What is ‘Freedom of Expression’?

What is ‘Freedom of Expression’?

            Ah, Professor Peterson. I feel for you. Sort of. I myself have been branded by a seemingly narrow and intolerant vision. After hosting a series launch for my YA fantasy adventure saga ‘Kristen-Seraphim’, an 11 volume 5500 page epic, one of our local public libraries refused to actually stock the books, even though they were to be a donation. At first the librarian objected that their content was overmuch for young readers in contrast to the publisher, and so I simply replied, ‘stick them in your adult section then’. Of course the most tenuous excuses were thence trotted out, including lack of space for a such a large work, that there hadn’t been enough reviews in the press, my publisher was third rate, or perhaps it was because I wasn’t truly a local author, having moved from the West to East coasts relatively recently. Whatever was in the librarian’s mind, none of my books is yet held by any local library in spite of almost four thousand such holdings worldwide.

            Well, I can see that there might be a few prudish old maids out there who might in turn imagine that a teenager reading about the murder of God (and the Devil, to be fair), by a motley crew of teenage heroes, one of whom is addicted to violence, another to herself, three having been abuse victims and four who are in lesbian partnerships might be a tad hard on youthful psyches. Reality, in other words, is sometimes tough to take, and both for readers and authors alike. Jordan Peterson is himself now finding this out, and perhaps for the first time. On the one hand, any professional body by definition has the right to rule upon its membership. Such organizations are not themselves above any charter or constitution but rather they stand alongside it, issuing their own relatively autonomous edicts and drafting their own codes of conduct that reflect and sometimes refract the wider legal conditions. Peterson’s lot is no different from anyone who belongs to a professional society, indeed, considers themselves to be professional at all. If I, as a professor for a quarter century, spent some of my class time explaining not ethics or art but rather how ‘hot’ this or that female student was, I would be guilty of a serious breach not only of professional conduct, but also of authentic pedagogy.

            But this is the most obvious side of it. In contrast, and in oblique and partial defense of Peterson and all those like him, if I declared Bruckner to be a superior composer to Tchaikovsky and Hitler to be a better painter than either Churchill or Charles III, does this mean I am guilty of being a Nazi or that I would turn the Tchaikovsky museum into a motorcycle repair shop, as did the SS at the time? Indeed, the fact that I have some small reputation as a philosopher in aesthetics might lend some cantor to such judgments and those like them. And the fact that I’ve written plenty about art, politics, ethics and education might lend still more. Even so, at the end of the day, it is still an opinion, no matter how rationally argued or contrarily, merely rationalized. But it is elsewise when it comes to denigrating or favoring a specific other for non-rational reasons, such as giving out the best grade to the ‘hottest’ student.

            And speaking of beauty, the woman on the cover of a popular magazine would indeed be considered beautiful by many disparate rubrics, including those Polynesian, that Odyssean – think Calypso – and that of Rubens and Gauguin, both better painters than Hitler. But even if Peterson was another Kenneth Clark we shouldn’t truly care what he thinks about the female form. Nor does it matter what he thinks about the simple process of language change over time. Language changes by and through its use by people in the world, and if personal pronouns no longer fit the bill for some people so be it. Like perceptions of beauty, perceptions of selfhood change over time, and one must engage in a serious philosophical disquisition of how this or that alteration might effect the wider human psyche or at the very least, how it offers further insight into it. The point is, is that by making such statements as have been reported in the press, Peterson has consistently engaged in unprofessional conduct. This doesn’t matter at the level of person – you’re free to say and think what you want as long as others are not threatened; that said, the difference between merely taking offense and actually feeling threatened has, of course, been blurred of late – but it very much does matter if one is a member of a profession that pledges to help all people no matter their backgrounds or self-perceptions.

            All of us must police ourselves with regard to our behavior, both publicly and privately. Does this mean we all live in the Fourth Reich? No, we rather simply live in a society, with others, within institutions, and dependent upon all of the succor of the social contract. This is a large chunk of what it means to be human, and that hasn’t changed one iota since the primordial days of our most distant ancestors. By all means, exert social change for the better, but equally so, if you want to mouth off about petty issues in a correspondingly petty way and there are professional bodies that sanction against such pettiness, take my ‘advice’ and don’t join them.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of fifty-five books in ethics, aesthetics, education, health, religion and social theory, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades and may be reached at viglion@hotmail.com.

The Return of the Martyr

 The Return of the Martyr

            Though it is not directly a part of my job as a critical philosopher, offending as many people as possible and as succinctly as possible is a commonplace effect of my work. And this editorial is certainly no different. Gender is a performance that easily lends itself to mere affectation. The panglossia of genders being trumpeted today suggest that genderedness itself as an important social construct hooked into specific social and institutional roles is dead and good riddance. May we say the same for its attachment to persons! But there is a non-gendered persona which has made a rather startling return: the antique martyr has been resurrected in our modern age precisely due to theocracy no longer being the myth of the state. Lowith (1939:386) reminds us that in the first half of the fourth century A.D., Christianity was no longer seen as an enemy of the empire and indeed, would soon become its official religion, and then later on, its sole legal religion. Through this process, Christianity lost its chief ethical figure, the martyr. With neither official institutional nor legal sanction, the religious enthusiast was moved from the arena into the monastery. The mimesis of martyrdom was maintained in these marginalia for 14 centuries or so, but the radicality of the originally irruptive anti-role vanished.

            But the undead God moves in mysterious ways, all the more so given He(?) no longer has a set agenda. Lurching uneasily within the zombified corpus of the wholly spirit whose only desire is to escape the resentment-sourced penance we humans have inflicted upon Her(?), His(?) enchantedness turned to sorcery has conjured up the mocking martyr once again. (Not to blame God for this, of course, only ourselves). These latter day martyrs identify causes as irrelevant as did their more authentic forebears, making translation easy enough: ‘I’m a Christian so I won’t oblate to Jupiter and you can’t make me!’ to ‘I’m a Man and if you have a penis then you are too and I’m going to make you!’. In a word, who cares? The fact that major financial institutions, those hotbeds of political radicalism, have accepted a multiplicity of genders in their client identification rubrics should tell us that gender is itself irrelevant, a shallow affectation, a casual label. As if the Christian is authenticated by his politics, as if the male or female is arrived at by denying that any other expressions of gender exist. But all of this backdrop is itself limiting. The more pressing question might be framed rather like this: ‘What is the compulsion for grandstanding about gender etc.?’, and this no matter what politics one might take up.

            We are told that there are six common biological sexes, which are either surgically altered at birth to appear more closely aligned with the dominant genders of man and woman, or do not phenotypically impinge upon such social constructions. [cf. The 6 Most Common Biological Sexes in Humans (joshuakennon.com)] Six sexes seem confusing, but nonetheless, it has an easy alliteration to it. Sometimes parents decide to let the true hermaphrodite decide for ‘itself’, excuse me, what ‘it’ shall be or become. Evangelists might see every c. 5000th live birth as the work of the devil, but if so, the devil confirms his(?) allegiance to straight sex after all, and perhaps she(?) is even a homophobe, since we have present both female and male equipage. Next time someone tells me to ‘go f*** yourself’ – this does occur to the philosopher from time to time – I will despair of ever being able to do so. Some people have all the luck.

            But six official medical sexes aside, and even if ‘transphobic’ martyrs seem to unerringly err in suggesting that there are only two, it is rather gender that is more truly up for grabs and not sex. Well, if there are six sexes, then how many genders are there? It is just at this point that a precise response is no longer possible. Why am I not bothered by this? Why are so many others bothered by it? Speaking personally for a moment, at my age, neither sex nor gender is all that important. Indeed, most days I see myself as asexual, neither man nor woman nor anything else that may be currently available or fashionably dictated. Just as actual sex, amour propre, as the perennially sexy French have it, is chiefly the concern of the young – this is likely why we older folks oft get ornery about such topics and seek to limit young people’s sexuality, including the emerging public diversity of gender identities – so hanging one’s hat etc. up on a gendered peg is very much under the radar. And so it should be for any mature person, both in years and wisdom. ‘No sex, no gender’, should be the rallying cry from an aesthetically inclined and sensually satisfied Sophia. Now this is not a plea for abstinence in any literal sense, just in case any so-called ‘literalists’ are reading this, but rather a sensible response to the irrational furor and moral panic swirling through various media and levels of political office across North America.

            What the latter-day martyrs don’t realize is that their cause is, as always, purely sprung from their own minds. One of the most fruitful concepts in the history of the social sciences is ‘the looking glass self’ of Cooley (1902). It’s not how I see myself nor how others actually see me, but rather how I think others see me which demarcates our selfhood. Seems simple enough; I can’t get into someone else’s head and even if they directly tell me what they think of me I am not sure if this is the entire truth of things. Couple this, if you will, with the fact that how I see myself may not come across to others at all, and this suggests that Cooley’s idea is what drives the dynamic of modern personhood. And the persona the martyr holds out to others is that he is a willing moron.

            And in the literal sense, mind you. For the Greeks, the ‘moron’ was the one who transgressed social norms and customs. Certainly, one could be skeptical or even suspicious of such norms while more or less abiding by them. I hold myself as a reasonable example of a citizen who is consistently critical but publicly loyal to ‘getting along with the others’, since this is the only landscape in which authentic and critical dialogue can occur. Whomsoever decides that martyrdom is more effective than dialogue has betrayed both the commonweal and her own good sense to boot. And yet you see them everywhere, Pimpernel! Across the self-styled digital media and basking in the glory that corporate and state media have noticed them, sitting pompously on school boards, chambers of commerce, in legislatures, behind benches both legal and athletic, shouting from the rooftops and swinging on the bell ropes and ‘manning’ the barricades. You see them standing smugly behind their election signs on grassy verges and spouting sporadically off on podcasts and spinning spontaneously abaft of podiums. Where are the lions, I ask you, where are the lions?

            Given my own surname, I guess that’s my job. I’ve taken my antacid and so now I must, with much reluctance, devour these manacled martyrs before they destroy my preciously fragile infant democracy. If only they had an intelligent reason for their so-heroic self-sacrifice! Where are the martyrs against poverty, for affordable housing, against child abuse, for a safe, safely equipped and secure military, for proportional representation, for lowering the voting age, for literacy in all things, against demagogy in all places, for gentleness not to mention gentility, for tolerance, for compassion? Instead, we have bigoted book banners, harrowing heterosexualists, abusive anti-abortionists and abortionists alike, fatal Feminazis and credulous ‘Christians’ and grim grammarians all. Before you are tempted to attend any of their renovated arenas, please think again about the ideas and institutions that actually found our eccentric and yet oddly shared society, and do so before its very eccentricity descends into a patent madness.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of over fifty books in ethics, education, social theory, health and aesthetics, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary sciences for over two decades.

How I Became Unemployable

 How I Became Unemployable

            I live in a city with two tales. One is a personal fiction, the other an impersonal reality. To say that I prefer the first is to dwell in the hermit’s hut, safe from worldly fact and fancy alike. To recognize that the second is in fact wherein I actually live is to also, oddly, save myself from ignominy. For while the fiction allows me to imagine that I’m simply too good, or too bad, for said world, the reality saves me from blaming myself that I’m more simply the wrong person for the right job. Well, any job.

            I was a professor for a quarter century. I taught at every level of the North American post-secondary system save that of the community college. I ended up at an R1 and as a department chair for five years. I won two university-wide teaching awards and was nominated for four others. I won over a hundred thousand dollars in publication awards. I made a comfortable six figures and had, in my opinion, the easiest job in the world. That others – many others – must have had the sense that being a professor was rather the narrowest job in that same world became apparent only when it was too late. For it turned out that when I decided I wanted to do something else with the remainder of my life I was warned vehemently against such rashness by my friends and colleagues.

            I thought their cautions merely affectionate rather than realistically desperate. Surely I have many ‘transferrable skills’? I have a lengthy résumé, I  have years of executive management experience, more years of project management, and I had become an internationally recognized scholar in education, health, and aesthetics. What could possibly go wrong? My wife and I jumped the academic ship and our hurricane-resistant lifeboats immediately turned into flimsy life-rings. Over the next three years I applied to four hundred jobs, and my wife struggled to begin an entirely new career. It took her five years to succeed and in the meanwhile I got all of four interviews; one in a hundred. All I can say is ‘thank god for PRIFs’, as I never found another job of any kind. My wife is now a very successful senior financial advisor, so the once gendered tables have also been turned. The nub of the reality was that I had no recognizable skills. That careers are highly streamed. That an aging Gen-X’er has no role in the contemporary workplace.

            But the fiction was what got me through to the other side of the reality. That it was my work as a philosopher that barred me from a public life of any kind. I was, in a word, a dangerous person. Anyone to whom nothing is sacred is, by definition, public enemy number one. Anyone whose vocation it is to critically examine society’s most cherished possessions – its values – in another age might well have been burned. Anyone who bites off the very hand that provides safe succor to think at all deserves nothing at all from the cultural weald. My fifty-one books – thus far – qualify me for the dinosaur graveyard. Where’s my OC? If Marc-Andre Hamelin has been dubbed a ‘national treasure’, then why not I? However phantasmagorical this other tale could become, it eventually allowed me to encounter, quite by chance, a growing group of young creative minds who, along with myself, started a private venture. I’m now the CEO and Creative Director of a video game software corporation and I enjoy it immensely. So you can keep your public policy jobs, your private consultants gigs, and your OCs to boot; this thinker and writer has gone radically digital in an age wherein the future is not plastics, but rather is as fluidly plastic as oneself must be in order to carry on in an ever-changing world. That, in the end, was the reality that the fiction was able to recreate.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of over fifty books in ethics, education, health, aesthetics and social theory, and more recently, fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades. And though not actively seeking employment, if you require a real-time Mycroft Holmes in your organization, please feel free to contact him.

Abortion and Ressentiment

Abortion and Ressentiment

            “The phenomenal peculiarity of the ressentiment delusion can be described as follows: the positive values are still felt as such, but they are overcast by the false values and can shine through only dimly. The ressentiment experience is always characterized by this ‘transparent’ presence of the true and objective values behind the illusory ones – by that obscure awareness one lives in a sham world which one is unable to penetrate.” (Max Scheler, Ressentiment, 1912-13, [2003:36], italics the text’s).

            In his perceptive introduction to Scheler’s classic extrapolatory work on Nietzsche’s concept of ressentiment, or ‘malicious existential envy’, Manfred Frings defines it thusly: “Ressentiment is an incurable, persistent feeling of hating and despising which occurs in certain individuals and groups. It takes its roots in equally incurable impotencies or weaknesses that these subjects constantly suffer from. These impotencies generate either individual or collective but always negative attitudes. They can permeate a whole culture, era, and an entire moral system. The feeling of ressentiment leads to false moral judgments made on other people who are devoid of this feeling. Such judgments are not infrequently accompanied by rash, at times fanatical claims of truth generated by the impotency this feeling comes from.” (2003:5). Such a description should be eminently recognizable to us today, as it is expressed in numerous contexts, including sectarianism, environmentalism, feminism, socialism, and nationalism. But these abstract manifestations of collective ressentiment themselves tend to ‘obscure awareness’ that we as individual persons often suffer from the delusions and the fanaticisms of deeply cherished existential envies. Such malice as can be found within envy or jealousy is indeed, ‘as cruel as the grave’, for it permits us to desire not only to replace the other with ourselves but to see that envied other destroyed. We do not merely want to be ‘like’ them, we want them vanquished from both society and its corresponding history. In a word, ressentiment seeks the death of the other via a projection of a self-hatred at one’s own personal drawbacks.

            Perhaps the most vocal space of the play of ressentiment today appears in the conflict surrounding abortion. In the USA, where such numbers have not varied much for about three decades, 41% of men and 35% of women feel abortion should be banned in almost all cases. About 38% of the population overall takes this line. A reasonable model of human belief and behavior must not only take account of the impetus behind such a belief, it must also account for the beliefs of the opposing two franchises, that is, the 59% of men who favor legal abortion and the 65% of women who do so, and thus around 62% of all persons in the USA. The governmental structure of said nation works to protect minority rights and in doing so, historically may have been said to over-represent any such minority on the political stage. The coincidence of this or that regime appointing chief justices also can lend leverage to specific points of view at certain moments in such a nation’s history. For the issue of abortion, this is one such moment.

            In saying this, we have touched the surface only of the ‘how’, and not taken the dive necessary to reveal the ‘why’. That is, why is abortion itself an issue at all, let alone a political one? It is well known in studies of gender development that males and females are socialized radically differently. Men are challenged by autonomy and fail to learn the skills required to ‘look after themselves’. This is reflected in their dependency upon women in conjugal relations and in child-raising. It is only very recently that the majority of men have taken up some portion of domestic labor; round numbers here are on the order of about one-third performing about half such labor, another one-third doing some of it but still the minority, and a final one-third doing nothing at all. During previous decades when men accounted for most of the public work force and almost all of the household income, this ‘balance’ appeared to function well enough. We should not put a valuation on such a symbiosis as was idealized in the ‘bourgeois’ family, since it has been well-documented that such an arrangement came at great cost for both dominant genders. Both Emma Goldman and Engels are to be credited with the most important critiques of this family type and insofar as it still exists, these critiques retain their validity. At the same time, if men’s impotency has to do with attaining a sense of independence, this is nonetheless an ideal of most men. For women, socialized to be caregivers and to give more generally without demur, the challenge is to simply preserve their own selfhood in the face of others demanding that they fulfill absent characteristics of an holistic self.

            The stage is thus set for mutual envy. On the one hand, men resent women’s self-sufficiency as well as their ability to provide emotional succor to others. They resent the female’s sexual energies and capabilities – no male virility can outlast female ‘availability’, so to speak – and, at least in the past, their general ‘beauty’ as defined by the esthetics of the day. Even now, for instance, supermodels are almost exclusively female. On the other hand, women resent men’s neediness, their immaturity when it comes to working with others, and their objectification of women as idealized sources of both Eros and the means to ward off the thanatic drive so prevalent in men, who have been socialized with correspondingly more violence than have women. The ethnographic work ‘Worlds of Pain’ wincingly documents this mutual resentment which gradually turns to the more malicious form of envy. For men, feeling ‘roped into’ marriage seems a cliché, but it is nevertheless a real sensitivity. They claim to be ‘trapped’ by the woman, whose own needs they struggle to satisfy in the present-day labor market and perhaps also in the boudoir. Yet the woman is equally trapped. Before ever actual children may appear, she is saddled with an ‘overgrown child’, to quote the many transcribed extracts, whose needs seem to grow in direct proportion to time served. The freedom and informality of a first date does not a marriage make.

            Children are mostly a bond upon the woman. They are thus potential leverage for a man to bring the freedom of the woman to ground. Not only is the cycle from conception to birth a dangerous one for women, post-parturition illnesses abound. But it is to the psychological burden of pregnancy that any ethical analysis must point. Children certainly suffer from this other resentment – it is no fault of theirs that they are born but many parents are possessed of the sense that children somehow ‘owe’ them; a clear delusion of ressentiment which the old also hold against the young in general – but it is more directly women who find themselves entangled within conflicting demands; the proverbial ‘second shift’, the idea of the ‘supermom’ and so on. We are not as certain when it comes to defining what it means to be a ‘super-dad’. We would argue here that the men who seek to ban abortion do so out of a patent ressentiment against women in general. By extension, the women who seek the same harbor that same violent envy against other women who seem more at liberty than they. This relative social freedom may be sourced in a variety of socialized beliefs and values, but the most salient variable that influences the relative rate of abortion between groups of women is status in the labor market. Professional or full-time long-term career oriented women have fewer children than meager status working women whose life of labor does not return many rewards. All of us live off this penitential form of labor, and it is global.

            We are also aware that the actual instances of abortion vary according to socio-economic status. In the USA this is simply due to the fact that the procedure is expensive. Indeed, in nations where medical care is ‘free’, we do not see widespread attention to abortion as a public or political issue. So the motivation for women who desire legal abortion access is that they wish to maintain this public status as well as a certain material level of lifestyle and consumption, and resent both their misgivings about being potentially self-seeking and thus also less of a ‘true’ woman. For men who favor legal abortion, they too desire a specific quality of life and may also feel that their dependence upon women is not tied to the woman being herself tied to children. Such men have themselves status and wealth enough to simply ‘trade out’ this or that intimate partner over much of the life course and thus are not bound to a particular marriage mate who is willing to ‘put up’ with their other male weaknesses, still very much present. True ‘no fault’ divorce is in reality based upon more or less equal access to resources, whether these are material, psychical, or emotional and ethical. Given the ratio of urban-rural, educated-less educated, and the distribution of wealth and access to cultural institutions and health care, the prevailing numbers associated with views on abortion in the USA reflect closely such numbers associated with the usual suite of ‘life-chance’ variables.

            While at first glance it seems that the levels of ressentiment and accompanying delusions – those who favor abortions are ‘immoral’, even ‘evil’ rather than in reality simply pragmatic and self-interested – weigh heavily upon those with negative views on abortion, those who favor legal abortion maintain a corresponding set of delusions about their opponents – they are ‘misogynists’ or ‘fascists’ rather than in reality being culturally impoverished and marginalized relative to the means of production – and thus also have to reckon with sources of existential envy which may have their expression in the denial of community or the import of familial ties. In sum, women who disfavor abortion resent the relative liberty of higher status women; men who disfavor abortion resent their dependence upon women in general; women who favor abortion resent men in general – specifically their would-be intrusiveness through the presence of children as a form of male leverage – and men who favor abortion resent any woman who would impinge upon their ‘earned’ status and idealized ‘freedom’ but who also must maintain the means to be relatively independent themselves. Though it does appear that ressentiment itself is carried more upon the side of disfavor in this issue, we should not be overly quick to clear those who favor abortion on this count given the highly polarized political division in the contemporary USA. Both masses no doubt imagine that ‘their’ country would be better off if all those on the ‘other’ side were dead and gone. This is ultimately the arbiter of the social presence of malicious existential envy.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of fifty books in ethics, education, health, social theory and aesthetics, and was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences of over two decades.

Gender: the Ever-Bending Story

                                    Gender: the Ever-Bending Story

                                                Beauty has little to do with desire.

                                                                                –               Marcel Proust

                A romantic notion of the performance of gender, attached to any age or aesthetic, would simply be to suggest that we are attempting, in our mortal and fragile manner, to approach the concept of Beauty. We are to be the beautiful embodied, and this is our sole and singular desire. From the mimicry of fashion, the downward percolation of haute-couture, the adulation of celebrity, the fitness regimes that claim that sixty is the new forty and so on – is thereby twenty the new twelve? Our delayed ethical maturity rates support this other claim at least – such a desire to become and if possible, remain, beautiful, animates much of even popular health discourse. Not an ounce of wasted fat. Sadly, perhaps, few of us attain these heady heights, especially as we age. We are another version of the 99% movement, more or less asexual, displaying genders of uncertain registry, possessing only tattered proof of ownership, gradually weaning ourselves away from glamour.

            Though this sensibility maintains a certain surface tension between ideals and realities, it is still a gloss on another, more elemental sense that the limits of mortality place upon us. Rather than simply a desire for the Beautiful, more deeply as well as more simply, we are driven by a basic will to life. We understand that health, in general, lends itself to longevity. That the figure is enhanced by the physique is of secondary import only. And yet, if the prime mover is an attempt not so much at Beauty per se, with neither Truth nor the Good necessarily following along from this, but rather at Godhead itself, it is also true to say that living better has it charms when juxtaposed with simply living longer.

            The bodies of the Greek pantheon, for example, are both cliché as well as inspiring what Sontag in our own time referred to as the ‘fascist aesthetic’. Riefenstahl was her particular target, and at the time, this latter duly replied ‘I cannot imagine how someone so smart can be so stupid’. On both counts, the rest of us are guilty. We ape the esthetic of eugenics whilst pretending unawareness of the fascist methods it takes to attain it. It is also a ‘look’ underpinned by health and hygiene, and neither erotism nor even sexuality qua sexuality. In a word, a hot body is a better reproductive machine. It is changing population dynamics, altered political franchises, and transitional personal identities that support the more realistic analytic of the study of gender taken into the social world rather than being left to the wider latitudes and sometimes deadpan platitudes of the world of literature.

            This said, if we compare the eugenics height-weight charts of the 1930s with the insurance driven charts of our own day, it is clear that we have lost some weight, as it were. This is a good thing in the sense that women should not be defined by their reproductive physiology and men should not be defined by their ability to carry around the gears of war. Let the latter play out this pre-nuclear destiny in video games, let the former simply adopt. Gender and sex have never been in a one-to-one correspondence with one another. They are regularly completely separate conceptions and thus give forth conflicting sensibilities. ‘Born a woman, born a man’ is someone’s paean to a dubious nostalgia. Who this ‘someone’ may be in today’s world is certainly of interest, but what students of this topic tell us is that it is more of a ‘what’ than a specifically definable ‘who’. Foucault’s conception of ‘bio-power’ is likely the most powerful analytic tool we have to lens these phenomena. Of its relationship to the ability to wage wars of both attrition and obliteration, he states: “But the existence in question is no longer the juridical existence of sovereignty; at stake is the biological existence of a population. If genocide is indeed the dream of modern powers, this is not because of a recent return of the ancient right to kill; it is because power is situated and exercised at the level of life, the species, the race, and the large-scale phenomena of population.” (1978:137 [1976]). Any State which is losing population will have more repressive laws against both LGBTQ2 and abortion; Russia and Poland are obvious examples. If a State has too many people, such as India, laws are loosened to these regards, as we have also recently observed. Within the confines of national boundaries, the same argument covers the actions of waning subcultures or those dominant. Evangelical Protestants have maintained and even succeeded in growing their franchise by teaching against non-heterosexual identities and displaying a vigorous opposition to abortion, this in spite of the fact that it is working and middle class married white women who abort the vast majority of fetuses – simply due to personal constraints of finance and time as well as perhaps, an incipient sense that they are not vessels of mere reproduction after all – and in spite of the fact LGBTQ2 numbers represent an insignificant portion of sectarian franchises. The logic of desire alone argues that the subaltern should be commending post haste alternate sexual identities and practices for the dominant culture, their enemies, instead of making blanket statements that all of us should eschew the bending of gender and sexuality alike.

            This straying from rationality also overtakes a strictly biopower approach, for once again, if the goal is political dominance in a democracy, one’s enemies should be encouraged to abort, to be gay etc. and to generally practice a hedonism that will never lead to stable family and reproductive relationships. Given that this is manifestly not what we observe, it may be the case that subalterns already know that their enemies will not heed their advice, so they can rest in preaching to the choir, hoping that at least these latter will in fact do so. In lesser democracies, governments have more ability to impose restrictions and cast to the historical winds any opposition. Even so, there are ways to counter such Herodian measures. If one is expected to add to the population of one’s homeland in the effort to make it more powerful as a military figure, or to help insulate it against the otherwise necessary importation of immigrant labour pools – which in turns heralds a latent ethnicism; the proverbial ‘fear of a ‘black’ planet’ – one can simply practice safer sex. It is of interest that while this is an oft impotent cliché in the education of youth, we do not so much hear a peep of it regarding adults, especially those in conjugal relations. Speaking of the hygiene of eugenics, it was the Reich’s ideal to reproduce as rapidly as possible, hence the gaudy medals given out to the mothers who bore the most children per annum. One suspects Russia, for instance, of providing more vulgar trophies, this time for the men, given the paucity of laws against domestic and child abuse in that country. Zhivym boitsam pochot i chest’, don’t want to marry, settle down and have kids? Well, here, guys, do whatever you want to your women (and children) and the State will turn a blind eye to it. How’s that for a deal?

            While it is also sadly likely the case that many men in all nations would find such an offer attractive – why should there be opportunities for this kind of recreation as performance in the theaters of abuse that include aspects of the sex industry as well as the far more real abuses that yet take place in some schools in certain countries and in most homes around the world if this were not the case? – it is also plausible to suggest that the more public LGBTQ2 phenomena is suggestive of a transition away from not only the bourgeois family and its repressed esthetic of binary erotism but even more importantly, from the call of duty the homeland has customarily represented. Nuclear weapons have provided an ironic egress from both of these structured strictures. On the one hand, vast armies are no longer required to wage war. On the other, everyone is now a warrior, however passive, for in contemporary global war, all perish and not merely those who serve. It may raise eyebrows to declare a direct relation between weapons of mass destruction and the wider advent of the LGBTQ2, but this is, to me, quite clear.

            The key to using this aesthetic and ethical disconnect to the advantage of overcoming the cause and working more intimately with the effect is to ensure that no matter the local cultural source of youth, the new ideology of global interrelations and dialogue be taught as the commanding presence in educational processes. Yes, this too is an argument, but it rests in the service of life. For the first time in the history of gender-bending, those who on the face of it mean to become comfortable with their extant bodies through gender transition or other methods, also have this wider calling. Their example must teach the rest of us how to overcome the dual and allied forces of State and Family. I think that those who resist LGBTQ2 persons are aware of this very threat, even though their response is too steeped in Hexis to attain a specific rationality. The rhetoric that a god is displeased with alternate sexual identities cannot possibly resonate in a diverse world of many creeds and creditors. No, the best defense against non-binary gender is to simply have as many children as possible within the subculture in question and then teach them about man and woman as they were ‘meant’ to be. Ignore whatever else is going on and hope that the rest of us will simply die out for lack of reproductive potential, in another irony, kind of the like the Shakers. Now, will the women of Poland, of Russia, or for that matter, of Texas and Utah, comply?

            I would like to doubt it. There is an alliance between feminism and ‘genderism’, for lack of a better term. So the only other tactic that can be employed by a waning culture is to try to convince at least some of the rest of us to join in. Men, are you feeling a little ‘incel’ these days? Join us! We have young women aplenty eager to serve you, and we too will look the other way if you enjoy disciplining them (and their children) in some old-world fashion. A number of threads in VoyForums, for example, attest to this marketing and its grim results, which are celebrated as if domestic abuse were a common good. On the other side, the rest of us, however asexual and denuded of our own desires, must put our remaining energies into curtailing all such activities to their null point, while accessing the spirit of Antigone but transcending her choice, which in turn may mean simply destroying the sources which promote, and continue to promote, the inhumane ideals of family and state alike.

            Social philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of forty-five books in ethics, education, aesthetics, health and social theory, as well as more recently, metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

Harry the potter’s jars of clay

Harry the potter’s jars of clay

            In the wake of J.K. Rowling’s unabashed comments regarding the reality of sex and the charges of transphobia that were issued in response to them, it may be germane to discuss some of our current conceptions concerning human identity and the politics that follows therefrom. Ultimately, one’s definition of reality is at stake, and we will see that this is the truer import of all such debates, however popularized or taken to the streets.

            There are five major biological sexes in the human species, and the so-called ‘sexual dimorphism’ that allows for convenient categories is splayed out along a spectrum which meets in hermaphroditism – of late relabeled ‘intersex’ – the central variants of which account for at least one in every 2 to 2.5 thousand live (‘female’) births. There are no doubt ‘more’ genders than there are sexes, but who’s counting? The point is that both gender and sex are social constructions mainly based on national health policy and indeed the identity of the particular nation state in question. Biopower, Foucault’s simple but arresting conception of an originally bourgeois transformation of the older labor power, demographic concerns such as pension fund viability, voter franchise, relative strength and weakness of employment markets, and more darkly, bigotries surrounding equally moribund concepts of race and ethnicity – the ‘fear of a black planet’ thing – influence who we are liable to label a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’. If I were a woman of any cultural or even individual construction, I wouldn’t take kindly to Rowling’s ‘offer’ of a potential definition of myself as ‘one who menstruates’. This appears reductive in the extreme while at once suggesting that I am the same as every other woman out there. Indeed, it is this urge for sameness while simultaneously drawing up boundaries of difference that is at present threatening to do us in.

            One could simply play at language, avoiding a deeper dialectic and thus also the confrontation that adheres to it. Perhaps sex and gender are both equally ‘real’, or neither are real and a truly hard-nosed scientific-minded reality has nothing to do with the human imagination. Perhaps sex is the old reality and gender the new, or that the former’s hold upon an actually unmoving reality is supplanted by the latter’s emergent identity politics. Or perhaps reality is itself irrelevant, and human consciousness, only partially conscious of itself and much less so of others, is the only arbiter of what can become real and thus also unreal.

            But I am going to suggest that our reality is in fact being covered over by such discussions, whether they are violently performed in confrontations amongst people who imagine themselves to be so different as to not share even an iota of humanity with one another, or more banally, literary celebrities and entertainers who imagine that their unstudied opinions should carry such misplaced public weight.

            Diversity in every known species is an evolutionary positive. Not only for that self-same species regarding its adaptational acumen given changing ecological niches either over the course of geological epochs or, in our own time, over a generation or two, but also for other species, as when humble fungi contain the key to cancer cures or other medical breakthroughs. Though cultural evolution as a theory of human cosmogony is a long out-of-fashion sensibility, one aspect of it that remains salient is that human diversity along cultural lines is also a positive. No one culture, says this view, holds all of the truths for all of the myriad of changing contexts in which we humans find ourselves. And yet each culture does hold truths. Though not ‘eternal’ – the mere fact that we can identify such ideas in history tells us that their origin too is historical and not so much otherworldly – they can nevertheless be timely. One conception that is apropos to consider during this time of too-easy offense and counter-offense is that of compassion.

            Compassion is an ethical hallmark of the newer agrarian world-systems, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. It is sourced in the then equally novel sensibility that each human being has an intrinsic worth, apart from one’s accomplishments, abilities, and most importantly, apart from one’s social status. This last includes one’s self-identified gender, sex, race and ethnicity, one’s role and job title, and one’s address and education, let alone one’s cultural persuasions. An example: it is of interest that one’s individuated tastes can make for strange bedfellows. I despise swing music and am certain that Bruckner is a markedly superior composer to Tchaikovsky, not that Peter Ilyich was a slouch. In these two things I fully agree with the Nazis. Happen to agree, that is. It is this happenstance of the confluence of historical identity politics and one’s personal experiences that fraudulently drives much of our current predicament.

            Consider that no white owners of black slaves exist in North America today. Wage-slavery aside for a moment, all these other folks are long dead. But it is also the case that white persons are less likely to be enslaved by what reaches out for all of us from beyond the grave. Yes, the dead must bury the dead, but you have to kill them first. Just so, how does one commit an idea to the ground of non-being when the vast majority of the very people who are most hurt by the current social organization of difference maintain beliefs in the afterlife? The overcoming of the ideologized politics of difference is both a recognition of human diversity as it is and not as we would desire it to be, as well as being the beginning of a self-recognition that I am also not one thing, not these things, not a ‘thing’ at all.

            Dressing oneself up in difference is not a way to confront the reality of human diversity. Only being with another human being in as personal a manner as possible will make one more aware of just how similar our differences are, why they exist, where they come from, and of vital import for humanity today, where they are going. Daniel Radcliffe responded to the author of his career freedom and perhaps more than that by restating the basic ethic of Harry Potter; that ‘love is the most powerful force in the universe’. Though Rowling’s epic appears to imagine love as an inherent good, which is only forgivable because these are books for children, Radcliffe’s well-meaning naivety yet touches upon the desire to get along with the others in spite of their differences, which in turn threaten us not because they are alien, but because they remind us too closely of ourselves. To begin to consider the other as a means to understand the self and my self as a means for the other to recover her authentic freedom is the first step to a world wherein reality is something that all human beings are at liberty to help construct.

            Social philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of forty books in ethics, education, aesthetics, religion, and social theory and more recently, metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

A Caution Concerning Gender

A Caution Concerning Gender:

            The question ‘why do we need men?’ has likely at least been framed on the lips of every Western woman post-war. Today, more globally, it has become a question that can at last be asked by all. Barring the advent of a human parthenogenesis, the basic function of men, reduced to their physical substrate by one sense of such a question, would be to help continue the species. But downloadable consciousness of the type Raymond Kurzweil is predicting would obviate even that biological fallback. We might not need men at all, which would certainly suit the tastes of E. Jean Carroll, for one. Just so, we wouldn’t need women either.

            Though journeying with a dog named after a man – this namesake was also a plausible child molester – Carroll travelled the United States in as precise avoidance of everything ‘men’ as she possibly could. And though we are not made aware if she drove on this or that street named after men, she did manage to shop only at stores that were either neutral – were they yet owned by men? – and visited only towns named after women or bearing women’s names, etc. This seemed a cunning enough stunt, and those words are used advisedly, that she must needs write a book about it, itself bearing the title of a close version of the question in question.

            Here instead is a slightly immodest proposal: get rid of gender entirely. I am a person and a human being far before I am a man, white, middle-aged, heterosexual. But such ‘persons’ as I also am are themselves a category, and one fashionably much disdained. Yet I too have been solicited, assaulted, and stigmatized by women seeking to impose a toll upon my imagined sexuality or libidinal availability in order that I might further my career. That I have refused all such approaches, sometimes deftly, sometimes not so much, marks me as indeed less of a man, because a ‘real man’ would have simply either shouldered these opportunities as ‘notches on one’s belt’, so to speak, or fully taken advantage of them. What must I have been thinking?

            I could simply say ‘#somethinguncouthmetoo’ and leave it at that, but my social role and the ethical dignity that both comes from it and is necessary to it does not allow me such a pat and narrow response. Instead, it would be more constructive to flesh out the viable and ethical critique of masculinity that is part – but only part – of the wider culture critique in which all of us must engage. ‘Toxic masculinity’ actually hurts men more than it does women. Women, of late, have been able to walk away from it, though not entirely and not without some consequence. But men cannot do so. It is a manifest danger, not only to the continuation of the species but to the Earth and its wider nature, to the future, to ethics, and to the nascent trust necessary for the extant genders to get along with one another as human individuals. Masculinity might itself be defined as wholly toxic if one generalized the archaic conceptions of loyalty, honour, dignity, rationality, and socialized for a more even distribution of lesser things such as the ability to read maps and not get lost in the woods. Femininity too has a compendium of aspects which are better left behind and thus there must also be present a ‘toxic femininity’ – though one never seems to hear of it – that also should be expunged from social and cultural relations.

            And E. Jean Carroll and other writers in that vein are part of that other set of toxins. With a seething irony, these women ally themselves with the worst of their ’gender’ as they become most like ‘we’ men. She suggests war would end if men as we know them today were gone, masculinity overcome. Margaret Thatcher was a woman after all. Greed? Imelda Marcos. Torture and abuse? The members of the SS auxiliary units and the guards of the women’s camps. Domestic violence against children? Check out all the internet threads advocating use of physical assault against children under the guise of ‘discipline’, populated in the main by mothers. And so on. The problem in fact is not men, but the power relations of present-day genders and families and politics themselves.

            In defining ourselves apart from our persons, in joining up with a category, we lose a vitally important aspect of our humanity; our self-understanding. We imagine we act ‘because’ we are a man, or Caucasian, or part of this or that demographic, and these ‘structural life variables’, as social scientists refer to them, are not simply to be denied. They do have a powerful influence over us. Indeed, it is these that need be overcome on the way to mature being. The person, as individual; self-responsible, attending to the call of conscience, being-ahead-of-itself in that it is future-oriented and is concerned about the world as it is and given its present, as it might become, this is a person who bears no allegiance to gender of any kind. The fact that one of Canada’s major chartered banks has no less than nine categories under gender should tell us that the move toward the dissemination and dissolution of the binary model of gender relations is entirely missing the point. Institutional acceptance is never reflective of revolutionary change, rather quite the opposite. What it tells us is that gender, however it is defined or redefined, does not matter.

            In one sense, this is a good thing, as we are well past the point of needing to adhere to archaic social norms and esthetic forms. Even so, we must be cautious regarding our replacement values. Choosing an alternative gender does not exempt one from confronting the human condition, most especially, one’s own. The premise of vanquishing the dominant gendered definitions and their inherent toxins holds within it no promise of overcoming what are human frailties through and through. Yes, there is more than one ‘human nature’, and I would be the last to subscribe to the unthinking and wholly irresponsible response that the ‘person in the street’ oft gives to the challenges of our time. But no, it is not men per se who are the source of this patent unthought. Rather it is simple ignorance on the part of some persons, simple dishonesty from others, and a rather less simple calculation on the part of those with the most to lose if we actually did overcome such things.

            To begin to do so is to ask the question with the greater critical and reflective leverage: ‘why do we need gender?’ Its interrogative is fully portable to ethnicity, class, nation, creed, poverty and war, amongst others. Given that we have already asked that same question about God, long ago, one would think we would have the simple and unassuming courage to ask it of ourselves.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of over thirty-five books in ethics, aesthetics, social theory, social psychology and religion, as well as metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for two decades.