not paid” – does Pandavar likewise construe that as “dogma” that precludes discovering other things about that “object”?

    All of which suggests that Pandavar and many others are conflating a quality or attribute of an object, or a person, with the person itself, i.e., a person is substantially more than just their marital, work, or “gamete-production” status; “female” and “bachelor”, for examples, don’t define an object, but only aspects or qualities of them.

    There really isn’t any thing else to learn about the classes “bachelor” or “volunteer” – or “female” – because they’re largely self-contained – they’re “analytic propositions”, they exist without reference to any terms outside of those explicit or implicit in the definitions – e.g., “person”, “man”, “unmarried”, “produces”, “ova”. But that hardly precludes arguing for the existence of other qualities or attributes, or even “discovering” other aspects to the attributes in question. For instance, the statement “all triangles have three sides” is likewise an analytic proposition, a consequence of a “by definition” definition (“triangle: a polygon having three sides”), but that doesn’t preclude finding out that triangles also have 3 angles which may sum to different quantities, and that they come in various types (isosceles, equilateral, scalene).

    Although it is still a bit of a puzzle, but an interesting one with some seriously problematic ramifications, as to why where and how Pandavar, among a great many others, goes off the rails at that point. But, offhand, there seems to be some justification for arguing that, as suggested, there’s a fundamental misperception or misunderstanding about the process of taxonomy – i.e., naming things on the basis of shared characteristics – and about the process of using symbols, like numbers and words, to represent or “stand-in-for” various “real-world” qualities and objects.

    And the idea of “shared characteristics” is the essential element of the abstraction known as a “class”,although the concept can get very convoluted and murky in its applications, particularly as the class name is frequently applied to members of it. For instance, as any one individual either produces ova or doesn’t, is an unmarried male or isn’t, or is a member in good standing of, say, the Conservative Party or isn’t, so there are classes of individuals who share those attributes which are called respectively, as are the members themselves, either “females”, “bachelors”, or “conservatives”.

    But classes and class membership really are abstractions since membership in the former doesn’t provide anything over and above the property that all members share in the first place. Though it seems a common enough logical fallacy – reification – to turn those abstractions into things themselves, rather than seeing the labels as denoting a shared characteristic.

    In addition, while Pandavar and many others no doubt have some unique and common experiences of being “female”, of knowing what it is like to be a female, that many of them apparently want to invest the quite clear and objectively defined “female” with a whole bunch of those “individual [and idiosyncratic] biases, interpretations, feelings, and imaginings” clearly puts the term, for them anyway, into the subjective category. Protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.

    No doubt we can define words to mean anything we want them to – just pay them extra as Humpty Dumpty argued – but that way madness lies. Words and their meanings provide a series of interlocking structures that are useful tools to manage and control our environment – particularly finding cures for various mental and physical diseases. Failing or refusing to understand their nature and the rules for their formation, and condoning and promoting the “shoddy and inept application” of them, will just lay “siege to the intellect in wondrous ways”, and is manifestly anti-scientific and anti-intellectual. Hardly anything that anybody with the slightest commitment to the principles and benefits of the Enlightenment should be giving even the time of day to.

  9. Dear Editor,

    Argument by appeal to authority is not argument, even if such appeals run into reams. Showing an argument to be wrong by unjustifiably lumping it in with other arguments that have already been shown to be wrong, says nothing about the argument so treated. The argument I’ve repeatedly made, and that remains unaddressed, is that gender dysphoria is a medical condition that we know very little about, but that many people suffer from. We can treat this condition and many people so treated find relief from it and are subsequently able to pursue happy and meaningful lives. Whether they are right or wrong to regard themselves as being in the gender that medical treatment has brought them to is an interesting question, but one that nevertheless has no bearing on either the condition or its treatment.

    Furthermore, so little is known about gender dysphoria, and so desperate are the sufferers of this condition, that they are constantly scouring for whatever shreds of information they can find, that might help throw light on their condition or ease their predicament. This very exchange would be eagerly read as a possible source of such information. I ask your readers to imagine themselves in the situation of someone with gender dysphoria, tracking down a conversation that raises their hopes, and then finding their condition, and even themselves, the subject of casuistic indulgence. I will not go down that road. Yet I remain ready to engage my interlocutor as and when he addresses the underlying cause of all of this suffering and destruction of lives, gender dysphoria.

  10. Dear Editor,

    While Pandavar is certainly to be commended for her evident compassion for those suffering from gender dysphoria, she still seems unwilling to consider that science and logic and reason might provide the best shot at an alleviation of that suffering – preferring, apparently, to dismiss that entire argument as being predicated on mere “casuistic indulgence”.

    In addition, dismissing it as merely “an argument by appeal to authority” seems to ignore if not reject the fact that authorities are deemed as such because their arguments have generally been accepted as quite sound and valuable; one might reasonably ask whether she has ever relied on the authoritative judgements of doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, engineers, or scientists. And one might reasonably wonder which argument has been “unjustifiably lumped in with” which other arguments that have supposedly “been shown to be wrong”, and by who.

    In any case, probably more relevant and important is Pandavar’s largely justifiable contention that “gender dysphoria is a medical condition that we know very little about” – which I will readily agree with, and haven’t ever disputed. However, simply asserting, as she appeared to do, that “the underlying cause of all this suffering” is gender dsyphoria is little more than a tautology; what is required is an understanding of the roots of the phenomenon, of its underlying causes, and not a reiteration of its definition.

    And since the common definitions – “a distressed state..”; “a psychological disorder” – are apparently predicated on acknowledging the existence of various undesireable mental states, one might suggest that the alleviation of those states is likely to be facilitated by a greater understanding of exactly how the mind works – as Steven Pinker suggests in his book of the same name. A book which, one might add, is highly recommended, and is likely to be of some interest to many of your readers, including “the sufferers of this condition”.

    But while that book is a massive compendium of fascinating and endlessly engaging research and results on the topic, along with a number of interesting and cogent conjectures, one particularly relevant chapter – The Mind’s Eye – talks of various cognitive and perceptual illusions or “delusions” brought on by various causes; a case in point:

    L.H. is an intelligent, knowledgeable man who suffered head injuries in a car accident twenty years before the tests. Since the accident he has been utterly unable to recognize faces. He cannot recognize his wife and children (except by voice, scent, or gait), his own face in a mirror, or celebrities in photographs …. [pg 273]

    And while there is quite a bit of credible justification for arguing that “we” are all rather more than just “machineries of atoms”, there is also a massive amount of evidence that, to a first approximation at least, our bodies are precisely that – as are our brains, the “hardware” which runs the “software” of our personalities if not our souls, mortal or not. And it is also a manifest fact that computers are going to be incapable of getting the “right” answers – “garbage in, garbarge out” [GIGO] – if their components are malfunctioning, if the hard drive scrambles the data or if the arithmetic unit adds 2 and 2, and comes up with 5. As is clearly the case with the above example from Pinker, and as with many others he described of the same nature.

    Consequently it seems vitally important to understand the mental and physiological processes of identity formation, and how they might go off the rails and lead to misperceptions and “distresses”. The zoologist and ethologist Konrad Lorenz in his Civilized Man’s Eight Deadly Sins noted that:

    Far from being an insurmountable obstacle to the analysis of an organic system, a pathological disorder is often the key to understanding it. We know of many cases in the history of physiology where a scientist became aware of an important organic system only after a pathological disturbance had caused its disease. [pg 2]

    And one might suggest that one particularly “important organic system” is that of empathy which seems predicated on the operation of “mirror neurons”. And, analogously, Bronowski argued, with some justification, that “the essence of literature (and of all art) lies in the identification of ourselves with other human beings whose actions we are watching and judging as if they were our own.” [pg 138] And from which one might infer or hypothesize that, as I suggested earlier with my link to the phenomenon of imprinting, those afflicted with that “pathological disorder” of gender dysphoria happen to have “imprinted” at an early age on a member, likely a parent, of the opposite sex. And I seem to recollect seeing evidence of the importance, for the proper development of children, of role models exhibited by parents of the same sex. So not exactly an implausible conjecture.

    But in addition, one might also point to even more extreme cases of similar “pathological disturbances” that even more starkly illustrate “the nature of the beast”. For instance, a PLOS One article from 2012 notes:

    Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) is a rare condition in which persons typically report an intense desire either to be paralyzed or to have one or more of their healthy limbs to be amputated. BIID is not a paraphilia nor does the desire to amputate the limb reflect psychosis amputation. Rather it is believed that BIID is an identity disorder. The main motivation for the preferred body modification is believed to be a mismatch between actual and perceived body schema.

    Rather remarkably similar to the claims of many transactivists that they’ve been “born in the wrong body”, is it not? No doubt many of those suffering from BIID “can relieve their distress with … surgery”, but one has to seriously wonder whether a medical profession that condones, allows, promotes, or even turns a blind eye to intentional amputation or paralysis, as with “gender reassignment surgery”, hasn’t progressed, in that area at least, much past bloodletting for “bad humors”, and trepanning for the release of “evil spirits”.

    While I’m certainly not claiming any great amount of in-depth knowledge of those fields, one might also suggest that one doesn’t need to be an automotive engineer to drive a car, or a quantum physicist to program a computer, or a research biologist to know that antibiotics work better than homeopathy and incantations. And, likewise, it seems rather easy to “connect the dots”, rather clear that something has quite likely gone “wonky”, temporarily or permanently, in the brains of those suffering from gender dysphoria, particularly those who insist that they’re of an entirely different sex, despite manifest evidence to the contrary.

    Don’t think it helps anyone to be fooling ourselves about the nature of the phenomenon, to attempt or permit the redefinition of straightforward concepts and terms, simply for short-term benefits or to promote a largely self-serving ideology that is predicated more on misperception at best if not outright delusion than on fact. Frequently some truth to “words written on subway walls [and tenement halls]”, and, in this case, “cruel to be kind” seems to hit the nail squarely on the head.

  11. Dear Editor,

    May I say, before addressing the substance of Wiggins’ response to my last, that I appreciate his kind words, but that they are misplaced. Commendation is neither required for compassion, nor is it sought. Compassion is innate to higher mammals. We cannot help ourselves but be compassionate, though, obviously, we demonstrate it more readily, or to a greater degree, to the some than to others. It is also progress of a sort when Wiggins can write two-and-a-half pages addressing gender dysphoria without a gratuitous abuse of people who suffer it. Even the glib charge of delusion is now more cautiously placed in inverted commas, or couched as “misperception at best if not outright delusion”. This is to be commended.

    Which also leaves me somewhat perplexed. Wiggins charges that “she [Pandavar] still seems unwilling to consider that science and logic and reason might provide the best shot at an alleviation of that [gender dysphoria] suffering.” This is misperception at best if not outright delusion, as the record will show that I have been quite consistent and unambiguous in insisting on precisely “science and logic and reason”, as opposed to prejudice and bigotry, in getting to the bottom of a condition that scientists recognise, and continue to subject to reason in an effort to understand what it is, and to make their first attempt at a reliable definition.

    The thousands of sufferers the world over, in all countries and cultures, of all ethnicities and of both sexes, both today and back to the dawn of humanity, together with all the scientists studying this phenomenon as well as every doctor treating it, instead of all the time and money they spent and all the hardships they endured: the inescapability of “nature’s cruellest trick”; the desperate, and ultimately futile, attempts to avoid facing up to it; the blind terror that follows in the wake of the decision to change gender; the tortuous guilt that this will be inflicted on loved ones; the near-certain prospect of the loss of all friends and relations; resignation to the risk of utter financial ruin and the writing off of all previous life accomplishments; and on top of all that, the casual abuse both by those who are genuinely ignorant and those who are in a position to know better but are too bloody-minded to countenance it; and finally, rejection by loved ones, all of these could be avoided if only these deluded people would take a moment to apprise themselves of the definitions in Websters and Steven Pinker. What a tragic oversight!

    The definition of gender dysphoria, according to Wiggins, is the root of the phenomenon, its underlying cause. Wiggins readily agrees with, and has never disputed (that’s one way of putting it) that we know very little about gender dysphoria. In other words, he accepts that we are not yet in a position to define it. This begs the question, as I’ve said in so many different ways before, if the definition determines what something is, then what is that thing while we don’t yet have a definition? Why, you look up the definition! I think that’s what we call a tautology. Wiggins will forgive me for preferring to stick with the scientists, the doctors, and the people who actually have or had gender dysphoria.

  12. Dear Editor,

    My apologies for the delay in responding to Pandavar’s comment of March 14 which was due, in part, to having to do some study and to delve into some of the issues she raised.

    But, to address the preliminaries, one might suggest that not all of us “cannot help ourselves but be compassionate”, and that that capacity is, to some degree, something that is learned. And is therefore noteworthy, at least where it’s not a case of the tail wagging the dog. And it is less a case of “gratuitous abuse of people who suffer [gender dysphoria]” than an insistence on defining the relevant terms at the outset, something that she and most transactivists seem remarkably reluctant to do.

    In any case, while she has certainly at least genuflected in the direction of “science and logic and reason” – as with her references to “the underlying premise of objectivity”, and as with her somewhat questionable claim that “scientists … do not take definitions as dogma” – I think the record is rather spotty at best, and anything but “consistent and unambiguous”. For instance, she did concede earlier that she and I “have different interpretations of ‘male’ and ‘female’.”, but she more or less refuses to accept that the ones I advance are the ones that science accepts as definitive – as indicated by virtually all dictionaries and encyclopaedias. And, to boot, she – and virtually all transactivists – also refuses to provide anything in the way of coherent content that those words might encompass or refer to. One might reasonably wonder how she – and they – think that science can progress if the terms used can mean anything and everything.

    But one might reasonably argue that that perspective of hers is sadly typical of far too many others these days, particularly of most transactivists and postmodernists (strange bedfellows, indeed), and betrays a profound, if not wllful, misunderstanding of the nature of, and limitations, of science. Which was the proximate cause, or one of them, for the aforementioned delay and for my post at Medium titled, Horns of a Dilemma: Tyrannies of the Subjective and Objective Narratives. Which was, in turn, based on some cogent observations by lawyer and “adjunct philosopher” Elizabeth Finne in a post at Quillette titled, The Tyranny of the Subjective.

    And one of the salient observations in the latter was this:

    The realization that we are all imprisoned in our own subjective worlds – the protagonists of dramas in which everyone else plays a supporting role – has long taxed philosophers. Some, such as Irish philosopher George Berkeley (1685-1753), have gone so far as to suggest that the material world doesn’t even exist, and that our ‘lived experiences’ are simply played out in our minds. Most of us are sufficiently convinced by the idea of material reality to reject Berkeley’s position.

    And, as I’ve more or less argued in my own post, science “works” largely if not entirely because scientists, and their supporting “culture”, have reached something of a consensus about their perceptions and have largely discarded the more idiosyncratic and less common ones. And they’ve codified that consensus in “defining and naming groups of biological organisms on the basis of shared characteristics”.

    Now it is certainly possible that those scientists are fooling themselves, and everyone else – maybe we are all living in a vat? But refusing to accept that consensus, particularly absent the tabling of any cogent anti-thesis, is anything but doing science, is anything but being “consistent and unambiguous in insisting on science and logic and reason”, and looks more like special pleading of a not particularly tenable case.

Anjuli Pandavar
Anjuli Pandavar is a British European writer who grew up in a Muslim working class family in South Africa. She is currently writing her first novel and will soon complete an MFA in creative writing. Anjuli is a lecturer at New York University in Shanghai, where she lives with her Australian wife, Belinda Allan.
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