The Shaky Foundation of Feelings: Why Even Liberals Must Appeal to Absolute Truth

Observing political and social discussion may lead one to think that America has descended into madness.  What was once common sense and undeniable fact–one’s sex and gender–is under attack based upon what an individual identifies as.  Even if someone is born male, if he feels female, then society must cater to his preferences by allowing him to go to girls’ bathrooms and otherwise participate in female-only activities (though as of now, opposite sex sports teams are off limits, a clear indication that there is something really wrong here).  If schools do not follow this, this current administration will threaten loss of federal funding.  If businesses do not follow this, they risk getting punished.  If individuals express disagreement, they are labeled as bigots, “transphobes,” haters, and the like.  This is par for the course for the left, as they have followed these tactics for gay marriage, abortion, and virtually any other issue.

Most arguments from transgender advocates appeal to people’s feelings and emotions.  These people identify as a different gender, regardless of the biological facts of their sex.  They feel hurt when they are told they are confused or when they are not allowed to go to the bathroom meant for the opposite sex.  This is mean discrimination.  We are to be “inclusive” and “loving,” liberals say, and make everyone feel comfortable.  Who are you to dictate what is true, they ask.  Asserting biological facts and moral truths is arrogant and hurtful.

Of course, they quickly realize that it is not possible to make everyone happy; after all, what about the many women and girls who feel very uncomfortable with a known man being in the girls bathroom with them?  What about the small, but very real, chance that such laws will be taken advantage of by men who do not really identify as female but will say so just to get into the girls bathroom?  What about a woman who has been sexually assaulted in her life who gets “triggered” by the presence of a man in the girls bathroom?

Such considerations show how tenuous it is to make law purely based upon people’s feelings because people can feel different things.  Whose feelings are more important?  Whom should we tell, “Sorry, but we can’t cater to you,” and whom do we agree with?  What is fascinating is that liberals seem to know that this is a problem, deep down, and therefore have to appeal to truth to adjudicate between people’s feelings.  They have assert that their position is objectively, absolutely, and obviously right and true.  Of course, since their arguments are quite weak, they must also do this with a vicious air of dogmatism, ironically the very thing they accuse conservatives of and what they allegedly dislike.  Any dissent is met with rage and the assertion that their opponents are wrong, immoral, and uneducated.  So much for their rhetoric that they just want people to be free to believe what they want and that they dislike absolute truth claims.

Science and Scientism: Philosophical assumptions and hasty scientific conclusions

The great arbiter of truth for the secular world is science, or at least, what they consider to be science.   Thus, it is no surprise that transgender advocates have tried to bring in science when faced with arguments that people’s feelings do not dictate what is true.  Of course, science is largely against them, no matter how many organizations, due to political influence, try to say otherwise.  There are clear biological markers for sex for virtually everybody, genetically and anatomically.

If this is known, where can they turn?  How can they claim that one is actually born a male when it seems so obvious that one is female?  It turns out that they have to appeal to neuroscience, or at least, popular level treatments of neuroscience.  For example, this NYT article reports on a study that transgender people have brain structures that are often between that of their sex and their desired sex.  These kinds of studies are referred to by the media and transgender advocates as definitive proof that transgender people are indeed born in the “wrong” body and that there is nothing wrong with how they feel.

What is amusing, and pretty irritating, about this argument from neuroscience is that there are all sorts of things wrong with it.  First of all, who said neuroscience trumps other disciplines that clearly identify someone as male or female, like genetics?  In fact, given that the human brain is perhaps the least understood organ in the body, one wonders why very new and disputed research is placed on a higher level than other sciences.  Secondly, the neuroscience on this matter is far from settled and neuroscientists themselves typically preach caution on drawing fast conclusions; for example, this study indicates that transgender teens have hormone levels consistent with the sex that they were born as.  Other neuroscientists tell us that behavior and experiences can change brain anatomy, so it is impossible to conclude definitively that someone was born a certain way or instead became that way later based upon brain structure alone.

More importantly, such a position requires at least two philosophical positions that have been assumed without argument: Physicalism and scientism.  Scientism is not the same thing as science, but it is rather a epistemological claim that the only source of knowledge is the natural sciences.  There is a lot wrong with this claim; not only are there usually not any arguments for it (it is often merely asserted), it is self-refuting: The very claim, “The only source of knowledge is from the natural sciences” is itself untestable by the scientific method and therefore fails its own standard.  So much for this bare appeal to science, as if there are no other considerations one can think about.

As far as physicalism, this assumption is obvious because of the quick conclusions of transgender advocates.  Not only are they assuming that the neuroscience is settled here (which I showed is silly), they are assuming that the brain and the mind are the same thing and that the brain mechanistically determines behavior.  Where is their argument for this?  What about the many people who believe in a distinction between an immaterial mind and the material brain?  Who said that brain structure automatically determines behavior?  Also, even if one were to grant that transgenderism is inborn, why does that automatically make that something that is okay rather than a disorder?  Where is the philosophical case for this?

Obviously, the case that transgenderism is both inborn and perfectly healthy is wanting.  At the very least, even if liberals put forth these bad arguments, there could conceivably be dialogue.  They could appeal to some neuroscience studies, and dissenters could do likewise as we decide as voters on what to do about this issue.  Surely the “liberals” are going to want open dialogue, right?  And if they are shown to be mistaken, they’ll gladly be corrected because nobody wants to believe falsehood, right?

Dogmatic assertions of truth and rightness

Or not.  If you talk to most liberals, they’ll talk about how their most prized principle is “tolerance.”  But wait a minute… what about those people who don’t agree with you?  Do you have to “tolerate” that?  Liberals try to cleverly say that the only thing they can’t tolerate is “intolerance…” of course, “intolerance” is often defined quite loosely as “whatever makes me feel bad or disagrees with me” and it already shows how self-defeating and useless tolerance is if it is viewed as the highest virtue.

Faced with such confusion and with a precarious position, liberals often resort to bullying, silencing, smearing, and legal and political threats.  We saw this when Rachel Dolezal claimed to be black despite being white as snow; liberals could not allow a white women to “identify” as a black person, but they also could not abandon their transgender rhetoric.  Thus, they asserted that questioning them was just being transphobic.  One liberal columnist, in a rare moment of self-reflection, wondered if liberals were being too intolerant of conservatives and evangelical Christians, and if you check out the comments to his article, he was met with vicious ridicule and confident pronouncements of rightness by his leftist cohorts.  As state governments such as North Carolina and Georgia tried to pass bills that protected religious freedom, all sorts of businesses and celebrities threatened to boycott those states.

Liberals claim to not want to push truth on people, for this is arrogant and intolerant.  They claim to like dialogue.  They claim to respect other people for being different.  However, when you dig just a little, you’ll see that they are as truth-claiming as anyone.  And to protect their truth claims, rather than fielding open debate, they try to silence dissent.  It is a testament to the weakness of their position as well as their self-important insecurity.  The fact that they have seized control of our universities and the media is not a good sign for this country.


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