Idea: society's collective subconscious is trying to reverse the social progress that reduced the importance of gender via an unholy alliance of transgender activists and bland, unintelligent people
In the post ‘Gender’ I suggested that many people struggle to understand that behaviour labelled as masculine or feminine can have both a biological and cultural origin, and that the average of both these factors across society presents as a ‘binary distribution’ that ‘people aren’t aware their brain is automatically noticing’. It’s this last point that I’ll explore in this post.
Transgender activism has entered mainstream political discussions very rapidly. One aspect that’s remarkable is how widespread and immediate the support has been compared to other civil rights issues. Government, business, party politics, and ordinary people have all rallied around the idea there are people ‘born in the wrong body’, even children who don’t conform to gender stereotypes are labelled as trans and anyone who doesn’t affirm this is accused of transphobia. This social phenomenon is incredible but in keeping with one of the themes of Structured Openness there may be a simple neuroscience inspired explanation.
Without consciously interrogating our perceptions using our intelligence, we are left with nothing more than thoughts and feelings automatically generated by the machinery of our brains. These are brains that are designed to notice patterns in the information we receive from our senses, and form generalisations based on this information, which as I said in ‘The Neuroscience Revolution’ can fundamentally impact how truthful our understanding of the world is. The worst outcome for this process is a combination between poor generalisations and no conscious examination. In this scenario, people can treat their perceptions as an essential feature of the world while being completely unaware they may not be true.
This is what I think is happening with the current transgender movement. An unholy alliance has emerged between two groups. Both automatically perceive the gender binary, leave this perception unchallenged, and treat it as an essential component of people’s identity. But a majority are OK with the gender society assumes they have while a minority aren’t. We may be in a weird, temporary moment where society has opened up a space for people to question gender while at the same time there’s still enough gendered behaviour around for a significant percentage of society to form essentialist views about it based on unchallenged, automatic perceptions generated by their brains. Ironically, the progress made on gender may be creating its own regressive backlash.
What exactly is this progress, though? For me, it’s two-fold. The first was to encourage people to question whether gender identity really is an essential part of everyone’s personality. It doesn’t mean much to many people, whether they do or don’t conform to the gender stereotypes in the time and place they live in. And conforming to these stereotypes might conflict with their individuality, especially if this includes behaviour associated with the opposite gender. The second was to challenge compelled gendered behaviour that’s genuinely harmful to either individuals or those around them. For example, making men feel they shouldn’t seek help for depression and how this impacts violence or suicide rates amongst men.
There’s a fashion for questioning gender stereotypes which I think has gone too far, though. We’re social animals that like to associate based on identities. This doesn’t have to be harmful if it leaves uninterested others alone, and these identities aren’t toxic. This isn’t what the trans backlash involves, though. This is a wish to re-establish gender as an essential part of everyone’s identity, with the support of an army of mindless people who don’t question their automatically generated perceptions of the world.
On this reactionary base, other players in this debate have seen opportunities. Politicians seeking votes, businesses with things to sell, etc. This has certainly added some momentum but fundamentally I’d say what’s driving this moment is something quite rudimentary: an automatic and unquestioned perception that gender is an essential aspect of someone’s identity. Everything else follows from this.
As I’ve done elsewhere and will continue to do in this blog, I’m effectively questioning the intelligence of a group of people. This is unavoidable as I outlined in ‘Reclaiming the Word Intelligence’. However, I’m writing another post to clarify what I’ve already said and will write many posts on this topic. It’s natural that due to the way intelligence is currently understood how I use this word could be considered offence or arrogant. It’s clearly for me to clarify why this isn’t the case.
On this issue of intelligence, though, I think there’s an important get-out clause that applies to transgender people if not those supporting them. The ordinary people supporting gender identity theory are dull, unintelligent, and sheep-like in their desire to follow the crowd; they’re basic. Trans identifying people have to live in a society heavily influenced by these basic people who help to maintain an environment where not conforming to gender stereotypes encourages ridicule if not outright hate. Even if transgender people do have an intelligent understanding of sex and gender, the simplest option may be to claim they have a pseudo-medical condition or ‘gendered soul’; that is, things that the army of basic people will accept as reasons not to conform to the role the basic people have given them. It seems to me then that this a reason to be understanding to transgender people during this period. It’s in fact society that’s still transitioning to a place where it’ll accept their individuality.
Quick note: I seemed to have picked up some additional subscribers since I posted ‘Gender’. So, hello and thanks for subscribing. It’s exciting and a little daunting to have people curious to share my thoughts about people, minds, and brains. I’m going to try and post at least once a week, maybe more if I can find the time away from work and life!