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The Eradication Of An "Ism"
The creeping illiberalism of the anti-woke right.
In a sign of growing extremism and illiberalism on the anti-woke right, the Daily Wire writer, Michael Knowles, gave a stem-winder of a speech at what’s left of CPAC. He pronounced:
There can be no middle way in dealing with transgenderism. It is all or nothing. If transgenderism is true — if men really can become women — then it’s true for everybody of all ages. If transgenderism is false — as it is — if men really can’t become women — as they cannot — then it’s false for everybody too.
And if it’s false, then we should not indulge it. Especially since that indulgence requires taking away the rights and customs of so many people. If it is false, then for the good of society, and especially for the good of the poor people who have fallen prey to this confusion, transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely — the whole preposterous ideology at every level.
The speech swiftly drew a rebuke that this was classic eliminationist rhetoric — code for eradicating transgender people from public life. Knowles demanded a correction from some outlets that implied as such (and got some). And I suppose he has a smidgen of a semantic point. But come on. If he said we need to eradicate homosexuality or Judaism from public life, we’d know what he meant.
In this case, “eradicating” an idea would just happen to end all sex-change operations, abolish legal and constitutional protections for transgender men and women, and remove recognition of their dignity and humanity in public life. It’s repellent and stupid. Humans can invent any number of ideas about reality. But there always have been and always will be a small group of human beings whose bodies and genders are not aligned. They are as vital and as wondrous a part of God’s creation as anyone else.
In general, it’s a very good rule to ignore anyone who says there is no middle way on a contentious question. That goes for Ibram X Kendi as well as Knowles. If their first instinct is to reject complexity, they’re not actually interested in humanity as it is. Christina Buttons, who covered gender pediatrics for the Daily Wire until Knowles’ speech, gets it right:
On this issue it is extremely important to clearly distinguish between people and ideas so as not to feed into Left-wing manufactured hysteria about impending genocides. The political Right often rails against “identity politics” and group labels yet many fail to distinguish between transgender people and transgender activists. ... There is a critical distinction between speaking truth and being tactless, between sticking to the facts and sticking it to the libs.
Threading this needle in this cultural context is not easy. The far right wants to make this a war against transgender people; and so does the far left. Protecting vulnerable dysphoric kids from potential harm is far more complicated. But I think it’s worth reiterating a simple guiding principle here.
The word “eradicate” — meaning “tear up from the roots” — is something that should never be done to any “ism” in a free society, however vile its effects. The goal should always be to interrogate, probe, disprove, debunk or explain — but never “eradicate.” We need resilient error for truth to exist; we need bad ideas to distinguish good ones; and there is almost always some kernel of truth lurking even in the worst lie.
And that is why the intensifying push to “ban” ideas like CRT, or “ban” performances by drag queens in front of children, or “ban” certain concepts from being taught in universities is a sign of a flagging faith in liberal democracy, rather than a sign of its renewal.
There are obvious exceptions in publicly-funded education, specifically for minors. We understand that a 5-year-old is not a 25-year-old, and when she is taught by publicly-funded authority figures, the public gets a say in what is taught. So I don’t have an issue with legislatures mandating basic curricula; and removing highly controversial ideas from deeply impressionable kids in the earliest grades. I wouldn’t want a 5-year-old being taught either the core concepts of Catholic theology or critical queer theory in a public school as if they were the truth. But at some point — 16 years old seems like a sane boundary — even this needs to be relaxed.
To some, this feels like a surrender to the fanatics. And it is, in part. When powerful elites fall prey to a new ideology, and when they control the core institutions of our society — academia, media, corporations, almost every foundation, healthcare, the federal government — they can sweep a lot before them for quite a while.
But you cannot defend a free society by copying the tactics of those who oppose it. And a proposed law like Ron DeSantis’ HB 999 — which effectively hands all academic life to partisan politicians who control faculty and curricula — is a profoundly illiberal response to illiberalism. It doesn’t solve the problem; it compounds it. And it gives the far left rhetorical ammunition to appeal to the middle.
There are ways to fight back without falling into this trap. Legislatures can and should end affirmative action (including legacy preferences) — the original toxin behind today’s neo-racism; they can abolish mandatory DEI statements by public school professors as a condition for employment; they can fire all the countless DEI bureaucrats now proliferating like carpenter ants across public education; they can fund and create institutes within existing colleges to ensure that students have some access to ideas outside far-left orthodoxies. And if corporations are imposing systemic race discrimination as a way to become more “diverse,” sue them under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Always open up; try never to shut down. Don’t ban; offer more.
For some, like Chris Rufo, this is lame, weak prevarication in the face of a relentless enemy. And I understand where he’s coming from. But it is not weakness to stick to your principles, especially when they seem to be failing to counter a surge of intolerance. That’s when they matter the most.
And the idea that liberalism can only survive if the state imposes it as a doctrine is to show very little faith in the West. In this week’s Dishcast, Cathy Young remembers the resilience of free thought under Soviet Communism, imposed by terror and the gulag. And we think the core liberal idea cannot survive wokeness in a country with the First Amendment!
And the last thing we want to do to critical theory is give it the glamor of forbidden knowledge, when it is in fact so easily unraveled, so swiftly disproved, and so manifestly flawed. It thrives because of institutional power and because it fits so neatly with the human need to generalize, stigmatize and fear others. Reverse racism pushes all the same emotionally satisfying buttons as racism. And as a weapon for self-advancement, it’s a priceless kind of emotional blackmail. So it sure has power.
But it is psychologically devastating to minorities, toxic to any collective endeavor, counter-productive in its fostering of racialized consciousness, and empirically beyond crude. Its vaunted “racial reckoning” has ushered in nothing but a wave of murder of black citizens. The idea that differences in outcomes between different racial or social groups is entirely and solely the resilience of “white supremacy” is so reductionist it’s amazing it ever gets a hearing.
It’s vital to remember that the reason the woke use emotional blackmail is because their arguments are so weak. And the only way to break the power of those arguments is not to ban but to engage and refute them. That may mean losing some battles. But it’s the only way to avoid a Pyrrhic victory in the war.
(Note to readers: This is an excerpt of The Weekly Dish. If you’re already a subscriber, click here to read the full version. This week’s issue also includes: my take on the nihilism of Moira Donegan and her post-truth “Shitty Media Men” list; Cathy Young discussing her life under Soviet Communism, the Ukraine war and illiberalism in the US; many excellent dissents over my writing on Ukraine; 11 notable quotes from the week in news — including a doozy from Hillary Clinton; 20 pieces on Substack we liked this week on a variety of topics; a Mental Health Break of bagpipes playing “Freebird”; an eerily beautiful view from Washington state; and, of course, the results of the View From Your Window contest — with a new, easier challenge than the past two weeks’. Subscribe for the full Dish experience!)
A long-time Dishhead writes:
In good conscience I could no longer live with just getting by every Friday with your missives for non-subscribers. I’ve long been an admirer of the Dish and am now delighted to be a legit subscriber!
The Post-Truth Nihilism Of Moira Donegan
Amid all the hoopla over Fox News’ reckless hostility to the truth last week, you may be forgiven for missing the resolution of another libel case.
New On The Dishcast: Cathy Young
Cathy is a libertarian journalist and author. She’s currently a staff writer at The Bulwark, a columnist for Newsday, and a frequent contributor to Reason magazine. She has written two books: Ceasefire!: Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality, and Growing Up In Moscow: Memories of a Soviet Girlhood. We talk about how her life under totalitarianism informed her views on the war in Ukraine, and the authoritarian illiberalism in the US. She cheered me up a bit.
Listen to the episode here. There you can find two clips of our convo — on the gaslighting from liberals over woke extremism, and whether Russians actually support Putin’s war. That link also takes you to more reader dissent over Ukraine — among the best we’ve ever had. I also respond to more readers on gender issues. So grateful for all your helpful pushback. Honestly, I don’t know of another forum online with this quality of readership.
Next week is the vegan activist John Oberg who will try to convince me to give up meat. Browse the Dishcast archives for a discussion you might enjoy (the first 102 episodes are free in their entirety). As always, send your feedback and guest recommendations to email@example.com.
Dissents Of The Week
A reader writes:
Please pause a moment and look at how far the “woke” debate has come. You wrote a robust, deserved bashing of Murdoch/Fox, but conclude with the inevitable “both sides” garbage. That you can equate, in any way, purposeful disinformation harmful to democracy with the evils of the Marxist “agenda” is ridiculous.
Cool Ad Watch
The curmudgeonly Copyranter actually likes something:
LOL, Queen II, a GREAT album (“White Queen”, one of their best songs). If only they could have gotten front Freddie Baby to cross his arms across his chest. I’ll give them a pass.
He spotlights two more ads from the campaign here.
In The ‘Stacks
This is a feature in the paid version of the Dish spotlighting about 20 of our favorite pieces from other Substackers every week. This week’s selection covers subjects such the calls for war against Mexican cartels, the fire dangers of e-scooters, and the latest great news about Covid. Below are two examples:
Christina Buttons gets personal about her adolescence of mental illness, body dysmorphia and autism: “My ‘I Would Have Been Trans’ Story.” (She’s the gender-pediatrics writer who just quit the Daily Wire out of protest — donate to her future work here.)
In telling the story of Substack, Mario Gabriele compares it to the Associated Press and Kleenex.
You can also browse all the substacks we follow and read on a regular basis here — a combination of our favorite writers and new ones we’re checking out. It’s a blogroll of sorts. If you have any recommendations for “In the ‘Stacks,” especially ones from emerging writers, please let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The View From Your Window Contest
Where do you think it’s located? Email your guess to email@example.com. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject line. Proximity counts if no one gets the exact spot. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two annual Dish subscriptions. If you are not a subscriber, please indicate that status in your entry and we will give you a free month subscription if we select your entry for the contest results (example here if you’re new to the contest). Happy sleuthing!
The results for this week’s window are coming in a separate email to paid subscribers later today. Below is an excerpt from last week’s contest (our most-trafficked yet), written by our weekly animal expert:
This, by the way, is the reason you should not use fresh water to wash jellyfish stings. The more water and fewer solutes, the faster water will enter any un-fired nematocysts and make them discharge. And if you go for the old remedy of peeing on it, you might want to know how well hydrated the urine donor is.
While surfing around trying to find out about other local organisms, I ran into a second creature too good to pass up: the parrotfish.
Parrotfishes are named for having their teeth fused into a beak, which they use to scrape algae off the coral. They also have a second set of jaws in their pharynxes, with impressive grinding teeth. While scraping off algae, parrotfishes also scrape up a good deal of the coral skeleton. With the help of their second set of jaws, they can be seen pooping quantities of white sand — about 0.6 pounds per day, for one species. (Those of you who appreciate a good rabbit hole will enjoy this blogger’s quest to track down the actual numbers.)
You can see many excellent examples of sand-poopage in the following video, along with close-ups of the mucus cocoon in which some parrotfishes sleep:
Parrotfishes have a wide variety of life cycles, ranging from the conservative “born male, born female — that’s it,” to the “born female, but some of us turn into males,” to the really freewheeling “born male, born female, but some of us males pretend to be females and some of us females turn into males.”
In the last group, females begin their sexual lives as part of a dominant male’s harem. The dominant male — distinguished by brighter colors and larger size — will defend the harem against all other fishes he recognizes as male. But some of those demure “females” may be smaller males in disguise, known as “initial phase” males. Since the fishes spawn by releasing eggs and sperm directly into the water, these males manage to fertilize plenty of the harem’s eggs. This is known as “sperm competition,” to those in the field.
If the dominant male is killed, one of the females will generally change sex and replace him. Folks used to think it would just be the largest female, but more recent research has complicated the picture. After all, being a large female able to produce many eggs means that you’ll leave lots of offspring, no matter who fertilizes them. So being a large male may not be as much of a reproductive advantage. And sure enough, research on a population with lots of these smaller males found that the biggest females didn’t bother to become male when they had the chance. They left that to smaller females with more to gain.
See you next Friday.