I’ve been following Philosophy Tube since Abigail was Ollie. Always top-notch material. Their content has gotten longer over time, so I’ve found myself skipping over in favour of shorter presentations. I am so glad to have decided to watch this one.
As anyone who follows me knows, I am a big advocate of social construct theory, yet I learned so much in this vid, which is proper well-cited AF. Lot’s of new content to add to my backlog, so I’ve got more than enough reading material for my next few incarnations at least.
The biggest takeaway for me is the notion that not only is gender a social construct, but so is sex itself. Previously, I have defended the sex-gender distinction, but in fact, scientific taxonomies are still social constructs—only in the scientific community rather than the greater community at large.
Abigail’s platypus drives home the point. Not that it’s some big reveal. Another less poignient analogy is fruit and vegetable classification. Tomatoes are fruits. Mellons—watermellons, pumpkins, and so on—are fruits. Say it ain’t so.
Give it a viewing and like or comment here and/or there.
It’s only happenstance that I’ve got consecutive gender posts. Derrida spoke about prioritisation in binary pair, and the inherent symbolic connotation. Sex and gender are two examples.
At the risk of overstating the obvious, masculinity holds the priority in this pair bond. Masculinity traditionally conveys hardness, strength and logic, whilst femininity conveys softness and weakness and emotion. This is what Beauvoir intends by her use of the other sex—male and other. Even in a non-binary frame, maleness still prevails over everythying else. Of course, in this broader world, male may trump female, but in an appeal to nature fashion, female trumps intersex in the same way the light-skinned people of colour trump their darker-skinned counterparts.
English even has derivative terms such as hysterical, an emotional state rooted in the Greek hystera, the uterus or womb. Etymologically, the word was invented by the Greek under the impression that this behaviour was a deviation from male normaly.
In the physical world, this male-female terminology generailises to penetrator and penetrated—penetratrix, anyone? We routinely refer to plugs and connectors with prongs as male and recepticals are female. At first glance, it might be tempting to assume that penis is somehow related to penetration, but it’s not so, as penis derives from tail.
In music there is the notion of cadence, the beats of a rhythm. Classically speaking, there are masculine and feminine cadences. And if you guessed that masculine cadences involve strong beats and feminine cadences invlove weak beats, you’d be correct.
Feminine Cadence a musical cadence in which the final chord or melody note falls on a weak beat
The reason I am writing this is as a reminder to the predjudice langage embeds and perpetuates. Even if we have lost the connection to the original intent, the sense remains. We should actively seek other terms that don’t promote this anachronistic belief system.
It’s also easy to get carried away and over-specify the domain. So, terms like manhole, manuscript, manipulate, and such are, let’s say, false cognates, in a manner of speaking. There are no counterpart womanholes—sophomoric humour notwithstanding—, womanuscripts, and womanipulation, though it might be fun to write some exposition with the intention of satarising these and words with a similar structure. I’m not sure I could womanage to carve out the time to get there.
In a different space, we’ve got master-slave word pairs. In computers, there may be master and slave drives. I’ve heard people point out the insensitivity of this notion without grasping that projecting American (or wider-world) human slavery on this rather than understanding this pairing existed well before the New World was even ‘discovered’. This is where hysterical political correctness needs to step down and give way to education.
So, I’ve gone down a rabbit hole. Again. This time, it’s Žižek. Again. I’ve still not read any of Žižek’s own work, but people mention him often and he is a shameless self-promoter. In this video clip, he responds to whether gender is a social construct. Unfortunately, he conflates gender with sex, and his examples cite transsexuals not transgenders.
To set the stage, sex is about biological sex assignment—the sex category you are assigned into at birth: male, female, or other for some 1.8%. This is a simplistic categorisation: penis = male; vagina = female; both or neither: rounding error. In some cases, a decision is made to surgically conform the child to either male or female and ensure through prophylactic treatment that this isn’t undone hormonally in adolescence.
Gender is about identity. As such, it is entirely a social construct. All identity of this nature is a function of language and society. In this world—in the West—, females wear dresses (if they are to be worn at all) and males don’t—kilts notwithstanding. In this world, sex and gender have little room for divergence. so the male who identifies as this gender (not this sex) is ostracised.
The example I usually consider first is the comedian Eddie Izzard—a cross-dresser. He’s probably a bad example because he does identify as a male. He just doesn’t wish to be constrained by male role restrictions and wants to wear the makeup that’s been reserved for women in the West at this time.
Žižek eventually gets to an argument about essentialism—so we’re back at Sorites paradoxes and Theseus again. At the start, I could argue that the sexual distinction has few meaningful contexts. For me, unless I am trying to have sex and/or procreate, the distinction is virtually meaningless. For others, only procreation remains contextually relevant. In this technological world, as Beauvoir noted in the late 1940s, strength differentials are not so relevant. End where they are, sex is not the deciding factor—it’s strength.
Žižek’s contention seems to be that the postmoderns (or whomever) disclaim essentialism in favour of constructivism but then resolve at essentialism as a defence because ‘now I am in the body originally intended’. I’ll argue that this is the logic employed by the person, but this person is not defending some academic philosophical position. They are merely engaging in idiomatic vernacular.
I am not deeply familiar with this space, and if the same person who is making a claim against essentialism is defending their actions with essentialism, then he’s got a leg to stand on. As for me, the notions of essentialism and constructivism are both constructed.
To some extent or another, humans appear to need order—some more than others. Societies are a manifestation of order, and we’ve got subcultures for those who don’t fit in with the mainstream. Humans are also a story-telling lot, which helps to provide a sense of order. Metanarratives are a sort of origin story with a scintilla of aspiration toward some imagined semblance of progress.
Some people appear to be more predisposed to need to ride this metanarrative as a lifeboat. These people are typically Conservative, authority-bound traditionalists, but even the so-called Progressives need this thread of identity. The problem seems to come down to a sort of tolerance versus intolerance split, a split along the same divide as created by monotheism in the presence of polytheism.
In a polytheistic world, when two cultures collided, their religious pantheons were simply merged. In a blink, a society might go from 70 gods to 130. On this basis, there was a certain tolerance. Monotheism, on the other hand, is intolerant—a winner takes all death match. The tolerant polytheists might say, sure, you’ve got a god? Great. He can sit over there by the elephant dude. Being intolerant like a petulant schoolboy, the monotheists would throw a tantrum at the thought that there might be other gods on the block. Monotheists won’t even allow demigods, though there is the odd saint or two.
This is a battle between absolutism and relativism. The relativist is always in a weaker arguing position because intolerant absolutists are convinced that their way is the only way, yet the tolerant relativists are always at risk of being marginalised. This is what Karl Popper was addressing with the Paradox of Tolerance.
In a functioning society, a majority of the metanarratives are adopted by the majority of its constituent. On balance, these metanarratives are somewhat inviolable and more so by the inclined authoritarians.
A problem is created when a person or group disagrees with the held views. The ones espousing these views—especially the Traditionals—become indignant. What do you mean there are more than two genders? You are either male or female. Can’t you tell by the penis?
I happened to read a tweet by the GOP declaring their stupidity:
The Vice President, a living anachronism and proxy for the American Midwest Rust Belt superimposed on the Bible Belt, he tells his sheep that “The moment America becomes a socialist country is the moment that America ceases to be America…” Americans as a whole are pretty dim, and it seems to get dimmer the higher one ascends their government. Pence seems very firm in affirming a notion of American identity, but not accepting that identities change. He may become upset if he finds out that George Washington is dead—in fact, there are very few remnants of the original United States aside from some dirt, trees, and a few edifices—and the country is still the county. Some people have a difficult time grasping identity. It makes me wonder if he fails to recognise himself in the mirror after he gets his hair cut.
Interesting to me is how people complain about this and that politically. Most of this is somewhat reflexive and as phatic as a ‘how are you?’, but some is more intentional and actioned. Occasionally, the energy is kinetic instead of potential, but the result is always the same: One power structure is replaced by another.
As Lacan noted, as people, we believe ourselves to be democratic, but most of us appear to be finding and then worshipping some authority figures who will promise us what we desire. We desire to have someone else in charge, who can make everything OK, someone who is in a sense an ideal parent. I don’t believe this to be categorical, but I do believe that there is a large contingent of people who require this.
As an aside, I’ve spent a lot of time (let’s call it a social experiment) in the company of social reprobates. What never ceases to amaze me is how these social outcasts seem to have a strong sense of right and wrong and how things should be. Conveniently, they exempt themselves from this scope, so if they steel to buy drugs, it’s OK, but if someone else gets caught, they should get what’s coming to them.
About a year ago I was chatting with a mate, and I shared an observation that the biggest substance abusers in high school—”the Man’s not going hold me down” cohort—are the biggest conservatives. A girl a few houses down from me became a stripper, but her political views are very Conservative, an avid Trump supporter.
One woman I know is a herion-addicted prostitute. In her eyes, she’s fine (sort of—without getting into psychoanalytics); other women are junkie whores. A heavy dose of assuaged cognitive dissonance is the prescription for this, but it confounds me.
Getting back to the original topic, people who need this order are resistant to deconstruction and other hallmark notions of poststructuralism. They need closure. This translates into a need for metanarratives. When confronted with the prospect of no Truth, they immediately need to find a substitute—speculatively, anyway, as denial and escalating commitment will kick into overdrive.
The same problem mentioned above comes into play here. A few years ago, there was an Occupy Wall Street group, and like atheists, there are myriad reasons why people participated. One of the commonest complaints by the power structure and the public at large is if you don’t like the status quo, what status should replace it. None of the above was never an acceptable response.
It doesn’t matter that in this universe we occupy there is more disorder than order, and entropy rules, pareidolia is the palliative. And religion remains an opiate of the masses.
Find your self. What is this self you are searching for, and who is you in the first place?
You and self are taxonomical references—conveniences—, yet they don’t actually exist.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that entropy rules. Things decay. We can see this in the great structures of our ancient past. Try as we may, without energy, everything falls apart.
There is no you. The you that was born is not the same you that attended kindergarten, that graduated high school, dated, worked, or died. Even in a short span of time, you switch personae. Can you be multiple yous simultaneously? Are you only expressing some instance or another? I’m not buying it.
When Heraclitus said that no man ever steps into the same river twice, it’s not only the river that has changed; the person has changed, too. It’s not the same person.
For the sake of convenience, we create this sense of identity, whether for ourselves or for others we want to categorise in some form or fashion. But they aren’t the same either.
It’s like the physical object that appears to be solid and yet is more space than material. It’s a matter of convenience, but it’s a trompe l’oeil. Yet again, your senses have deceived you.
Does this impact survival or some evolutionary progression? Apparently not. Not if you are here to read this. But that doesn’t make it real. Perception is reality.
But what about identity politics? Can’t a person choose their own identity? Sure. Choose away. It doesn’t it real.
I’ve written about the difference between sex and gender. Both are taxonomical creations. Whether a society accepts the distinction between sexes, genders, or even of the distinction of sex and gender is up to that society.
As with sex and gender, identity is a social construct. As such, its acceptance into a society is yet again a rhetorical effort.
On the topic of social constructivism and cultural relativism, Jordan Peterson is both a vehement counter voice and a hypocritical adherent. This post calls out Peterson’s hypocrisy. To Peterson, the notion that people create their own reality and especially their own identity is heresy. Worse, he will not abide where someone wishes to be identified by some non-gender-performative pronoun.
In his world, it’s obvious that there are two each of singular, gendered subject pronouns and their correspondent object pronouns: he, she, him, and her. Betwixt the two shan’t ever meet. For people like Jordan Peterson, this arbitrary taxonomical classification is written in stone in a manner reflective of Moses encounter with God on the mount.
There shalt be two and only two genders, male and female;
and all humans shall conform to these classifications;
and all humans shall dress and behave in compliance with these classifications
For people who view the world like Peterson, there is no distinction between sex and gender, so there is no CIS-this or CIS-that. They will accept for the minority of exceptions for hermaphrodites, but these people are freaks of nature and need to pick a path.
If you have were born with certain primary sexual traits, you must comply with gender stereotypes:
Male = Penis
Female = Vagina
And these are not cultural stereotypes, by the way; it’s obvious that this is Natural Law handed down from on high because identity is not an individual’s construct. If anything, you must accept with grace the identity society bestows upon you. If they perceive you as X, you had better conform to X or all hell will break loose, and your parents and friends will corral you into the X-mould, if you’ll only listen and comply. It’s for your own good.
Society knows best. If you can’t see it, that’s your problem. It our world, it’s majority rule, and if the masses perceive you as gender X, you had better comply. And don’t be a sissy about it. Purses are for women. Makeup is for women. Dresses are for women. Skirts are for women.
As action figures are not dolls, kilts are not skirts; even so, don’t wear a kilt unless you are either Scottish or playing dress-up, but don’t play dress-up, and you’d better be toting a bagpipe or we’ll question your motives.
Where was I going with all of this?
At the same time, Peterson and his ilk defend universalism, they leave open the ability to envision their own deities as realities as they choose in a ‘it’s my personal god’ sort of way. They want to have their cake and eat it, too.
It’s fine to take a position of objectivism versus subjectivism. I mean you’d be wrong, but you don’t really get to cherry-pick from each where it is convenient. Actually, you do, but you’d be a hypocrite, so there’s that. Perhaps just logically inconsistent or disingenuous.