We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

“The dangerous and sectarian practice of prescriptive racialism is an outgrowth of an insistence that we think of people not as individuals but as representatives of groups — we speak of “the Arab experience” as if it were a uniform phenomenon. In a world in which groups are considered more important than people, it was inevitable that we would forfeit the ability to think in terms of unique human beings, each of whom may fall into several categories, but who are ultimately self-made characters. We should remember that the important features of an individual are what they choose to be and not the identities they happen to have inherited.”

Mohamed Ali, writing in the excellent platform, Quillette.

21 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • bobby b

    “We should remember that the important features of an individual are what they choose to be and not the identities they happen to have inherited.”

    I’m still going to call him Bruce Jenner.

  • Philip Scott Thomas

    Right, this is a big one.

    We should remember that the important features of an individual are what they choose to be and not the identities they happen to have inherited.
    Ayn Rand’s essay on racism is the place to start. She reduces everything to collectivism,then goes on to point out all the other types of collectivism we would normally take for granted. Really eye-opening stuff, at least for me.

    ‘…an insistence that we think of people not as individuals but as representatives of groups…’

    Yep, this is the collectivism Rand was talking about.

    We should remember that the important features of an individual are what they choose to be and not the identities they happen to have inherited. In a world in which groups are considered more important than people, it was inevitable that we would forfeit the ability to think in terms of unique human beings…
    Again, Rand would approve.choices

    We should remember that the important features of an individual are what they choose to be and not the identities they happen to have inherited.
    No. Even Hell, no. Individual identities are not what give we human beings value by today’s issue. We have value and worth for no other reason than that we are human beings. We have natural rights,by virtue of being human beings, and the chief right is the ownership of property. And the first property we own is ourselves. Everything else follows from that.

    And I mean everything. Free speech, anti-slavery, all of it.

  • CaptDMO

    “…and not the identities they happen to have inherited.”
    Nor the identities assigned to them by “others”.

  • I’m still going to call him Bruce Jenner. (bobby b, April 2, 2019 at 7:52 pm)

    1) I regard him as male, because that concerns things beyond himself. I would no more call someone male or female merely because they ordered me to, against my own assessment, than I would call them a genius because they told me they were, against my own assessment.

    2) In some countries, Germany for example, the law demands (or did very recently) that a new name be sex-appropriate, but AFAIK the old English law of changing one’s name by deed poll never did. (I guess this law is the same in all English-derived ex-Empire colonies. In the US, maybe it is the same very old law or maybe it has another name.)

    In Marlow’s ‘The Big Sleep’ a man called Carole Lundgren murders Joe Brody in the mistaken belief that Brody murdered his gay lover, Geiger. It seems unlikely that a man born circa 1910 or after would be christened ‘Carole’ with that spelling (‘Karol’ would have been possible), so I assumed Marlow expects readers to realise that the character – a loud gay – had changed his name to one that advertised his inclinations. Such 1700’s characters as “Princess Seraphina” show the same strategy being used in real life (though he just used that as his widely-accepted nickname but had not bothered to make it his legal name).

    A man’s name is much more his own property than whatever identity he claims. “I’m really female”, like “I’m really a genius”, “I’m really a female dragon”, and “I was kidnapped by aliens as a baby and raised on the planet Zorg”, is a statement that hearers are entitled to evaluate for themselves, but if he says “My name is Jane” then (a century ago, never mind today) you could reply, “Legally?” but in the knowledge that his reply could truthfully be, “Yes; I changed my name by deed poll”.

    3) For courtesy, I might avoid pronouns in some particular discussion. For a trans to choose a shortish first name or nickname is a form of courtesy. Political correctness is a one-way street – the PC drive down it and enjoy running us over. Politeness is a two-way street – each side offers the other some space. Except when I’m obviously some driver’s target on political-correctness street, I gladly offer some and/or respond if some is offered.

    For example, I once had a conversation with a trans in which at one point it was natural for me to say, “The words ‘hate speech’ will have no place in this conversation – agreed?” He agreed and it has not felt a problem since for me to use his shortish (usually-female) name where a pronoun could be. In the same way, in the past, I could sympathise with some homosexual who wished to feel that it was not a question of some old law being invoked before being polite to the conventional feelings of another – so he could feel in his own mind that courtesy, not cowardice, was what he would be offering (if he did). (I note in passing that new aggressive laws in a changing society present more problems than old decaying ones in a stable society, since it is harder to deduce the rules. Thus one may – as I did – have to ask explicitly.)

    3) There can be circumstances where intimidation, not politeness, is the issue and I would defend saying ‘Bruce’, not so much to Jenner as to the politically-correct goose. And of course, no question of politeness arises when talking about, not to, him. I doubt he’s listening here, and would casually call him ‘Bruce’ to demonstrate not cringing to PC – it may well be that is what bobby b meant when he spoke of calling him Bruce (Bobby did not say, “Call him Bruce to his face”).

    Likewise, in the past, I respect Noel Coward, for example, for his manners (he sometimes lectured fellow gay actors on the rightness of gays having some) and his courtesy (not wishing to disturb “a few old ladies in Dulwich” who “might not yet know”), but it seems clear that Coward was his name, not his nature, and he was ready as any to resist his words being made another’s choice.

    Just my 0.02p FWIW.

  • bobby b

    “(Bobby did not say, “Call him Bruce to his face”).”

    In hindsight, that probably was included in my definition of “I’ll call him . . . “, and I was wrong to not define that out of it because that was rude of me.

    Two different concepts are involved. During a time of life when I was most likely to watch TV, I saw Bruce Jenner’s commercial in which he won his three big Olympic events before a roaring crowd and whipping his American flag in celebration a hundred times or more, in the service of Wheaties. It was an iconic and ubiquitous clip for years here. I’ll always associate that person with that very male image.

    Then there’s his label. Taking Sir Jordan Peterson’s cue, I’ll refuse to call him anything that the PC police order me to call him, but, in the absence of such an order, I’ll call him his preferred label, because that’s just the decent thing to do. But I’ll still think of him as Bruce Jenner, Olympian.

  • Nullius in Verba

    This could be interesting!

    Philip Scott Thomas,

    Thanks for the link to Rand’s essay on racism! I’ve not seen that one before. There were no great surprises, for me, but there are some beautiful phrases and elegant ways of expressing it in there I’m sure to want to quote.

    I agree with Rand, that it’s more a matter of what you choose to do, what you produce, that defines value. I think I know what Ali is getting at – but it could be misunderstood. The critical word is not “choose” but “be”. It’s about the value of what they as an individual do, rather than anyone else in the same group. Whether that group is chosen (as in a religion) or inherited (as in race, or appearance). It’s a nice essay!

    Niall,

    I hesitate to start this argument – it usually gets messy. And I’m not sure that it isn’t veering wildly off-topic. Ali was talking about racism – but I have a feeling the quote may have been chosen because of its more general applicability. Let me know if lots of you feel it’s inappropriate. And apologies in advance!

    “A man’s name is much more his own property than whatever identity he claims. “I’m really female”, like “I’m really a genius”, “I’m really a female dragon”, and “I was kidnapped by aliens as a baby and raised on the planet Zorg”, is a statement that hearers are entitled to evaluate for themselves, but if he says “My name is Jane” then (a century ago, never mind today) you could reply, “Legally?” but in the knowledge that his reply could truthfully be, “Yes; I changed my name by deed poll”.”

    The case of the film star Marion Morrison springs to mind! Born 1907.

    The transgender case is complex and multi-layered.

    On the one hand there’s a long-standing convention that you can choose your own name – so long as you’re consistent and it’s not done for the purposes of fraud. I have a friend christened ‘Reginald’ who hates it, and goes by his middle name. If you want to wind him up, you can call him ‘Reginald’ repeatedly, but to do so is to be deliberately nasty and annoying, and will be seen that way. If someone gets married, they may change their name, or they might not. ‘deed poll’ is more an announcement that you intend to use a new name than it is an actual legal process changing it. You don’t need it for the change to be legal. Regarding names, the same principles apply to the transgender as to everyone else – it is their ‘legal’ name as much as yours is.

    There are several reasons why one might give someone the wrong name. Accidentally, you just forgot, and not even most TGs will care. Done politely as a political or religious statement (just as you might continue to call someone by their maiden name if for religious reasons you consider their marriage invalid and want to make the point) then it might be accepted as such. But if it’s a way to be deliberately offensive and unpleasant to the person, done repeatedly, then it may be considered harrassment and bullying. Everyone is expected to tolerate a few bumps and scrapes from others, but if it’s done as an orchestrated campaign over a long period (or by many people in concert) it starts to edge into the territory of Mill’s “a social tyranny more formidable”, and this is where the new laws intrude. You’re not just commenting, or debating, or asserting your right to your own beliefs. You’re attempting to force them to conform to your rules of behaviour by making their life deeply unpleasant. Are your reasons for doing so morally sufficient? That’s an entire debate all on its own – but is far wider than just the transgender issue. I’ll pass over that for the time being. We can get into it later if you like.

    On the other hand, there’s more to a TG’s statement than simple choice. They’re making a statement about the facts: that they have a female mind/brain in a male body, (or vice versa). Or to put it more precisely, during pre-natal development each part of the brain and body responds to the cocktail of hormones by developing in either a male-typical pattern or a female-typical pattern, but it is quite common for the biological switches controlling the process to get jammed on or off, or wired backwards, so that bits of the body/brain develop to the other pattern. If it happens in a part of the body that happens to be visible (e.g. bearded lady) nobody argues. But the wiring of the brain can only normally be determined by observing their behaviour, which is more ambiguous.

    Note that saying you have a female mind/brain in a male body is different from saying you’re a 100% mind-and-body female. (But are ‘you’ your brain or your body? Are they female with a deformed body, or male with a deformed mind? Or are they just who/what they are?) If somebody says they have a female body, then you can indeed make your own assessment and disagree. But what if they say they have a female mind? On what basis do you think your observations can contradict that? They, on the other hand can observe it directly, from the inside. Why is your evidence better than theirs?

    We face a similar problem if somebody claims to be a believer – “Is the Pope Catholic?” as the joke goes. Is it merely a matter of politeness that we accept the Pope’s claim at face value? Is it defined by what he says, or is it possible that inside his head he’s actually not a believer? Can we judge by his behaviour? Or the way he dresses?

    And if somebody finds it incomprehensible and impossible to believe that anyone could truly believe in Catholicism (3 is 1? Transubstantiation? Weeping statues? Crazy!), is it reasonable of them to assert that there’s no such thing as a Catholic, and the millions making the claim are all lying or mentally ill? Who is from the Planet Zorg now? The question “Is the Pope Catholic?” is much deeper than it looks.

    We should, of course, be able to discuss this openly. People should have the freedom to believe as they choose, and to express their beliefs. For one thing, I think they’d do a far better job of persuading people if they took the time to debate and explain, rather than shutting any signs of heresy down. But then there is politeness, and kindness to the afflicted. If someone claims to be Catholic, it’s normal to politely take their word for it. It would be considered rude to immediately tell them they’re deluded or lying. If politeness is a moral principle for us, are we applying it consistently?

  • bobby b (April 3, 2019 at 10:56 am), an aspect I left out of my general discussion was that Jenner became – consentingly, it appeared – the poster child for the new PC language rules. Jenner has occasionally gone very slightly (and unintentionally, I would guess) off-message (“I am a spokesman …”) but if there are headlines “Jenner questions trans speech police” then I would be pleased and also know something I do not know. If, conversely, there is complicity (as the PC speech police themselves very much seemed to say at the time), that makes Jenner a special case.

    A similar, though far stronger example would be O.J.Simpson. Having evaded murder by pretended rage at a racial slur, he could be regarded as having spent his right to resent that slur, without affecting the right of others to resent it. (Calling him a murderer would be more accurate and just, but he showed an astonishing and unwise amount of evidence that he was very proud of that.)

  • Nullius in Verba (April 3, 2019 at 11:00 am), an interesting discussion. I have comments on a couple of your points.

    They, on the other hand can observe it directly, from the inside. Why is your evidence better than theirs?

    This is equally true in all my other examples. The trans I was talking to once described a mutual acquaintance (not to his face) by a term much stronger than ‘idiot’, to explain why he utterly refused to work with him on a common task. But that acquaintance did not agree: he thought of himself as a most intelligent and able man (indeed that self-perception was no small part of his character). Out of the phrase “a most intelligent and able man”, only the word ‘man’ was accepted by my trans acquaintance, who felt no hesitation in ridiculing the other’s opinion of himself. It is true that we assess others despite much ignorance of their inner lives and, usually, of their history – but we must do so to live with them.

    is it reasonable of them to assert that there’s no such thing as a Catholic, and the millions making the claim are all lying or mentally ill?

    I thought that was what Richard Dawkins does say. I’ve read “The God Delusion”, and laughed at its many absurdities, but I defend Dickie D’s right to write it. In that book he says that if you ever hear someone refer to “a Christian child”, you should immediately, politely, state your opinion that there is no such thing, only a child of Christian parents (since I recall clearly having my own opinions on these matters before the age of 10, I was unimpressed), and the book generally urges atheists to be polite when rebuking Christians but to cast aside all polite deferring of debate and all tolerance of mutually-acceptable phrasing (old art and opera exempted). There’s a sense in which that is not so very reasonable, but another in which, in some unforced discussion, he can reasonably expect to be able to say that if that’s what he thinks – and whoever he’s talking to can comment on his silliness or can as reasonably walk away.

    BTW, I think the OP was indeed inviting comment on all the various identities that the PC speech police would confine us to, but if Johnathan feels otherwise, I invite him to comment “back on topic, please”. I recall tactfully hinting the same thing when the comment thread of a post of mine was somewhat taken over by a very similar subject – and later laughing at my complete failure to restore the thread to its subject. 🙂 So Johnathan, if you wish to say it, do not just hint it! 🙂

  • Nullius in Verba

    “an aspect I left out of my general discussion was that Jenner became – consentingly, it appeared – the poster child for the new PC language rules.”

    I’ve not seen any evidence of consent or support for it, so I can’t judge. However, I’m dubious about the idea that anyone is responsible for what other people say about them.

    The only comment on the subject I’ve seen was: “Trans people deserve something vital. They deserve your respect… If you want to call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions, go ahead, because the reality is I can take it. But for the thousands of kids out there who are coming to terms with being true to who they are, they shouldn’t have to take it.”

    But “shouldn’t have to” could be interpreted either way. It might mean “People should be nicer” / “it shouldn’t happen”, or it might mean “if people are not nice, the target ought to be able to do something about it”. I’d interpret it as the former, but it is ambiguous.

    Had Jenner wanted to say more on the subject, she could easily have done so. She’s got no reputation as a libertarian to defend. She’s got no obvious motive to defend the deeply unpleasant people attacking her, or defenceless kids with the same condition. There’s plenty of pressure nowadays to join in, and I gather she’s paid a heavy social price for not being more ‘liberal’ in the American sense. But I’ve seen very little involvement in that side of things. I think she’s deliberately refrained from getting involved on *either* side.

    I’d not consider her a libertarian; a vocal advocate for free speech even for her enemies. But then I’d equally not consider anyone on the other side who failed to condemn Clause 28 as a libertarian interested in open debate, either. YMMV, of course.

    “Out of the phrase “a most intelligent and able man”, only the word ‘man’ was accepted by my trans acquaintance, who felt no hesitation in ridiculing the other’s opinion of himself.”

    Did they say what their evidence was? Was it on the basis of their external appearance, or their behaviour?

    If the argument was that he was clearly stupid because he had thick eyebrows, then sure.

    ” In that book he says that if you ever hear someone refer to “a Christian child”, you should immediately, politely, state your opinion that there is no such thing, only a child of Christian parents (since I recall clearly having my own opinions on these matters before the age of 10, I was unimpressed),”

    So I take it from that you agree with me? And with every transgender kid who had made their own mind up before the age of 10, but had adults telling them they were wrong and were too young to know? 🙂

  • neonsnake

    Philip Scott Thomas:

    We should remember that the important features of an individual are what they choose to be and not the identities they happen to have inherited.
    No. Even Hell, no. Individual identities are not what give we human beings value by today’s issue.”

    Apologies, but I you lost me with that paragraph, I was with you until then, but it appears to contradict the previous point. Am sure it’s my misunderstanding, but can you clarify?

  • Nullius in Verba

    Neonsnake,

    The first sentence is a quote – picked out from the longer quote above. The second (and those following) is the comment on it.

  • neonsnake

    Yeah, that didn’t quite work when I block quoted it 🙁

    It’s the comment I was unsure of, as it appears prima facie to contradict the previous paragraph

  • Nullius in Verba

    It does.

    The quote is:

    “We should remember that the important features of an individual are what they choose to be and not the identities they happen to have inherited.”

    which has been picked out from Ali’s longer quote:

    “The dangerous and sectarian practice of prescriptive racialism is an outgrowth of an insistence that we think of people not as individuals but as representatives of groups — we speak of “the Arab experience” as if it were a uniform phenomenon. In a world in which groups are considered more important than people, it was inevitable that we would forfeit the ability to think in terms of unique human beings, each of whom may fall into several categories, but who are ultimately self-made characters. We should remember that the important features of an individual are what they choose to be and not the identities they happen to have inherited.

    Philip’s comment on this sentence is:

    “No. Even Hell, no. Individual identities are not what give we human beings value by today’s issue. We have value and worth for no other reason than that we are human beings. We have natural rights,by virtue of being human beings, and the chief right is the ownership of property. And the first property we own is ourselves. Everything else follows from that. And I mean everything. Free speech, anti-slavery, all of it.”

    In other words, all humans have value as human beings. We don’t declare individual people to have no value just because they belong to the wrong group, or make the wrong choices, or fail to achieve the right things.

  • Nullius in Verba

    Or did you mean it seemed to contradict the previous comment “Again, Rand would approve.choices”?

    It’s probable that the comment was sent before editing was completed. The lone “choices” is a fragment. But you can probably work out what was meant. Rand said “Individualism regards man — every man — as an independent, sovereign entity who possesses an inalienable right to his own life, a right derived from his nature as a rational being.” and “It is not a man’s ancestors or relatives or genes or body chemistry that count in a free market, but only one human attribute: productive ability.” Man has to choose to produce.

    I think Philip may be partially disagreeing with Rand. Rand valued people based on the choices they make as individuals regarding their decision to produce. Philip’s value is more unconditional.

    Personally, I think they’re different values. Value is not a one-dimensional axis, a single coordinate. There are many different aspects to it. All people have equal value in one sense, for one set of purposes, different values in other senses.

    But maybe Philip can elucidate?

  • neonsnake

    I recall tactfully hinting the same thing when the comment thread of a post of mine was somewhat taken over by a very similar subject – and later laughing at my complete failure to restore the thread to its subject.

    I skimmed this thread earlier today, and appreciate the heads-up.

    I swear that earlier today there was a reference to Noel Coward not wishing to offend the “ladies of Dorchester” by being openly homosexual or some such, but I can’t find it now.

    Very odd.

  • neonsnake

    Yes, that it seemed to contradict the paragraph followed by “choices”. I have seen and read the Ayn Rand passage before, and Philip was evidently of the view that this was important, and I’m curious to be clear on his opinion. As you say, it seems that the post was glitched.

  • neonsnake

    Ah, found it. It’s upthread here. Still most instructive.

  • Nullius in Verba (April 3, 2019 at 5:35 pm), the attempted analogy of your final para misses my original point.

    After 2015, when the sheep of the PC were initiated into a new way to virtue signal, I can just about imagine someone paraphrasing Dawkins as “There is no such thing as a trans kid, just a kid in the ‘care’ of the PC” but as a joke (perhaps a dark one) about some loud virtue-signalling parent, not a serious claim for all cases as Dawkins was. Before 2015, I think you would search for a while to find parents (or anyone else) who thought, if their child stated dissatisfaction with their sex, it could only be because their parents had propagated the idea to them, not from the child’s mind. The overwhelmingly common assumption (and reality) would be the reverse.

    I ridiculed Dawkins remark because I know there are children who are Christians, and other children who are atheists, of themselves, not only because they unreflectingly echo whatever their parents say on the subject. But that does not tell us whether God exists or not. It also does not tell us what those children will believe a decade later. And it hardly disqualifies any parent from saying, “You may think differently when you grow older”.

  • Paul Marks

    Islam is NOT a race – Islam is a set of beliefs and practices that come from the teachings and personal example of Muhammed (the “perfect model of conduct”).

    Muhammed himself was known as a very pale man (that is how one knew Muhammed in a crowd – he was the pale man) and he despised black people as “raisin heads” and claimed they looked like Satan. But race was NOT key to his doctrines.

    What is key to the doctrines of Islam is the legal rulings of Muhammed – and how he denounces Christians and (especially) Jews, for (in his view) failing to carry out the punishments laid down in their own holy texts.

    For example, someone who claims to be a Muslim yet rejects Muhammed’s teaching that male homosexual acts should be punished by death (“kill him who does it – and kill him to whom it is done” both the active and passive partner in male homosexual acts are to be killed) Muhammed would call a “hypocrite” (not a real follower of Islam – submission to the legal rulings of Muhammed which he claimed came from God) – and the punishment for being a “hypocrite”, in this sense, is DEATH.

    To try and have Islam without Muhammed is like trying to have the play “Hamlet” without the Danish Prince, and to try and pretend that Muhammed was a nice person is absurd. Muhammed was a military and political GENIUS – but nice he certainly was NOT.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Before 2015, I think you would search for a while to find parents (or anyone else) who thought, if their child stated dissatisfaction with their sex, it could only be because their parents had propagated the idea to them, not from the child’s mind.”

    Can you imagine someone saying it was only because they were ‘aggressively indoctrinated’ into thinking such a ‘pretended family relationship’ was ‘acceptable’ at school?

    Actually, it’s one of the more common complaints made by the parents of transgender kids, as well as schools, that others accuse them of having brainwashed their kids into it because of some liberal agenda they have. And many of them have been raising transgender kids for a lot longer than the last four years.

    https://thefederalist.com/2017/02/28/blame-parents-share-sudden-emergence-trans-kids/

    https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/aug/8/transgender-day-camp-tantamount-child-abuse/

    https://www.christiantoday.com/article/gender-unicorn-cartoon-slammed-for-brainwashing-children-into-accepting-homosexuality/92568.htm

    “I ridiculed Dawkins remark because I know there are children who are Christians, and other children who are atheists, of themselves, not only because they unreflectingly echo whatever their parents say on the subject.”

    It’s a common observation that the children of Christian parents are more often Christian than the average, the children of Jewish parents are more often Jewish, the children of Zoroastrian parents are more often Zoroastrian, and so on. No one chooses to follow the Aztec, Mayan, or Babylonian gods any more. If every child was offered the full menu of choices, and based their decision purely on the evidence in favour of the truth of each, then you ought to get the same proportions choosing each irrespective of their parents choices. But children make the same choices as their parents far more often than one would expect by chance. Why?

    Dawkins is being deliberately provocative, partly because religion makes him angry, partly to get people to think. Why do you believe this story rather than that one? What’s you evidence? Do you have any? Or do you believe because that’s what everyone else around you believes, what you’ve been raised to believe, what you’ve been told in school to believe, because it’s what “everyone knows …”?

    If you’d thought hard about the evidence and made your choice from all the options available before you was ten, then good for you! But on that basis, you can maybe sympathise with other people who went against what everyone around them believed, at great personal cost, and who have thought as long and deeply as they have about whather it was true and whether it was worth all the pain and hostility, who get told that their beliefs are the result of ‘indoctrination’ or ‘brainwashing’ or parents who were insufficiently firm with them. It’s annoying.

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