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Yan and Ying

On the face of it, the expected decision of the New York City Board of Health to let people decide what sex they are and to have the decision reflected on their birth certificates seems a reductio ad absurdum of the “gender perspective,” in effect the view that sexual distinctions should be treated as pure social constructions to the extent physically possible.

The absurdity applies at many levels. Man is an animal, among other things, and sex, which has been around a billion years, probably has some importance in human life. If that’s so, it’s hard to see how it can be divorced from “gender” any more than say “nourishment” can be divorced from “food.” You can’t reasonably decide for yourself what food is. Similarly, it would seem, you can’t decide what gender you are, even though social views may play some part in specific understandings of what it all means.

In any event, if “gender” is a social construction it can’t equally be a personal decision. The two things aren’t the same. If it’s simply a personal decision, what is someone asserting when he says he’s “transgender”? That he has a right to be placed in one self-defined category rather than another? Why is that a right that matters? It’s true you will have to get a doctor’s note to get your birth certificate changed, so someone could claim the new rule won’t make gender a purely personal matter, but that can’t be much of a restriction. And in any case, it’s hard to see the public health reason to put sex on the birth certificate if it’s an “arbitrary distinction” that denies the “diversity of nature” and can be reshuffled as a matter of personal choice.

Although absurd, the situation isn’t funny because it isn’t felt as such. Authoritative and principled absurdity dealing with basic features of human life is never funny, because too many things can go wrong when the men with guns who constitute the government insist on turning off their brains and forcing everybody else (through anti-discrimination laws) to do the same. Those guys have our children, they define disagreement with their projects as “harassment,” and they believe in invading other countries to bring them the benefits of gender equity. If that’s so, it is better for them to think about things in a way that makes sense.

So why do such things happen? Part of the problem is that one fraud requires another. If you insist there are no objective differences between the sexes, but still let people call themselves “men” and “women,” you’re letting distinctions that you’ve declared purely arbitrary and subjective play a role in society. If that’s really what you’re doing, it’s more fair to let people decide for themselves how the classifications should be applied. The article also emphasizes the expertise of those involved in the decision, and we are all trained to accept whatever experts say however much it contradicts the obvious.

Such explanations are right as far as they go, but they don’t say why the fraud and misuse of expert authority go one direction rather than another. For that one must ask who is benefited by the abolition of “gender” as a principle of social organization—more generally, by the abolition of human connections and distinctions other than bureaucratic and financial ones—and why that abolition seems transparently rational to so many. The answer to the latter question, I think, is basically scientism. The answer to former should be obvious. If money and bureaucracy are the only principles of social order, then bureaucrats and those who control wealth will have all the power. What’s so hard to understand about that?