It was interesting to click on an Instapundit post by Ed Driscoll and discovering it led to a Rod Dreher discussion of Dale Kuehne. Because I know Dale, and so do a lot of local readers of this blog. He is a Poli Sci prof at St Anselm and is an Evangelical Covenant Church Pastor who lives nearby. Others farther away may know of him as well. When you see the NH Primary debates at the St A's Center for Whatever-It-Is and Politics, that's Dale's baby. He started it, even though he doesn't run it now. these days he tours the world talking about the concepts in his book and website and all things rWorld. The "r" is for relationship, which he considers a key theological component revealing God's nature to us. Very gentle spirit, smart guy. Grew up conservative evangelical but is rather postconservative now, as I am postliberal. Nice kids, was connected to the same Romanian mission teams as we were...
Etc, etc, etc. We have many more threads of knowing him, but don't see him so much now.
Anyway, he had a very interesting set of comments about the transgender issue. His thoughts are a good example of what public intellectuals should do, and often don't. All of us can notice that there used to be two sexes, but now there are many genders, including genderfluid and asexual folks. We can all launch quickly into what we think about that and keep focused our particular hobbyhorse. Dale (read the article and followup from there if you are interested) has noticed that there is a philosophical sea-change that will affect more than the less that 1% trans-people and those who have to accommodate them; the individual can define who he is, without reference to, and even in complete defiance of, everyone else in his culture.
This is unprecedented in any world culture. We have all, always, had to make some allowance for others' definition, unless we wanted to go live an entirely solitary life in the wilderness (and even then...).
It used to matter what others thought. I'm not a boy, I'm a girl. Until very recently (1970?) no one anywhere took that the least seriously. Lots of academic blather that oh, no, there was lots of tolerance and admiration for gender uncertainty in other cultures for many centuries is just crap. I wrote about it with respect to Native Americans in particular a few years ago. Things have moved quickly since then - until very, very recently the culture had a lot of power to vote you down. If your parents said no, you're not, stop singing and finish your homework you could try and find some teachers or some psychologists or activists to agree that they were just bigots and support you. But that seems to be a rather extraneous step now. The teachers, psychologists, and activists are punching the tickets of everyone who asks now, so it's just you. Right you are if you think you are, Pirandello said a century ago, and that's the world we have moved to.
Step outside the whole transgender issue for the moment (I know that's hard, what with bathrooms and multinational corporations dictating our social values* and all that, but work with me here) and look at that huge point. What everyone else in the world says no longer matters, and we have adopted an uneasy agreement with that as a society because...well, because we can't think of a killer counterargument off the top of our heads. Americans love liberty, and this seems to be personal rather than governmental...(but we think this may be nuts. Haven't we got something in the jar where we can stop them?) Libertarians may like the general idea of it - though I'll bet there's some queasiness about complete divorce from community connection. And conservatives have winced and held the communitarians at arm's length even as they agreed with parts of their program, because it seems to lead to socialism and stuff. But on this issue, the communitarians are suddenly hundreds of meters away, their full stadium dark and puzzled.
Forget the sex. We have crossed an enormous divide philosophically, and we didn't notice. Alicia can become Elijah over breakfast, and no one may contradict him. We have long since rejected external organ differences and hormonal differences as irrelevant. Brain differences, chromosomal differences were obviously going to be of no concern. Yet those are a small thing, because the camel's nose under the tent is that we now allow everyone to define anything about themselves, in complete contrast to the entire history of human kind. That is nowhere near played out in the practical realms of law and medicine, but here is no longer any philosophical barrier. Our elevation of sex above everything has blossomed, and is now bearing fruit. The blossoms were lovely, and the fruit is...interesting.
But is it digestible?
*Ah nostalgia! Only last week that was considered a bad thing by liberals. Now it is righteous.