Screaming Mobs and Impossible Conversations
Disclaimer: there’s nothing new or groundbreaking below. It’s all been said before, I’m just restating it, I suppose.
There has always been a very small minority of people equipped to have good-faith arguments, properly define terms and then stick to those definitions, concede points when logic and rationality demands it, avoid straw-man arguments and ad-hominem attacks, etc.
The vast majority of other people cannot do all of those things required for reasonable conversation. Those in the former group used to mostly argue amongst themselves and quickly run away (to preserve their sanity) when they realize they’re in a confrontation with someone from the latter group. If we’re lucky, those in the former group were the ones writing laws and teaching college courses.
Because it must be said: there is nothing about any given gender, race, cultural tradition, age, sexual orientation or gender identity that precludes it from being among the former population - the reasonable minority.
Aside from all its other evils (echo chambers and invisible algorithmic manipulation chief among them), social media has raised the volume and social impact of all those latter category goons.
So, now, when someone says “trans women are women” it’s too damn noisy in the room to have a good-faith conversation where you tease out the following:
- When trans advocates say “Trans women are women!”, the longer version of what
they’re saying is (I’ve had friendly conversations with trans advocates who OK’d
- “Someone who could be fully described as, assigned sex: male, gender: woman is woman, full-stop, because she’s a woman by gender.”
- The longer version of what many of those who are being unfairly labeled “transphobic” are
- “Someone who could be fully described as, assigned sex: male, gender: woman is not a woman by biological sex.
That’s not actually a disagreement. You haven’t yet even gotten to the place (if there is one) where you disagree! You’re speaking past each other.
But when the “transphobes” hear “trans women are women”, they mistakenly perceive it as a claim about biological sex, which it isn’t. And when the trans activists hear “no, women are women” they mistakenly perceive it as a claim that someone’s gender identity is illegitimate if it doesn’t conform with their biological sex.
Yes, there are some people who will say “if you’re born with a dick, you’re a man and that’s all there is to it, this whole gender thing is for freaks” and there are some people who will say “there’s no such thing as sexual dimorphism in the animal kingdom, this whole science thing is for nazis” - but both of these caricatures are ridiculous and should be ignored if encountered in the wild.
The fact of the matter is that there are two different dimensions here (sex and gender), with (at least) two different options per dimension and both dimensions often use the exact same terms across the two different dimensions1. It’s a perfect recipe for disaster in an environment where people are all-too willing to assume the worst and go for the throat a moment later.
This subtlety isn’t even that subtle. You can see it very clearly as soon as someone takes the extra dispassionate second to add some nuance to their language to better express their ideas.2
Imagine how impossible an actually-complex topic would be to discuss…
I’ve had clear and inoffensive conversations in this direction with individuals (on twitter, on discord). Honest, clear, good-faith individuals. But both sides of the screaming mob are only seeing their own poorly-defined terms and judging interlocutors through that distorted lens.
Both sides lack the patience and open-mindedness to honestly engage with someone “on the other side”. Each views the other as physically-dangerous enemies who challenge their very existence. They’re woefully quick to decide that the other person is one of the caricatures from above, rather than someone they could potentially have a productive conversation with if only they’d stop projecting caricatures on top of them.
I don’t know what to do about this aside from try to personally wade into cesspools here and there and poke around (sometimes with a pretty sharp stick) until I find a reasonable person with whom to try and create an understanding. Sort of my own attempt at a one-man grassroots movement.
And I guess writing sort of poorly-worded blog posts that don’t take a stand one way or the other and instead just complain about everyone.
A thing I’m temporarily pretending isn’t true: when the moron masses make themselves and their opinions loudly-known, they start to look like a good voter base and politicians begin to pander to them. I don’t even want to think about that right now.
I’ve chopped the text above up into tweet-length paragraphs so I can potentially post a little tweetstorm about it :)
Seems to me that the clearest solution is to use
maleto denote an animal that creates small gametes, and
femaleto denote an animal that creates large gametes. Then use
woman(or whatever additional terms you want) for gender. In this way, it’s clear which dimension you’re talking about (sex or gender). Different situations may call for using different terms: in a medical situation having to do with gametes, it would only make sense to use
female, regardless of whether
woman(or something else) applies best. ↩
The cynical part of me is suspicious that some who repeat, over and over like a mantra “trans women are women”, know that they really could be stating it in the more nuanced way I have here and doing so would actually facilitate useful dialog - but they avoid doing so in order to make some point that is so far outside my idea of civil discourse that I can’t imagine it. The same applies equally to those who would chant “women are women”. ↩