It’s All About the Terms
I’ll tie this into trans issues shortly, but the truth is that this particular essay applies far more broadly than just to our little slice of world changing. The term which provoked my train of thought tonight is, in fact, specific to trans issues but I’d be focused to narrowly if it was only that one term that I addressed tonight.
In our ongoing cultural debate – and I’m sure this has always been true but in our media heavy environment it has the feel of a recent phenomena – much of the persuasiveness of otherwise empty rhetoric and faulty thinking is found in the power of effective terminology. If you can coin a phrase for your idea, and make it stick, you’ve created a powerful weapon with which to manipulate your audience which is, frankly, all too often made up of shallow thinkers.
The master class example of this in our generation is “politically correct.” Virtually everyone who hears that term thinks of it in a negative context and associates it with the left. Right wingers did an amazing job of creating that paradigm even though objectively the term is meaningless. They have created his mythos that “you can’t say THAT word, it’s not politically correct and liberals will get mad” and of course it’s more than “say that word” but applies to a broad range of topics. The intended perception is that on the right we’re all mature liberty-loving adults who are strong enough to roll with it if someone says something we disagree with. That is, of course, anything but the truth. I don’t think I need to list for you all the ways that right wingers get their drawers in a bunch over some unacceptable word or deed, I can prove my point with only one phrase – take a knee. Which is to say, those football players are taking a “politically incorrect” action just as much as, say, folks who think the Washington Redskins should change their name – it’s just that the “political” view being offended is on the right. Thus, the term “politically correct” is vapid because both sides of the spectrum are attempting to control what is “proper” speech and action and both sides are laying out what is, in their view, not “correct.” It’s certainly not, objectively, a charge that can be levied only at liberals. But they created and largely control the term.
A more recent variant on this game is “Social Justice Warrior.” Objectively speaking, there’s nothing to be ashamed of in advocating for social justice. But they have largely associated some over-the-top behavior by a few on the far left as “typical SJW” and then turned and leveraged that association to dismiss any liberal view out of hand as “SJW nonsense.” Again, if you let them define the term you give them a weapon to use against you.
Which brings me to what provoked this train of thought. There’s a new book out by Catholic philosopher and Heritage Foundation culture warrior Ryan T. Anderson which seeks to undermine the legitimacy of trans people. There’s a bit of a cottage industry in this regard among the Dominionist right – it hasn’t been all that long since Southern Baptist Andrew T. Walker wrote a similar book with a similar goal. Anderson, a music major with a PhD in Philosophy has no medical training, naturally, no scientific background at all, but he doesn’t think he needs one because he’s not taking science seriously, he’s really advancing a philosophical point. An ideology to be exact. His work has been picked apart elsewhere more effectively than I have space to do here, and it would be unfair of me to crib extensively from their work.
Rather my point is that Anderson proports to be countering, wait for it, “gender ideology” – that is he’s framing OUR position as an “ideology” rather than the result of actual science so that he can draw a (unwarranted) equivalency between two competing philosophies, rather than between science and doctrine. But that’s willfully deceptive (from the folks who claim to take seriously the admonision “thou shalt not bear false witness” designed to control the narrative. It is often (well) said “you have a right to your own opinions, but not to your own facts” and it applies here. If I assert to you “Schools in Mississippi used to be racially segregated” and you say “they were not” your position is NOT equivilant to mine. There’s an objective FACT which exists that is not open to differences of opinion. So it is in the case of Anderson’s book. He want’s to obscure the reality of the scientific evidence in order to frame the discussion as merely one of competing ideologies. Don’t let them have that narrative unopposed.
“Gender ideology” is yet another nonsense term the right wants to impose on the public consciousness. It’s not an actual thing, at least not as it relates to the validity of the trans experience. Going forward, as a movement, we MUST be diligent to not let the deceptive actors who seek to oppress us control the narrative by successfully creating the terminology of the debate.
Photo by Kalpana Chatterjee