Monday, January 30, 2023

on different types of "racism" and discrimination

Kudos to Van Jones for saying something outside the box and trying to get to something more nuanced. But in the end, his ideas don't satisfy for other reasons. 
I suspect the underlying problem is a.) using the same word (racism) to describe two dissimilar things: the universal, generally helpful, but potentially damaging/mistaken practice of stereotyping (in this case, by race) and a preference for/against people of a certain race (bigotry/animus or favoritism); or b.) assuming that bigotry toward someone who happens to be in group X is simply and mostly/completely explained by bigotry toward group X.

The possibility of "animus" against someone in my own group simply for being in my group is self-contradictory. Seeing it in five people at once is incoherent. (So, the five cops also hate each other?) And even if it's somehow true, then it ends up explaining everything and nothing. Instead, I gotta go with a more "nuanced" theory as per Jones: the list you provided above, stereotyping, or maybe closest to what Jones is trying to get at-- a more-focused bigotry toward miscreants who represent groups to which I belong (a cousin of the 3rd Commandment!), etc.
For those who are interested, links to my two most recent essays on stereotyping here and here...

Saturday, January 28, 2023

categories of selective perspectives on government as an ethical and practical means to various ends

I recently read a piece connecting the War in Iraq to the mRNA vaccines. It reminded me of the common inconsistencies we see in the average layperson's "political philosophy"-- as people think govt is unethical and impractical in one or more areas, but then they imagine it must be different in other realms (or it's ok as long as they control the power). Broadly speaking...

A Statist is one who through ignorance or religion imagines that the State is usually really good at wielding power.

A Conservative is one who thinks the State is generally terrible at wielding power, except in terms of social matters and probably foreign policy.

A Liberal is one who thinks the State is generally bad at wielding power in military and social matters, but fond of their efforts in the economy.

A Libertarian who thinks the state is generally bad on ethical and practical grounds in all of these areas, preferring a minimal state that lets people do what they want, as long as they don't do direct and significant harm to others.

There aren't many people in any of the above categories. Most folks are mere partisans, a moderate mush of policy positions, or apathetic-- since it's quite rational to spend so little time on public policy and a coherent political philosophy. 

Thursday, January 19, 2023

violence, lies and their interdependence

Violence and lies. Dragon/lion and serpent. State power and cultural seduction. All key biblical themes that work their way throughout world history and everyday life-- independently but mostly together.

As Solzhenitsyn notes, violence is an attractive means to various (mostly ungodly) ends. But "violence ages swiftly, a few years pass—and it is no longer sure of itself. To prop itself up, to appear decent, it will without fail call forth its ally—Lies. For violence has nothing to cover itself with but lies, and lies can only persist through violence. And it is not every day and not on every shoulder that violence brings down its heavy hand: It demands of us only a submission to lies, a daily participation in deceit—and this suffices as our fealty.

And therein we find, neglected by us, the simplest, the most accessible key to our liberation: a personal nonparticipation in lies! Even if all is covered by lies, even if all is under their rule, let us resist in the smallest way: Let their rule hold not through me! And this is the way to break out of the imaginary encirclement of our inertness, the easiest way for us and the most devastating for the lies. For when people renounce lies, lies simply cease to exist. Like parasites, they can only survive when attached to a person."

Monday, January 16, 2023

MLK and flawed heroes

On MLK Jr. Day, I'm reflecting on "cancel culture" and its impact on interpreting our nation's heroes. We celebrate them not for the sins they've committed, but the great things they have done.

On the Right, it doesn't matter (enough) to cancel MLK for his philandering or ignorance on economics and political economy. For those on the Left, do you really want to cancel past heroes because of (big) mistakes? If so, have you jettisoned Darwin, Sanger, Wilson, etc.-- and are you willing to part with MLK or others in the future?

Related: it's fascinating that the Bible portrays its heroes with warts. Aside from Daniel and Joshua/Caleb (and of course, the God-Man Jesus), all of the significant players have significant flaws. Why? Ultimately, Judaism and Christianity are not about our flaws, but God's grace and redemption-- and our decision to repent and embrace the gift and to become involved with His works of redemption.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

MAYTAG is terrible

I plan to remind you daily how terrible MAYTAG is (and thus, WHIRLPOOL) until our Washer gets fixed. (And I look forward to working them into my textbook revision and using them as a classroom example for years to come.)

We bought a turd at LOWE's in February and I'd hope they could do better, but their hands seem mostly tied. Increasing trouble until useless in December. Contacted Maytag on 12/27, repair attempted by pros on 1/3; basic part ordered 1/5; now told that it may be 21 business days (early February). Along the way, long waits, incompetence and hassle from MAYTAG's customer service.

Feel free to share stories or wisdom below.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Father Stu, Sandman (Season 1, Episode 6), Stranger Things (S4, E4), and the Gospel

Father Stu is definitely a film to see, at least for believers. A compelling story in three acts, with solid acting of quirky characters by Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, and Jacki Weaver. Provocative on redemption, forgiveness, concerns about reputation vs. character, and the role of suffering in our walk with Christ. Wow.


I tried The Sandman, but it was somewhere between creepy and too-far-off-for-me-to-watch. (I forget exactly why it bugged me.) But I read a review that said Episode 6 was golden-- that it "ranks among the single most profound episodes of television produced in the streaming era". So, I gave that a shot-- and it was deeply moving (in the first half) and provocative (in the second half).

Bottom line: I agree with the reviewer and strongly recommend it. (You don't need to know the series to follow along. But in case it helps: Morpheus' sister is, quite obviously, Death. And then there's a cameo by Desire at the end.)

Finally working through Season 4 of Stranger Things. It's been good so far, but not nearly as good as I remember Seasons 1-3. Not sure if it's diminishing marginal returns or it's just not as good. BUT... Episode 4's focus on Max is golden. Staggering on what unrepentant sin does to us and how it distances us from others-- and the power of honesty/candor, repentance, and community.

The lyrics of ST's theme song used in the climactic scene point to Christ: "If I only could, I'd make a deal with God. And I'd get him to swap our places." He has offered to swap places with us! With recognition of sin and repentance, the offer of grace is there to take. If you're not already in the goodness of God's Kingdom, accept the swap of grace today and join robust biblical community (Acts 2:37-47). If you're in the Kingdom and fooling around with Vecna or wasting your time on distractions, join me in a fervent pursuit of discipleship with Jesus, understanding and living out God's word, through the Spirit. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

review of Shrier's "Irreversible Damage"

Irreversible Damage is a must-read for those interested in understanding transgenderism, especially its contemporary manifestations. Abigail Shrier focuses on claims about transgenderism in children and interviews experts, social influencers, parents, counselors, activists, people who are happy with their decision to transition, and those who regret it profoundly. (For a shorter version of ID, check out her Imprimis/Hillsdale essay/speech. For a review in Salvo by Nicole King, click here.) 

The catalyst for Shrier was free speech and defending others' rights to disagree with the establishment on this topic. Since publishing the book, her interest in free speech has become more personal—as her work has been attacked. (For this reason, I expected the book to be less measured, but was pleasantly surprised.) In this, she is in good company: an array of academics and advocates who have been criticized, crushed, and cancelled for holding reasonable, alternative views of the science involved. 

Much of the opposition comes from valuing ideology over science. Shrier discusses the hubbub over Lisa Littman and her famous PLoS One article in chapter 2. And she devotes chapter 7 to a litany of other scientific "dissidents": experts in their respective fields who ended up on the wrong side of the ideology that dominates for now—if not the wrong side of history (or certainly, science). The rabid response against those with dissenting views is more about bad religion and fundamentalism than liberal values or a respect for science. (And of course, this has led to all sorts of sad/funny semantics gymnastics.)  

Devaluing science is evident in other ways. The usual scientific and bureaucratic requirements to permit drug and surgical treatment are overlooked (164-165). The biology of male and female is quite clear but ignored. Shrier discusses the ease with which coroners can pick out adult males and females by skeletons: different size, sex-specific morphology, foreheads, mastoid regions, jaws, pelvis, and leg angles into the pelvis (162). 

The standards for medicine differ as well. Some advocates compare the relevant trans surgeries to breast reduction or enhancement (175). But even there, biological function is not compromised or destroyed (173). Its prevalent use among teens is unusual, when plastic surgery is usually reserved for adults. And the ethics of plastic surgery usually require many more questions to be asked than advocates of transition want for teens. 

All of this has obvious connections to a range of other ideological issues: the prevalence of asexuality (23) and the denigration of motherhood (208) in the culture—and its alignment with anti-human philosophies and policy positions such as anti-population, birth control, abortion, and eugenics. (In terms of Scripture, there are no direct references-- other than some hyperbole that happens to apply in Jeremiah 30:6-- but plenty of indirect references that would align it with any number of other misalignments between perception and reality, sin nature and the ideal.) 

All of this has an impact on lesbians: "Gender ideology puts transgender individuals into direct conflict with radical feminists who believe sex is the defining feature of one's identity." (150-151) More broadly, it's not at all clear how T fits into the gender/sexual alphabetical pile. More famously, it has an effect on all women and young girls, especially athletes who may be forced to compete with biological males (151-152). 

Ideology aside: the greatest value of the book is distinguishing between modern and "traditional" transexualism in five crucial ways. It is now: 

1.) much more prevalent (vs. exceedingly rare); 

2.) predominantly female (vs. male); 

3.) mostly emerging during puberty (vs. apparent from early childhood); 

4.) connected to peer groups (vs. random); and 

5.) often "treated" aggressively (vs. often resolving by adulthood). 


All of these provide at least weak evidence for peer effects as a primary factor. In any case, transexualism is clearly different today—whatever the reasons (xxi, 26, 32). 


On those who might be labeled "old-school" trans adults, Shrier reports: "Their dysphoria never made them popular; more often than not, it was a source of unease and embarrassment...they didn't want or need mentors; they knew how they felt...They do not need to be celebrated for the life they have chosen...That so much trans activism claims to speak in their name is neither their fault nor their intention. They have very little to do with the current trans epidemic plaguing teenage girls." (xix) "For many classic sufferers of gender dysphoria, celebration of their trans identity is anathema." (146) [She also offers some history as well, including an exception to this rule: Christine Jorgenson, the original "Caitlyn Jenner" (147-148). This article talks about DIY transitions for adults, outside even the fringe medical aspects of this.]


Another important connection: because gender dysphoria typically emerged in early childhood, parents were aware that their children were different from an early age. These days, parental influence and input are assumed away—in deference to the teenager's self-diagnosis (xxiii). This gets to the strangest and most disturbing aspect of this topic: psychologists and counselors frequently rely on their clients to analyze themselves (ch. 6). As Shrier notes, professionals are required to offer "respectful" and "supportive" care. But advocates want much more than this, including full acceptance of a teenager's self-diagnosis. Shrier asks the reader to imagine treating anorexia, race, or any psychological condition in the same way (99-101). 


The assumptions required for a heavy reliance on self-diagnosis are somewhere between dubious and laughable: 1.) adolescents know who they are; 2.) transition has little or no cost, harm, or risk; 3.) gender identity is immutable; and 4.) suicide becomes more likely without transitional treatments. This approach also ignores that teens often test boundaries with parents and society, take unfortunate risks without a mature ability to weigh benefits and costs well, and face a wide range of negative peer effects (107-120). All that said, Shrier still proceeds cautiously here: None of this is "a reason to proscribe all identity alterations or body modifications for teenagers," but it should be "cause for hesitation." (111)


In all of this, Shrier believes that there are real problems at hand for these teens, particularly for young women. She argues repeatedly, powerfully, and poignantly that it is really tough to be a girl going through puberty (1, 3, 144, 209), especially today with social media (4-5, 18). But she notes the oddity—if not the perversity—of letting struggling people self-diagnose. "Her distress is real. But her self-diagnosis, in each case, is flawed—more the result of encouragement and suggestion than psychological necessity." (xix)  


There are psychological factors (or temptations) at hand: "it satisfies the deepest need for acceptance, the thrill of transgression, the seductive lilt of belonging." (xxiv) Or more broadly, it may rarely be about gender, per se, at all (211). Proponents and practitioners also seem to be body-obsessed in a way that doesn't seem healthy (55b).

Sociology and peer effects are also involved in a way that at least mimics what we see in epidemiology (25). The "epidemic" could be caused by a benevolent form of acceptance that allows the condition to safely emerge. But other more-troubling hypotheses are at least as compelling in explaining "rapid-onset gender dysphoria" or ROGD (26-27).

"Psychologists who study peer influence ask what it is about teenage girls that makes them so susceptible to peer contagion and so good at spreading it. Many believe it has something to do with the ways girls tend to socialize...Girls are much more likely to reply with statements that are validating and supportive than questioning...[This] can be a productive and valuable social skill...But it also leads friends to take on each other's, excessive reassurance seeking; and negative feedback-seeking"—all intensified by social media (35-36). 

Contemporary culture also has an impact. Intersectionality is one angle: "upper-middle-class white families, seeking cover in minority identity...they overwhelmingly come from progressive families..." (31) Notably, ROGD'ers are disproportionately white (90%). As one professor notes, "Of all of these badges of victim status, the only one that you can actually choose is trans." (154)  

There are many other contributing factors. Shrier provides a subset in her preface: "Our cultural frailty; parents are undermined; experts are over-relied upon; dissenters in science and medicine are intimidated; free speech truckles under renewed attack; government health care laws harbor hidden consequences; and an intersectional era...encourages individuals to take cover in victim groups." (xxiii)

But there are others too: In a pharmacological society, pills are an attractive option (19, 150a), including testosterone (discussed throughout the book). Shrier points to a "modern-day obsession with mental health, medicating everyone toward the optimal level of happiness..." (31) Another quick "fix" (that may never satisfy or end): surgery (176). (That said, breast augmentation for teens still dominates the rapidly-growing "top surgeries" for transitions.) Government-subsidized health insurance provides an additional subsidy for drugs and especially surgery (180). Add to this the capitalistic work of "influencers" (ch. 3)—those who attract an audience on social media, gaining popularity and money. Schools often oppose parents (chs. 4-5)—yet another occasion when the government schools' monopoly power is deeply troubling. (Check out this video.) Anti-bullying is the top stated concern—or a preferred cynical strategy—depending on whose wielding it. 

Parents, counselors, and doctors are in a rough spot here. In particular, what's the cause/effect with suicide? Suicide rates are high among trans youth, but that could be cause and/or effect (51). And Shrier documents how kids, sympathetic authorities, and influencers  often use suicide as a weapon—a brutal and cynical strategy against caregivers and especially parents (52, 55, 103). 

Unfortunately, suicide as a strategy undermines those who are actually struggling with suicide—one of many ways to know that this topic cannot be primarily about mental health (theirs or others). Another indication: the hypocrisy in heavily weighing subjective feelings that are consistent with trans ideology and utterly denigrating those whose subjective feelings change. If the top priority were mental or physical well-being, both would be celebrated. 


Detransitioners are the strongest manifestation of this phenomenon. Shrier documents some of the nascent blooms here, including groups like the Pique Resilience Project. (See also: a new movie.) In each case among those she interviewed, "they were definitely trans—until, suddenly, they weren't. Nearly all of them blame the adults in their lives, especially the medical professionals, for encouraging and facilitating their transitions." (201-202) 

Shrier ultimately compares the contemporary trend in transsexualism to other damaging fads that have plagued young women over the years: the Salem witch trials, nervous disorders in the 18th century; the "neurasthenia epidemic" in the 19th century—as well as anorexia nervosa, repressed memory, bulimia, and cutting in our times (xix). She also compares the trans movement to a cult (xxi)—with its highly subjective claims (many of them metaphysical or at least transphysical); non-falsifiable propositions (192); claims of salvation and the only path to happiness; "love-bombing" for potential adherents (185-186); shunning those who disagree; and ostracizing those who leave (191).

Irreversible Damage is a passionate but balanced critique of the latest social problem faced by young women. If you're interested in understanding the moment or ministering to the movement's members in the short-run—or in the long-run as the trend fades and the regrets increase dramatically—Shrier's book is a great resource.