by Nigel Assam
Existentialism teaches “What I do defines who I am.” And that is what is at the heart of the transgender movement -- the search for autonomous meaning in a universe that has no absolutes.
Recently, an Alaskan transgendered high school athlete won honors in a female race at Alaska’s state track meet. The female competitors, no doubt, were upset, one even saying that she doesn’t think it is fair. A normal and reasonable response. It won’t be the last, since, according to transathlete.com, thirty states allow for transgendered athletes to compete in competitions under the gender they identify with.
About two to three decades ago, it became the norm to discard sexual difference in language, e.g., no longer was there a spokesman or spokeswoman, but spokesperson was the term used; no longer are people called actors or actresses, but both men and women are called actors.
We well remember how the transformation of Caitlyn Jenner was one of the most reported-upon stories by a media that is fixated upon driving a leftist agenda. Even before Caitlyn Jenner there was Laverne Cox. And since 2014, Amazon’s "Transparent" has been a hit. As well, there is Jazz Jennings. Furthermore, beginning in the 2017-2018 academic year, kindergarten children in Washington State will be taught gender identity, with 3rd graders even being taught that they can choose their own gender. Then there is the New York City Human Rights Law which enforces the proper use of pronouns to address an individual.
Some of the roots of the current transgender rights movement can be traced back to the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s when all societal norms were breached. The truth at the bottom of this sad episode was not liberation to love, but the ego wanting whatever it wanted -- full liberation from any meaningful relationships, which will require responsibility and restraints.
But the roots go even further back, and are found in post-modernism and existentialism. Politics, as is often said, is downstream from culture. But the culture is downstream from the academy, which is where bad ideas take hold and are passed down to students, and through entertainment, which influences society. To quote Scottish politician Andrew Fletcher, “Let me make the songs of a nation, I do not care who makes its laws.”
But two of the main influencers of the current Left are Herbert Marcuse and Michel Foucault. A leading member of the Frankfurt School, Marcuse’s book Eros and Civilization (1965) became the bible of the New Left. As a cultural Marxist, he saw the biggest challenge was replacing the Reality Principle with the Pleasure Principle. This was the driving force that propelled the Sexual Revolution. Happiness was the highest ideal and anything goes.
Marcuse and the Frankfurt School also urged what is now called political correctness. For them, in order to change society and culture, the transgressive must become the norm and what is accepted and tolerated -- free speech, traditional customs, etc. -- must become unacceptable and intolerable, and that they and their disciples would be the enforcers of what is tolerable and accepted.
Michel Foucault believed that man had no epistemological consciousness, i.e. there is no definition of man beyond his own subjective truth. At the base of Foucault’s thinking is Relativism, i.e. there is no absolute truth, therefore, there is no moral absolute that defines and guides a society and, on the personal level, any person at all. We are all free to choose our own subjective truths.
Foucault, along with Jacques Derrida, another proponent of Deconstructionism, questioned fundamental conceptual distinctions, or “oppositions”, in language and literary texts. When taken outside of its original purpose, this mode of thought has been largely helpful in the questioning of tradition and cultural norms.
But one of Foucault’s greatest contributions to how many people think, especially on the Left, came from his thoughts on language. For him, language should be freed from its subordination to ideas to become now its own autonomous reality -- language is its own truth and speaks nothing other than its own meaning. Words have no transcendental meanings, no absolute meanings.
Another immense contribution from Foucault is Social Constructionism, which, although did not begin with him, was greatly developed by his work in this field. This teaches that “social constructs or social constructions define meanings, notions, or connotations that are assigned to objects and events in the environment and to people’s notions of their relationships to and interactions with these objects. In the domain of social constructionist thought, a social construct is an idea or notion that appears to be natural and obvious to people who accept it but may or may not represent reality, so it remains largely an invention or artifice of a given society.”
Which brings us to questions of gender and sex. Foucault believed that sexuality was a socially constructed concept ascribed onto people/bodies. There was no definite male or female, but each person was free to define himself or herself an identity. This is a natural result of Deconstructionism. Thus, one feels free to choose whichever gender (I prefer the term sex, which is more appropriate) one feels or identifies with.
This is the natural result of the long march towards radical subjectivity. But if we look back throughout history, we can see the linear progression that has brought us to this juncture. In the 17th Century, there was Rationalism, which held sway over the academy with its mathematical and rational certainty. But because there were other facts of life in life like love and ethics, Empiricism developed with its command over science and empiricists wanted to be sovereign over everything. Then in the 1900s, Existentialism emerged onto the scene and taught that passions were what mattered and we should express those passions now.
Existentialism, still very influential, insists on individual existence, the individual’s freedom and his ability to choose. There was no God, so man was on his own in the universe and had to define himself. Existentialism teaches “What I do defines who I am.” And that is what is at the heart of the transgender movement -- the search for autonomous meaning in a universe that has no absolutes. In this postmodern world (some say it is a post-postmodern world), in which there are no absolutes and truth is relative, there is no larger framework of meaning to language or to our world. The individual seeks his own subjective reality, in essence his own truth, i.e. something that gives him or her meaning and an identity.
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