May 25, 2016

Phobia-label fear

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, May 26, 2016

Phobia-label fear

When it comes to matters LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer/ questioning, etc.), I've noticed that critical discussion often is halted or doesn't even get started because of fear about being labeled homophobic, biphobic, transphobic, bigoted, or intolerant.

Today I will attempt to allay such fear by exposing the confusion lurking behind it and then setting out five clarifications.

Before I begin, however, let me emphasize this: All persons—whether they identify as LGBTQ+ or not—are made in God's image, are loved by God, plus deserve respect as well as protection from bullying and violence.

Here's the confusion: If a person offers criticisms of same-sex, etc. sexual relationships, then we can immediately judge that the person is homo/ bi/ transphobic, bigoted, or intolerant and, thus, that the criticisms should be ignored.

Clarification 1. A phobia is an irrational aversion or fear or hatred concerning X (see Mayo Clinic's online entry on phobia), whereas one is not necessarily phobic if one has reasonable evidence-based concerns about X. Being concerned about very large spiders near little children doesn't mean one is arachnophobic.

It turns out that many intelligent people have reasonable evidence-based concerns and questions about LGBTQ+. It would be intellectually dishonest to judge such persons as “phobic.”

Clarification 2. A bigot is someone who has a tendency to hold a view or opinion blindly and dogmatically, without giving careful consideration to contrary evidence. Significantly, however, an attempt to reason with care and to examine evidence, pro and con, need not be an instance of bigotry.

This means persons can be critical of LGBTQ+ matters and not be bigots.

Clarification 3. Calling a critic of LGBTQ+ names such as “homophobe” or “biphobe” or “transphobe” or “bigot” and then dismissing the critic’s arguments on the basis of his/ her alleged personality disorder (whether it’s a phobia or whatever) is to commit the ad hominem fallacy.

The ad hominem fallacy is the mistake in reasoning wherein the arguer is attacked instead of his/her argument, when doing so is not relevant. The critic’s argument should be assessed on the basis of its merits.

(Note: If the arguer is in fact homophobic or transphobic, etc., this may give us grounds to suspect that his/ her arguments are not strong; nevertheless, whether the arguments are in fact strong or not depends on the arguments themselves.)

Clarification 4. Not all tolerance is good, and not all intolerance is bad.

Police are rightly intolerant of drunk driving as well as texting and driving. Teachers are rightly intolerant of cheating on exams and bullying. Parents are rightly intolerant of children playing with matches.

If it is reasonable to think that a behaviour can seriously harm a person, then it is good to be intolerant of such behaviour. Tolerance of such behaviour would be not good.

Clarification 5. In the case of same-sex, etc. sexual relations, the public issues have to do (minimally) with balancing possible harm and freedom of expression.

So the following questions should be raised: Is there evidence for thinking that the relations in question have harmful consequences to self or others? Or not?

If there are such harmful consequences, are they sufficiently harmful to self or others so that we should question the wisdom of engaging in or promoting such sexual behaviour? Or not?

For the sake of truth, and for the sake of avoiding possible harm to innocents, these are questions responsible adults should not be afraid to ask (e.g., see my column Is promoting same-sex sex wise?). Questioning is not phobic. Nor is it bigoted or intolerant.

I conclude with this comment from Robert P. George, professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University: “Cowardice is a greater danger to our civilization than error. When people cannot muster the courage to speak the truth, error will triumph.”

Have courage, then. Boldly seek truth and speak truth. And do so lovingly, with gentleness and respect toward those who disagree.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College. The views expressed in this column do not always represent the views of Providence.)

May 10, 2016

Men in women's bathrooms?

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, May 12, 2016

Men in women's bathrooms?

Should the use of public multiple-occupancy restrooms, showers, and changing facilities be based on biological sex or “gender identity”? I think the answer is biological sex.

Before I set out the reason for my answer, here are four clarifications.

Clarification 1. All people are made in God's image and deserve respect, including those who identify as “transgender.” (To identify as transgender is to feel oneself is, or wishes oneself to be, the opposite of one's biological sex; a.k.a. gender dysphoria, formerly known as gender identity disorder.)

Clarification 2. According to John G. Stackhouse Jr., “Gender dysphoria in particular, and the wider range of trans issues, are matters disputed at the highest levels of psychological and psychiatric expertise.” (Of related interest: A tracking of children who at one time reported transgender feelings reveals that 70-80 percent of these children spontaneously lost those feelings.)

Clarification 3. The percentage of the general population that is transgender is small, apparently less than 1 percent and perhaps even less than 0.5 percent.

Clarification 4. Love requires careful thinking. In our desire to promote the well being of some, we also need to consider the well being of others.

So why do I think the use of public multiple-occupancy restrooms, showers, and changing facilities should be based on biology instead of gender identity?

My reason is simple: prudence.

I think it's prudent (i.e., an exercise in sound judgment on practical matters) to protect girls and women from the very real possibility of sexual predators and perverts.

No, I am not saying that all transgender people are sexual predators and perverts (though perhaps some are).

Rather, I'm saying that there are too many rapists and pedophiles (whether transgender or heterosexual or whatever) from whom we, as responsible citizens, must protect women and children. The concern here, then, is not with transgenders, but with rapists and pedophiles who pretend to be transgender.

We must also protect women and children from the voyeurism of men and boys pretending to be transgender.

In other words, opening physically intimate spaces such as public multiple-occupancy bathrooms, showers, etc. to anyone who claims a transgender identity allows sexual predators to stalk their prey much, much too easily.

Prudence also involves practicality. The fact is that girls and women account for roughly 50 percent of the population whereas (as mentioned) transgenders account for less than 1 or 0.5 percent.

Yes, the well being of transgenders is important. But their bathroom and shower room needs can be easily accommodated by adding some single-occupancy gender neutral facilities. And this can be done without opening all women's bathrooms and shower rooms to every man or boy who claims he feels female. Ditto for men's facilities and women or girls who feel they're male.

Let me put it this way: I care about the comfort and well being of a transgender person in his/ her using a bathroom or shower room, but I think it's wise not to allow this care to trump the comfort and well being of my wife, daughters-in-law, aunts, mother-in-law, and future grand-children.

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz put it this way: “As a father of daughters, I'm not terribly excited about men being able to go alone into a bathroom with my daughters…And I think that is a perfectly reasonable determination for…people to make.”

Stackhouse puts it this way: “[Government and school] authorities can be sure that many children will be uncomfortable and even traumatized by the presence of members of the other sex in bathrooms, change rooms, gym classes, swimming classes, and the like. To knowingly plan to upset millions of young people in the disputed interests of the very, very few is not enlightened, but [ideologically] doctrinaire.”

So, should any person who claims to feel they are the opposite sex be permitted to use whatever public restroom, shower room, and other related facilities they choose?

The reasonable (and non-transphobic) answer is No.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College. The views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)

For further thought:

April 29, 2016

Reverse discrimination and employment

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, April 28, 2016

Reverse discrimination and employment

Let's think discriminately about discrimination (yes, you read that right). I'll distinguish two senses of discrimination, then I'll raise seven questions about reverse discrimination.

Discrimination 1: to discern/differentiate between things; show a partiality/preference to specific things/people for some (usually) good reason. We discriminate between foods, wines, friends, potential wife or husband.

Such discrimination is typically not problematic.

But discrimination 2 is problematic: it happens when we differentiate between people unjustly.

Discrimination 2 occurs when, say, we don't hire a qualified black man simply because he is black. Ditto for women, aboriginals, ethnicities, etc.

Philosopher Louis Pojman clarifies: “Discrimination [sense 1] is essentially a good quality, having reference to our ability to make distinctions. As rational and moral agents we need to make proper distinctions. To be rational is to discriminate between good and bad arguments, and to think morally is to discriminate between reasons based on valid principles and those based on invalid ones. What needs to be distinguished is the difference between rational and moral discrimination [discrimination 1], on the one hand, and irrational and immoral discrimination [discrimination 2], on the other hand.

Enter reverse discrimination (a.k.a. “strong affirmative action”; henceforth RD).

RD attempts to resolve past injustices by implementing employment practices that favour individuals belonging to groups unjustly discriminated against in the past.

Typically, RD involves hard quota hiring (percentages of women, natives, ethnicities, etc., in the work force must reflect the diversity of the larger population) or raising standards for privileged groups and/or lowering standards for (what I'll call, with no disrespect intended) “official victim groups” (OVGs).

Now the seven questions.

1. If sexist, racist, etc. discrimination is wrong, is RD wrong too?

RD discriminates (allegedly in sense 1), albeit against a different, previously privileged group. But isn't RD unjust when it now denies specific people opportunities for reasons—race, sex, etc.—that have nothing to do with their personal actions or abilities? And when not every member of the previously privileged group is privileged? And when not every OVG member suffered unjust discrimination?

2. If our goal is a less race (etc.) conscious society in which people are judged on their individual merits, is RD counter-productive?

By denying people opportunities for reasons (sex, race, etc.) that have nothing to do with ability, does RD reinforce group consciousness and stereotypes?

Moreover, does RD increase social tension and group polarization? I suspect that some non-OVG members resent OVGs, some RD beneficiaries are stigmatized, and some RD beneficiaries feel inferior because they aren't hired for their merit.

4. Does RD encourage mediocrity? If standards of merit are lowered to allow underrepresented members to have a better chance at getting the job, does overall excellence suffer?

5. Does RD perpetuate victimhood? Does RD encourage OVGs to advance themselves by exploiting victim status via political remedy rather than by taking individual responsibility?

6. Does the creation of OVGs inadvertently create new OVGs? Are today's young white males being unjustly discriminated against because of the sins of (much) older white males?

7. Is RD off-target? Wouldn't it be wise to focus on strengthening family life and early education to ensure that all persons have a fair and equal opportunity to obtain credentials necessary to fare well in the job market?

Instead, RD focuses on society's higher levels of education and employment where job competency and merit are crucial for society to function well. Is this detrimental to social and economic health?
Of course, past injustices should not be ignored: e.g., Canadian Japanese in Canadian concentration camps, native land claims, residential schools.

But perhaps solutions lie in compensating, where possible, those particular individuals who were unjustly treated, not groups?

We live in an imperfect world, and maybe some problems can't be solved. Should there be a statute of limitations for injustices done in the past?

God commands us to care for the poor and seek justice. This requires wisdom. Wisdom sometimes requires asking uncomfortable questions.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College. The views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)

April 13, 2016

Careful thinking

Stefonknee Wolscht: 52-year-old father of 7, now a 6-year-old girl with "parents"
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, April 14, 2016

Careful thinking

Please think carefully about the following three theses.

1. “Your beliefs don't make you a better person, your behavior does.”

For this thesis to make moral sense depends on what one believes “a better person” is. It also depends on what one believes is behaviour that is good or what a better person ought to do.

Ted Bundy (rapist and murderer of 20+ women) believed that “a better person” is one who is daring and willing to rape and murder.

In other words, ideas have consequences, so the idea, i.e., what is believed, matters.

As philosopher David Horner points out, “what we believe will determine how we behave, and ultimately who we become.”

Of course, beliefs not acted upon don't amount to much. To paraphrase the Apostle James: belief without behaviour is dead.

But we should also add the whole counsel of Scripture (and reason): behaviour without belief is blind.

My point: To ensure that our behaviour amounts to something truly good also requires accurate beliefs about what is truly good. (So orthopraxis/ right behaviour implicitly presupposes right belief that orthopraxis is truly good.)

2. “It matters not who you love or how you love, it matters only that you love.”

Yes, this seems loving.

But pause and think: “I love you,” said the married businessman to his good-looking female secretary, as the businessman abandons his young children along with his wife who is dying of cancer.

“I love you,” said the cannibal to his dinner; “I love you,” said the pedophile to the child; “I love you,” said the sadist to his torture victims.

Clearly, we must define “love.” Love has a moral structure and truth content.

Jesus, who Christians believe is God come to Earth as a human being, taught that love is of utmost importance, and He modeled love for us. Significantly, Jesus also taught that He didn't abolish the truth of the moral law—in fact, He intensified it. (Yes, Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery, but He also told her to leave her life of sin.)

3. “What I feel is who I am.”

A presently popular idea is that personal identity—i.e., what I am—is wholly a personal matter, a matter merely of subjective feeling/ intuition.

Bruce (Caitlyn) Jenner basically holds this view. He feels he is a woman so he is a woman—and so he has had plastic surgery to “feminize his face and throat, has had hormone therapy for growth of breasts, and may undergo surgery to remove his testicles plus use (mutilate) his penis to construct a “vagina.

But if my feelings about myself and my identity are trump, what follows?

It means that we must not only accept Jenner's view to be true, but also the claims of “otherkin.

Otherkin are people who self-identify as—i.e., who feel they actually are, at least in part or wholly—non-human. A young Norwegian woman recently made headlines because she feels she is (and lives as if she is) a cat. Others feel they are foxes, dragons, etc.

If feelings about self and identity are trump, we should also accept the claims of the “transabled.

Transabled are people who feel that they are impostors if their body is in full working order, so they seek to amputate a limb or otherwise mutilate or disable themselves.

A young American woman felt she would be whole if she were blind, so, with help from a sympathetic psychologist, blinded herself with drain cleaner.

But, surely, the truth is that you are not in fact an impostor if your body is in full working order.

Also, there is a case of a 52-year-old Canadian man who feels he is a 6-year-old girl—i.e., he feels he is transgendered and transaged.

Clearly, the view that feelings about identity are trump lands us in obvious absurdities and falsehoods.

Overall lessons: Love is important. So is truth. So is careful thinking.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College. The views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)

For additional thought:

I have noticed time and again that many intelligent people don't understand the nature of the logic that appears in the third portion of my above article (and in several of my other columns).  The logic being used in the third portion of my article is called reductio ad absurdum. In a reductio ad absurdum argument, we assume, temporarily for the sake of argument, that the view under investigation is true (in the present case, we assume the truth of "what I feel is who I am," i.e., that personal identity—what I am—is wholly a personal matter, a matter wholly of subjective feeling/ intuition, i.e., my feelings about myself and my identity are trump). We approach the view in question with the attitude, "Okay, let's say it's true. What follows logically?" If the logical consequences of the view's assumed truth are false or logically contradictory, then it follows that the view under investigation is false or at least deeply problematic. (Because valid deductive argument disallows the possibility of true premises and a false conclusion, the known falsity of the conclusion/ consequences gotten by valid deductive argument means that we also know the premise/ view can't be true.) In other words, the examples (above) are not arbitrary, disconnected, or "all over the map." They are the logical consequences of the view under investigation. If we accept the truth of feelings being trump over reality, then the truth of the examples should all follow. But clearly they aren't all true. The proper response/ conclusion, then, should be this: the view that feelings are trump over reality is false.

For further reading: