Facebook and the liberal arts curriculum reveal a diminished, reductive America

facebook_gender_optionsFacebook’s decision to add something like 50 new gender identification categories to its “about me” section caused a small flurry of interest in the news and in social media.  Progressives embraced the change because it’s a step towards ending the stultifying limitations of male and female.  Conservatives were upset by the change because they believe that, while human sexuality is variable, those stultifying limitations of male and female are necessary ingredients for a functioning society.  Engineers noted that Facebook put the new system in place primarily to make for more targeted, and therefore more profitable, advertising.

Within a few days of reading about Facebook’s gender re-identification scheme, my daughter asked me what I thought of Bowdoin as a possible college for her.  I’ve never been to Bowdoin and I’ve only met one person who has.  Back in the early 1980s, one of my less-appealing UC Berkeley classmates had transferred out of Bowdoin, saying it was claustrophobic.    Still, when I heard the word “Bowdoin,” I thought to myself, “You know, I was just reading about Bowdoin lately….”

It turns out that I was reading about Bowdoin almost a year ago, when a 355-page report came out detailing exactly what a modern liberal-arts curriculum looks like.  Although the report focuses on Bowdoin, I suspect it would apply equally well to all other high-end American colleges and universities.  It’s decidedly Leftist in outlook, of course, but that was to be expected.  What Bowdoin also is, though, is reductive.  It doesn’t look at big things; it looks at microscopically small things:

The report documents an increasingly fractured academy that has no common curriculum and in which so-called identity studies take priority over a study of the West. It highlights, for example, the 36 freshmen seminars offered at Bowdoin in the fall of 2012. They are designed to teach writing and critical-thinking skills and to introduce students to the various academic departments. Some of the subjects are unsurprising: The Korean War, Great Issues in Science, Political Leadership. Others seem less conducive to critical thinking and fruitful classroom discussion: Queer Gardens, Beyond Pocahontas: Native American Stereotypes; Sexual Life of Colonialism; Modern Western Prostitutes.

Parents who send their kids to expensive colleges thinking that doing so will expand their mental horizons will discover that these $200,000+ investments do just the opposite:  they shrink young people’s view of the world and of their place in the world.  By the time you leave the four year Progressive incubator, you’ve learned that you’re not just “an American” (which is an embarrassing designator in any event).  Instead, you’re an African-Polynesian-Neutrois-with-a-economically-fostered-learning-disability.  Or perhaps you’re a white-male-hegemonic-patriarchal-chauvinist-imperalist.  Or you could be a currently bigender, but questioning, pre-transexual Hispanic from an economically marginal semi-urban upbringing.

Once upon time, the American notion of “e pluribus unum” applied, not just to the states, but to the people in the states.  The metaphor used to illustrate this union was a melting pot, in which each person’s culture and individual qualities blended to form a big, rich, satisfying whole.  By the 1970s, that “we’re all in it together” view had vanished in favor of a “tossed salad” metaphor.  We weren’t one great whole anymore, but we still at least shared the same salad bowl.

Now, however, it’s impossible to think of America in terms of any food metaphor.  Cooking inevitably involves blending and transformation towards a greater (and tasty) whole.  Our young people, however, are being taught that Americans have no relationship to each other.  We’ve been individualized into tiny little pieces, floating alone in space.  Not only is this a very sad worldview, it’s antithetical to man’s basic nature as a social animal.

I thought it was bad when I was at Berkeley, an extraordinarily cliquish school back in my day, and found that the tennis players shunned me because I didn’t play tennis, the science geeks shunned me because I was bad at science, and the dorm dwellers shunned me because I commuted.  Nowadays, though, it’s not enough even to be a tennis player or a science geek or a dorm resident.  Instead, within those subsets, the beleaguered student has to find the right variable races, genders, sexual orientations, political views, and academic interests.

America was always a big country.  The dream around the world was that you could leave behind your boring, impoverished, or even dangerous homeland (or home town), and come to a vast country where you could strive to be anything.  The whole was infinitely greater than the sum of the parts, and each part yearned to belong to that whole.  Now, though, we’re a little country.  We have a little president who exerts vast power to do teeny-weeny little things; we have a huge military that occupies itself figuring out how to be gay and women friendly; we have a Secretary of State who ignores civil wars and violent democratic revolutions in favor of bloviating about car exhaust and factory smoke; and we have an education system that is dedicated to teaching students to think small.

Facebook isn’t causing the end of the world as we know it.  Facebook is reflecting the fact that the world as we once knew it has already ended.

Gender fantasies in Obama’s America

Back in the late 1980s, Disney began airing commercials that spawned a catch-phrase.  After a Super Bowl or other major sports event, someone would ask the champion what his plans were and he’d holler out “I’m going to go to Disney World [or Disneyland]!”

I thought of that commercial when I heard about Bradley Manning’s announcement now that he’s been convicted.

“So, Bradley, you’ve just been sent to prison for 39 years! What are you going to do next?”

As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning, I am a female.”

No, Bradley, you are not a female. When you have died and your skeleton and DNA are all that remains, science will identify you as a man. What you are is deeply confused.  Just as those athletes are going to Disneyland, you’ve just announced that you’re retreating to your own private fantasy world.  The only difference is that you’re going to get the taxpayer to pay for your vacation from reality.

I’ve been hammering at this point for a long time — namely, that biology is not some imaginary construct. It’s real and cannot be wished away. Yet that is precisely what our Progressive culture is trying to do. Kevin D. Williamson has absolutely the best analysis I’ve ever seen of the Leftist belief that “wishing can make it so” when it comes to “gender identity”:

We have created a rhetoric of “gender identity” that is disconnected from biological sexual fact, and we have done so largely in the service of enabling the sexual mutilation of physically healthy men and women (significantly more men) by medical authorities who should be barred by professional convention if not by conscience from the removal of healthy organs (and limbs, more on that later), an act that by any reasonable standard ought to be considered mutilation rather than therapy. This is not to discount the feelings of people who suffer from gender-identity disorders — to the contrary, those feelings must be taken into account in determining courses of treatment for people who have severe personality disorders. But those subjective experiences do not render inconsequential the biological facts: A man who believes he is a woman trapped in a man’s body, no matter the intensity of his feeling, is no such thing. The duty of the medical profession is not to encourage and enable delusions, but to help those who suffer from them to cope with them. It is worth noting here that as a matter of law and a matter of social expectation, the fiction of sex change is treated as the paramount good: We are not expected to treat those who have undergone the procedure as men who have taken surgical and hormonal steps to impersonate women (or vice versa) but as people who have literally changed sex, which they have not — no more than Dennis Avner, the famous “Stalking Cat” who attempted to physically transform himself into a tiger, changed species.

Please note that Williamson is not hostile to people who feel a disconnect between brain and body.  Instead, he is hostile to a society that rejects reality wholesale in an effort to make a very small minority of people comfortable.  (If you’re thinking “The Emperor’s New Clothes” here, you’re on the right track.)  The other thing you should note is that many people who undergo gender identity, despite achieving their dream of looking like a person of the opposite sex, are still unhappy.  Their discomfort with their old body was a symptom of some deeper psychological disturbance, and a little slice and dice on the operating table (not to mention dangerous hormone treatments) won’t change that more profound despair.

This government-mandated societal delusion is costly.  The intangible cost is that it creates massive cognitive dissonance in an up-and-coming generation that is being trained to deny reality.  It’s also costly because insurance companies are pressured to pay for gender delusion treatments.  Heck, even prisons are now paying.  This means that you, the taxpayer, will pay for “Ms.” Manning to get special “gender re-assignment” treatment in prison.  All of which caused a wonderfully snarky friend of mine to send me an email with his own plea for “re-assignment”:  “If the gov’t is required to pay for prisoner’s trans-gender therapies, which I understand cost an average of $20,000, then they are also required to pay for my trans-ethnic reassignment therapy too. Since I identify as Polynesian, I will need money for my tanning therapy, hair treatments, and for me to learn a Polynesian language.”

Following my friend’s quite reasonable take on the government’s insistence that everyone must pay so that we’re free to be whatever we want (free because someone else will pay if we claim victim status), I’m pretty darn sure that I’m Claudia Schiffer trapped in a short, only moderately-attractive, middle-aged woman’s body.  Put another way, my real identity is super model, not soccer mom.  This disconnect (or, to use a fancy term, body dysmorphia) causes me profound mental anguish.  I’m subject to age-ism and look-ism inconsistent with my true identity, and daily battle the glances of myself that the mirror reveals.  I have a right to be whole.  I recognize that I’ll always be short, but I think it will take only about $100,000 in plastic surgery (facelift, cheek implants, jaw implants, hair weaves, breast implants, butt implants, a little bit of liposuction, colored contact lenses, wardrobe consultations, etc) in order for me to look as my mental self-image tells me I should look:


Natan Sharansky, the former Russian dissident and current Israeli citizen, wrote about one of the hallmarks of a totalitarian society: its mandate (enforced with fines, imprisonment, and even death) that all citizens accept government statements of fact as true even when the citizens’ own senses prove absolutely that the government’s imposed reality are false.  People cease to believe in their government, which is manifestly lying to them; they become cynical; and, eventually, they become desperate to end the cognitive dissonance that makes it impossible for them to deal with the real problems and issues they face in their lives.  At that point, of course, drink, drugs, and revolution all become reasonable options.

Truths too dangerous to tell

In a comment to an earlier post, BrianE linked to a quite interesting article about possible genetic differences between blacks and whites.  The article is about a book the title of which probably tells you all you need to know, “Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We’re Afraid to Talk About It.”  What is striking is the reaction of the critics who are, indeed, “afraid to talk about it.” As one critic (a college professor, of course) put it, “Some information has a more dangerous content than others.” In other words, some truths are too dangerous to tell.  The good professor even opposes efforts to find out the truth:  “Only bad things can come from research into racially based differences in sports performance.”

Personally, I have no idea whether there are significant differences between blacks and whites.  I have no idea about the science and, certainly, a good non-scientific case can be made to the contrary.  I know that there are many white volleyball players who can jump as high as black basketball players do.  I know that whites dominate in swimming just like blacks do in track.  I know there are as many world-class white high-jumpers and pole vaulters as black (though not as many good white long jumpers and triple jumpers).  

However, while there may or may not be real differences between blacks and whites, there are unquestionably real differences between men and women.  Men are bigger stronger and faster.  Women mature faster and live longer.  Oddly, no one suggests that by saying men are bigger, stronger or faster we are implying that men are less intelligent and that this is a terrible truth that should not be told.  If we treated the differences between the genders like we do differences (if any) between the races, there would be no Title IX.  In fact, there would be no girls’ teams at all.  There would be only one team in each sport, likely dominated by men, and we wouldn’t even be allowed to talk about it, just like we aren’t allowed to talk about the predominance of blacks in track, or basketball or football (or the lack of blacks in swimming, hockey or cycling for that matter). 

Does any of this make any difference?  I think it does.  The more we refuse to even consider scientific truth in any area, the less rational and mature we become.  Whether it’s differences between the races, the truth about global warming, the actual threat to America from Islamic extremists, the true state of decline of American capitalism, or whatever the subject, I think we should do all we can to discover the truth and face that truth squarely.  What do you think?