October 17, 2019

Jagmeet Singh, abortion, and illogic

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh at federal leaders debate in Gatineau, Quebec (October 7, 2019). Photo credit: SEAN KILPATRICK/POOL/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES (via Montreal Gazette)

APOLOGIA
By Hendrik van der Breggen
October 17, 2019


Jagmeet Singh, abortion, and illogic

The topic of abortion came up at the Canadian federal leaders’ debate (October 7, 2019), and logic took a beating.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh stated the following: “A man has no place in a discussion around a woman’s right to choose. Let’s be very clear on that.”

Apparently, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and Green leader Elizabeth May agreed with Singh, whereas Conservative leader Andrew Scheer didn't. Because of the poor format of the debate—and poor moderation—I didn't get clear on what the other leaders thought.

So let’s (at least) be very clear on Mr. Singh's claim.

There are two logical problems—serious logical problems.

Problem 1

Mr. Singh commits the ad hominem fallacy, the mistake in reasoning which occurs when an arguer is attacked instead of his/her arguments.

Some instances of the ad hominem fallacy are easy to spot. Consider the following:

“Einstein is Jewish, therefore his theory of relativity should be rejected.”

“Your doctor is a woman, therefore don’t believe what she says about prostate cancer.”

Clearly, in the above arguments the premise (i.e., the bit before “therefore”) is not relevant to the conclusion (the bit after “therefore”).

But some instances of the ad hominem fallacy are not so easy to spot.

Consider (again) Mr. Singh's claim: “A man has no place in a discussion around a woman’s right to choose [abortion].”

Significantly, Singh is dismissing as illegitimate all arguments that men might present on the topic of abortion merely because the arguer is a man. That is, Singh is dismissing a view because of a characteristic of the arguer (i.e., his sex) rather than via a careful examination of the arguer’s argument (i.e., its merits or lack thereof).

But this is to attack the messenger instead of the message, which is a logical sin—the ad hominem fallacy.

Problem 2

Mr. Singh’s claim is also self-refuting.

A self-refuting claim includes itself in its field of reference but fails to satisfy its own criteria of truthfulness or rational acceptability.

Here is an example: “There are no truths. Hmmm. If it's true, then it's not true. It self-refutes.

Another example (spoken by me): “I cannot speak a word of English.” Get the picture?

Back to our NDP leader. According to Mr. Singh, “A man has no place in a discussion around a woman’s right to choose [abortion].”

Let's think: a MAN is saying that a MAN’s voice doesn’t count on an issue, i.e., the issue HE is talking about. Well, if this is true, then Mr. Singh—a man—has no place in this discussion, and so his claim should be dismissed.

I like Mr. Singh and I intend no disrespect to him. Nevertheless, I think his claim is deeply problematic from the perspective of logic—and I hope that my pointing this out will help elevate the quality of reasoning in the public discussion about abortion.

I hope, too, that pro-life MPs will get elected.


Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is a retired philosophy professor (Providence University College) who lives in Steinbach, Manitoba.


For additional thought:




June 04, 2019

Steinbach's Life Hike 2019

From Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale 1985
(Folio Society edition, illustrated by Anna & Elena Balbusso)
APOLOGIA
By Hendrik van der Breggen
June 4, 2019

Steinbach's Life Hike 2019

Last Saturday I was a part of Steinbach's annual Life Hike in which about 1200 people peacefully demonstrated their concern over Canada's lack of restrictions on abortion. [Steinbach is located in Manitoba, Canada, and has a population of 16,000.] Canada has no law on abortion and thus legally permits the killing of an unborn child at any stage of pregnancy.

At the Life Hike, I noticed a handful of counter-protesters (who, I later learned, had traveled to Steinbach from elsewhere). Several of the counter-protesters wore costumes from the television version of Margaret Atwood's 1985 story The Handmaid's Tale and they all carried placards bearing messages.

CBC Manitoba reported (accurately) that Steinbach's pro-life folks would like to have a civil discussion/debate about abortion, whereas the counter-protesters are not open to such debate and would rather (in their words) “just speak out, be loud, smack it down.” And: “We're not going to open this conversation.”

Because the counter-protesters have in fact entered the conversation by showing up at the Life Hike wielding placards that communicated “pro-choice” messages, I would like to respond thoughtfully to each of those messages. In other words, I would like to continue the conversation that, contrary to their protestations, the counter-protesters initiated.

I will list the placards' messages that I noticed (perhaps there were more) and then I will assess them (the numbering is mine). 

  • Placard 1: The Handmaid's Tale is not a manual. – Margaret Atwood.
  • Placard 2: Forced pregnancy kills.
  • Placard 3: Sex is not consent to impregnate. It takes two. But only one dies on a back alley abortion table. Pro-choice saves lives.
  • Placard 4: You trust God but not a doctor? Who is the dinosaur now?
  • Placard 5: If I wanted government in my womb, I'd f*#k an MP.

  
Placard 1: The Handmaid's Tale is not a manual. – Margaret Atwood.

Assessment: Yes, this is true. Margaret Atwood's book The Handmaid's Tale is a novel—i.e., a work of fiction—that depicts a dystopian, totalitarian future in which fertile women are forced to get pregnant so humankind can continue. So, yes, The Handmaid's Tale is not a manual.

What is more, I am confident that all of the people at the Life Hike would not take Atwood's book as a manual. No pro-life person that I have ever met thinks that fertile women should be forced to get pregnant!

The placard's message, in other words, misrepresents the pro-life movement by suggesting that pro-life proponents want fertile women to be forced to get pregnant. But pro-life proponents do not want this at all.


Placard 2: Forced pregnancy kills.

Assessment: First, nobody in the pro-life movement is forcing or wants to force anyone to get pregnant. Second, most/all normal pregnancies don't kill anyone. Third, I'm pretty sure that all pro-lifers would allow for abortion if continued pregnancy actually threatens the life of the mother. Fourth, the incidence of life-threatening pregnancies is very, very low.


Placard 3: Sex is not consent to impregnate. It takes two. But only one dies on a back alley abortion table. Pro-choice saves lives.

Assessment: First, consent to sex (whether condoms or other forms of contraception are used or not) involves consent to risking the outcome, which is to risk—and thereby invite—pregnancy. Saying no to or “disinviting” the deliberately risked outcome (we KNOW contraception isn’t 100% foolproof) is like gambling at Las Vegas and demanding one’s money back after losing it. Taking a risk entails taking responsibility for that risk.

Second, to justify abortion generally by the specter of “back alley” abortions is weird. Back alley abortions are those abortions performed illegally by qualified or unqualified abortionists, usually in a less than sanitary environment. Outlawing abortion might increase the incidence of back alley abortions (but maybe not, as I argue below). Significantly, however, we must ask: Does the killing of an innocent human being by a possibly inefficient killer in an unsanitary environment justify the killing of other innocent human beings by expert killers in a sanitary environment? The answer is, of course, no.

Although the situation of a desperate woman seeking a back alley abortion is terrible and sad—and in need of a life-enhancing solution for mother AND child—we must remember that balking at outlawing abortion for fear of promoting back alley abortions is to suggest legitimacy to the argument that we should legalize killing to reduce the incidence of back alley murders.

Third, as Fordham University ethicist Charles Camosy argues in his book Beyond the Abortion Wars (2015), the criminalization of abortion in general need not lead to increased deaths of women due to illegal “back alley” abortions. Why not? Because abortion has become a relatively safe procedure (due to advanced medical technology) and there is evidence that previous high estimates of “back alley” abortions were fabricated (as admitted by ex-abortionist Dr. Bernard Nathanson, co-founder of the National Abortion Right and Action League). Moreover, because law serves as a teacher, public policy restrictions on abortion can encourage a culture in which not only pre-natal children are protected but also desperate women seeking abortion are helped.

Fourth, being “pro-choice” on abortion does not save the lives of those who are aborted.

Fifth, there is evidence that abortion also has health complications for many women (see the documentary Hush).


Placard 4: You trust God but not a doctor? Who is the dinosaur now?

Assessment: First, some clarifications. Slogans are sometimes difficult to interpret, but I suspect this is an attempt to smear Steinbach residents as silly backward country hicks (“dinosaurs”) who, like the residents of Dayton, Tennessee, as portrayed in the (inaccurate) movie Inherit the Wind depicting the 1925 Scopes trial, were closed-minded anti-evolutionists, i.e., dogmatic foaming-at-the-mouth fundamentalists who don't trust science but instead trust a literal reading of Genesis. (In this trial, sometimes known as the “Scopes Monkey Trial,” a biology teacher named John Thomas Scopes allegedly broke the law banning the teaching of evolution in high school. Scopes lost in the trial, but evolution won the day. For a Pulitzer prize-winning investigation of the trial, which shows the mythical nature of the popular movie Inherit the Wind, see Edward J. Larson's book Summer for the Gods.)

I think the attempt to smear Steinbach residents as hicks or dinosaurs fails.

First, many pro-lifers who are Christians are open to non-literal readings of Genesis and are open to evolutionary theory (without atheist assumptions) insofar as actual evidence supports it.

Second, not all pro-lifers are Christians or even believers in God. Witness organizations such as Secular Pro-Life and Pro-Life Humanists.

Third, whether one trusts in God or not, science and good reasoning show that human life begins at conception—and many doctors believe this, too.

In other words, the placard's slogan misrepresents pro-lifers and is, frankly, silly.


Placard 5: If I wanted government in my womb, I'd f*#k an MP

Assessment: This placard's message is silly, too. It's also rude. And crude. In fact, it's an embarrassment to intelligent public discourse. It's also an insult to our local Member of Parliament and his family, not to mention the rest of the participants in the Life Hike, including children.

At risk of fanning foolishness by giving it serious attention, consider this as food for thought: If one doesn't want anyone in one's womb, then maybe one shouldn't engage in an activity that invites them. (And, for additional thought, please reread the first point of my above reply to placard 3.)

Surely, a major reason for the existence of good government is to protect the lives of innocent people, including children. In the discussion about abortion—which ends the life of a preborn child—let's keep the focus of the discussion on that, without getting rude and crude. In Canada, there is no law protecting children who can be aborted—killed—right up to the moment of birth.

If this isn't troubling, maybe some perspective is needed.

Consider this: Every year in Canada about 100,000 unborn children are killed by abortion.

The significance of this number may be difficult to grasp, so think about the gun control discussion. Compare the abortion number to the number of homicides that occur yearly in Canada.

Here are the most recent numbers from Statistics Canada for homicides, where “homicide” includes murder, manslaughter, and infanticide, whether a gun is used or not:

o   Year 2013: homicides 509
o   Year 2014: homicides 522
o   Year 2015: homicides 609
o   Year 2016: homicides 612
o   Year 2017: homicides 660

That’s about 580 homicides per year versus about 100,000 unborn children destroyed per year. In other words, approximately 0.6 percent of killings in Canada are due to homicide, and approximately 99.4 percent are due to abortion.

Yes, there are tough cases that might justify abortion. For examples, rape, incest, threats to the life of the mother.

But these tough cases account for a very small percentage of the total abortions. Ethicist Charles Camosy, in his (previously mentioned) book Beyond the Abortion Wars, says the tough cases amount to 2 percent of the total cases. I’ve heard others report that it might be 5 percent. Whether 2 or 5 percent, it’s a small percentage. That means an awful lot of cases are due to social problems.

But, surely, social problems require social solutions, not the killing of children.

This is why over 1200 people showed up at Steinbach's Life Hike.


Conclusion: I hope my above assessments further the public discussion/debate on abortion in a respectful intelligent manner.



Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Providence University College and will be, at the end of June, retired.



Note to critics: Before commenting, please read at least a few of my previous columns. Thanks.


Past APOLOGIA columns concerning abortion, for additional reading and study:

o  Shout your abortion? September 6, 2018
o   Planned Parenthood is a scam, May 31, 2018
o   Abortion and the hard cases, March 22, 2018
o   Reproductive freedom versus abortion, March 8, 2018
o   Aborting Trudeau's (other) abortion argument, January 30, 2018                  
o   Canada Summer Jobs kerfuffle, January 18, 2018
o   About my abortion columns, October 26, 2017
o   Resisting the Culture of Death, October 11, 2017
o   Ideological investigative journalism, February 16, 2017
o   Abortion, February 2, 2017
o   About outlawing abortions, November 24, 2016
o   Untangling abortion arguments, November 9, 2016
o   We need an abortion law, October 12, 2016
o   Beyond the abortion wars, August 8, 2016
o   We need an abortion law, September 3, 2015
o   We need an abortion law, May 29, 2014
o   Aborting the least of these, May 15, 2014
o   Euphemisms: The good, the bad, and the ugly, March 28, 2013
o   Reflections on Motions 312 and 408, October 4, 2012
o   Is the fetus a human being? May 10, 2012
o   Abortion in the news (part 2), November 9, 2011
o   Abortion in the news (part 1), October 20, 2011
o   On abortion, again, October 16, 2008
o   Acorns and oak trees…and abortion, October 2, 2008
o   Aborting an abortion argument, September 18, 2008
o   Morgentaler's abortion of logic, September 4, 2008 


Past Winnipeg Sun columns concerning abortion, for additional reading and study:

o   Perspective needed on abortion, March 10, 2018
o   About outlawing abortions, January 7, 2017


Past Political Animal Magazine articles concerning abortion, for additional reading and study:

o   Perspective needed on abortion, April 2018


Academic articles concerning abortion, for even more reading and study:



For support for crisis pregnancy:

o  Crisis Pregnancy Centre of Winnipeg


December 01, 2018

Smack down?

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (photo credit: World Wrestling Entertainment)
Smack down?
By Hendrik van der Breggen

I. Introduction

Merriam-Webster defines smack down as follows: the act of knocking down or bringing down an opponent; a decisive defeat; a contest in entertainment wrestling.

Apparently, two well-credentialed academics have teamed up against one of my articles to write what they consider to be (and describe as) a “smack down.”

The smack-down duo consists of Drs. Katelyn Dykstra and Matt Sheedy. Here are their bio lines:

Dr. Katelyn Dykstra holds a PhD in English, Theatre, Film, & Media from The University of Manitoba. She teaches in their Women’s and Gender Studies program. She publishes on intersex representation in Contemporary literature and film.

Dr. Matt Sheedy holds a PhD in Religious Studies from The University of Manitoba. He teaches at the University of Bonn in Germany. He has published widely on the representation of various religions in the public sphere.

(Dr. Dykstra is also interim deputy chair of Steinbach Pride. Steinbach is the city in which I live.)

The Dykstra-Sheedy smack down appeared in Medium, October 24, 2018, and is titled “Bad Faith Smack Down: The Case for Arguing in Good Faith.” (To argue in good faith means to be fair, open, and honest.) I provide a link to Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy's article below. The article (my article) that received the brunt of the Dykstra-Sheedy criticisms is “Perfect Storm.” This article appeared in mySteinbach.ca on August 14, 2018 (it was also published in Political Animal Magazine and The Carillon). I provide a link to my article below, too.

Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy argue that I have acted in bad faith and thus they, in good faith, have decided to display publicly the errors of my ways—errors that purport to show that I am not fair, open, or honest.

These are serious charges against my character, which, if true, would reflect negatively on me personally as well as professionally. Thus, for the sake of my personal and professional integrity, it behooves me to pay serious and close attention to the Dykstra-Sheedy argument. Moreover, and more importantly, it behooves me to pay close attention to their argument for the sake of the well being of those persons my article concerns: persons who elevate subjectivity—feelings—as a sufficient guide to reality.

My thesis is that the Dykstra-Sheedy “smack down” is, from the perspective of careful reasoning and truth-seeking, a failure. It’s not merely a failure, it’s a dismal failure.

To defend my thesis, I provide a link to Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy's article and I encourage readers to read it carefully. Then I present their article in piece meal fashion and critique their article in much detail. I show that (a) they seriously misrepresent my and others' work (I count at least nine misrepresentations), (b) they mischaracterize my view as “extraordinarily silly”; (c) they make a bizarre if not logically incoherent claim, (d) they ignore an important argument of mine, (e) they make several false claims, and (f) they make other errors—including spelling errors. (I usually don't make a fuss about spelling errors, but these smack-downers have PhD degrees. And one of the degrees is a PhD in English, Theatre, Film, and Media; italics mine.) I conclude that Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy's “smack down” fails—dismally.

In view of this failure, the argument of my (original) article remains standing, as do my concerns about persons whose feelings disconnect them from reality. My (original) article's conclusion remains standing, too: to navigate safely back to sanity we need to set our compasses on objective truth and the careful use of reason.


II. The (alleged) smack down

Here is a link to “Bad Faith Smack Down: The Case for Arguing in Good Faith,” written by Drs. Katelyn Dykstra and Matt Sheedy, and which appeared in Medium on October 24, 2018:


I encourage readers to read the Dykstra-Sheedy article in its entirety and to do so carefully.


III. Critique of the “smack down”

In this section I set out portions of the article by Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy (in black font) and I provide commentary and critique immediately after each portion (in red font). As mentioned in my introduction above, I argue that the Dykstra-Sheedy “smack down” is, from the perspective of careful reasoning and truth-seeking, a failure—a dismal failure. But don't take my word on this, read on.


Team Dykstra-Sheedy:

Recently the government of the United States has issued a memo that will no doubt ramp up medical intervention into intersex bodies, and deny rights to trans people. Even more recently, Dr. Hendrik van der Breggen has posted another opinion piece that attempts to show the immorality of LGBT2S people openly expressing their desires through a philosophical and theological argument with Lady Gaga’s famous axiom that queer people are “born that way,” and therefore perfect creations of God. In response to both of these events, Dr. Matt Sheedy and I have decided to publish a blog post we wrote this summer that we have been sitting on (we had grand plans of starting up our own blog, but being #earlycareeracademics got in the way). We could hold on to it no longer:

Van der Breggen’s response:

I won't speak to what the U.S. government is doing except to say that there are different political (and scientific) opinions on the matter. Clearly, Drs. Katelyn Dykstra and Matt Sheedy hold views that differ with those of the current U.S. government and its memo. So be it.

I will speak, however, to Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy's claim about my opinion piece on Lady Gaga which, they claim, spurred them on to publish their critique of my (other) article, “Perfect Storm” (which is not about Lady Gaga). It turns out that they misrepresent my piece on Lady Gaga.

The piece to which Dykstra-Sheedy refer is my article “Lady Gaga and Moral Reasoning.”  Unfortunately, Dykstra and Sheedy don't provide readers a link to my Gaga article. At this juncture, then, I encourage readers to pause and read my article on Gaga.

Here are my reasons for thinking that Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy misrepresent my Gaga article.

According to Dykstra and Sheedy, my article about Lady Gaga's moral reasoning “attempts to show the immorality of LGBT2S people openly expressing their desires through a philosophical and theological argument with Lady Gaga’s famous axiom that queer people are 'born that way,' and therefore perfect creations of God.”

Nope. My article does not attempt to do what Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy say it does.

Rather, what my article does is this: it shows that Gaga's claim “born this way” does not automatically mean we ought to affirm, celebrate, or act this way. My article merely—and modestly—shows that more argument is required for “born this way” to be a moral justification. Why? Because, as I argue, “born this way” justifies too much, including propensities to act in obviously immoral ways. In other words, in my article I argue that Lady Gaga's so-called axiom is not an axiom (i.e., it isn't a self-evident truth that justifies her inferences). Again, this isn't an attempt, as Dykstra and Sheedy assert, “to show the immorality of LGBT2S people openly expressing their desires”; rather, it's an attempt merely to show that “born this way” isn't enough logically as a moral justification. This is an important distinction.

Note: To put it mildly, this is a distinction through which one could drive a gravel truck carrying Hulk Hogan and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. But this distinction is lost on Dykstra and Sheedy. As a result, they misrepresent my article on Lady Gaga. And thereby they mislead readers—at the get-go.

This misrepresentation should put readers on CRITICAL THINKING ALERT. It turns out that this misrepresentation is but one of many. In the Dykstra-Sheedy article there are, in fact, at least nine misrepresentations. And these misrepresentations are seriously misleading.

Dykstra and Sheedy claim to show that my work isn’t done in good faith. As I mentioned, this is a serious charge. At the very least they should be accurate in their representation of my work (and the work of others). But they are not.

Significantly, the Dykstra-Sheedy article also has other serious problems, besides its (many) misrepresentations. Let’s continue our examination.


Dykstra & Sheedy:

Our world is complicated, and as we move further into the muck of what can feel like chaos, we need clear and clever thinking, and open and honest discussions about the events, identities, and debates that make us feel confused, icky, or (perhaps especially) angry. This summer, a piece called “A Perfect Storm,” was published on mysteinbach.ca (which has been published in other locations before) by Dr. Hendrik van der Breggen, and by goly it got our shackles up, but we are determined to engage in the kind of discussion we think is so necessary. Deep breath, here goes:

Van der Breggen:

Minor point: My article’s title is “Perfect Storm,” not “A Perfect Storm.” There is no indefinite article in the title. Yes, this is a wee bit of nitpicking on my part, but if my undergraduate students were to critique an article but not set out the article's title accurately, I would gently point out that error to my students. Here, however, I'm dealing with two individuals with PhDs and who refer to themselves with the hash tag “earlycareeracademics.”

Oh, and did Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy misspell “golly” as “goly”? Yes, they did. #triggered

[Also, shackles”  should be hackles. Thanks to Chris H. for pointing this out in the comment section.]


Dykstra & Sheedy:

Van der Breggen presents us with three theses that he claims present a “perfect storm” of philosophical thinking that “threatens to undo us.” The centre of the storm, according to Dr. van der Breggen, is that we now live in a world (at least in the US and Canada), where people can declare their identity in any way they feel, be it a different gender, race, or age.

Van der Breggen:

At this juncture, I invite readers to pause and carefully read my article “Perfect Storm.

Yes, I present a perfect storm of philosophical thinking that threatens to undo us. But, no, the centre of the storm is not simply that we now live in a world in which “people can declare their identity in any way they feel.” The centre of the storm, according to my article, is this: “I am whatever I feel—and you're a bigot for challenging that.”

Notice that the centre of the storm is a philosophical-metaphysical storm of subjectivity that elevates feelings as a sufficient indicator of what is real, a storm that dismisses challenges; it's not merely a storm of gender identity declaration. Yes, a declaration is made, but my concern is that it's the declaration of the metaphysical claim that “I am whatever I feel.” (Note: a metaphysical claim has to do with being, with reality, with what is.) In other words, what is declared, in view of the three theses I present in my article, is the implicit metaphysical argument that I-feel-I-am-X-therefore-I-am-X—that is my concern.  That is the centre of the storm.

Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy seem not to understand that the case of Ja Du—the man Adam Wheeler who feels he is a Filipino woman and therefore is a Filipino woman—merely illustrates the metaphysical storm of subjectivity that arises if feelings are trump. That Mr. Wheeler illustrates (i.e., exemplifies, concretizes) the metaphysical storm is what I mean when I write, “Let's put some flesh on this storm.” Again, the storm's centre is the abstract, philosophical thesis—implicit metaphysical argument—logically entailed by the three theses I set out; Adam Wheeler (a.k.a. Ja Du) merely illustrates (i.e., exemplifies, concretizes) this.

Dykstra and Sheedy, then, misrepresent my work (again). It is a subtle misrepresentation, but a misrepresentation nonetheless. (Misrepresentation 2.)

Reminder: The three theses I set out at the beginning of “Perfect Storm” are these: (1) there is no objective truth, (2) truth is subjective (i.e., it's what you feel), and (3) disagreement equals hate. These theses converge onto (logically imply) “I am whatever I feel—and you're a bigot for challenging that.” In other words, I-feel-I-am-X-therefore-I-am-X and you are a bigot if you challenge this metaphysical argument. The alleged metaphysical truth given to us via subjectivity is my concern.


Dykstra & Sheedy:

Dr. van der Breggen cites an interview on Fox News between host Tucker Carlson and Cathy Areu of Catalina Magazine, whose response to every question that she’s asked about these identity issues is to claim that it’s perfectly American to choose who you want to be. It is “okay.” Period. For Dr. van der Breggen, this is not only a violation of objective truth, but is insanity, plain and simple.

Van der Breggen:

I have two points to make here.

First, Cathy Areu responds that it's perfectly American only to some of the questions, not “to every question that she's asked about identity issues” (my italics). Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy (again) misrepresent the goings-on. (This is misrepresentation number 3.)

Second, surely it is a violation of objective truth and it is insanity plain and simple when Areu answers Carlson's questions the way she does (even if she sometimes says it's “very American,” it's “okay,” etc.). Permit me to quote the relevant portions from Areu which I presented in my article “Perfect Storm”:

“It's totally OK. It's very American to be who you want to be. This person has the freedom to be who she wants to be. And she wants to be a Filipino woman. So that's OK.”

 “It's what's on the inside that counts, not what's on the outside. There's a growing movement. There's many people that are now identifying as the other gender and as another culture or race or ethnicity.”

“If this person's not hurting anyone, then what's wrong?”

“If you're identifying as a woman and you're not hurting anyone, there's nothing wrong with that. If you [a man] want to be a woman, that's fine, that's perfectly fine.”

What about becoming a different sex, race, or species? “If you're not hurting anyone, then what's the problem? It's very American to be who you want to be. So I think it's wonderful. I think it's beautiful. I think it's great.”

Didn't we used to call this delusional? “It's 2017. It's OK now to be transracial and transgender. We're accepting. We're an open society. We're a modern society.”

What if you have a friend who thinks he is Napoleon: “That's OK!”

So it's not a sign of mental illness, but a sign of personal actualization? “Absolutely! As Ja Du says, it's what's inside that counts… it's that person's choice.”

Folks, this is a perfect storm—of insanity.

Again: Areu responds that it's perfectly American only to some of the questions, not “to every question,” contrary to what Dykstra and Sheedy claim. So Dykstra and Sheedy misrepresent the goings-on. And surely it is a violation of objective truth and it is insanity when Areu answers Carlson's questions as she does (above). To suggest otherwise, as Dykstra and Sheedy do, is to suggest a false claim.


Dykstra & Sheedy:

We suggest that Dr. van der Breggen’s argument is not only unnecessarily alarmist but also riddled with philosophical fallacies and erroneous statements. What follows are three theses that clearly outline these problems.

Van der Breggen:

Is it true that my argument is “riddled with philosophical fallacies and erroneous” (my italics)? That’s a very strong charge. So let's see if Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy make their case. And let's keep in mind that Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy have already made three misrepresentations and suggested a false claim. This should provide reasonable grounds for suspicion. Yes, they make more mistakes—several more mistakes. Serious mistakes.

Again, is it true that my argument is “riddled with [i.e., full of] philosophical fallacies and erroneous”? Read on. (Spoiler alert: It's not true.)


Dykstra & Sheedy:

Identity politics is not the issue that will or must define our current cultural moment.

Van der Breggen:

Okay, but keep in mind that I didn't say identity politics will or must define our current cultural moment. Yes, I pointed to the perfect storm that is the result of the convergence of three theses: (1) there is no objective truth, (2) truth is subjective (i.e., it's what you feel), and (3) disagreement equals hate. But I did not say that there aren't other storms. Perhaps there are other or additional perfect storms that will or must define our current cultural moment. Or perhaps they will all converge into a larger perfect storm and thereby define our cultural moment. My article doesn't preclude this. To suggest it does, as Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy seem to suggest, is to suggest a misrepresentation of my view.

(I won’t count this in my tally of Dykstra-Sheedy misrepresentations, because it’s merely a suggestion on their part. But, still, it’s a mistaken suggestion.)


Dykstra & Sheedy:

Recently, popular thinkers like Dr. Jordan Peterson, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, have been publically hand-wringing about transgender people and their claims to rights (including to have their preferred pronouns adhered to, to change their gender on their passports, and to have access to gender-neutral bathrooms). In response, Dr. Peterson argues that such identity-based discussions are the most pressing issue of our day.

Van der Breggen:

This does not accurately reflect Dr. Jordan Peterson’s concern. Peterson's concern is with transgender activists (who don't speak for all trans persons) who wish to use the force of law to compel citizens to use language they do not believe reflects what is true. Peterson is concerned with freedom of speech.

More specifically, Peterson is concerned that bills such as Canada's Bill C 16 will compel Canadians to speak language that promotes and reflects an ideology, which in this case happens to be a controversial ideology that has to do with the issue of transgender.  Peterson is challenging our government's overreach in its attempt to compel speech.

To put Peterson's concerns into proper perspective, it may be helpful to notice that, as a relatively recent article about Peterson points out, “When it gets brought up, he’s quick to note that he does not oppose calling trans individuals by their pronouns but that he opposes having his language dictated by a central political committee.” (Zak Slayback, “Many Intellectuals Can't Stand Jordan Peterson. Why?” Foundation for Economic Education, January 26, 2018).

In other words, Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy don’t have a good grip on Peterson’s views. Dykstra and Sheedy’s generality and concomitant lack of specific clarity concerning Peterson’s work serves to misrepresent it. (That’s misrepresentation number four.)

Aside: I have written about Canada’s Bill C 16 and have thought about Peterson’s views. Perhaps my work will be helpful. I invite interested readers to look at these articles:

 About the question of transgenders and bathrooms, see this article:

  
Dykstra & Sheedy:

Dr. van der Breggen echoes such claims [from Dr. Jordan Peterson], suggesting that transgender people’s apparent misunderstanding about their identity is the issue that will “undo us.” Really? As a recent study shows that climate change is literally about to alter our world in irreversible ways, we are stressed about other people’s gender identities? We are not suggesting, of course, that we should not seriously attend to the questions that gender identity raises, nor do we think that in order to take seriously climate change we have to ignore these important conversations, but we are absolutely suggesting that in the face of all of the chaos in this world, choosing trans people (or even identity politics writ large) as the crux of our undoing seems pretty silly. Actually, it is extraordinarily silly.

Van der Breggen:

Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy are mistaken in characterizing my view as “pretty silly” and “extraordinarily silly.” I have three reasons, which provide a cumulative case against the Dykstra-Sheedy characterization.

First, the fact that one perfect storm threatens to undo us doesn't preclude the possibility of other perfect storms threatening to undo us. Just because I point to one perfect storm doesn't mean I don't think, nor does it logically preclude, that there might be other perfect storms. Perfect storms are rare, but that doesn't mean there can't be more than one.

Second, it's important to notice that to reach their position thus far, Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy have misrepresented my (and Jordan Peterson's) views, and the misrepresentation continues here. Permit me to explain.

I am not merely “choosing trans people (or even identity politics writ large) as the crux of our undoing.”  Rather, as I've pointed out above (and will point out again here), the transgender issue merely illustrates the metaphysical storm of subjectivity that arises if feelings are trump. The metaphysical storm of subjectivity is the crux. As I pointed out above (and will point out again here), the centre of the storm, according to my article, is this: “I am whatever I feel—and you're a bigot for challenging that.” Notice that this is a philosophical-metaphysical storm of subjectivity (a storm that dismisses challenges); it's not merely a storm of transgender identity declaration (or identity politics). Yes, a declaration is made, but it's the declaration of the metaphysical claim (i.e., a claim having to do with being, with what is) that “I am whatever I feel”—that is the focus of my concern. In other words, what is declared, in view of the three theses I present, is the implicit metaphysical argument that I-feel-I-am-X-therefore-I-am-X. This is the problem.

And it’s a problem because it stems from the three theses I set out in “Perfect Storm”: (1) there is no objective truth, (2) truth is subjective (i.e., it's what you feel), and (3) disagreement equals hate. These theses converge onto (logically imply) “I am whatever I feel—and you're a bigot for challenging that”: I-feel-I-am-X-therefore-I-am-X and you are a bigot if you challenge this metaphysical argument. Again, the transgender issue merely illustrates the metaphysical storm of subjectivity that arises if feelings are trump. That feelings are trump as a guide to reality and you're a bigot if you challenge this—this is the crux.

This leads to my third point.

Third, if my first two theses are true—i.e., (1) there is no objective truth and (2) truth is subjective (i.e., it's what you feel)—then the claim that climate change is a true problem is weakened. Think about it. If these two theses hold, then claims concerning climate change are no longer objectively true: they become relative to individual subjectivity. In view of my first two theses, then, it would very much seem that the perfect storm I am pointing to is a more fundamental and an even bigger problem than the problem of climate change. And if we add the third thesis—(3) disagreement equals hate—then we end up with an even bigger problem! Pointing to this philosophical problem is not at all silly, surely.

In view of the cumulative effect of the above three reasons, Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy are mistaken in characterizing my view as “pretty silly” and “extraordinarily silly.” Their misunderstanding of my argument (and its logical implications) leads them to this characterization.

Aside: Since Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy brought Dr. Jordan Peterson into the conversation plus introduced the topic of climate change (though their link seems not to work), maybe we should hear some recent comments by Peterson about climate change: Professor Jordan Peterson on climate change and climate policy at the Cambridge Union (YouTube video, 6.5 minutes). Also, some insights from Rex Murphy may add some helpful perspective: What's in a name? With 'Climate Change,' a lot of reckless misuse (article). Also, this article by Cal Thomas may be helpful, too: “'A Political Report Masquerading as Science': The Truth About the New Climate Report.” (Confession: I'm no expert on climate change and I don't dismiss concerns about our environment, but, having lived through the era of concerns about global cooling, I think it's important to listen to dissenters.)


Dykstra & Sheedy:

We have ceased to argue in good faith.

Van der Breggen:

To argue in good faith means at least that one tries not to misrepresent those with whom one is arguing. Thus far, Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy have misrepresented the views of others at least four times: my view x 3 (at least), Dr. Peterson’s view x 1. More to come.


Dykstra & Sheedy:

In our current political moment, we too often see people debating in bad faith on all sides of any disagreement. Dr. van der Breggen presents in his argument a straw person. As a philosophy PhD, we are certain that Dr. van der Breggen is well aware of what we mean, but for those who don’t: to construct a straw person argument is to represent an opponent’s position in a disingenuous way so that one can more easily tear it down.

Van der Breggen:

Yes, I have a PhD in philosophy (I also have a BA in philosophy and an MA in philosophy, plus I've taught critical thinking courses for the last dozen or so years). So, yes, I am well aware of what a straw person argument is. But I wish to add that, in my professional opinion, I think Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy's definition of straw person argument is not correct.

Dykstra and Sheedy define a straw person argument as this: “to represent an opponent’s position in a disingenuous way so that one can more easily tear it down.” The word “disingenuous” is the culprit. Disingenuous means insincere or dishonest. It has to do with character qualities or motives, in this case those character qualities or motives of the interlocutor doing the representing or misrepresenting.

It seems to me that the essence of what defines a straw person argument does not include motive. Rather, it's about misrepresenting an opponent's argument, whether one is disingenuous or not (and then attacking that misrepresentation as if it were the real item). The fact is straw person arguments allow for the possibility that one can honestly and sincerely misrepresent an opponent's argument. One can honestly and sincerely make a mistake. Whether one misrepresents an opponent's argument wittingly or unwittingly, sincerely or insincerely, honestly or dishonestly, disingenuously or not disingenuously—these are all beside the point. They are interesting, but beside the point. In argument assessment the interest is the argument, not the arguer's motives. The point is that the argument under investigation is actually misrepresented and then this (weaker) misrepresentation is critiqued as if it were the original. The crucial mistake of straw person has to do with the misrepresentation and subsequent critique centered on the misrepresentation; it does not have to do with the misrepresenter's character or motives. 

The understanding of the straw person fallacy (a.k.a. straw man fallacy) that I have set out above is not peculiar to me. Here are some definitions from other sources (sources that are respected in the academic discipline of logic and critical thinking):

“Straw man fallacy. A fallacy committed when a person misrepresents an argument, theory, or claim, and then, on the basis of that misrepresentation, claims to have refuted the position the person has misrepresented.” – Trudy Govier, A Practical Study of Argument, enhanced 7th edition/ instructor's edition (Wadsworth/Cengage, 2014), page 176.

“Straw man fallacy. The informal fallacy of representing one's interlocutor as having endorsed a position that the interlocutor did not endorse, attacking this position one had identified, and concluding that the interlocutor's view is false on this basis.”  – T. Ryan Byerly, Introducing Logic and Critical Thinking (Baker Academic, 2017), page 242.

“In the straw man fallacy, one person rewords or reframes an argument in such a way that (1) the new version does not accurately reflect the original argument, and (2) the new version is easy to criticize or defeat.”  – Galen A. Foresman, Peter S. Fosl & Jamie Carlin Watson, The Critical Thinking Toolkit (Wiley Blackwell, 2017), page 159.

“Straw arguments. We often find ourselves summarizing an opponent's position in order to clarify it or attribute certain consequences to it before arguing against it. When we do this, we must be sure that the opposing position has been fairly and accurately represented. If our version is wrong, whether it is deliberate or through an oversight—if we take our opponent's position to be A when she intended B, and then proceed to attack B—we are guilty of the type of contextual irrelevance known as 'straw argument.' A straw argument is always a misrepresentation of a position, usually a weakened account of it used to make the response easier and apparently more effective.” – Leo A. Groarke & Christopher W. Tindale, Good Reasoning Matters! A Constructive Approach to Critical Thinking, 3rd edition (Oxford University Press, 2004), page 269.

All this to say (again): Contrary to what Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy assert, whether one is ingenuous or disingenuous is not a defining condition of what a straw person argument is.

(Note: I won't count this against Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy as a misrepresentation, because I notice that in some textbooks some authors carelessly include personal characteristics of the arguer/misrepresenter as part of the definition of straw person argument. I simply think this is a mistake, a mistake that's been passed—unfortunately, in my view—to a new generation of academics.)


Dykstra & Sheedy:

In picking on trans people, Dr. van der Breggen chose an example that is an outlier to most discussions of trans.

Van der Breggen:

Reminder: The three theses I set out in “Perfect Storm” are these: (1) there is no objective truth, (2) truth is subjective (i.e., it's what you feel), and (3) disagreement equals hate. These theses converge onto (logically imply) “I am whatever I feel—and you're a bigot for challenging that.” I then illustrate the absurd consequences via the example of the fellow who feels he is a Filipino woman.

This is not “picking on trans people”; rather, it is to pick on the logical implications of the three theses: i.e., the resultant metaphysical storm of subjectivity being trump. To claim that I am “picking on trans people” is to misrepresent my article. As I point out in my article, the man Adam Wheeler (a.k.a. Ja Du) who feels he is a Filipino woman (i.e., transracial and transgender) puts flesh onto the implication—that is, the case of Adam Wheeler provides a concrete illustration arising from the abstract reasoning that constitutes the storm. The case of Adam Wheeler is thus not an “outlier” to the discussion at hand. He is only an “outlier” if one misrepresents the goings-on in my article, as Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy do.

(Misrepresentation number 5.)


Dykstra & Sheedy:

He chose an example of a person who is both transgender and trans-racial. This means that the person feels themself to be part of a gender that is not the one they were designated at birth, and not of a racial group that they were not designated at birth or is not the one that they have lived with up until their moment of transition.

Van der Breggen:

I think some careful reading and questioning are appropriate here.

According to Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy, that a person is transracial means that the person feels themself to be “not of a racial group that they were not designated at birth.”  My question is this: Huh?

The Dykstra-Sheedy claim logically implies the possibility that being transracial is to be of a racial group designated at birth. This is bizarre, if not incoherent.

Also, I question Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy's use of the language of “designated at birth” (or, as is popular, “assigned at birth”). Such language is open to serious misunderstanding, especially by radical postmodern academics in the humanities or social sciences inclined to think language creates, blocks, or distorts our knowledge of reality rather than can accurately reflect and communicate truth. “Designated” (or “assigned”) suggests, mistakenly, that a nurse or doctor is the source of a newborn’s anatomical details or race (as, say, a mathematician assigns a value to a variable). The truth (more clearly stated) is that biological facts concerning sex and skin colour at birth are discerned (as real).

The comment below from Dr. Robert P. George may be helpful (George is professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University and co-author of the 2011 book Embryo):

You should rebel and resist every time you hear someone refer to the “sex assigned at birth” [or “sex designated at birth”]. That is because (1) sex is not something “assigned,” and (2) one comes into being as a distinct individual long before birth—and one comes into being as a male or female member of the human species.

Let's take these points in reverse order.

First, in the human, sex—one's being male or female—is established, not at birth, but at fertilization when a distinct organism—a new individual of the human species with his or her own genetic constitution and epigenetic program—comes into being. Even in the earliest embryonic stage, the developing human can be identified as male or female.

Second, it is simply a mistake to suppose that there is or could exist at any stage of development a sex-less human that is then “assigned” (by God, or nature, or a surgeon or endocrinologist) a sex. As I observed, the new human *comes into being as male or female*—organized biologically to play the male or female role in reproduction.

Of course, in a tiny percentage of cases, genetic or other biological malfunctions can result in anomalies (e.g. an XY female) or a certain measure of ambiguity in sex organs. But this does not mean that there are actually three or more sexes (or “genders”) or that sex is or can be “assigned” (or “changed” by surgery, hormonal manipulation, or anything else). For a fuller explanation of these and related points, see Ryan T. Anderson 's excellent book *When Harry Became Sally*.

There may have been a time when speaking of sex as “assigned at birth,” though strictly speaking inaccurate, was innocent. Today, however, it is used to suggest that one's sex is what philosophers call an accidental rather than an essential property—something distinct from, or independent of, the core reality of a person, something that was “assigned” and can therefore be re-assigned or changed to be brought into line with the thing that allegedly *really* makes one male or female (or a man or woman), namely, one's “gender.” But what actually makes one male or female is one's biological constitution; it is not something merely psychological (such as one's feelings, or a putative “inner sense” of having a male or female “identity”).

(Robert P. George, Facebook comment, November 25, 2018)

In other words, in their clarification of what it means to be “both transgender and trans-racial,” Drs. Dykstra set out what is a bizarre if not incoherent claim about what trans-racial means and they use questionable, misleading language about sex “designation.” Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy's language use is muddled and sophistical.


Dykstra & Sheedy:

We are not here to pass judgement about whether not not these claims are legitimate (whatever that would mean),…

Van der Breggen:

Minor point: I think Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy intend to write “whether or not,” not “whether not not.” Yes, proof-reading is needed.

Major point: Answering the question of whether or not the claims are legitimate (i.e., true) is the point of my article! As I argue, they are not legitimate. As I argue (via a look at Cathy Areu's assertions), the claims—i.e., the subjective I-feel-I-am-X-therefore-I-am-X claims—about being both transgender and transracial fall prey to absurd logical consequences. These absurd logical consequences show that the subjective I-feel-I-am-X-therefore-I-am-X claims are therefore false. Technically speaking, in my article I basically set out a reductio ad absurdum argument (i.e., I show a view is false by examining the absurd logical implications of that view). By taking a “pass” on making a judgment, Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy ignore my argument and thereby ignore its probative force (i.e., its power to substantiate/ provide evidence for/ prove a conclusion).

In other words, Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy present no “smack down.” Their ignoring my argument constitutes a failure to engage my argument. My argument is untouched. My argument and its probative force still stand.


Dykstra & Sheedy:

…but to assert in the strongest possible terms that the conflation of transgender and trans-racial as though they are somehow the same constructs a straw person about both of these positions.

Van der Breggen:

No, I am not conflating transgender and transracial as “somehow the same.” Rather, I am arguing that these different claims about reality are a logical consequence of “I feel X therefore I am X.”  Again: the point of my article is that the claims—i.e., the subjective I-feel-I-am-X-therefore-I-am-X claims—about being both transgender and transracial fall prey to the absurd logical consequences that I set out in my article (via Areu). These absurd logical consequences show that the subjective I-feel-I-am-X-therefore-I-am-X claims are therefore false: feelings are not a sufficient guide to what’s real. In other words, as I previously pointed out, in my article I basically set out a reductio ad absurdum argument (i.e., I show a view is false by examining the absurd logical implications of that view). This is not a straw person argument. To claim that it is a straw person argument is to misrepresent the goings-on in my article.

Yes, that's yet another misrepresentation by the Dykstra-Sheedy team. (Misrepresentation number 6.)


Dykstra & Sheedy:

It is arguing in bad faith. It is trying to make very complex issues (gender and race and ethnicity) simplistic in order to make a mockery of them.

Van der Breggen:

Nope. See above.  The Dykstra-Sheedy charge only works if we allow their misrepresentations, false claims, and failure to engage to go unchecked. But I refuse to allow these to go unchecked. Such maneuvers might be appropriate in the world of entertainment wrestling, but not here. The stakes are too serious. I am digging in my heels against sophistry and falsehoods masquerading as reason and truth.


Dykstra & Sheedy:

Here are a few further examples of what we mean: In the video clip from Fox News that Dr. van der Breggen provides as evidence for the ridiculousness of transgender identity, Carlson (the interviewer) argues that changing gender is something one might do to gain access to certain privileges. In fact, transgender people are murdered at a disproportionate rate to the rest of society and, as van der Breggen points out elsewhere, are more likely to commit suicide. Choosing to transition puts one at significant risk for personal injury, never mind social exclusion. To suggest that a person would choose to transition as a way of accessing a more privileged life has obviously never talked with a trans person.

Van der Breggen:

Minor point: “To suggest that a person would choose to transition as a way of accessing a more privileged life has obviously never talked with a trans person.” Huh? Clearly, this sentence needs proof-reading. (See further below for a few of my thoughts about “accessing a more privileged life.”)

Major point: Yes, in my article I do provide a link to the Carlson-Areu interview. But the issue is why. I do so to acknowledge my source (this is to use a link as a footnote). Significantly, in my article I do not set out Carlson's point about changing gender to gain access to privileges. Rather, I set out several other specific responses from Areu to Carlson's other specific questions. And those other specific responses are the responses that provide fodder for my reductio ad absurdum argument. For Dykstra and Sheedy to suggest otherwise is to misrepresent my article. Again. (Misrepresentation number 7.)


Dykstra & Sheedy:

It also seems at odds with Dr. van der Breggen’s other arguments that trans people are confused or fundamentally mistaken about their own identity, for if someone was intentionally misusing the system, they would most certainly be aware of it. Moreover, we challenge Dr. van der Breggen to find a statistically significant number of trans people (already a small section of our population) who exploit or make up trans identities in order to access any privileges. We are certain such a group is not large enough to count as statistically significant, never mind represent any threat to society. Needless to say, the number of people who claim a trans-racial identity is much, much smaller, and they are typically called out with condemnation as with the high profile case of Rachel Dolezal.

Van der Breggen:

This is all beside the point. Here again is the (major) point that I set out above:

Yes, in my article I do provide a link to the Carlson-Areu interview. Why? To acknowledge my source (this is to use a link as a footnote). But, and significantly, in my article I do not set out Carlson's point about changing gender to gain access to privileges. Rather, I set out several other specific responses from Areu to Carlson's other specific questions. And those other specific responses are the responses that provide fodder for my reductio ad absurdum argument. For Dykstra and Sheedy to suggest otherwise is to misrepresent my article. Again.

An aside (while keeping in mind the fact that the above Dykstra-Sheedy criticism is beside the point): It seems that there may very well be something like “privileges” arising from exploiting or making up trans identities. Consider these examples which have loomed large in recent news:
  • a man claiming to be a woman pummels an actual woman to win a women's mixed martial arts event
  • a man claiming to be a woman wins first place in a women's cycling competition
  • a man claiming to be a woman wins a women's weight-lifting competition
  • a boy claiming to be a girl dominates a girls' track-and-field event
  • various men claiming to be women prefer to use women's change spaces, showers, toilets
  • a man claiming to be a six-year-old girl likes the reduced responsibilities associated with being a little girl instead of an adult man
  • a man claiming to be a woman gets moved to a women's detention centre
  • a man claiming to be a woman goes into a women's shelter
  • a man claiming to be a woman wins a beauty pageant
  • more and more teens seem to see what some researchers have called “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” as a means to gain social status in an identity-politics peer culture (some researchers have described this as a “social contagion”)

The incidence of cases in which trans identities have some sort of “privileges” seems to be growing, and I suspect they will continue to grow if our society continues to embrace the faulty philosophical-metaphysical view that subjectivity is trump as a guide to what is real.

That is philosophically significant. Why? Because ideas have consequences—and the consequences of bad ideas are sometimes disastrous.

To answer the question about whether these cases are statistically significant, I would recommend further research.

Keeping the above aside as an aside, let's get back to the Dykstra-Sheedy “smack down.”


Dykstra & Sheedy:

Whether such condemnation is fair or helpful for understanding these issues is a different question, though one thing is clear: the vast majority of people who support and want to think in a meaningful way about transgender issues do not think that any way of identifying oneself is simply “ok,” no questions asked.

Van der Breggen:

Really? The vast majority? I don't think it's so clear.


In this report, an experienced psychotherapist (a psychotherapist who celebrates “gender variance”) is troubled about the fact that there are 17 children transitioning in one secondary school (in Britain) and claims this is not an isolated case. The pro-trans psychotherapist goes on to state this: “in today’s NHS [National Health Service, England], professionals are enabling hundreds—possibly thousands—of teenagers to have major surgery to change their gender. It is being done, almost unchallenged, in the name of transgender rights.” Again: “It is being done, almost unchallenged, in the name of transgender rights” (my italics). This seems to be evidence of it's-simply-okay-no-questions-asked—to a large extent.

Also, and closer to home, consider these claims from the Manitoba provincial government's 2017 document Supporting Transgender and Gender Diverse Students in Manitoba Schools:

“Students have the right to self-identify. Self-identification is the sole measure of a student's gender identity.” Professionals and parents “cannot change a young person's internal sense of self.” These claims very much seem to imply logically that a young person's sense of self—subjective feeling—as being the biological sex that they are not is solely up to the student. And this very much seems to imply logically that professionals and parents have no right to challenge or question this.

Aside: For a few more of my thoughts about Manitoba's aforementioned document, see my article Transtruth?


Dykstra & Sheedy:

Also in the clip, and in Dr. van der Breggen’s piece, gender and sex are persistently conflated, which makes overly simplistic the way that human beings embody both sex and gender. Gender and sex are not the same, though they are co-implicated in ways we still do not quite understand. Sex is biology. Gender is the way we present ourselves in the world as masculine, feminine, or somewhere inbetween. Sexual biology, like gender, exists on a spectrum of possibilities in humans not just for people designated intersex, but for all of us: tell us, how do you confirm your sex? Genitals? Chromosomes? Gonads? Hormones? Did you know that all of these designations are unstable? See Anne Fausto-Sterling or Myra Hird’s work, for example. Gender is also a series of possibilities, including how we chose to dress, what toys we play with as children, how we move our bodies.

Van der Breggen:

In the clip and the article, the focus of the logical implications of my three theses is on the fellow Adam Wheeler (now called Ja Du) who is a biological man but feels he is a Filipino woman. And Cathy Areu defends Adam Wheeler being a Filipino woman. Gender and sex are not being conflated.

Questions of race/ethnicity aside, think of it this way: A biological man claims to be a biological woman because he feels he is, but he has none of these: two X chromosomes, a vagina, breasts, ovaries, a uterus, and a menstrual cycle. The justification is I-feel-I-am-X-therefore-I-am-X. Spectrum or no spectrum, there is a problem here. This is the problem my article addresses. This is the storm: a metaphysical storm of subjectivity being trump as a guide to reality.

About Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy’s claim that there exists “a spectrum of possibilities” in sexual biology, it is important to realize that this alleged spectrum is not due to settled science. There is evidence for thinking it has more to do with an ideology masquerading as science. On this topic, see Ryan T. Anderson's book When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment (Encounter 2018). See too Anderson's article The Philosophical Contradictions of the Transgender Worldview.

About Anne Fausto-Sterling's work (to which Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy provide a link), it is important to realize that her work does not go unchallenged. For example, Debra W. Soh, who holds a PhD in sexual neuroscience, disagrees with Anne Fausto-Sterling. See Debra Soh's recent article, Science Shows Sex Is Binary, Not a Spectrum.

Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy make it look as if the science (i.e., sexual biology being a spectrum) behind transgender claims is settled. It is not settled. (Misrepresentation number 8.)


Dykstra & Sheedy:

To suggest that gender comes exclusively from our biology is to misunderstand that gender has always been changing. Think about it: does masculinity look the same now as in 1750? Of course not. It used to be that to be a woman meant always wearing skirts. Whether we believe now that women should wear skirts or not, we agree that not wearing skirts does not make a person a man. A quick glance at cultural patterns over time in different parts of the world reveals a wide variation of what is considered to be ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine,’ even in our own culture where styles of hair style, dress, and recreational activities have undergone radical changes over time. It was not too long ago that women were discouraged from so-called masculine activities — be it sport, exercise, military service, and many jobs such as medicine and engineering. Most people today consider these views antiquated as we’ve proven them to be false (of course women can do these things), though it’s worth keeping in mind that it was only a few decades ago that many argued that women being able to vote, drive a car, or have a personal bank account was ‘insane.’ We don’t mean to suggest that these differences in gender norms are the same issue as transgender identities (there are many important differences), but we do want to say, in no uncertain terms, that to dismiss something because it’s not what we’re used to or comfortable with is not an argument. It is fear-mongering in place of an argument and functions to draw a line in the sand, through caricature and demonization, rather than through a careful consideration of a very difficult topic.


Van der Breggen:

See my previous comment. Also, please note that I do not “dismiss something because it’s not what we’re used to or comfortable with.” To suggest that I am, as Dykstra and Sheedy suggest (in bold), is to misrepresent my article. Again. (Misrepresentation 9.)


Dykstra & Sheedy:

As for the comment by Robert Gagnon that Dr. van der Breggen cites — that people might identify “as a 5-year old so as to excel in kindergarten,” (or as Napoleon), which suggests that “biology has no bearing on reality” engages in a straw person, a slippery slope argument (that one outcome will necessarily lead to increasingly absurd outcomes, without basing such a slide in evidence), and outright hyperbole (of course this example is absurd, and an extreme outlier even if it does exist).

Van der Breggen:

No, it is not a straw person of I-feel-I-am-X-therefore-I-am-X reasoning to think that if we accept I-feel-I-am-X-therefore-I-am-X reasoning, then this will suggest that biology has no bearing on reality. The fact is that the acceptance of such reasoning logically implies that biology has no bearing on reality. Think of anorexia nervosa: here a person feels she is overweight but is, in biological fact, not. But if we hold to I-feel-I-am-X-therefore-I-am-X, then we would have to concede (if we are logically consistent) that her biology has no bearing on reality. The fact that biology does in fact have a bearing on reality shows that the I-feel-I-am-X-therefore-I-am-X reasoning is faulty.

Is this a slippery slope fallacy? No, because if one accepts I-feel-I-am-X-therefore-I-am-X reasoning, then the acceptance of this reasoning logically justifies a host of absurd consequences.  Significantly, if my feelings about myself are sufficient justification for my identity, why stop at transgender (e.g., a man identifying as a woman)? Why not trans-age: a 52-year-old man identifying as a 6-year-old girl? Why not trans-species: a human identifying as a dog or cat or dragon? I-feel-I-am-X-therefore-I-am-X reasoning justifies all of these absurd outcomes. The links (above, in my questions) provide evidence and confirm the logical outcomes—absurdities—of I-feel-I-am-X-therefore-I-am-X reasoning.

And none of this is hyperbole (exaggeration). It's a logical outworking of I-feel-I-am-X-therefore-I-am-X.

In other words, Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy set out three falsehoods in one sentence. Wow.


Dykstra & Sheedy:

We’ve heard similar arguments for many years that ‘gay marriage’ will lead to beastiality. Has this proven to be true? Of course not. It was a method of providing a harmful example in order to incite fear of a population people did not understand. The ridiculous examples provided by van der Breggen undermine his argument because they are similarity fallacious. These examples are provided in bad faith.

Van der Breggen:

No, my examples are neither fallacious nor provided in bad faith. See my relevant comments above.

Now, because Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy bring up the topic of same-sex marriage, permit me to direct readers to my article/talk: Is Same-Sex Marriage Like a Subway Sandwich? It turns out that there are consequences arising from same-sex marriage—and some of these consequences are deeply problematic and should concern all of us. This is not to incite fear. Rather, it is to carefully use evidence and reasoning to discern what is true, even though what is true may be uncomfortable and even troubling. And this is not fallacious reasoning presented in bad faith, contrary to what Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy assert.


Dykstra & Sheedy:

When we argue in bad faith, that is when we choose the most inflammatory example of any one phenomena and present it as indicative of the whole, which is what Dr. van der Breggen does here, we do an injustice to each other. This injustice does not, as thesis three of Dr. van der Breggen document would have it, indicate hate, but a lack of respect for the other. We need to care for each other, even if the other confuses us or makes our lifestyle feel threatened. Dr. van der Breggen argues elsewhere that trans people need to be treated with respect even if some folks disagree that they are, indeed, the gender they are. By arguing in bad faith, the respect Dr. van der Breggen tells us we all need to have for trans people is undermined.

Van der Breggen:

Let's see. Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy claim that I have argued in bad faith in my article “Perfect Storm.” To argue in good faith means at least that we do not misrepresent those with whom we are arguing. Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy's claim holds only if their arguments have merit. Significantly, however, Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy have thus far misrepresented my and others’ views not just once, not just twice, but nine times! They have also set out various other instances of shoddy reasoning plus some false claims.

Surely, Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy's “smack down”—which employs numerous misrepresentations, various other instances of shoddy reasoning, plus falsehoods—does not serve to help those persons whose cause Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy purport to champion. It seems to me that, at minimum, caring for and respecting others includes caring for and respecting reason and truth. Otherwise, “care” for others becomes mere sentiment and disconnected from reality—disconnected from the reality of what is in fact needed for human beings to flourish.  As I have argued, feelings are not a sufficient guide to reality.


Dykstra & Sheedy:

We need to listen to each other.

There is no doubt that our world is changing rapidly. This change has been expedited by access to the Internet. In response, people are negotiating all kinds of new possibilities. People who, in the past, have not had access to a forum to share their experiences are starting to have one (think about how many narratives of Indigenous people, or racial or sexual minorities were published by mainstream publishers prior to the 1970s, for example. The Internet has exploded these possibilities to have minority experiences read by a large public). Like Bambi on new and uncertain legs, we are all negotiating this interconnected new world full of new ways of explaining our experiences, desires, and identities. We may not agree with how someone expresses their identity, or even how they explain it. But, we need to approach each other as equals, as worthy of being listened to in good faith. If we don’t understand something, it behooves us even more to listen to the people around us that might be able to help us get to a more informed place. We need to stop looking for inflammatory YouTube videos that will confirm our biases, but instead go out into our communities and meet real people that embody the identities we think are putting us at risk. Ask questions with an honest ear to listening.

Van der Breggen:

Yes, I agree. I would also encourage Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy to read more carefully. Why? So they would not misrepresent others, not set out instances of shoddy reasoning, and not set out other faulty claims as they—Dykstra and Sheedy—publicize their confirmation bias.


IV. Conclusion

It seems to me that Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy's alleged smack down is, from the perspective of careful reasoning and truth-seeking, a failure—a dismal failure. To defend this conclusion, I provided a link to Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy's article, and I then critiqued their article in detail.

I ask the reader to think carefully about what Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy and I have written. Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy attempt to argue that I argued in bad faith in my article “Perfect Storm.” As I point out, to argue in good faith means at least that we do not misrepresent those with whom we are arguing. As I also point out, Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy engage in nine misrepresentations: they misrepresent my views (at least) seven times, they misrepresent Jordan Peterson’s view, and they misrepresent transgender-related science (as settled, when it's not settled). These are not minor slips—these are all serious misrepresentations. As I argue too, Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy also mischaracterize my view as “extraordinarily silly,” they present a bizarre if not logically incoherent claim, they ignore an important argument of mine, plus they set out several falsehoods about what I wrote. And there are various other errors (apparently due to a lack of proof reading).

Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy titled their article, “Bad Faith Smack Down: The Case for Arguing in Good Faith.” In my personal and professional opinion, Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy’s article does not succeed as a smack down. In fact, it fails miserably.

Therefore, the argument of my article(s) still stands. And the concerns raised by my article(s) continue to stand, too.


V. Personal postscript

I am a firm believer in the importance of careful reasoning and truth-seeking. These protect us from what Dr. Jordan Peterson calls “ideological possession,” which is a failure to think carefully to seek truth and thus be in the grips of a set of faulty ideas that do the “thinking” for us. It seems to me that we do those precious people who have gender dysphoria and/or other problems no favours if we abandon careful reasoning and truth-seeking. We need to care for such precious people, for sure. Careful reasoning and truth-seeking is, I believe, part of that care (see below for additional resources for those who have gender dysphoria).

I hope that my above interaction with Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy's work will be helpful to all of us, especially those who are tempted to succumb to the philosophical view that, as a guide to reality, subjectivity—whatever I feel—is trump.

I appreciate Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy for their desire to champion the well-being of others, and I hope they appreciate me for my desire to do the same. In spite of our disagreements (and perhaps even frustrations with each other), I would like to believe that Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy and I heartily agree that it's good that we live in a society that permits open discussion—such as the discussion in our articles.

If I have made mistakes in my above response to Drs. Dykstra and Sheedy (or in any of my articles), I hope that careful readers will discern them and offer corrections.


VI. Recommended resources

Here are some resources (books, videos, articles) related to the transgender topic:


Note to critics: Please read my work carefully before commenting. Please also take a look at least a few of the above-suggested readings/videos before commenting. And please keep in mind that the following are not mutually exclusive: (a) truth-seeking via the careful use of reason and evidence and (b) showing respect and love to those with whom one disagrees. Thanks.



Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Providence University College, Manitoba, Canada. The views expressed in his writings do not always reflect the views of Providence.