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First Argument of 2013

Those who have seen me online probably know me as a person that gets into a lot of arguments/discussions. I have a lot of opinions, a fairly well worked-out worldview/philosophy, and a lot of experience doing debates and such. I'm also old enough to have been around the block in having seen and argued for/against many positions; my positions have changed a lot over the years too, enough that I'm very wary of any "there are only two sides" type perspectives.

My first argument of 2013 was on G+, and it was about cultural propriety, a topic I care (anticare?) a lot about. My co-conversants were upset that Charlie Hebdo (a French equivalent of Mad Magazine focused on political satire) is going to be doing a series of cartoons on the life of Mohammad. I made the usual explanation that in Western culture, we make fun of everything and accept that others will make fun of us. This is part of a vibrant battlefield of ideas, and mockery is part of that. There seemed to be one anticolonialist african and one multiculturalist liberal there who were on the other side, and another guy I've occasionally seen on the PlusStream who seems to more-or-less agree with me. The people who disagreed with me made an argument from cultural propriety; that Mohammad belongs to the Muslims and that Muslims should be the only people talking about him much, and that the cultural standards of Muslims (that is, you don't depict him) should be in play for that topic.

I recognise that in the end there's no way to decide between these positions; they derive from different notions of propriety; I see all elements of every culture and all historical events as being the common heritage of all humanity; nothing is out of bounds for appropriation, or mockery, or depiction, and practically anything can be understood by anyone regardless of their identity (although some subjects actually are pretty deep so it's best to be careful before claiming to deeply understand another worldview). I am antiproprietarian, culturally, and the idea of ownership of any little bit, or mandatory respect, or even strong cultural norms of how to treat subjects, I find that offensive (which is not in itself an argument, I realise). I also note, although this is not essential to my argument because it is not always true, that many elements of cultural distinctiveness actually were passed through past cultural contact; usually one is claiming ownership over something that comes from a different origin. I take delight in the food of other cultures, the languages of other cultures, and occasionally much more, and I weave new meaning into these things in my life, and occasionally suggest that new meaning to others. I don't identify as Jewish (a bit of ancestry might theoretically entitle me to do so), but the modern secular-Jewish tradition of Chinese food on Christmas? Grand. And appropriation. And that's all utterly fine.

And I can see there's another set of perspectives that the people I was arguing against are working from. The anti-colonialist african only provided a bit of argument, not all that well, before she fell back to the lazy stance of simply applying the word privilege to me. That doesn't bother me much; it's a disqualification argument, and had I participated in the discussion using a different identity (I actually don't have any other identities on G+, but let's imagine this happened on a forum where I do), she would've been left without an argument (usually people prone to that laziness ask who you are so they can disqualify you; if you just say it's not relevant, they're generally shut down). The multiculturalist liberal went a bit further, but eventually just declared me wrong and stopped arguing. Which I suppose is reasonable; we had reached beyond the limits of argument, and had she(?) argued better we probably would not have gotten anywhere apart from having exposed the differences in perspective; her(?) perspectives are coherent, mine are too, and it's hard to really move from there. The best that can usually be done is for each side to recognise the mutual coherence, although that doesn't solve the problem of which norm should win; one can just paint pictures of what society looks like built on one set of ideas on this topic, or the other, and hope to make aesthetic arguments of that sort.

I think most arguments in philosophy are like this. It does get a bit boring when one returns to a topic one's visited before and one (or perhaps both) knows what everyone's going to say.

These kinds of issues cut political identities oddly; some postmodernists/3rdwavers are with me on this topic (particularly those who find "Death of the Author" as much a banner to wave as I do), the multiculturalists hate it, and many other secondwavers dislike it. It's kind of related to the bad blood between two types of feminist activists whom I both generally dislike:

  • Transfeminists, who usually insist that everyone use queer theory terms for sex vs gender and want to keep the idea of feminity and masculinity alive and as identity-foundations but let people pick which and how to do each (a kind of nervous deconstructionism that refuses to go all the way and in fact condemns it)
  • Second-wave rehabilitationists (my term), who want to preserve male-female differences and simply celebrate female experiences more, who have been very hostile to trans-activists (second-wave and third-wave) for appropriating gender identity. (There are usually other objections I have to this lot as well)
They have never gotten along with each other (the transfeminists generally call the rehabilitationists "radscum"). And I think they're both problematic.
  • I reject the idea of transsexuality. Sex/Gender, by my framework, is simply a matter of biology, and the most relevant marker of gender is usually the genetics, although sometimes gene-expression goes wrong and one gets individuals with difficulties or a mismatch between their genes and their development. When that's not the case, all I see is individuals doing odd surgeries to their bodies and applying odd hormones to themselves. Exactly the same as someone who might decide they were born of the wrong race and applies skin-lightening surgeries, or the wrong species and fumes and joins "therian" support groups. Unnecessary, stupid, but their choice. Nobody should beat them up or refuse to hire them or harass them, but neither should anyone be forced to accept their claims to shift their gender or race or whatever. Other people can if they wish, or might not if they don't wish. People who identify as trans who are cool with my not caring about their claims are fine by me. Even if they obnoxiously insist that I buy into their frameworks, I would reject it, but still defend them against harassment or violence or whatever because I don't think people should face that kind of thing in society even if they're a bit nutty.
  • I reject the second-wave rehabilitationists because I believe that *any* gender-normativity is restrictive, and that there is no "legitimate" female or male experience intrinsic to the gender. Gender doesn't have to mean much. It in fact should not. There are historical and present issues in many communities, here and elsewhere, that systemically affect people of a certain race or gender; let's work on destroying those categories at the same time we mitigate the harms of perspectives that leave them alive.
If/when the differences that remain are just the biological and things that directly descend from the biological, our task will be done and the kind of feminism I am pushing (second wave gender-role abolitionism) will be ready to hang up its hat. We're nowhere near that point, either here or across the world, but that's the goal. I don't believe either of the factions I mention above have an end state in mind. The rehabilitationists are interestingly proprietarian though, which is why I brought this related argument up; this notion of propriety isn't just a tool to shield Islam from criticism, it's a generally bad argument used in various factions across the spectrum.


i still disagree with your stance on transgenderdom, but i think we've been through that enough times.

I don't believe either of the factions I mention above have an end state in mind.

this is a good way of phrasing a problem i've also seen a bunch in talking about what language we should and shouldn't use (i think "'crazy' and 'insane' are ableist" is the most obvious offender).