Thursday, November 07, 2019

The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity by Douglas Murray, Review Part 1

Audible edition

In his previous title, The StrangeDeath of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam, the author linked the immigration crisis with the decline of Christianity in Western Europe. The continent was Christian enough to be fueled by a guilt-driven sense of responsibility towards the afflicted, yet not quite Christian enough to believe in the possibility of forgiveness for past wrongs. The large scale rejection of Christianity in Western Europe led to a loss of cultural identity, which made it difficult to integrate the mass of people who flooded into the continent in the first two decades of the new millennium. In his latest work, Murray returns to the theme of the loss of faith in the West. 
...we have been living through a period of more than a quarter of a century in which all our grand narratives have collapsed. One by one the narratives we had were refuted, became unpopular to defend or impossible to sustain. The explanations for our existence that used to be provided by religion went first, falling away from the nineteenth century onwards. Then over the last century the secular hopes held out by all political ideologies began to follow in religion’s wake.
The resulting vacuum is being filled by the new religion of identity politics. If faith-based narratives aimed at unifying humanity as 'one people under God', identity politics works by entrenching fragmentation by creating hierarchies of oppressed victims. Social justice will only be achieved when the privileged majority owns up to its undeserved perks and stops kicking the downtrodden. 'Intersectionality' provides the heuristics for victim ranking. If you're a gay black woman with genderfluid tendencies, you've more or less come up trumps. If your're a straight white bloke with no intention of ever becoming a woman, forget it. 

Not one to shy away from controversy Murray bravely takes on the four most sensitive hot button issues as far as woke social justice campaigners are concerned: Gay, Women, Race, and Trans. The four main chapters are interspersed with interludes on The Marxist Foundations, The Impact of Tech, and On Forgiveness. Murray's approach is fair minded, well informed and questioning of received orthodoxies. Received all of 5 minutes ago that is, but to reject the new bien pensant creed is to find oneself on the 'wrong side of history'. And who wants to be consigned forever to the 1980s? 

I downloaded the audiobook edition as an Audibe introductory free offer. Accessing the book in that format has the advantage of listening to Douglas Murray read it to you, which he does very well. Hearing Jordan Peterson read his 12 Rules for Life in his slightly whiny American drawl wasn't anywhere near as engaging. Murray's tones are more varied, with shades of gentle irony, knowing mockery and on occasion poignant sadness. The writer doesn't use bad language himself, but cites examples people using swear words in anger, so be warned. The downside for writing up a review of an audiobook is that you can't go back to the text to check things. Plus, the notes I made while listening were a bit patchy. We (me and the Mrs) listened to the second half of the Trans chapter and the Conclusion on Saturday. At the time I was driving back from Devon trough heavy rain, which didn't exactly lend itself to note taking. Anyway, with the aid of a Kindle sample and a bit of Googling, here are some thoughts on The Madness of Crowds

Gay

In 2013 David Cameron's Conservative-led Government passed the Same Sex Marriage Act, enabling gay couples to get married just like their heterosexual peers. As a backbench Conservative MP Nicky Morgan voted against the legislation. A couple of years later as Education Secretary she issued a warning that opposition to 'gay marriage' could denote extremist tendencies. The quest for the respectability of marriage for same sex couples was a triumph of 'gay' over 'queer'. Gays craved acceptance, while queers wanted to subvert society with the aim of smashing heteronormativity. 

Gay adoption of heterosexual institutions was subversive enough. Marriage was traditionally defined as a lifelong, exclusive relationship between a man and a woman. A non-consummated heterosexual marriage is null and void, adultery is grounds for divorce. These strictures do not apply in the case of same sex marriage. Murray mentions without naming a well known gay couple whose marriage is of the decidedly open sort. Apparently, such an arrangement is not altogether exceptional. Criticism of same sex marriage, however, or even of gay couples having children is pretty much beyond the pale nowadays. When Tom Daley and his husband Dustin Lance Black announced they were having a baby, someone dared to ask how that was possible, given the stubborn necessities of reproduction. Was it right that the mother of their child was being written out of the story? Cue outrage and allegations of 'homophobia'. For saying it takes a man and a woman to make a baby. 

A big question when it comes to 'gay' is whether same sex attraction is a biologically-based hardware issue, or a matter of software, rooted in background factors. Possibly even a choice. If hardware, people can't help it, if software, maybe they can. Agitation for gay rights was very much based on the hardware model, although there is little evidence for a biological 'cause' of homosexuality. Indeed, as Murray points out, sexual desire is not always stable and unchanging. There are cases of happily married heterosexuals falling for someone of the same sex. That is often taken as someone discovering their previously suppressed 'true gay self'. The same does not necessarily apply when a gay person suddenly finds themselves attracted to someone of the opposite sex. Douglas Murray is a gay man. He can hardly be charged with 'homophobia' in raising such questions. 

The writer gives attention to the difference between heterosexual and homosexual approaches to sex. Murray draws on a spat over sex between the Greek gods Zeus and his wife, Hera. Zeus alleged that women enjoy sex more than men. Hera was having none of it. The argument was settled by Teiresias, who had lived both as a man and a woman. Something to do with interrupting snakes in the act of mating, apparently. Teiresias confirmed that sex was more pleasurable for women. 

Yet as men and women are sexually differentiated, but uniquely compatible, men cannot know what sex is like for women or visa versa. The same is not true when it comes to homosexual sex. Murray cites the work of Daniel Mendelsohn, The Elusive Embrace: Desire and the Riddle of Identity. According to Mendelsohn in straight sex the woman is the man's destination, while in gay encounters, the man "falls through their partner back into themselves again and again". The one flesh union of man and woman in marriage is an expression of self-giving love, rather than a means of self-gratification. Which is why heterosexual marriage is a picture of the union between Christ and his bride, the church, Ephesians 5:22-33. 

The Gay Rights movement has largely achieved its aims. Murray welcomes the fact that society is now much more tolerant of gays and lesbians. But tolerance is a two way street. Advocates for what used to be an oppressed minority have now become a force that demands unquestioning submission. Parents must accept the exposure of their children to LGBT relationships education without demur. Woe betide a business that fails to hoist the rainbow flag during Pride Week. The newly opened branch of American fast food chain Chick-Fil-A was told that its lease would not be renewed in a Reading shopping centre. Why? Because Chick-Fil-A had donated money in the US to Christian organisations opposed to gay marriage. Protesters demanded that the popular restaurant be closed and the owners of the Oracle Shopping Centre caved. (See Murray on this in The Spectator). The once persecuted have now become persecuting 'social justice warriors'. As Murray points out, however, homosexuality "is an unstable component on which to base an individual identity and a hideously unstable way to try and base any form of group identity." The splintering of Stonewall over the the trans issue, leading to the emergence of the rival LBG Alliance is testimony enough to that. More on trans later. 

Women

The whole battle of the sexes thing was given fresh impetus by the #MeToo campaign. It started with female actors alleging powerful male film directors had made unwanted sexual advances towards them. It spread from there to the whole of the Western world, affecting all areas of life, especially the workplace. It seems a bit rich that such a campaign originated in Hollywood. The film world has long made its bucks by objectifying women and female actors have often become stars by being so objectified. 

Murray exposes the contradictions inherent in the #MeToo reconfiguration of male/female relationships. It seems that women can be as sexually provocative as they like, shaking their booty and exhorting men to, 'Look at her butt' (N. Minaj). But if men respond to the come on, they are in danger of being exposed as pervy sexual predators. Women have become highly sexualised, yet untouchable. No wonder men are confused as to what the opposite sex wants. Just recently in the UK a rather gauche young man was convicted of sexual assault for touching a woman's arm (here). 

In the early 20th century first wave feminists demanded votes for women. In the 1960s second wavers agitated for equal pay and an end to discrimination against women. Both 'waves' achieved their ends. A third wave crashed against the shore in 1990s in which feminists embraced intersectionality. 'Smash the women oppressing Partiarchy' was the cry. Women were located higher up on the scale of righteous victimhood, depending on whether they also belonged to an ethnic minority, or were gay. The fourth wave is described by Murray is 'feminism with apps'. The slightest and most inadvertent semblance of sexism is guaranteed to provoke an enraged social media 'pile on'. Witness what happened to the Nobel prize winning scientist Tim Hunt when he made a lame joke about women getting all weepy in the labs. 

Just at the moment when women in the West have more or less achieved their equality goals, the rhetoric of male oppression and female victimhood is being ramped up beyond reason. Some feminists seem to think its OK to express their hatred of the male of the species, denouncing 'toxic masculinity'. 'Kill all men' and 'Men are trash', they cry. Meanwhile if the Patriarchy is conspiring to skew society in favour of men, its not doing a very good job of it. Men are more likely than women to commit suicide. They do most of the dirty and dangerous jobs in society. Homelessness among men is a far bigger problem than it is with women.

Murray highlights some of the contradictions in feminist ideology. When women in the workplace are asked to name what they find most objectionable about men they list things like confidence and the willingness to make their voices be heard in high powered meetings. When women are asked which qualities they aspire to embrace for themselves, they list the very same things. Bad in men, good in women, obviously. Feminism is driven by the idea that men and women are equal and alike, yet women are somehow better. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas recently suggested that as men were making such a hash of Brexit, that an all women cabinet should be set up to sort things out. Only to come a cropper when all the women she suggested were discovered to be white. 

Sex is the ultimate hardware issue, as men and women have obvious biological differences. Indeed first and second wave feminism was about ensuring that women weren't discriminated against on grounds of their biology.  Indeed it is not right that women should be refused jobs just because they might become pregnant and then want to devote time to caring for their children. In trans ideology, however, sex is not fixed. People can be 'genderfluid', or even identify with a gender that differs from their sex at birth. Biological hardware can be altered to enable men to become women, or the other way around. Men who identify as women 'are women' and are therefore entitled to access women only spaces such as toilets and changing rooms. 'Trans women' with all the advantages of male strength can play women's sports, even contact sports like rugby. To object when biological males begin to dominate female sports is 'transphobic'. A triumph of subjective 'software' over objective 'hardware'. And so intersectionality is in danger of undoing the achievements of earlier feminist movements. Draft guidance from the EHRC on the Equality Act and Schools advised that trans girls (i.e. boys who identify as girls) should be allowed to use girls' changing rooms. Girls who object will have to be found somewhere else to get changed. 

The Christian faith offers a different account of the relationship between men and women. The Bible teaches that God created human beings in his image as male and female, Genesis 1:27. Men and women are different by design, and yet are equal in status. The differences between men and women are rooted in biology, not culturally conditioned 'gender roles'. One of the things that made Christianity attractive to women in the ancient world was that the church held marriage in honour and denounced the sexual exploitation of women. Single women were also accorded a valued role in the life of the church. The biblical emphasis is on male/female compatibility, rather than competition. The shrill self-righteousness that insists women are better than men is chastened by the understanding that 'all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God'. (Romans 3:23). The male tendency to dominate and control women is counteracted by the model of Christ who loved his bride, the church  and gave himself for her (Ephesians 5:25). In Christ men and women, different as they are, can become one, 'there is neither... male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus'. (Galatians 3:28). 

Anyway, that's enough for now. We'll take a look at what Murray has to say on Race & Trans, and reflect on the message of the book as a whole in Part 2. 

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