“The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”: Hegel, Moloch, and Holistic Feminism

[a note to readers: if you know me from school in real life, then please do not read my Tumblr apart from the posts I’ve linked to directly. It’s a part of my life that I want to keep separate from real life.]

I’ve been reading through Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider, and reached the essay I’ve titled my post after. I think that the eponymous catchphrase- “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” -captures something I’ve been trying to get at for a while.

There is an obvious way in which it is untrue, which is that just because a tool originates from a system that creates oppression doesn’t mean it won’t be useful. Hitler designed an excellent autobahn system, after all.

But Lorde isn’t making a simple association or genesis fallacy. It’s something rather more profound- that oppressive systems and dynamics don’t magically become non-oppressive when you substitute in different groups.

In this case she’s speaking about the non-holistic way that kyriarchy teaches women to interact with each other (underlines mine):


As women, we have been taught either to ignore our differences, or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change. Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression. But community must not mean shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.

Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference — those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older — know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.


She writes also in “Scratching the Surface” of the dysfunctional way Black people have been taught by white supremacy to regard each other:


The distortion of relationship which says “I disagree with you, so I must destroy you” leaves us as Black people with basically uncreative victories, defeated in any common struggle. This jugular vein psychology is based on the fallacy that your assertion or affirmation of self is an attack upon my self — or that defining myself with somehow prevent or retard your self-definition…

This kind of action is a prevalent error among oppressed peoples. It is based upon the false notion that there is only a limited and particular amount of freedom that must be divided between us, with the largest and juiciest pieces of liberty going as spoils to the victor or the stronger. So instead of joining together to fight for more, we quarrel between ourselves for a larger slice of the one pie. Black women fight between ourselves over men, instead of pursuing and using who we are and our strengths for lasting change; Black women and men fight between ourselves over who has more of a right to freedom, instead of seeing each other’s struggles as part of our own and vital to our common goals; Black and white women fight between ourselves who is the more oppressed, instead of seeing those areas in which our causes are the same.


Further, Lorde connects the two divisonary tactics:


The tactic of encouraging horizontal hostility to becloud more pressing issues of oppression is by no means new, nor limited to relations between women. The same tactic is used to encourage separation between Black women and Black men… energy is being wasted on fighting each other over the pitifully few crumbs allowed us rather than being used, in a joining of forces, to fight for a more realistic ratio of Black faculty. The latter would be a vertical battle against racist policies of the academic structure itself, one which could result in real power and change. It is the structure at the top which desires changelessness and which profits from these apparently endless kitchen wars.


The specific oppressive dynamic that Lorde addresses ought to be familiar to rationalists. It’s the type of coordination failure that results from individual actors reacting to rational incentives corrupt and oppressive structures which promote disunity and non-solidarity, eventually creating disadvantage to each actor, popularly known as MolochOne of kyriarchy’s main weapons is Moloch.

The development of the color line, for example, separated black and white workers who might otherwise have developed solidarity against the planters. White workers are separated from immigrant workers due to nations and ethnicity. The oppressive structures of schools place students at odds with each other, most famously in the case of “not like the other girls” misogyny and in the bullying of queer and disabled children. Trans-exclusionary radical feminists fail to include trans women as allies. Bisexual and lesbian women compete for who is most oppressed and whether the other is subversive enough. Hundreds of all examples of this exist.

The solution to this is not a metaphorical colorblindedness. The solution is accommodation, as it is with neurodivergence.

The divisions and particularities created between individuals are not grounds for separation and fear, nor are they necessary to destroy or to disregard as insignificant. Instead, they should be recognized and accommodated so as to be incorporated into a greater whole which addresses and represents both.

Things like stereotypes, like the hierarchical binary of white and nonwhite, treating difference of ideology as insurmountablethe discounting of certain types of harms, the delegitimization of different perspectives, and McCarthyism are oppressive dynamics which emanate from Moloch. The reasons they are oppressive remain constant, even if they are directed against different groups. These dynamics must be recognized in their various different forms; whenever there is a conflict it must be asked whether it is horizontal or vertical, Molochian or anti-Molochian. Regardless of targets, the dynamics – the tools of the master – remain evil; they are indeed a set of myriad double standards.

The difference between male and female ought to be be recognized as one of the differences people ought to neither erase nor base separatism out of; and which they should rather endeavor to draw strength and solidarity from.

For one of the first divisions of kyriarchy was between female and male, which often manifests as segregation between genders and otherization of different genders- i.e. oppositional sexism. A feminism that insists that men support it without supporting men is a feminism which sees difference as something to ignore; and a feminism which separates itself from men completely is a feminism which sees difference as cause for separation and suspicion. The two must be dialectically combined such that differences become ground for strength, solidarity, and accommodation, rather than separation or erasure.

The particularities of class (meaning, male/female, trans/cis, and so on) must not be erased, nor must they cause separation from the general greater society or from the individual. Instead they are united with the individual – who is inseparable from them – and with each other.

The individual is united with the particular while also remaining separate, possessing their own unique positionality; and the general moves ever closer to accommodating the individual. The greater society progresses towards unification with the particularities and therefore between individuals, but it is not one with them, for the particularities remain distinct as classes and the individuals’ needs are distinguished both from their needs as classes and as aspects of the general.

As each particularity becomes simultaneously more recognized and less divisionary, the general becomes closer and closer to becoming united as one whole, and the needs of each individual are accommodated and respected, as the ever-expanding union of the marginalized approaches victory in the battle of democracy.

Thus arises a Hegelian unity of the unity and the difference– a unity of the unity (the individual) and the difference (created by the various particularities) through the general (the society). Through solidarity, class-consciousness, and progression towards general acceptance, greater welfare is created. And thus the coordination failure is averted.

Resolving Utilitarianism

So I’ve said before that I was going to write up a post on utilitarianism. This is that post.

Note that I haven’t done much formal reading on utilitarianism, and it could be that someone else has already made these observations.

Whose Values?

Mine, of course.

There’s no great tablet sent down from high proclaiming that happiness is the ultimate good or that the repugnant solution is, truly, repugnant. It’s my moral system and my moral intuitions.

Obviously intuitions aren’t perfect; there are some obvious fallacies to be avoided (such as when people give to what is mroally salient rather than most impactful) in terms of implementation. But intuitions seem to be useful for ascertaining values.

It’s possible to create a moral system based around maximizing one’s own welfare based on game-theoretic logic about rational actors in perfect cooperation, but often people who only maximize their own welfare notice that not everyone is a perfect rational actor with perfect cooperation, so this argument falls flat for convincing its target audience. A maximizer for self-welfare wouldn’t actually act in this mannerr except under highly idealized circumstances.

The contractarian system looks quite good as long as we only consider good examples. For example, Omar’s welfare is satisfied by having everyone including him not murdered, and so are the welfares of 99% of other people, so Omar makes a contract for mutual benefit where murdering is not allowed and murderers are imprisoned or murdered. This is essentially the system we have now.

But this framework ignores the existence of preferences about others. For example, suppose that John’s welfare is satisfied only by killing everyone including himself, and that it is all-or-nothing; he wouldn’t be satisfied by only killing 10 people or by only killing himself, but rather exclusively by killing everyone including himself. John could not possibly make a contract of mutual benefit with anyone else, and as a rational actor John would want to achieve as much of his goal as possible.

This isn’t a problem for Omar’s society, since if enough people had incompatible preferences with John John would just be dead/in jail.

But now suppose that 99% of society wanted everyone killed including themselves. They make a contract for mutual benefit and maximize welfare by killing 100% of people.

Somehow this doesn’t sound very good anymore, at least not for the 1% of people who don’t want to be killed.

The exclusively contractarian framework doesn’t give us a way to distinguish between these two societies, since in both people are acting for mutual benefit. Accepting a space for non-self-maximizing intuition appears to be necessary, as does ranking preferences-about-others universally.

Game theory can be taken as a means to the intuitionist end, but not as an end in itself. Even in the above formulation, it takes individual welfare as a given.

What is Evil?

Utilitarianism does not typically concern itself with the idea of evil. I likewise have no formal definition of evil, but I use it as a shorthand for something I want to prevent in order to maximize agency.

What Repugnance?

The repugnant conclusion is the true statement that, for any (e.g.) happy population, there is a larger population in which each individual is barely happy that is equivalent in moral value. Ozy writes that it makes little sense to prefer the large population to the smaller population.

I don’t find the repugnant solution to be particularly repugnant. If everyone in the society has positive happiness – which is necessary for them to count as positive hedonic util – then it is an absurdly good society, a better one than we have here. The two societies are indeed morally equivalent.

What Measurement?

It appear customary to utilize a linear relationship of utility in terms of inputs- like, if you have, say, 10 hedons, then that converts to 10 utils. This makes sense, since if you value hedons then it’s not like one is better than the other.

There also is the system of evaluating using average utils. This has all the typical pitfalls of using averages, but could possibly be solved with judicious usage of complex statistical methods. I don’t know any complex statistical methods so I will not use the system of average utils.

No one seems to use a combination of various types of utility, which makes very little sense. In real life people value various different things. The actual mathematics are likely fiddley squiddley and, while interesting, time-consuming to model; but I will propose a intuition-based system after evaluating the various utilitarianisms. We shall call systems like my proposed system holistic systems.

It also appears customary to utilize a linear relationship of population members to utility. This strikes me as flawed, at least assuming one population. Increasing the population doesn’t necessarily scale linearly to utility. A logarithmic, logistic, or shifting geometric pattern approaching a limit would be a better system until we have e.g. space travel or access to other realms.

This article will also try to avoid certain pitfalls of thought experiments by making assumptions/implications either explicit or nullified.

Which Values?

I’m not quite sure! We appear to be able to choose between hedonics, non-suffering, preference, and eudaemonia. Let’s evaluate all of these:

Hedonic

This is the system of maximizing happiness.

Some objections indicate that we might end up forcing people to wirehead or that we might end up maximizing happiness at the expense of achievements, motivation, technology, or long-term protection.

Non-Suffering

We minimize suffering.

Unfortunately, this implies that we should be striving to kill everything which might possibly suffer, and then tile the world with nonsuffering, which likely precludes a happiness function, as any resources used for happiness are not being used to prevent suffering. There are obviously other ways to minimize suffering, but this utilitarianism makes no distinguishment between different methods except for how efficiently etc. they reach towards nonsuffering.

Preference

Maximizing the fulfillment of preferences.

Requires a large superstructure to figure out what preferences to maximize, and doesn’t distinguish between different preferences.

Eudaemonia

I’m honestly not quite sure what eudaemonia is, only that it is sort of mystical and includes everything that people would see as a good thing.

If anyone would is able to define it more extensively, I would be grateful. As it is, it seems somewhat handwave-y. “Oh, look at this ~thing~ that I think would be good to have! Let’s try to maximize that!”

What’s left? My own preferred version of utilitarianism, which I call:

Agency Utilitarianism

This maximizes the ability to refuse to do things.

It seems mostly harmless and possibly good, and can be achieved by means of the contract plan. It avoids the pitfalls of preference utilitarianism, and somewhat ignores tiling problems necessitates the existence of choices, things to do, and entities that can refuse. It distinguishes between various types of refusal by choosing the ones that maximize overall agency.

Unfortunately, it says nothing about happiness or welfare.

Tiling

The largest problem extant for all of the above is tiling- the idea that an entity maximizing any of these could destroy people and replace it with itself. If we really value these exclusively, we would be in favor of this- unless there was something else we valued that humans had.

What do I value that human people have? (Most of these things are not universals, but things which humans, as an aggregate, tend to have that AI does not. There is no shame in not having one of these- not everyone can make art, not everyone can do science, not everyone has a sexuality; but in general these are important to conserve.)

  • self-awareness– an entity that was satisfied by the speed of light being 3*10^9 would not have equivalent self-awareness to a person.
  • intuition and problem-solving skills– System 1 is still valuable for solving problems and planning ahead; we don’t yet have effective programming skills to replace this. Potentially not a problem if we’re able to program well enough to create these reliably, but not a risk I would want to take.
  • science– we have yet to program or discover something that could do science, generate experience, and discover new knowledge as well as human people can.
  • art– I really like fantasy books and imagination, and would be sad to see this gone
  • love, other emotions– while some people don’t have certain or all emotions, humanity as a whole encompasses a whole degree of interesting emotional experiences which it would be sad to lose
  • the ability to spontaneously generate new ideas– important for survival and true progress
  • attachments to each other– this is, again, not universal to humans, but something I would be sad to see go
  • sexualities– again, not universal, but valuable to me
  • general personhood, however defined

Chesterton’s fence very much applies here. I don’t want to put a hard limit on what a human is or to invent a hard definition; but all of these things are valuable.

The utility of these “human values” can be modeled by several different logarithmic-esque curves, rising sharply at lower values then approaching a limit, where x=amount of individuals with these traits and y=utility provided, so that quite a few individuals can stop having these values before they start becoming important to conserve. A higher utility would correspond to a higher x value.

This is one of the utility functions in the utility system I will be proposing below.

A Proposed Holistic System

We try to ensure that the “human values” curves do not drop below a certain value, preferably close to their limit. Only solutions in which “human values” (quotations to make it clear that they are far from universal) are above this limit are acceptable. Worlds where “human values” are above this limit are morally neutral compared to each other because of diminishing returns along the logarithmic curve. Any tiling and/or expansion that doesn’t limit the human values is morally neutral except regarding its impact on the below.

Next, we maximize agency. A world where more entities can refuse is better than one where fewer can refuse. This is done by means of a game-theoretic contract.

Finally, we maximize happiness. Rather than wireheading, we raise everyone’s hedonic baseline through e.g. head implants. We cannot decrease agency for happiness.

Future Inquiry

This ensures that we do not eliminate things that people typically value, like “human values”, thereby resolving tiling problems. It then ensures that we do not forcibly wirehead people while also providing for welfare as measured by happiness. It also provides a justification for preventing murder, enabling considered suicide, outlawing nonconsensual sexual contact, and protecting various freedoms, especially freedom of speech.

Further research could include formal mathematical models of this framework, objections to its structure, or other variants of holistic systems.

But What About Teh Menz? — an Intersectional Analysis of Misandry, Men’s Rights, and Feminism

[epistemic status: wholeheartedly endorsed, but more informal than usual as it’s a slightly edited speech I gave]

In my social circles, both in real life and online, I’ve noticed something quite odd. It’s become common for my friends to make derogatory comments about straight white cis men – to refer sneeringly to how violent they are, how much they lack emotional depth, or just as this sort of all-encompassing figure of evil.

My knee-jerk reaction here is to object to generalizations and stereotypes in general. But at the same time, though, I don’t know how many of my friends have actually been seriously hurt by straight white cis men, or how much of it is actually directed against the structures that give straight white cis males more power, or whatever.

And I also think it’s true, that straight white cis males are given more power by society.

And so I haven’t really spoken up much.

But in spite of all these valid objections, I think that in the aggregate it’s still a problem. Let’s look at the content of these statements a bit more closely.


I.

The first argument made by this type of statement is its denigration of male weakness. For example: “#masculinity so fragile”.

Fragile masculinity is part of a patriarchal gender role. It says that, in order to be seen as “real men”, men have to do all this crazy shit. They’re not supposed to not wear dresses or to be emotionally vulnerable and in general not be feminine. And they’re all straight, very very straight, and definitely not gay; and they have to make sure that everyone around them is very very straight and definitely not gay as well. They’ve got to have large penises, because God forbid that they are intersex or something shameful like that.

(And they’ve also got to buy hair shampoos that smell like log cabins for some reason.)

And all in all it’s a quite oppressive structure. Gender conformity is enforced by peers, by parents, by teachers, by both men and women (and probably nonbinaries too). Sometimes it’s just through social ostracism, but at the worst extremes it’s through assault, through hate crimes, or through abuse.

Naturally this seems like a classical issue that feminism should really be concerned with! Like, destroying gender roles is literally one of the keystone parts of feminism.

But what you see happening instead is that some, perhaps a large number of, feminists see these men being forced into oppressive gender roles, which of course don’t fit perfectly, which are hard to fit in, and you see them pointing and laughing. This was something that I fell into at one point, actually, and I think it’s hard to realize that this is what you’re doing from the inside.

For example, there are these stupid ass shampoos that they sell that smell like log cabins, remember.

And so it was a proud moment for me when some “feminist” accounts posted them with the comments, “lol can’t believe men need this to shore up their fragile masculinities haha”.

Such a proud moment; I can’t tell you how proud I was.

Let’s look at people who’ve been forced into an oppressive gender role from literally the moment they’ve been born – or sometimes later – and let’s point and laugh, because it’s fragile and pathetic that they’re trying to avoid being physically abused and socially ostracised. Let’s look at products that people actually buy because it makes them feel more comfortable in their identified gender, and let’s point and laugh, at the people buying it! Let’s look at stupid ass products made up by the media, constructed by corporations, and created by sexism; and blame it on men! Despite the fact that similar stupid ass products are marketed to women!

And by the way, I don’t mean “reverse sexism” or something. This is sexism bona fide, traditional sexism that has forced everyone into incredibly narrow gender roles. And it’s also ableism to make fun of weakness, to treat “fragile man tears” as blood in the water, and it’s ableism that’s related to misogyny- because crying and weakness, remember, are often associated with femininity.

And guess who else is often hurt by trying to fit into the oppressive male gender role? Oh, that’s right. Trans people assigned male at birth. Completely slipped my mind. I’m going to make fun of people struggling desperately to fit into the male gender role because there is no one except for Evil Shitlord Cishet White Men who could possibly be hurt by it. Yes, cishet. Because it’s not like trans men or nonbinaries assigned female at birth could be influenced by male gender roles or anything like that, right?

And who gives a shit about the precious fee-fees of Evil Shitlord Oppressor Men, anyway? Not me!

Look, yeah, gender policing or homophobia or whatever because of fragile masculinity is shit, and it sucks, and in that context I don’t mind complaining about it. But otherwise, you should think long and hard about whether you want to talk about fragile masculinity.

II.

The second argument made by this type of statement is its assumption of inherent male violence. When I look up “male violence”, on the first page of results, I find a charming little article, on a prominent feminist site, all about how “men don’t like being reminded of the fact that their sex class is demonstrably, undeniably, indisputably… more violent than ours”. The article then started talking about how “they do this shit, … and then they have the nerve to get offended when women are suspicious of them”.

And holy fuck, no.

The author tries to play it off as “regardless of race, religion, or class”. But you do not get to de-racialize, de-religionize, and de-class an issue that is intrinsically related to race, religion, and class.

The idea of men as these inherently violent, white woman-abusing class is racial. The worst lynchings and murders in American history are based on “defending” white women from “inherently violent” black men. The fear of nonwhite men, particularly Latinos, defiling the white women and attacking law-abiding white citizens, is the core of Trump’s case against immigrants and the core of the abusive and brutal policing of racial minorities. And let’s not even get into the way that Arab and Muslim men are seen by society as this evil terrorist threat, who keep white women in harems and attack white Americans.

Let’s not get into the way that seeing men as inherently violent was used to keep (white) women indoors, cloistered virgins protected by their fathers against the brutish poor men, who must be kept away from them at all costs.

Let’s not address the fact that neurodivergent men are routinely painted as monstrous threats, who therefore must be placed in institutions against their will or forcibly medicated because they are psychotic and freaks and dangerous to society [1], because they stand too close and walk too oddly or because they have hallucinations and delusions, and this must make them the next school shooter. Let’s ignore that physically disabled men and disabled people are by turns degendered or constructed as monsters by this analysis.

Let’s not address the way that this narrative of men as inherently violent, combined with transphobia, oppresses trans people assigned male at birth, who must therefore be prevented from infiltrating cis women’s bathrooms and cis women’s feminism and cis women’s spaces. Let’s ignore the way that this shames and guilts trans men and nonbinaries of any asab. Let’s ignore the way that these direct aggressive attacks on men and masculinity exacerbate scrupulosity.

No, let’s ignore all of that and focus on how oppressed neurotypical cisgender white women are. By men. #Yes All Men.

And this isn’t just one article! In articles in this vein, it’s routinely stated that men are creepy, that assault against (white) women is just this huge huge problem that is all the fault of men, that sexual assault is inherently a gendered crime of a man against a woman, and that the violence primarily runs one way, man against woman.

And the thing is that, in addition to the other issues that seeing men as inherently violent has, it’s dangerous as well.

It’s dangerous because it allows for the erasure of male victims of abuse. The conversation around violent assault and domestic abuse is often explicitly focused on males as the abusers and women as the victims. This erases male victims, female abusers, and non-straight instances of abuse. By law, donations can only go to women’s domestic violence centers, not men’s. Women are less likely to be convicted of crimes than men. And the legal definition of rape requires penetration to “count”, excluding rape by envelopment and instances of non-straight rape.  Male survivors of domestic abuse are sometimes accused of “really” being the abusers themselves, and feminist movements rally around female abusers like Zoe Quinn.

This construction of men as inherently or even mostly violent plays into sexist gender roles and stereotypes.

Because it’s not a coincidence that people who society sees as male, that the ones who are oppressed on other axes are constructed as these threatening caricatures of violence. It’s because of race and ethnicity and class, it’s because of neurodiversity and not actually being a man; and it’s also because of the way that gender roles intersect with these oppressions.

The gendered construction [1] a man under patriarchy is that of violence. Masculinity and men are constructed as inherently violent and as inherently threats.

And this construction is part of what colors nonwhite men, poor men, neurodivergent men, and trans people assigned male at birth as violent aggressors. And making sure to specify that it’s not nonwhite men, poor men, or neurodivergent men doesn’t actually help any of those men! The ~feminist~ construction still feeds into stereotypes of trans people assigned male at birth as aggressive, invasive aggressors. The construction still reinforces patriarchy. And it does erase the straight white cis male victims of violence.

Men are not inherently or primarily violent. Power dynamics do not flow in one direction. We forget this at others’ peril.

III.

The third argument made by this type of statement is its construction of straight male sexuality as defilement. Like everything else here I’ve discussed here, the construction of male sexuality as defilement doesn’t originate in feminism. It originates in society. (White) women were encouraged to remain inside, prim and proper and pure and modest, away from the defiling gaze of men. The institution of marriage was created in part to “protect” women from onlookers. The famous Madonna-Whore complex describes a man who cannot see his beloved as sexual, for she is too pure for his dirty desires; and simultaneously he cannot see a prostitute as worthy of love, for she has been defiled.

The ways that these structures hurt women have been well-documented, and it is well that they have been. But their root lies not only in misogyny, but also in the patriarchal construction of maleness and masculinity as defilement.

The most recent manifestation of this has been the unending castigations of straight male sexuality: for looking at women, for enjoying books and video games with attractive nubile women, for undressing women in their minds. And these criticisms certainly have value; women aren’t public objects, to be gawked at and objectified, nor should the only female representation in media be a flat character with extremely nonflat breasts.

But sometimes the criticism has gone too far. Certain brands of feminist rhetoric denounce simultaneously the intrusiveness of ever being asked out by a (creepy) man and the entitlement of a (creepy) man waiting for women to ask him out, insisting that the only reason that a man might stand close to someone or talk too much is because he is creepy. The anti-objectification movement has at times decried the practice of ever looking at pictures of nubile women with large breasts.

It would be bad enough if only cishet straight white men were negatively affected by this; no one should feel ashamed of their sexuality in and of itself, nor should they be shamed for social awkwardness or shyness.

But, predictably, the reinforcement of negative stereotypes of “male” sexuality has negative effects for people who are oppressed on other axes.

Women who are attracted to other women, for example, or really anyone attracted to women, are shamed by this rhetoric if their sexualities are “male” and not properly pure and female. Trans and gender nonconforming people assigned male at birth have been attacked for their sexualities and genders as perverts and deceivers. Neurodivergent and socially awkward men in particular are shamed for their social behavior, and the overtly accusatory nature of this rhetoric exacerbates anxiety and depression. So-called “chasers” are constructed as monsters in this rhetoric, which of course has spillover effects on trans people.

And male rape victims are sometimes dismissed with victim-blaming rhetoric that insists they must have wanted it, because of the construction of male sexuality as ever-present and all-wanting.

Gender essentialism and sexuality-shaming are never acceptable, and while feminist critiques of straight male behavior are entirely necessary and welcome, their negative implications and effects on non-straight males and non-straight non-males must be considered.

Typically, pretty much everyone would realize that making large generalizations about large groups of people, generalizations that use traditional prejudices structurally embedded in society, was kind of sketchy, and they’d stop. But that’s not what’s happening here.

And I think it’s because we’re encouraged to see straight white cis males as Literally the Most Privileged Shitlords, who we’re allowed to mock. It’s like they’ve become the Other, those outsiders who we identify against because we know that they can’t be hurt, or if they are hurt it is acceptable to mock them.

But the thing is that, yeah, straight white cis males are privileged as a class. But at the same time, there are real and true structural injuries against the Privileged Shitlords too, on account of and inseparable from their maleness and their straightness- and because of intersectionality, inseparable from their cisness and whiteness as well.

And insulting straight white cis men on gendered grounds can’t be separated from insulting all men, or all people seen as men, or all people who share that behavior or attribute. There is necessarily and inherently damage and hurt involved in sexist generalizations about men due to the way that maleness and masculinity intersect with other oppressions.

And the fact that people don’t seem to realize this, it makes me pretty damn uncomfortable.


We don’t teach our boys to love and yet they do, they do love and they are vulnerable and they are emotional; and that’s the thing, the entire thing of it, that patriarchy doesn’t make people inhuman and hollow and empty, because it can’t, even though it tries.

The feminism that I love, the feminism that I would love, knows this. It knows that people are people and that men are capable of love and vulnerability and legitimate hurt.

It knows that power doesn’t flow one way and that oppressions are myriad. It knows that it first and foremost it needs to do good, and only after does it need to look good.

It knows that activism doesn’t mean screaming at people or demanding ideological conformity. It knows that listening and caring and hearing others is important and valuable  and necessary.

It knows that men aren’t the enemy. It knows that misandry as a societal structure exists in both gender roles and in a hatred and disgust for men.

It knows that men are sometimes oppressed, and that women sometimes have privilege.

And this vision isn’t what feminism looks like now.


Related

I owe a lot of my thoughts here to these sources, especially the Unit of Caring.


[1] – These parts were edited based on Aapje’s comments here:


I would argue that the hyperagent role that is forced on men results in their behavior being far more often regarded as their own choice and/or indicative of their true character, while women are more often regarded as victims of circumstance. So when a man behaves in socially maladapted way, it is far more likely that he is classified as a ‘creep’. When a woman behaves similarly, people will look harder for explanations that do not reflect on her character (‘she is just drunk’). When no (somewhat reasonable) external explanation is available, she would most likely be called ‘crazy.’

The connotation of ‘creep’ is primarily that one is a threat to women, while ‘crazy’ is more neutral. So in the terms we also see the sexist assumption that socially maladapted men are a threat specifically to women, but not vice versa.

Note that feminism usually does address the other side of the same medal, for example that women are assumed to be less capable than men or that workplace successes are less likely to be credited to them.

Ironically, because the downsides to the male gender role are often downplayed, feminism quite often becomes male normative, where behavior that is forced on men is regarded as the endpoint of an equal society. For example, it is often assumed that an equal number of women would want climb the ladder to become CEO or high-level politician, even though society conditions men to work long hours, accept worse working conditions even if they don’t really need the money, accept not spending a lot of time with the kids, etc.

So where for many feminists a relative lack of female CEOs is considered to reflect oppression of women, I think that it primarily shows that men are strongly conditioned to sacrifice quality of life for rather useless status and money that they don’t have time to (meaningfully) spend.


I am a Trans Woman and I am Not Coming Out

The Unit of Caring

Sine Salvatorem

My Anti-SJ Write-Up on Thing of Things

Scrupulosity, Objectification, and Trans Obsession: Part 1

Urging Restraint and Social Justice Norms

Serano’s Why Myriad Oppressions

(Also Foucault.)

Scrupulosity, Objectification, and Trans Obsession, Part 1: In Defense of Chasers

[a followup to the girlfags post]

I.

Before I came out to myself as trans, I was absolutely obsessed with trans people. I spent all of my free time reading Julia Serano and tsroadmap and Not Another Aedan and Quora’s Transgender topic and Jack Molay’s Crossdreamers site. I followed trans accounts on Instagram. I read Ozy’s blog and their Tumblr tag speshul snowflake trans and virtually anything else I could find of theirs.

My entire goddamn life was centered around transness.

But most of all I was obsessed with the stories and bodies of trans women. I was desperate for transfemininity and transfemaleness. I would scour pictures of trans women and analyze them for male and female traits. I would read tips for dilating after surgery and articles by Andrea James about facial feminization surgery [1].

And worst of all I would stare at trans girls at my school, and then I would quickly look away, hoping I hadn’t made any of them feel objectified or ashamed.

This entire obsession, however, was not pleasant. I would often feel an aching in my chest, a certain empathy and relation and identification-with. I once read a post about binding safely for trans men, and then went to bed feeling quite strange because it felt uncomfortably close to home. It felt like my heart was breaking and becoming exalted at the same time.

Of course, I rationally attributed this to intruding on a trans space as an Evil Cis Oppressor. Obviously.

And all through this I told myself that I was just being a good cis ally for my trans male friend.

And all through this I felt slightly dirty and guilty.

You see, I had a major crush on him that was very directly related to his transness. I obsessed about his transition. I obsessed about his masculinity. I obsessed over his experience and felt extreme joy when he told me about his successes and disappointments in coming out. I desperately wondered how it must have been for him, to live as the wrong gender and to be treated as the wrong gender.

But all through that year, I never asked him about it. I had read all of the requisite guides for cis allies, and all of them were in agreement: don’t ask intrusive questions. Don’t ask a trans person a question you wouldn’t ask a cis person. Don’t bring “it” up. Don’t pressure trans people into telling you things; wait for them to initiate.

And so I concluded that any questions about transness, any curiosity, any scrutiny, were pressure and transphobia and unfair. And so when I finally asked him a question – how he knew that he was male – it was only after months and months of internal obsession, and I felt guilty and as though I ought to apologize to him immediately afterwards. I worried that I had pressured him or that he now felt that he was illegitimate.

It was only after I was almost entirely sure that I was some kind of weirdly-gendered that we were able to have a conversation about transness and gender and experimentation.

And in addition to the typical guides for cis allies, there was the omniscient “chaser” classification. It was a rather ambiguous term, but the meaning that I absorbed was “anyone who is ever attracted to trans people, especially but not limited to trans women, who is interested in their transness, which is BAD BAD BAD”.

Reading these articles, I became increasingly worried. Was I objectifying trans people? Was I hurting the people I admired and respected by thinking they were more beautiful than cis people? Was I pedestalizing them by even caring about trans issues?

And so it was only after I had already realized that I was trans that I told my friend that I had a crush on him. Because otherwise I would be a disgusting cis person forcing myself on a trans person. And I would be seeing him as beautiful, possibly due to or related to his transness (which, remember, I was hyperfocused on). And that would be BAD and EVIL and WRONG because it was not Official Social Justice Approved (TM)

and then he would HATE ME and it would all be MY FAULT and EVERYONE I KNEW WOULD HATE ME and our entire friendship would be DESTROYED and maybe he would just be TOO UPSET TO EVEN TALK TO ME and I WOULDN’T KNOW I HAD FUCKED UP

and so of course I had to preempt that by apologizing constantly for minor discretions.

Obviously there’s something extremely fucked up about this mindset.

Social justice didn’t do shit for me when I was upset and scared and anxious about hurting someone. Social justice was the person screaming at me that it was all my fault and that, as a privileged person, it wasn’t my place to expect my friend to educate me or talk to me or give me any of his time or to be clear about the state of our relationship; it was the person shouting at me “you PRIVILEGED PIECe oF ShIT, STOP FORCING YOURSELF ON TRANS PEOPLE AND ASKING FOR EMOTIONAL LABOR”.

(My friend himself is very charitable and cares a lot about me. He would not have minded me telling him that I had a crush on him.)

And this whole thing where trans-focused sj screws over trans people- it isn’t just me. If it were, I would just pass it off as a weird quirk of myself.

But it isn’t. Sine Salvatorem on Tumblr relates a similar story here:


When I first learned that transpeople existed, I was fascinated. It’s clear in retrospect that the fascination was caused by me realising on some level that I was trans, but every time the thought popped into my head, I’d kill it. I am from an extremely homophobic society. I’ve been bullied all my life for being feminine. I was called “faggot” more often than my birth name for years. I was not particularly open minded to the idea that my bullies were at all correct.

So 11 year old me I visited a bunch of websites about transpeople and thought “that’s so cool, they’re just like me – except I’m a straight male, so not reeeally – but otherwise completely the same!” Yes, I was deep in double-think.

Eventually I decided that, if we’re so similar, I should talk to one. Heck, we could be friends! I was already mostly friends with girls, and transwomen are women, so I should have no problem. And, since transwomen are women, I could date one too, if they were interested. After all, it only makes sense to date people with whom you have common interests.

The first transgender-issues website I visited that had a forum had a list of rules to go with it. I diligently read all of the rules. Only one stood out and confused me. “No chasers allowed.”

I messaged the forum administrators and asked what a “chaser” was. I was told that a chaser was a straight man who wanted to date transwomen. I said that this didn’t make sense as a category of people to be opposed to, because a lot of transwomen date straight men. It was then explained to me that, no, the actual important thing is that they obsess over transpeople. That they read all about them and think a lot about transness and also would like to date them. When you put the two things together, what you were left with was the objectively worst human being who could exist.

And then 11 year old me wanted to die.

As it happens, she didn’t kill herself, she finally (consciously) realised she was trans at 14 (with help from 4chan, of all places), and she stopped worrying that thinking about transpeople was Inherently Awful.

But there is a part of me that will always loath the very concept of “chasers” and, by extension, the idea that you can be a bad person as a result of being attracted to $CATEGORY.


Her statement at the end rings quite true for me. People who prefer trans people to cis people, people who are fascinated by transness, people who obsess over the lives of trans people, are very likely trans or gender nonconforming themselves.

But let’s pretend that every single person who was attracted to trans people and transness and gender variance was cis (and, probably, male).

Even then, they would deserve to be defended and protected and included. Cis men who love trans people are marginalized by the gender role that tells them that they must be attracted only to a specific type of cis woman. They are marginalized by the transmisogyny that tells them that trans women are not real women, and that therefore they cannot be attracted to them.

Moreover, men are marginalized by means of association and role-based misandry. Under patriarchy, the “effeminacy” of trans women pollutes anyone who tolerates or accepts or is attracted to them, especially cis men.

People who love trans people and who are obsessed with us deserve not only to be tolerated, but to be actively welcomed with open arms. Too much admiration and love for trans people, based around our being trans, has rarely hurt us. And this is not least because some of these people might be trans themselves.

Individual readers are encouraged to enforce any boundary they so desire, including a dislike for people who obsess about trans people. But on a community level, something needs to change.

II.

In her (otherwise excellent) essay defending partners, Serano writes that she believes that someone “who is only attracted to trans people, but not at all to cis people” is extraordinarily rare and likely does not exist. In explaining her reasoning as to why she believes that trans-attracted cis people are not fetishists or weird, she takes pains to say that “the vast majority of” men attracted to trans women “also are attracted to women more generally”.

But Serano doesn’t take her acceptance and inclusion far enough.

Reading this, I was not comforted. I worried that the acceptability of my attraction to trans people and the quality of being trans hinged on it being equal to my attraction to cis people. I worried that, again, I was being fetishizing by preferring trans people to cis people.

And I am sure, almost entirely sure, that this was not Serano’s intention.

But it was what I understood from the post.

This type of misunderstanding seems fairly common, actually, especially regarding attraction to women and objectification. The Scott Aaronson affair, for example, is a prime example of a quite conscientious, well-meaning young man reading feminist messages about attraction to women (objectification is wrong! it makes me feel uncomfortable to imagine that boys are attracted to me! I wish men weren’t so entitled!) and internalizing them to the point that he wanted to be chemically castrated. The Unit of Caring also similarly details her guilt and anxiety about being attracted to girls here and here.

Ozy Frantz describes this type of thinking as scrupulosity: an anxiety disorder that creates excessive guilt and excessive worrying about fairly minor moral transgressions. And this explanation rings true for me as well.

Scott Aaronson, the Unit of Caring, Sine Salvatorem, and I read legitimate, bitter accounts of how women were hurt by male power and male sexuality. I read well-intentioned guides for cis people, written by trans people frustrated by the presumption that their genitals and surgery decisions were considered public property.

Aaronson and the Unit of Caring concluded that attraction to women was wrong. And Sine Salvatorem and I, despite not being men, concluded that attraction to trans women and transness was wrong; and I applied this, however fallaciously, to trans men as well [2].

It seems to me that there is are several common threads here. The objections to both the sexual desire and the question-asking are both about treating women and/or trans people as means to goals, either for discovering new information or for achieving sexual satiation. This is a practice commonly known as objectification.

But this concern for respecting others, when phrased aggressively, can and does lead to a lack of accessibility for neurodivergences.

And, as Serano states, the issues with treating women as objects or trans people as objects or trans women as objects, and not people, are indeed real and true issues. But, as with Scott Alexander’s hangups with objectification, most of the damage seems to be tangential to the attraction itself.

Because of the disdain for admirers and those who preferred trans people to cis people in general, I used to worry that I was objectifying my friend. It was unbearably painful for me to think about – that I was hurting him, that I might hurt him, my first love – and almost as consuming as the obsession with transness itself.

And so one of my friends told me this: that we don’t love objects. We don’t cherish them and hope for them and want them to flourish.

We dispose of them as soon as we are done with them, and we don’t look back.

III.

If some people treat trans people as less than human or as simple receptacles for sex, then that’s obviously shitty. It’s obviously wrong. But the wrong part is not that they admire us or because they’re romantically or sexually attracted to us. It’s that they’re assholes about it.

Similarly, if some people treat women as less than human or as simple receptacles for sex, then that’s obviously shitty. But the problem is not the attraction to women. It is that they’re assholes about it.

So to anyone who is reading this who is involved in social justice:

First, viz. statements directed at, for example, men who catcall or who objectify, or cis people who ask trans people about their genitalia:

Anger and rage have their places and serve an essential purpose in sj. But when attempting to talk to others, accusations and blame are not always optimal, and the percentage of outraged and highly targeted articles in social justice activism should be lower when the goal is the conversion of outsiders, e.g. in “101 spaces” for “education” [3].

Instead, what would be helpful for some segments of the population would be actionable guides, possibly with scripts, for how to either avoid hurting people or for mitigating the potential harms. These guides would be optimal if they avoided placing blame or using sweeping moral generalizations about behavior.

Claiming that “this isn’t about casting blame; if you once did [thing that one has just described as incredibly horrible and harmful and sexist and transphobic] then just don’t do it again! :)” does not actually prevent people from being guilty, upset, or worried, and in fact makes them feel even worse for feeling guilty, upset, and worried.

These explanations of harm also do not add to the guides’ persuasiveness for the scrupulous- scrupulous people already care intensely about your welbeing to the point that a few short sentences will suffice.

Instead, there should be a higher percentage of articles where the writers anticipate scrupulosity, and then specifically and methodically address particular anxieties that might be caused by their rhetoric.

There should also be a higher percentage of Trans101 articles written for closeted trans people, taking the perspective of “transness is a thing, you might be trans too!” See for example this article here.

I would also appreciate if preferences were not expressed, explicitly, not as absolutes (“don’t ever ask trans people about their genders! ever! all trans people agree with me and there are no nuances here whatsoever”). Expressing them as nuanced issues with multiple graduations of scale, like most social issues, would be more productive and accessible to me and some other people with scrupulosity like me [4].

This would also enable the movement to outreach to men, who are often turned off by feminist analyses of the evilness of “male” sexuality [5]. It would be more inclusive of contrary viewpoints from within marginalized groups. And finally, it would aid (some) neurodivergent people and (some) socially awkward people through providing social skills advice.

Of course, this isn’t the best course of action for everyone. There is always a place for rage, anger, and denunciations of privilege. I am aware that some pro-sj people might have scrupulosity as well, or limited time, or a desire to create stronger rhetoric. I do not think that their activism should be paralyzed, either.

But I also think that there should be a space for more nuanced discussion; attempts at more nuanced discussion should not be met with accusations of privilege, insufficient radicalism, or insufficient commitment to sj ideals.

The places for rage and the places for nuanced discussion should not always or even usually be the same place, necessarily, but the majority of activism for converting privileged people should be open for nuanced discussion, disagreement, and debate.

Second, viz. a dislike of chasers specifically:

I think that I actually disagree with some people here, in that I think that obsession with and interest in transness is, in some cases not only acceptable but desirable.

People who have different preferences than I, or who feel objectified when seen as specifically “trans people” ought to have a place as well to express their concerns, to other trans people, in spaces limited to trans people only (ETA: or to non-chaser allies). I support their competing access needs and will defend their safe spaces ardently.

But the majority of trans spaces ought to support, defend, and welcome non-trans and questioning people. The first Google result for a trans forum and the search term “transgender” should be accessible to the scrupulous. It should also be both readable, understandable, and nuanced. My experience and Sine Salvatorem’s experience of trans activism will thus be less common.

Moreover, if non-trans people and admirers/chasers are part of the community, then it will be easier to ask for behavioral changes. Treating trans people like people, instead of as disposable objects, naturally emanates from being part of a trans community. Some of these demands [6] also ought to be accessible for the scrupulous and highly nuanced; others ought to be more aggressively phrased and guilt-inducing. (See SSC’s article about different ideological needs here.)

All of them, however, should include clear, actionable, and concrete advice. If social justice is to ever achieve anything, then its demands must be clear, actionable, and concrete. If demands are opaque, people do not understand what they mean even if they agree. If demands are not actionable, then even if people understand what they mean they will be able to do nothing. And if demands are not concrete, then even if people are able to do something it will have little impact on the real conditions of the oppressed.

And finally, social justice activists should keep in mind that advice and denunciations and rage have spillover effects. Even if the specified target is “straight white cis men”, you will end up talking about other people, including queers and nonwhites and trans people and non-men.

Straight white cis men do not deserve to be hurt and made anxious either, but I doubt that that would be a compelling argument within social justice activism.

IV.

To the Scotts Aaronson of the world, the Sine Salvatorems and the Units of Caring- I love you, and I stand in solidarity with you. You, more than anyone, are the people I will fight for, the people I will stand with, and the people I will write long rambling blog posts for.


Footnotes

[1] – To be clear, I’m assigned-female at birth. I am not entirely sure why I cared so much about dilating after surgery, since I already have a vagina and definitely would like it to be cut out.

It was probably because it meant that I could read about trans things without having to feel weird and oddly insecure about myself, as reading transmasculine things would have.

[2] – Yes, I failed at intersectionality here; I am aware that the posited oppressiveness of chasers is experienced not as simply trans oppression or as simply female oppression, but as transfemale oppression.

But most of the arguments against chasers apply to admiring trans men too: it’s a fetish, it’s treating transness as an interesting feature rather than seeing the whole person, it’s hurting the targets, it’s treating trans people differently than cis people of their identified genders and thus implying they are not real, it’s applying undue scrutiny and importance on their transness.

Practically the only arguments it doesn’t share are so tangential that I managed to miss them without more reflection. There is the one about how trans women are seen as sex objects and prostitutes due to being women. The other argument is about how trans women are subject to constant sexualization around men and in friendships with men (e.g., the whole redpiller/friendzone/Nice Guy type topic), and so chasers are hurtful in that way.

But I applied what I saw as the feminist position on the friendzone/Nice Guy subject to my crush as well, because I reasoned that if some women felt hurt and pressured when their friends turned out to have crushes on them, then some men (especially my extremely sensitive, eager-to-please crush) must also feel hurt and pressured when their friends turned out to have crushes on them.

(I would appreciate if no one tried to claim that I only applied these things to my crush because I subconsciously saw him as a woman. I tend to reason in general meta-principles and general rules, as in Prisoner’s Dilemma or Lockean social contract situations, and I rarely am able to apply the idea of privilege on a gut emotional level.)

And transness is placed front and center here. The arguments that I have seen aren’t talking about how trans women are hurt by men becoming obsessed with one particular part of them; it’s talking about how transness is the thing that men become obsessed with. This clearly indicates that transness is a bad thing for men to have an obsession with (and by extension everyone else, since I imagine a trans woman who disliked male obsession with her transness ould be no more pleased by nonbinary or female obsession in the same situation).

And people afflicted by scrupulosity are not particularly good at discerning the applicability of difficult concepts like intersectionality when it comes to things we could guilt ourselves over.

[3] – “101 space” and “education” are terms I dislike for aesthetic reasons. I also dislike them because they imply that the discussion should not take place on equal ground. They imply that there are no legitimate arguments to be made or doubt that can be had against social justice ideas, which is in essence a request for ideological submission on pain of moral failing.

[4] – See The Unit of Caring and Ozy’s post linked to before for the origin of these ideas.

[5] – The idea of an archetypal “male” sexuality is rooted in oppositional sexism, the pedestalization of women, and the denigration of men as undesirable, polluted, and disposable. Feminists and activists should reconsider their usage of this term. The Unit of Caring and Julia Serano have both influenced my view on this considerably.

[6] – I have read multiple articles about how the word “demand”, rather than “request”, is empowering. I don’t doubt that it feels empowering, but I doubt that it is really the most effective way of proselytizing. These statements have also made me feel anxious – am I not taking a hard enough line? Am I not empowering myself enough? Should I be harsher?

So I’m not a fan. But I recognize that these might be real needs. I wish, however, that they weren’t framed as absolutes.


Part 2, a guide regarding trans and/or female objectification, will be up soon.

See also the related discussion of men’s issues here.

Beowulf Was Amazing

[written on kind of a lark as self-parody]

Beowulf ought to be considered as a proto-Objectivist, proto-Kahneman, and pro-individualistic work.

In the first lines of Beowulf, the time period is clearly established: “in days long past”. This sets the stage for the entire piece, representing an ardent longing for the past and the glory of the ancients.

Unlike Christian and modern-day universalizing ideologies, Beowulf makes no pretenses concerning its applicability to timeless themes and diverse audiences. It is insistently and unapologetically focused on a random Scandinavian warlord who went around slaying monsters. And the poem echoes with a certain kind of love, the love of a patriot for his country, his ethnicity, the honor of a good man.

And Beowulf really was a good man. He did not only what he was supposed to, but far above and beyond. He killed Grendel for the sake of kinship, saving the thanes and subjects of his relative’s mead-hall, risking life an limb for the sake of his cousin. He killed Grendel’s mother for his relative again, fulfilling his duty to his kin and country. And near the end of his life, old and frail, he sought to kill a dragon for his people.

You might believe that this is in adherence to altruism. But you would be wrong. Because everything that he did, he did for the sake of his own glory.

At the end of the story, Beowulf lays dead by the dragon’s hand, having created a kingdom for his people. The kingdom has fallen. The cycle, endless, has struck him down: even Beowulf, hero of men, cannot escape death, destroyer of life. Even Beowulf cannot subvert the engine of history, the rise and fall of empire. Even Beowulf, in all his honor, could not prevent pain, could not prevent failure. The wailing of the widow near the end is testament to his eternal failure.

This recognition, that even the strongest must fall and that even the most virtuous shall be punished, that destiny is overbearing, is in one sense fatalistic.

But in another it’s aspirational.

Kahneman says in Thinking, Fast and Slow, that most people don’t recognize the influence of outside factors on outcomes; random chance often determines winners and losers. This sounds suspiciously like Beowulf‘s idea of destiny. Where a Christian-descended moralist would point fingers and place blame and claim justice in the workings of the world, Beowulf recognizes the inherent absence of justice (and simultaneous absence of injustice) of the world itself.

This concept fits the medieval Arab concept of the rise and fall of empires through decadence, but without trying to attribute causes and effects. There is no grand reason that Beowulf died nor is there any reason that the Geats were destined to fall from grace. Beowulf died because he fought a dragon, and it was his time to die. The Geats fell from grace because Beowulf died fighting a dragon. There was no inherent issue that led to the Geatish fall, no particular meaning for history other than the inevitability of destiny. Modern historians would look for inherent issues or inherent contradictions within Beowulf’s regime that caused his fall.

But in Beowulf, it simply is.

This resembles, again, Kahneman’s explanation of regression to the mean – typically countries are not empires and countries will usually return to the mean nothwithstanding exceptional factors.

But what’s really lovely here is the recognition of ambition and honor for the self. The book is a practically Objectivist take on selfishness; Beowulf remains a hero, beloved of the narrative, because of his egotistical pursuit of personal achievement and the subsumation of others beneath him.

Of course, his proto-Objectivist standpoint is limited by his culture, remaining an altruistic slave-morality, focused on concepts like duty and honor. But within the time period, Beowulf is able to maximize his own utility highly efficiently. Its emphasis on duty might be considered to contradict this overall message of individualism; rather, the emotional and interpersonal benefits of fulfilling and valuing duty are inherently proto-Objectivist when combined with the ideal of competition with others without governmental accountability or overbearing regulations.

Similarly, the part where the other men abandon Beowulf, leaving him to fight the dragon alone, clearly demonstrates their inability to act in their own self-interest. It mirrors the explanation that Yudkowsky’s Tom Riddle gives for abandoning heroism: that other people will actively hinder net-positive deeds. Yudkowsky’s beliefs and statements about the duty of heroism, for all people and in defense of all people, are clearly outlined in Beowulf‘s emphasis on individual heroism. In a Yudkowskian paradigm, heroism is constructed as an act of rational self-interest, not in the shallow sense of the self-fulfillment of values, but in the sense that individiual actors should take the action that they would prefer that other similar actors would take in similar situations, while also admitting large power differentials that create heroes, which Yudkowsky sometimes frames as a PC/NPC distinction. Beowulf’s multiple slayings echo Yudkowskian decision theory as well as the recognition of power differentials.

The poem is a thorough repudiation of the anti-individualist currents of modern society, relying on a traditionalist version of Kahneman’s ideas. It also fuses Objectivism with Yudkowsky’s egalitarian humanist construction of heroism.


The only flaw in Beowulf‘s philosophical paradigm is that it ignores the possibility of destroying the cycle- the cycle of rise and fall, the cycle of destiny, the cycle of life and death. Considered from a transhumanist perspective, the story’s conceit of Beowulf’s death at the hand of a dragon as inevitable destiny is tragic.

But the story offers hope- Wiglaf, like Yudkowsky’s Hermione, is perfectly positioned to subvert destiny. And so the story ends on a hopeful note.

A Love Letter to Girlfags

[this post assumes a modicum of familiarity with trans terminology – such as “assigned-male” and “assigned-female” as well as “nonbinary”]

[a girlfag is an assigned-female person who sees part of her sexuality as being similar to a gay man’s]

[this is a somewhat girlfag-focused post, but a majority of the advice should be useful for guydykes and gender-questioning people as well]

[obvious warning for homophobic slurs is obvious, but nonobvious warning for discussion of transmisandry and transmisogyny is nonobvious]

No one is really sure what to do with girlfags. Some people have (predictably) yelled at them for being straight girls appropriating male queerness. Other people have written strange yaoi-focused analysis posts on them. Still others have written long blog posts translated entirely from German or framed as “Girlfags: This is Some Weird Shit, Man” .

So, as a supporter or girlfags and a former girlfag myself, I thought that I might like to add to the discussion and to perhaps help along some girlfags desperately searching the interwebs for something to relate to. There is a certain dearth of helpful advice aimed at girlfags (though there is a girlfag group on LiveJournal that’s occasionally interesting!), and I’d like to fill the gap.

1. We should really change the fucking name. I have never read a single article where anyone, including girlfags, thought the name was a good idea, and by God I have read a lot of articles about girlfaggery. (I had to click to the second page of Google results. I was that desperate. It was tragic.) At this point, no one likes the name, it’s pointlessly inflammatory, and if I have to read one more article talking about the name’s origins I’m going to forcibly erase all mentions of “girlfag” from the Internet by means of Unfriendly AI.

One of the major reasons that “Girlfag” is a pretty terrible name is that it predisposes people to thinking we are a bunch of str8 white girl homophobes. I suggest that we change this to gaymale woman, as that mirrors the German schwul-woman appellation, and additionally it does not include a homophobic slur, which is always a plus.

“Guydyke” might be okay since dyke has been reclaimed to a larger extent, but it also seems to imply homophobia. I suggest we amend this to male lesbian or lesbian man. These will still be controversial – the major issue at stake here is sexist and transphobic ideas – but these words have the advantage of clarity and also of not being homophobic slurs.

Did I mention that the word “fag” is a homophobic slur?

(Because the word “fag” is a homophobic slur.)

2. It is not homophobic to be drawn to effeminate gaymale stereotypes.

The articles I read often tried to divide girlfags into ultra-feminine and masculine. The ultra-feminine girlfags often talked about feeling like extremely gay men.

And hearing them talk about that was one of the most validating things I’d ever felt in my life. There had been multiple times when I’d felt like an extremely effeminate gay man, and until these gaymale women shared their experiences no one had ever told me it was not only okay, but also real and legitimate to feel like an effeminate gay man.

For example, whenever I wore a blouse or a skirt, I felt like this absolutely fabulous man:

agador

…who is also the page image for the tvtropes article on Camp Gay stereotypes.

Everyone agrees that gay stereotypes are bad. Some gay people are camp. Some gay people are not. If you’re writing a book and your only gaymale character is camp, then maybe you should try to write a non-camp gaymale character in your next book or as an additional character as well. Or maybe you could flesh out his personality while still keeping him campy!

But having camp gaymale characters in media is not wrong, because camp gay men exist in real life too.

There’s something of a movement for fewer stereotypes in literature, and of course this is a good thing to support. But at times this movement implies that it’s not okay to be stereotypical in real life, or that people who fit stereotypes shouldn’t be represented in the media.

There exists a certain type of gay man who has declared, very firmly, that they are DEFINITELY NOT CAMPY and NOT THAT KIND OF GAY and JUST A NORMAL PERSON.

And, fine, it’s likely important for them and maybe it is necessary for them. And there is nothing wrong with existing and being vocal about it as a non-campy gay man, either!

But there is something deeply uncomfortable with purposefully distancing yourself from campy gay men and effeminate men.

There’s a phrase for this, and like many excellent concepts it comes from the black womanists. Respectability politics is where, in a quest for acceptance into “normal” society, a member of an ostracized group disowns and denounces less normal members. It’s the same type of dynamic that goes into “no homo” proclamations between ostensibly straight men- you don’t want to be a weirdo, and so you’ve got to distance yourself from the weirdness [1].

And maybe it’s necessary, maybe it’s politically the best thing. It’s not worse than a straight person distancing themselves from effeminate people, after all.

But playing respectability politics is a dirty tactic and a dirty game. It hurts people; and in this case it hurts effeminate people and often trans women particularly badly, because it denounces us and our identities. Especially for trans people, fear of becoming a stereotype can be particularly paralyzing- it’s an issue of wanting to be real, and a fear of failing to live up to a given gender through trying too hard -and the constant denunciations of stereotypes can sometimes hurt us. Stereotypes are sometimes the only thing you have to work from; stereotypes are sometimes what resonate with us; and stereotypes can be the ground beneath our feet [2]

So all this is to say that campy, effeminate gay men are not stereotypes of themselves, and gaymale women or questioning people of any assigned gender need not feel ashamed of wanting to be effeminate gay men.

3. There are infinite ways to be a gay man and you are allowed to be all of them.

Remember that division I mentioned earlier? The one between masculine gaymale women and ultra-feminine gaymale women?

That’s a binary– a division between masculine and feminine that doesn’t necessarily represent reality.

I don’t want to denounce it, since it is useful and it is validating and I am sure that it maps to some experiences quite well.

But it doesn’t represent the full degree of possibilities. Men, including gay men, come in more varieties than feminine and masculine, and if your experiences don’t fit neatly into this, then you’re no less valid for that.

4. Some gaymale-identified women feel less like gay men and more like something else.

I could propriocept my penis very clearly whenever I wore dresses, and after I realized this I took to sitting and standing such that my phantom penis would be in a comfortable position had it been real.

In these moments I felt less like a man and more like a woman with a penis.

This is part of the reason why I decided to call myself bigender- because I can feel both like a woman and like a man depending on the situation. You, the reader, might feel like a gay man sometimes, or you might feel like a woman with a penis, or you might feel like something completely different.

You’re allowed to have complicated experiences. You’re allowed to make up new genders for yourself or to identify as trigender or bigender or, hell, icosahedrogender; and you’re allowed to try shit on to see how it fits.

Also, the whole gay thing…

5. The whole “gay” part of gaymale didn’t really work out for me.

Okay, yes, I was attracted to men. I imagined myself having anal sex with men and having gay relationships with men.

But I also liked women and nonbinaries, and would have wanted to date them. I could only imagine relationships with women and nonbinaries as a man or as a woman with a penis.

If this is you, and you still want to identify partially or fully as a gaymale, then I applaud you. “Gay” is a label; it’s less about who you feel attraction to and far more about what you want to communicate and what you are comfortable and happy with.

But there are more options out there as well.

6. You are allowed to experiment with your identity.

a. You are allowed to ask for pronoun changes or name changes.

Again, this doesn’t apply to everyone, so please use discretion viz. outside circumstances.

But if you are in a trans-friendly environment, then you might be able to ask your friends, your close friends, if they will use a different pronoun for you sometimes, or a different name. If you’re not sure you can tell them that you’re experimenting, that you’re not sure, that you’re just trying it out – which you are!

(If someone tells you that you’re appropriating trans identities – and this goes for a lot of the other suggestions, tell them that I, the Reconstructionist, a Certified True Trans, have hereby approved of your actions for the sake of Science.

Also you can say that gender within cultures is not like interactions between different cultures, and it is impossible to “appropriate” someone’s gender if you are both from the same culture. [3])

And if you feel better when people call you by a different name or by a different pronoun, then that’s information about yourself. And if you don’t, that’s information too.

b. You can take bind, pack, take HRT and/or get surgeries for your physical feelings.

Binding and packing are both common things for trans men to do- binding involves making it so your breasts look flat, and packing is where you wear a penis under your clothing in a sort of harness. These are tried and true, and they are also completely reversible if you want to experiment.

(I haven’t tried either of the two due to financial issues, such as “saving for college” and “it would be very awkward to ask my parents”.)

And you are allowed to experiment! You are allowed to see what you like in a methodical, scientific manner; and if you end up as “cis, completely average ordinary cis person” at the end, then you are still lovely and I certainly consider you a part of my ingroup.

The other options have more lasting effects.

If most of your fantasies have been of looking like a “man in a dress”, if you have had sexual fantasies about having a penis, if you have ever wanted to become more man-like, then you are allowed to ask for testosterone treatment. You are allowed to ask for surgeries. You are allowed to do all of these things and still be treated as a woman.

It’s not plausible for everyone; there are numerous difficulties accessing good healthcare and numerous problems with social acceptance. And there are tradeoffs, both medical and physical, that must be weighed. Medical transition isn’t a step to take lightly or without care, and it’s not a step that everyone can afford, financially or physically or psychologically, to take. (See: Trans101 for Trans People.)

But it is an option.

7. The fact that this comes from your sexuality doesn’t make you illegitimate.

See, some of you (most of you? all of you?) probably experience sexual fantasies, with yourself as a gay man with a working penis. If this is the only “gender thing” you think you have, it makes sense to identify as a gaymale woman. And that’s completely valid!

But this could also be a manifestation of other gender things. This is fairly common in trans people; often, before physical and mental transition, some trans women in particular have sexual fantasies about being women or where they have vaginas and breasts. This is sometimes referred to as autogynephilia and viewed as a simple fetish, but trans women such as the esteemed activist and scientist Julia Serano conceptualize these fantasies as a valid expression of trans identity here:

…[W]e should replace the misleading and stigmatizing label “autogynephilia” with the more comprehensive (and less pathologizing) term Female/Feminine Embodiment Fantasies (FEFs).

Here is the rationale for this nomenclature: I refer to them as “fantasies,” because that is what they are: a type of sexual/erotic thought or fantasy. It is widely acknowledged (in both sexology and society) that sexual fantasies vary greatly in the population, and if two people just so happen to have a similar fantasy, it does not necessarily mean that they share the same underlying “condition” or are a similar “type” of person.[3] (In contrast, Blanchard argued that there are two distinct types or categories of trans female/feminine people—“autogynephilic” and “androphilic”—distinguished by the presence or absence of the paraphilic condition “autogynephilia.”)

The word “embodiment” references the well-accepted notion in philosophy and cognitive studies that our thoughts, perceptions, and desires do not happen in a vacuum—they occur within, and are shaped by, our bodies. As I pointed out in my book Whipping Girl (pp. 268-269), most of our sexual fantasies involve (at least) two bodies: our own body, and the body of the person we are attracted to (for a more rigorous exploration of this, see Talia Bettcher’s excellent article When Selves Have Sex). In fantasies centered on sexual attraction, most of the attention or emphasis may be placed on our imagined partner’s body and behaviors, but our own bodies and behaviors are nevertheless often present (e.g., we may imagine them doing something to our body, or our body doing something to theirs). In “embodiment fantasies,” more (or perhaps in some cases, all) of the attention and emphasis is instead shifted toward our own (real or imagined) bodies and behaviors.

Finally, the “female/feminine” in FEFs refers to the fact that aspects of our own (real or imagined) female body and/or feminine gender expression play a central erotic role in the fantasy (although other erotic components, such as our imagined partner, may also exist in the fantasy).


In the linked essay, Serano also links to articles about girlfags and to the yaoi essay I linked to before. (I intend no hostility towards Jack Molay, and I hope that it did not come off that way.) Not only this, but the theoretical argument for sexual fantasies as expressions of one’s idealized embodiment is quite strong.

(See also Serano’s essay on trans invalidations and sexuality here, her rather more political essay on autogynephilia here, and Andrea James’ directory regarding the autongynephilia theory here. Lynn Conway has also done extensive work on opposing autogynephilia, but unfortunately I haven’t read it.)

As of right now, there have been fewer essays and analyses focused on and by non-transfemale people of any assigned gender on autoandrophilia and autogynephilia. There are likely numerous factors that play into the lack of analyses on autoandrophilia [4], but I hope to aid in rectifying this dearth.

However, if you don’t see your fantasies as a manifestation of your gender identity, that is also valid.

If you want HRT or different pronouns for any reason, including a sexual fetish, and you think you might be better off with any of them than without, then I again encourage you to cautiously experiment while weighing the costs and benefits of transition. However, if outside of sexual fantasies you do not experience any gender feelings, then physical transition might not be the option for you.

(But see also here.)

8. You don’t need to do any of this.

There is more than one way to be real and more than one way to be happy. What works for me might not work for you.

Please pursue the path where your desires lie. While I no longer identify as a gaymale woman, I retain an affinity and affection for those who do.

Regardless of where this road leads you, I support anyone who is questioning and anyone who has ever questioned or felt insecure in their gender and in their label. There are hundreds of different genders out there, and if even then none of them fit the words are yours to shape to your will.

The world is your oyster.


Responses are welcome, as are questions.


Footnotes

(these are generally written more densely and less accessibly, but requests for clarification are welcome)

[1] – This dynamic has been extensively observed and categorized by sociologists and philosophers. The postmodernist philosopher Michel Foucault incorporates it into his theory of the creation of monsters outside of Derrida’s binary. Foucault’s theory is basically that when people don’t fit social norms, like binaries, they end up being seen as monsters. See also Julia Serano’s exploration of degrees of stigma here.

[2] – The fact that these respectability politics is centered around not being a sissy and not being effeminate is particularly telling as well. It’s an example of overvaluing masculinity and devaluing femininity, and here, in the case of girlfags and trans people, it combines with transphobia in a fairly complicated way to make us feel illegitimate. See Julia Serano’s post here for a more in-depth explanation of the way it relates to trans women, though some of the terminology at the link is, of course, outdated (and also not inclusive to nonbinary assigned-male people, as she acknowledges in her glossary released today). An appropriate moniker for the way this hatred for effeminate men manifests as it applies to girlfags, some nonbinaries, and transmasculine spectrum people might be misogynistic transmisandry (which differs from Serano’s usage of terms and which I will discuss in later posts).

[3] – Serano discusses extensively the way that “appropriation” has been used to harm trans women and bisexuals here. She also explores, in detail, the aspects that make appropriation harmful in some cases as well as the factors that lead to anti-appropriation communities. I encourage people to follow this link.

[4] – The following is not backed up in any way by data or empiricism. It is speculation based on my knowledge of society. Not all of these speculations are endorsed and I do not believe any of them particularly strongly.

I suspect that there are several factors leading to the emphasis on autogynephilia:

effemmemania and transmisogyny- transphobic critiques of sexuality have focused mostly on trans women, transfeminine people, and nonbinary people assigned male, due to society’s massive stigma on people perceived as men being feminine and therefore less-than. These also intersect with misogynistic slut-shaming to focus particularly on the sexualities of women.

a lack of a successful men’s rights movement– transfeminists have had to work tirelessly to establish a place for themselves within mainstream cis feminism, despite extremes of discrimination from cis feminists. However, the movement’s success made space in the Overton Window for women to discuss gender-based oppression. In the process of advancing its white cis focused goals, second-wave white cis feminism created vocabulary and academic spaces for all women’s issues to be explored. The Overton Window has not yet expanded to include a space for men to discuss gender-based oppression.

binaryism– nonbinary and transfemale/transfeminine autoandrophiles don’t make sense in a world of opposed binaries, so they have been ignored until quite recently.

internalized oppositional misandry in transmale/transmasculine and nonbinary people– the norm for men to not discuss feelings or non-normative sexuality may have been internalized by non-women identifying trans people.

[Note: I must credit Ozymandias Frantz at Thing of Things for their invaluable advice on transitioning and productive questioning of one’s own gender.]

Urging Restraint and Social Justice Norms

Most people I know are extremely upset at Trump’s success.

I have, and I am sure that others have, urged restraint in emotion and in fear. In the coming days and months, I expect that these urges for restraint will be denounced as privileged and silencing of oppressed people’s voices, because this is the way that sj works right now.

But it’s not true.

When I heard that Trump was going to be president, my heart stopped. I felt ill. It became hard to breathe. I stewed on it and wrote an entire blog post on it in an effort to process it.

It was too awful to be true. And yet it was.

I’m sure that someone might call this a privileged request for sympathy or whatever. So, to clarify, I am trans. I am Asian. I am bisexual. I am often read as female. Believe me, my fear was real and it was rooted in oppression.

But I’d read a lot of rationalist articles about spirals of fear. About how often people are afraid to urge restraint. About groupthink. About how the Enemy is often construed as worse and more irrational than they truly are.

And I realized that in order to decide anything, I needed to wait for the actual results. I needed to evaluate situations by their own merits. I realized that America had structures that could not be easily subverted, that Trump actually does not hate gay people or trans people, and that most of the power in American government lies in its structures and in its numerous lower-downs and aides rather than in its elected figurehead.

And I found myself becoming less and less afraid.

This isn’t a technique that will work for everyone, and people do indeed deserve to have their feelings heard and listened to and validated, especially about issues that affect them through oppression. On a group level, however, the constant validation and discussion of absolute fear, coupled with the invalidation and silencing of less emotional perspectives, leads to wildly irrational beliefs and spirals of fear.

This isn’t a phenomenon confined solely to social justice. But it is a phenomenon that is reinforced by social justice norms.

For example, go back to the accusations of privilege at the beginning. Privilege- this is always the axis the debate turns on, isn’t it? But the accusation of privilege seeks to enforce a single degree of emotion and a single degree of discourse: ever more upset and ever more afraid and ever more panicked.

It encourages the spread of fear and the homogenization of opinion.

And you will notice that this one mode of communication and emotion is directly hostile to the idea of neurodiversity, and that in fact the portion of neurodiverse people who have different experiences of emotion are hurt by this formulation.

And the logical consequence of this emphasis on panic and pain and anger is that it becomes a competition. It becomes a contest of who is most upset and who is most hurt and who is most unprivileged.

And when people talk about different experiences, the (false) connection between privilege and a lack of emotional hurt leads to attacking people’s arguments through claiming that they are not really unprivileged. This leads to invalidation and attempts at delegitimization, which (of course) follow traditional distributions of power, especially regarding transness.

And that’s what makes privileged people want to haul out their anecdotes about pain so that they get the chance to speak without being invalidated. There’s no way to win: if they’re overemotional, they’re appropriating experiences and making it all about them and demanding emotional labor and having white guilt. If they’re underemotional and want to avoid fear spirals by speaking up, then they’re talking over underprivileged people and derailing and are improperly pro-sj. Both options erase the varying levels of emotional control that occur naturally, and both assume the worst.

Of course, as a response to this, there is a canned sj-approved response: your experiences about pain are not relevant since you are privileged, and so your pain doesn’t matter.

These accusations of privilege are attacks on the legitimacy of one’s identity, and implicitly assume standards for being a “real” [whatever]. In this, they serve the same purpose that accusations of f*ggotry serve in other circles: the policing of group identity and the enforcement of conformity (see Foucault’s observations here as well as linguistic studies).

Accusations of privilege reinforce party orthodoxy, silence free discussion, and enforce demands for emotion. They are the Two Minutes Hate of modern sj.


So what’s the solution?

The difference between System 1 and System 2 responses ought to be better publicized in sj spheres. Someone’s fear for their rights and life can be respected, validated, and discussed, while also acknowledging that the real risks are not particularly large or protest-worthy as of yet. Acknowledging and publicizing Kahneman’s division between the two would be useful.

Yudkowsky’s articles about one’s opponents not being evil, fear spirals, and and groupthink should be better publicized in sj sphere. Better awareness of the dangers of groupthink and emotional spirals would lead to less emotional pressuring and fewer extremes.

This particular aspect could be productively mentioned by the less emotional or the contrarians among us, and probably should be in order to introduce a contrarian opinion.

Script:”So there’s this phenomenon where, when people agree strongly about something and have really strong emotions about it and they are discussing it, they end up making each others’ legitimate fears into something much worse than they were before. In order to counteract this, I’d like to mention some mitigating factors that might make the problem less bad than you might think. [mitigating factors].”

Social justice needs to be more tolerant of a lack of emotion. When people talk about how they don’t feel upset or how it isn’t something to be worried about, they shouldn’t be denounced as privileged. It’s been well-recognized that it is wrong to denounce someone else’s emotions or to tell them what to feel; but this goes more than one way.

Privilege and a lack of emotional investment should not be equated. See above.

The relatively unemotional must recognize and validate the emotions of others more. I expect that, often, those who want to counter groupthink or who are irritated by emotional responses interrupt others and argue facts without taking the time to validate the emotions of others. Statements about possessing a lack of fear or exercising cautiousness ought to be prefaced with recognizing the validity of others’ emotions.

Script if you actually agree that it’s a bad thing: “It’s absolutely not okay that [thing that they’re upset about] happened. And it’s never okay for that type of thing to happen. At the same time, though, I also think that it’s important to evaluate it by its probable results and to remain rational through fear. For example, [thing that mitigates the risk].”

Script if you don’t agree that it’s a bad thing: “I can tell that this is really upsetting to you. And it’s completely inexcusable that [part of thing that you disagree with]. But I also think that [upsides of thing you like, possibly tailored to your audience using shibboleths and appealing to their values].”

These can both be added to the Yudkowskian groupthink introduction: “It’s absolutely not okay that [thing that they’re upset about] happened. And it’s never okay for that type of thing to happen. There is, however, this phenomenon where when people agree strongly about something and have really strong emotions about it and they are discussing it, they end up making each others’ legitimate fears into something much worse than they were before. In order to counteract this, I’d like to mention some mitigating factors that might make the problem less bad than you might think. [mitigating factors].”

See here also for communicating between different styles of discourse.

(Edited to add several key insights quite recently.)

 

Reconstructionism: an Introduction

[epistemic status: do I look like I know anything about Derrida?]

I.

So Jacques Derrida liked binaries.

Actually, that’s not true.

Jacques Derrida didn’t like binaries much, but he saw them everywhere. In art, in society, in structures of oppression, in words themselves, binaries loomed large in our hero’s benighted view. Each word was only given meaning by its opposite, by what it was not. It was defined by the Other.

And once you saw them, you couldn’t unsee them; and they were everywhere, like a particularly unimaginative wallpaper pattern repeating over and over and over again in increasingly unsubtle ways; as though some kind of tormented artist lackadaisically or perhaps despairingly had replicated the same shape, looped upon itself time and time again without end or variation-

And in these binaries, Derrida realized, there were often hierarchies- one idea placed above another, in some kind of bizarre society-wide nonconsensual 24/7 BDSM scene. (So not really like a BDSM scene at all, but it’s the thought that counts.)

Male above female, colonizer over colonized, abled over disabled, strong over weak: this was the way of the world.

In hindsight, it seems pretty obvious. What Derrida called binaries, picture books called opposites. Big/small. Smart/stupid. Male/female. There couldn’t be maleness without femaleness, bigness without smallness, smartness without stupidness.

And even the youngest child knows that it is better to be big than to be small, better to be smart than stupid, and better to be-

-well, let’s leave it at that for now.

But Derrida’s central conceit, his true innovation, was his invention of Deconstruction. (The press is still out on whether the name was conceived purely for alliterative purposes.) But Derrida’s Deconstruction was not a particularly unpleasant Magic: the Gathering card; nor was it an errant mage’s spell.

Instead it was a mysterious answer, a moving target that Derrida never wanted to define, because trying to describe it would define it too clearly. And then someone else would have to come up with something to oppose Deconstruction, and so it wouldn’t be the mystical ~Mysterious Engine of History~ anymore.

II.

But let’s try to define Deconstruction anyway, because a hypothetical future!Eliezer Yudkowsky would be rolling in his cryonics pod if I didn’t address this.

Deconstruction is a process that happens when society’s binaries get fucked up with their internal contradiction shit. It’s a thing that happens in society. The ways it happens vary according to what the internal contradictions are- if you have a monarchy, then maybe your peasants decide to take power; if you have uranium mining colony maybe your subjects acquire nuclear weapons; I don’t know. And this sort of thing happens with all the binaries.

Maybe this sounds familiar to you. It certainly sounds familiar to me- it sounds like Hegel again. Fuck you, Hegel! I thought we were done thinking about you and your ~””Unity of the Unity of the Difference””~ schtick back when Prussia fell to ashes (and eventually Nazis).

But no, Derrida was very clear about one thing: Deconstruction is not Hegel’s mechanism of history, because the internal contradictions are never resolved. Instead, they remain in the new created thing to fuck it up all over again.

III.

At first blush, Derrida’s theory seems to fit well with Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem, which is a point in its favor indeed. And it also doesn’t hypothesize an end state, which makes the theory stronger than Hegel’s World Spirit thing; it’s an antiprediction of a sort.

But it also… doesn’t ever have an end state. There’s never a point where we get to sit our asses down and go, “Welp, I don’t have to worry now, my binaries have contradicted themselves, the third term has been created, and everything is okay.” There will always be strife, there will always be contradictions to fuck things up, and language will always be inherently violent in some form.

I think that Derrida was okay with this. I think that he probably saw some desirable aspects of this situation. He doesn’t describe it pessimistically, I suppose, would be the main thing.

But here’s the thing.

I don’t like violence, and I don’t like strife. And, what’s more, I don’t think that language necessarily violent, nor do I think that it must be. (I’ll elaborate more on this later, since I understand this is a large issue in the postmodernist paradigm.)

And, sometime in the distant future, I want my children’s children’s children’s children’s………. children to look up at the stars from their towers of onyx and stone; and I want them to be able to rest. I want them to be able to use language as it suits them, to manipulate gender norms and gender roles to their personal desires; and I want them to be, yes, in flux, in movement; but not in strife.

If Deconstruction is rushing rapids, I am not the silence of dead things but a softly rippling spring over still rocks. If Deconstruction is the cacophony society makes as its institutions contradict themselves and its categories begin to no longer make sense, I am the peace that falls henceforth. If Deconstruction is the beginning of the end of gender, then I am the solidity of courtly dresses and genderqueer dress suits. I am silence, I am music, I am the vibrancy of colors in all their interrelated binary meaning.

I am what comes afterwards.

So I suppose that you could call me a reconstructionist.