Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity by Douglas Murray, Review Part 2

Audible edition 

In Part 1 we looked at what Murray has to say on 'Gay' and 'Women'. Now we come to Race, Trans and some concluding thoughts.

Race 

Martin Luther King looked forward to the time when people would be judged on the content of their character, rather than the colour of their skin. In many ways the preacher's vision has been realised. The civil rights for which King agitated have been granted. Racial discrimination is outlawed. Racism is despised by most people in society. A person's moral charterer is the thing, not their skin colour. Perversely, woke identity politics is in danger of turning King's dictum on its head. Kayne West was denounced as 'not black' when he came out in support of Donald Trump. You see, black isn't just pigment, it's politics. Left wing politics, that is. 

Anti-racist campaigners tweet about how they hate white people and call for an end of 'white privilege'. Derogatory epithets such as 'Gammon' can be thrown at whites and they just have to suck it up. Meanwhile, should a white person inadvertently use the wrong ethnic minority label, they immediately find themselves accused of racism. In a radio interview the actor Bennedict Cumberbatch said it was a pity that 'coloured people' from Britian had to head to the States to find suitable acting roles. Cue massive outrage from the Twitter mob and a grovelling apology from Cumberbatch. 'People of colour', OK. 'Coloured people', not OK. And he was speaking in support of black and Asian actors.

Woke anti-racism has become toxic on American University campuses. Evergreen State University used to have a day when students of colour could absent themselves so their presence would be missed and valued contribution to the learning community underlined. Then the rule changed to say that white people were not welcome to attend their studies for a day. Professor of Evolutionary Biology Bret Weinstein objected to this. Students went on the rampage, outraged at the academic's 'racism'. When the President of the University tried to reason with students, they insisted that he did not raise his hands when speaking, which they took to be a 'mirco-agression', even as they mobbed him and swore at him. In the aftermath Weinstein and his wife were forced out of their jobs. 

The trouble is, as Murray points out, 'We all live on campus now'. Some insist that objectivity is a product of the white man's Enlightenment. 'We Don't need no facts', they say, 'truth is racist.' After all, identity politics lets people choose to be whatever they want, irrespective of the facts. If a person can choose to be of a different gender to their birth sex, why can't someone opt to be of a different race? Anti-racism campaigner Rachel Dolzeal identified as a black woman, despite having white parents and no African heritage. Who are we to disagree? Rapper Kayne West isn't black, but right-on Rachel is. Even race is now a matter of 'software' rather than 'hardware'. 

Black actors can play Henry V to great acclaim. Fair enough. But when a non-Latina actress was cast to play Maria in a production of West Side Story, such was the outrage she had to withdraw from the role. It seems our culture wants to be both colour blind and colour obsessed. How's that supposed to work? Wearing fancy dress can lead to death threats for the 'crime' of cultural appropriation. Jamie Oliver fell foul of the woke brigade with his Jamacan jerk rice recipe. 'Not OK.' But men 'appropriating' womanhood and insisting on using female-only spaces is perfectly fine and good. 

The great irony is that anti-racism has itself become racist. People are no longer judged on the basis of their character as in the sight of God, but on the grounds of their outward appearance in the eyes of men. White is bad, black is good. The Christian faith provides a welcome antidote to racism by insisting that all people are made in the image of God, all people are morally broken sinners, and that Christ came to redeem all peoples, Colossians 3:11, Revelation 7:9-10. 

Trans 

Finally Douglas Murray turns his attention to the most touchy and controversial subject of all, trans. The issue here does not concern people who were born 'intersex', with both male and female genitalia. Trans advocates have little time for that. They expend their energy insisting that people may be born in the wrong body and that it is possible to put that right with hormone treatment and surgery. Anyone, even a child, who thinks that they may have been born in the wrong body must be affirmed as such and set on a pathway that will ultimately lead to lifelong dependence on medication and painful surgery. It is said that to question this assumption is to run the risk that a person suffering from gender dysphoria will take their own lives. Attempts at discovering the underlying cause of a person's gender dysphoria are discouraged, as akin to gay conversion therapy.

Referrals to the UK's only Gender Identity Development Service have skyrocketed in the last decade. Trans advocates argue that children with gender dysphoria should be placed on puberty blockers as a matter of course in preparation for hormone treatment and surgery. Although it is the case that 90% of children with gender dysphoria reconcile themselves to their birth sex if they are allowed to progress through puberty. Adults with gender identity issues are only pointed in one direction, towards changing sex.

Murray thinks this may be appropriate in some cases as with the writer James Morris who, following sex change surgery become Jan Morris. But in other cases, people who have 'changed sex' go on to regret their decision and attempt to revert to their birth sex. As the writer reflects, human beings are not made of Lego and the effects of hormone treatment and radical surgery cannot easily be undone. Undone at all if a woman has had her breasts removed, or a man his penis. Murray mentions the case of a man who was given female hormone treatment and then had second thoughts. After two years the treatment could have left him infertile. He stopped before the deadline only after researching his condition online. The hormones affected the man's emotional state and even after ceasing treatment he was left with breast tissue that may require surgery to remove.

People with gender dysphoria may have deep seated psychological problems that changing sex does little to address. Suicide rates among trans people do not necessarily decrease once they have transitioned. In 2013 Nathan Verhelst was voluntarily euthanised in Belgium. She was born a girl with the name Nancy. As an adult Verhelst submitted to three operations in an attempt to change sex. Belonging to a family with three older brothers, Nancy felt rejected by her parents, who, it seems, wanted yet another son. After looking at herself in the mirror post-surgery, Verhelst felt aversion for her new body. Changing sex only worsened Verhelst's physiological state and so she applied to be put to death in a Brussels hospital. Chilling.

Yet this kind of tragic event has not given advocates of trans ideology pause for thought. School children are being taught that it is possible for girls to become boys and visa versaBoys are informed that they can have periods too, not just girls. Bewildered children are told they can choose from up to 100 gender identity options. Tomboyish girls question whether they are 'really' boys. Boys who do not conform to boyish stereotypes ask whether they are 'really' girls.  Trans groups like Mermaids actively encourage the worst kind of gender stereotyping. Meanwhile parents stage protests at school gates over LGBT education. 

Here we encounter intersectional thinking at its most extreme. It seems that trans trumps both gay and women on the scale of oppressed victimhood. Some people with gender dysphoria issues are same sex attracted. In their case being encouraged to change sex could be seen as form of conversion therapy which aims at altering their bodies, rather than their minds. Feminists are outraged that men who identify as women are given access to female only spaces such as toilets and changing rooms. 'Trans women' have begun to dominate some female sports. The gay rights group, Stonewall has split over the tans issue. Some ex-members have set up the LGB Alliance which disagrees with Stonewall's uncritical championing of trans ideology. 

As Suzanne Moore, Julie Bindell and even Germane Greer have found, suggesting men can't become women simply on their say so is to attract accusations of 'transphobia'. TERFs 'Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists' the lot of them. Even insisting on the dictionary definition of woman is to court controversy. Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull paid for an advertising billboard to be erected carrying the words, "woman, wʊmən, noun, adult human female". The message was denounced as 'dangerous' and, inevitably, 'transphobic'. After all, 'transwomen are women' too. It seems that George Orwell was right when he said, 'In an age of universal deceit to tell the truth is a revolutionary act.' 

Being either a man or a woman is a matter of unalterable biological hardware. God made his human image-bearers male and female and blessed their union with reproductive ability (Genesis 1:27). Denial of the reality of biological sex is unscientific and intellectually dishonest. Our sex is written into every cell in the body. Altering someone's outward bodily appearance so that they resemble the opposite sex does not turn them into the opposite sex. Some want to have it both ways. In a recent case a 'transman' who gave birth took legal action to be identified as the child's father on their birth certificate. Thankfully, the courts insisted that giving birth is for mothers. 

It would be far better if poor souls suffering from gender dysphoria were helped to reconcile their minds with their bodies, rather than the other way around. At the very least this issue calls for careful thought and a cautious approach, rather than rushing people in the direction of irreversible medical intervention. A growing number of distraught 'detransitioners' would agree. 

Interludes 

Murray slots three interludes between the main chapters of the book. In The Marxist Foundations he highlights the link between Marxism and identity politics. Marxists used to rate victimhood on the basis of class, the rich oppressing the poor. Marx-inspired identity politics adds sexuality, sex, race and trans to the mix. Intersectionality establishes a hierarchy of victimhood with the aim of overthrowing oppressive structures. Down with heteronormativity/the patriarchy/white privilege, etc. Once oppressive structures have been torn down, a more equal and harmonious society will follow. That's the theory anyway. In practice identity politics thrives on division and fostering grievances. Witness the white hating racism of anti-racist campaigners and gender ideologues tearing into feminists (sometimes all too literally). 

Social media doesn't help matters. In The Impact of Tech the author reflects on the ways in which social media is changing society. The space between private conversation between trusted friends and public discourse is being eroded. Our thoughts are shared directly with the world via Facebook and Twitter. Should society's rapidly changing mores shift, a person may find themselves on 'wrong side of history'. Social media has spawned 'offence archaeology'. Words hastily posted years ago can, once discovered, be used to  condemn someone without mercy. In the resulting Twitter pile on, insistent calls are made that the poster be sacked from their job, or hounded out of public life. Especially if the offending person is known to have conservative views. What happened to Toby Young is a case in point. No allowance is made for the fact that the person in question's objectionable views may have changed over time, or that they might be entitled to their opinion. The woke accuse, but never acquit. Former US President Barack Obama recently warned young people against, 'call out culture'. No one is pure, he cautioned. Virtue signalling on social media is no substitute for doing good in the world.  

The final interlude On Forgiveness points to a better way of handling the fact that we live in a fallen world in which people often get things wrong. The self-righteous victim mentality of identity politics allows for no offence to be forgiven, or forgotten. As Murray points out, with the demise of the Christian faith, 'we have created a world in which forgiveness has become almost impossible'. He continues,
The consensus for centuries was that only God could forgive the ultimate sins.  But on a day-to-day level the Christian tradition, among others, also stressed the desirability – if not the necessity – of forgiveness. Even to the point of infinite forgiveness. As one of the consequences of the death of God, Fredrich Nietzche foresaw that people could find themselves stuck in cycles of Christian theology with no way out, Specifically that people would inherit the concepts of guilt, sin and shame but would be without the means of redemption which the Christian religion offered. 
The vengeful god of woke religion shows no grace and offers no pardon. But there is a way out. The Christian faith offers a vision of humanity in which all people are created equal in the image of God. All should therefore be treated with dignity and respect. But we are broken creatures. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Each of us needs forgiveness from God and others. Infinite forgiveness is available because Jesus died for our sins. The Apostle Paul could write, "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace" (Ephesians 1:7). The forgiven must forgive, "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." (Ephesians 4:32). 

Douglas Murray has expertly exposed the madness of identity politics. His account is well-researched and brilliantly written. The author's approach in taking on the 'hot button ' issues of Gay, Women, Race and Trans is refreshingly courageous and compassionate. The Madness of Crowds is a timely warning to a society that is breaking loose from its Christian moorings and hurtling towards a post-truth world of competing victimhood. A world in which God is dead and forgiveness impossible. There is an alternative:

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
   call upon him while he is near;
 let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
(Isaiah 55:6-7)

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