Blogger’s Note: Back in May, The Federalist published a piece I wrote on the transgender issue: War is Peace; Freedom is Slaver; Men are Women. This was originally a much larger piece that I spilt into two. The wrongness of transgenderism isonly half of the story. The other half is the inadequacy of the conservative response to the issue. What follows is the rest of what I wrote earlier this year because, unfortunately, not much has changed.
We surely live in interesting times when one of America’s hot-button issues is about whether men who think they are women can use the women’s restroom. North Carolina has been the latest battleground where the LBGT Mafia has put together an alliance of big government, big business, and big entertainers to bully people into submission. Reason being, the state government had the gall to fight against Charlotte’s decision to force people to pretend they don’t know the difference between men and women when it comes to their bathrooms.
In response, many conservatives have once again taken up the rhetorical weapons of the left and framed the issue as a war on women—specifically noting a threat to women’s ability to feel safe and secure in bathrooms. I don’t want to entirely dismiss that line of argument, for it is true that policies that cater to men who think they’re women have resulted in actul harm to individual women. However, it is also unfortunate that an argument that should be in a supporting role seems to be coalescing as conservatism’s primary objection to forcing people and organizations to pretend that men are women and that women are men. Not only are the stakes bigger than that, but conservatives’ adoption of leftist styles of argument is self-defeating in the long run.
The “social justice warriors” who drive these kinds of outrage movements are not going to be dissuaded by framing this as an assault on women. Despite what they sometimes say, conservatives fail to truly believe that the shrieking segment of the left does not actually care about women. After all, most conservatives really do care, and its natural to project that onto others. But even a good “it hurts women” argument is only compelling where real concern is present. Social justice warriors only care about women as an abstraction inasmuch as “women’s issues” are bound up in their political narrative. When it comes to actual women, however, they are perfectly content to denigrate them simply for wanting to protect their children, cover up sexual assaults (sometimes of thousands of rapes) to protect multiculturalism, and kill millions of actual unborn girls to protect access to abortion.
They likewise have absolutely zero qualms about throwing women under the bus for the sake of men who think that they’re women because the transgendered are unequivocally further up in the liberal hierarchy of grievance. I’ve often heard conservatives quip that if liberals didn’t have double-standards they’d have no standards at all. It’s time to move past the quip and consider what that actually means in practice: even their own arguments have no impact on them. So there’s no sense using them on that score. The social justice warriors that now dominate liberal rhetoric use their arguments only because they are useful, not because they themselves find them compelling.
Ultimately, however, it is not the small but puffed-up cadre of social justice warriors who need to be convinced—it’s those in America’s squishy middle. By and large, they are not driven by conviction or principle from any particular ideology, but by what feels right to them at the moment.
Some moderates look at the issue and merely want to do the compassionate thing. These do have concern for women, and so conservatives’ war on women approach does bring that facet of the situation to their minds just as they hope. What conservatives forget, however, is that American social decay has reached the point where these moderates have no firm grounding in what “compassion” actually is. They’ve also swallowed—hook, line, and sinker—the left’s contention that men who think they’re women and women who think they’re men are in dire straits and their horrible suffering and persecution can only be mitigated by all of society rising up and treating them as what they think they are rather than what they actually are.
What then does it ultimately gain conservatives to remind them that women are suffering and persecuted as well? All you’ve done is convince moderates that there are two groups who need their compassion; and they will respond by wanting to be compassionate to both at the same time. They will imagine various other options like adding a third unisex bathroom to every establishment, or making all bathrooms unisex, and so forth without much thought to the practicalities and consequences of their off-the-cuff ideas. But when it comes to the options that liberals and conservatives are presenting in the current situation, the left is always going to come out on top in the end because the moderate will be thinking to themselves, “at least they’re trying.”
As long as conservatives let the left define compassion downward as “acquiescing to the subjective feelings of underprivileged minority X,” they will never be seen as compassionate nor will they be able to convince others that they can be compassionate through conservative stances. After all, feelings shift like sand, and the left is always changing the current value of X. Conservatives do, however, confirm the squishy middle in their errant belief that the left’s overall approach to compassion is on target because even conservatives appear to agree with them (and I suspect that for too many conservatives, it goes deeper than mere appearance.) When conservatives take up the left’s style of argument like this, the long-term effect is to shoot themselves in the foot and help obliterate what’s left of the things they’re trying to conserve.
Other moderates are not even trying to be compassionate, but are rather driven by the fear of being known as a something-ist, something-phobe, or some other entry in the left’s ballooning lexicon of hatred. It’s not worth it to them to resist because there is real reason to be afraid. Social justice warriors are furiously building an Orwellian nightmare in which deviation from Party orthodoxy is swiftly punished wherever it can be.
In some cases, the punishment is mere social pressure. They adopt the tactics your average schoolyard bully and shame anyone who associates with their targets (in addition to heaping scorn on them themselves.) Losing social standing isn’t the end of the world for people with conviction, but that’s not a trait moderates generally possess in abundance. The bullying can be extra frightening given its unpredictable and indiscriminate nature. For example, when summer blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron came out last year, even liberal feminist director Joss Wedon was quickly set upon by angry feminists and shamed off Twitter. His crime was the inclusion of a scene in which Black Widow actually expressed some misgivings about her inborn ability to create life having been cut out to enhance her ability to create death. How very misogynistic of him. Anything at all can set these people off (hence the proliferation of trigger warnings and safe spaces in academia where they tend to swarm.) Likewise, the demands of political correctness are constantly changing. In this manner, social justice warriors work hard to create a deliberately frightening environment in which no one and nothing is safe.
Of course, the danger has already gone beyond social pressure on this and related issues It includes things like public officials doxing their constituents for objecting to a disruptive protest or people losing their jobs for opposing controversial social movements in mundane and civil ways like making political donations. And of course, social justice warriors have succeeded in weaponizing civil rights legislation against Christians who refused to compromise their conscience and assist in the celebration of homosexual unions. These men and women have have their businesses, homes, and livelihoods attacked over alleged “harm” as trivial as $7.91. Its no great wonder that people are afraid.
When conservatives take the war on women approach, they are, in part, trying to leverage the same fear that the left takes advantage of. But it does not work terribly well because conservatives are just not all that scary. They’re generally affable people, and they don’t control the apparatus of the mainstream media that is so essential to indicting and absolving people of thoughtcrime. When a scared moderate sees a conservative threatening them with a label of misogynist and a liberal threatening them with a label of transphobic, they are going to give in to the liberal nine times out of ten.
The faults in this approach are an unfortunate demonstration of conservatism’s obsolesence. Conserving is a short-term tactic in service to keeping something that we have. And while short-term battles still need to be fought, it does nothing to address the underlying problems that lead to the left’s continued social dominance. America is way past the point where conserving alone is sufficient to establish justice and civilization. Merely maintaining women’s bathrooms is not the same as rebuilding a society that knows and embraces both men and women as distinctly essential to human nature. Conserving leftist misunderstandings of compassion will not help people understand that compassion which cuts against the grain of human nature and natural law is not really compassion at all. Conserving public fear of non-conformance to leftist tropes will not help people acquire the courage to stand up to the enemies of civilization.
This is not the work of a day, and culture cannot be rebuilt with sound-bytes. However, fighting this battle over the long haul will require both the liberty and courage to plainly speak the truth. It is precisely these two things that are most imperiled by the push to make the accommodation of subjective discomfort a matter of enforced public law rather than private choice. If a friend prefers to be called “he”, “she”, “xe,” “captain my captain,” or “Her Illustrious Majesty Maximilian Alouiscious III,” then its up to each person to decide how much of that preference they want to indulge. However, forcing that preference on society at large destroys freedom, for there is no right to feel comfortable or safe—or to feel any particular way at all. It is the left that made such subjectivity the benchmark of compassion. Conservatives should not be adopting it or conserving its momentum.
There is a place for reminding people that women are actually harmed by letting men who think they are women into women’s restrooms and locker rooms. When a bad policy causes harm, its helpful to bring the abstract issue back down to earth by talking about victims. There is even a place for bringing discomfort into the mix so long as the feeling is simultaneously grounded in something more objective. But this challenge of grounding is too often unmet, and overall, this tactic seems to represent the essence of conservative resistance to the trans mafia—as though they either know no other reasons to oppose it or cannot bring themselves to voice them. If conservatives try to hang their hat on this aspect of the issue, they will lose the cultural battle—again. There is broader human concern here than women’s comfort and safety.