It’s some pretty stupid reasoning, but it nevertheless amuses me to see our modern-day gnostics hoisted on their own petard.
Earlier this week, the Supreme Court let stand a controversial lower court decision. Angela Ames alleged that her employer forced her to resign because she wanted special accommodations to pump milk at work and sued them for discrimination. According to RawStory, a portion of a lower court’s decision on this case held that sex discrimination was not an issue when it comes to breast feeding because men are technically capable of lactation in unusual circumstances.
Now, though I can’t say I’d make the same choice as Ms. Ames’ employer, I believe in freedom of association and think that employers should be allowed both to choose their employees and decide for themselves what kind of accommodations they want to provide. So I’m not opposed to the standing court decision. There’s also the caveat that RawStory is trumping up a tiny part of a court ruling that was at least one court further down than the headline implies—in other words, it wasn’t really a significant part of what the Supreme Court was considering taking on in the first place. Nevertheless, I think everyone can agree that it’s silly to claim that lactation is completely arbitrary with respect to sex.
Or can they?
As stupid as it is, this kind of reasoning is just an everyday part of American gnosticism. The gnostics of old believed in a sharp dualism between matter and spirit and conceptualized humans as spirits temporarily trapped in a fleshly prison. In other words, they believed that our bodies had nothing to do with the “real” us—our spirits. This point of view stretches further than ancient mysticism, though. Ever since Descartes, it has been a staple of modern thought as well. We tend to see our true selves as our minds while seeing our bodies as a kind of mind-vessel arbitrarily granted us by some accident of biology. Over the centuries we’ve reached a point where any thought that there is intention behind our biology that is worthy of respect is dismissed out of hand. The human body works a particular way, but this is deemed irrelevant due to the body being a machine that could have worked pretty much any way at all.
In fact, liberal political thought in America is packed to the gills with this kind of reasoning. Abortionists like Warren Hern try to classify pregnancy as a disease and deny that this condition (in which every human who ever existed has been involved in one way or another) is “normal.” In that same vein, Feminists have succeeded in making people think that drugs that break healthy reproductive systems are primarily medicine. Indeed, feminism in general hinges on its denial of any significant differences between men and women (no matter what our lying eyes may tell us) because sex and gender are supposedly arbitrary. The rainbow lobby tells us that our factory-equipped genitalia is of no relevance on matters like sex and marriage. When it comes down to it, the entire anti-discrimination industrial complex would collapse without the common public assumption that the design of our bodies simply doesn’t matter in any moral or spiritual sense.
But then again, rulings like this show that it all eventually collapses anyway when taken to its logical conclusion. The world can be a strange place, and if the kind of unusual biological exceptions that spring up in it make the concept of human design entirely arbitrary, then they make all of it entirely arbitrary. If pregnancy is a disease, then there is no real difference between disease and health anyway; it cannot be considered normal for a woman to lactate or abnormal for a man to do so. For that matter, if sexes don’t matter, then there’s no such thing as “women’s issues” in the first place. Neither is there any non-arbitrary sense of responsibility towards one’s own biologically produced children, which makes maternity leave a completely unnecessary accommodation. Even more abstract concepts like fairness and justice which liberalism cannibalizes become arbitrary, for our bodies are what observably interact with other bodies. If they are arbitrary, then there is no way that that these others ought to be treated. Punching someone in the face is just a applying a few Newtons to a piece of meat that someone has an irrational attachment to. So what if it hurts? After all, some people can’t feel pain at all, so why should that be a consideration?
As stupid as it is, the discrimination police have no grounds on which to complain about this legal reasoning. It’s no less stupid than what they come up with every day.