What is it like to be batshit crazy?: Nagel, qualia versus “Caitlyn” Jenner, transgenderism


Oh, boy–I mean oh, cisgender boy, behold the “T” in LGBTQ: transgenderism. It has become an especially prominent starlet of late thanks to the transformation of Bruce Jenner into “Caitlyn” Jenner. So, you know I’m about to put my hands on something I shouldn’t, the inviolate, the politically correct. As my saucy title illustrates, I relish tackling one of the Left’s sacred cows, but “tackling” is not the appropriate verbiage (I’m all about propriety when it comes to suitable word choice). Rather, I’m about to butcher the blessed bovine.

Before we can enjoy steak though, the proper niceties of a token disclaimer are to be observed in order for them to be sequentially disregarded by any rabid progressive nincompoops (Yeah, I said it!) who only see the world via outrage. Oh, and I probably should begin by explaining that naughty and meanspirited marquee offending Lady Social Justice from above.

In addition to all its key words and proper nouns primed for search engine optimization, the profanity works as crude click bait (After all, hasn’t it taken you this far, dear reader?). Granted, it’s a bat pun — a philosophical one at that — but if the average social justice warrior can’t understand a little provocative crassness in the solicitation of readers, well, I suppose it’s too late to issue a “Trigger Warning,” huh?

Frankly, I can’t help but despise political correctness. However, I do not hate transgender people, at least not in any accurate sense of the word that remains unmolested from the Orwellian manipulations of those who have already mauled the adjective by which they pharisaically and erroneously identify as — “tolerant.”

Really. Compare my obscenity with the sort of “polite” hospitality conservative writer Ben Shapiro faced — and not just from Robert Tur (“Zoey”), as what followed after 05:35 from everyone else made abundantly lucid — for dissenting from progressive groupthink. Whose transgressions surrounding this issue here are honestly more reprehensible and actually hateful?

Now, with such thuggish machismo displays out of the way, let’s give a brief account of transgenderism. By definition on Wikipedia, transgender “the state of one’s gender identity or gender expression not matching one’s assigned sex at birth

“Of, relating to, or designating a person whose identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender roles, but combines or moves between these.”[2]

I found the use of “assigned birth” rather question-begging of a radical position that is expressed on related transgender Wikipedia pages that “xx” and “xy” chromosomes and the broad sexual categories of male and female are social constructs and don’t reflect the empirical realities of sex variation found in humans. I’m not going to deal with such a position here.

Anyway, there typically is a critical distinction made between sex and gender, with gender notions of masculinity and femininity being socially constructed, while sex is determined by biology. For example, the color blue is associated with boys, while pink is girly and has cooties or something like that; at least I never liked it, you know, ‘cuz I’m a dude. I’m biologically male, but my reaction/rejection of pink is and was informed by cultural norms surrounding masculinity and femininity in youth.

Hence, the argument is made that there is no essence to masculinity and femininity outside of the changing attitudes of societies and people. At best, they’re subjective guidelines that can tested, bent and broken to the point that self-identification, i.e., personal whim, dictates an individual’s gender. If you’re born with he-parts, but believe yourself to be a she, then you’re a she, according to a traditional advocate for transgenderism.

The problem, however, is that what’s fundamentally subjective for a tiny, tiny minority — their wills — is a hard sell to impose on the whole of the body politic as public policy. So, current supporters of the movement, searching for an objective basis to advance their cause, have resorted to an oldie but a goodie from the gay activist playbook. Transgendered people are now “born that way.” In the mainstream, transgenderism suddenly has roots in the biological sciences, don’t ya know?

At The Public Discourse, for instance, Jennifer Gruenke claims:

“there are good scientific reasons for supposing that subjective experience of gender can legitimately diverge from the sex of one’s reproductive organs…, show(ing) that developmental biology demonstrates that there are multiple pathways of sexual development, that one of those pathways is in the brain, and that the pathways of sexual development can diverge from one another.”

Likewise, at Ethika Politika, Christopher Damian refers to chimerism, vanishing twin syndrome, unclear genitalia, contrasting levels of hormones, etc.

Nevermind that previously a clear demarcation had been struck between the social (gender) and the biological (sex), where the fact a person had a penis and testes had no sway in mandating one’s gender if said person wanted to identify as a woman. Well, intellectual honesty and logical consistency for the mainstream Left be damned! What the sociologists tore asunder so that no bigot could join in protest, let the neurologists and geneticists hastily mate together in blissful union, as we have a world of hearts and minds to conquer— er, change.

Also, nevermind that the phenomena Gruenke, Damian and others are bringing up are rare and varied medical cases. That, they are exceptions to the highly successful and overwhelmingly common results of biological reproduction that helped us become the dominant species on the planet. Prior to his assault on Shapiro, Tur mentions Klinefelter Syndrome, the condition of a male having two or more “x” chromosomes, which approximately occurs 1:500 to 1:1,000 male live births at its most frequent. Compared to CAIS (Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome), which affects an estimated 2 to 5 per 100,000 individuals, Klinefelter Syndrome is rather regular.

Moreover, if the word “syndrome” is any indication, these happenings are abnormal and aren’t considered typical of a functionally biologically healthy person. So, how these conditions can be used to justify or normalize gender dysphoria and its behavioral transitioning between male and female as copacetic like being left-handed is beyond me.

What all this amounts to is obfuscation, scientifically, as explained above, and metaphysically, as properties, which are known as accidents from my Aristotelian-sympathetic perspective, are not identical to essences but flow from them. Their failure to manifest in contrast to what’s regular or average, such as dogs having three legs instead of four or a man suffering from Klinefelter Syndrome, does not show that the essences of doghood and manhood are not what they are purported to be nor does it demonstrate that essences don’t exist at all.

What this explanation via science, as argued by transgender advocates, does, however, metaphysically demonstrate is a sort of presupposed determinism about social behavior like gender identification and a physicalism that underlies it all. In other words, the social is ultimately reducible to physical biochemistry and physiology and thereby explainable by it as well. Therefore, those feelings and thoughts of anxiety about really being a woman trapped in a man’s body can be completely accounted for via genetics, hormones and neurology.

Now, such a view is batty. Enter Thomas Nagel and his famous essay, “What is it like to be a bat?“. Here, Nagel draws a pivotal distinction in regard to experience, referring between its inherent subjectivity and attempts at equating it in objective physical terms, i.e, purely material or physical accounts of the mind. He writes:

It is impossible to exclude the phenomenological features of experience from a reduction in the same way that one excludes the phenomenal features of an ordinary substance from a physical or chemical reduction of it—namely, by explaining them as effects on the minds of human observers(4). If physicalism is to be defended, the phenomenological features must themselves be given a physical account. But when we examine their subjective character it seems that such a result is impossible. The reason is that every subjective phenomenon is essentially connected with a single point of view, and it seems inevitable that an objective, physical theory will abandon that point of view (2004, p. 2).

What Nagel means here is that the conscious mental states animals and persons have in life, the subjectivity embedded within instances of conscious experience, which are known as qualia, by their nature, remain elusive and indescribable by objective, external means. In other words, what’s experienced in the first person cannot be completely understood via third person methodologies, including empirical investigation.

That isn’t to say science has nothing to tell us about, to borrow from Nagel’s example, a bat echolocating, e.g., how it’s done, what sort of pitches or noises the bat makes, its range of effectiveness, etc., but that it remains incapable of translating for us what it is really like to echolocate as a bat; or as encapsulated by Nagel’s pithy and eponymous phrase, what is it like to be a bat?.

Then, circling back to transgenderism, all this poses the question, what is it like to be a woman? Or, inversely, what is it like to be a man? According to transgenderism, someone like the feminine “Caitlyn” Jenner, who, when he identified as the male “Bruce” Jenner, had access to the inner knowledge of what it was like to be a woman. Yet, given Nagel’s argument, this seems impossible. What is it like to be a woman can only be fully appreciated from the subjective experience of growing up as a girl and living as a woman, and Jenner’s understanding of the femininity he apparently identifies with was learned from his male, third-person perspective of it. So, it is utter rubbish to say that a man is indeed a woman because he feels like he’s a woman, and no amount of pointing to brain scans and the like makes such a claim any more intelligible.

The Federalist‘s D.C. McAllister astutely targets the same problem while candidly sharing some personal details about her childhood and her psychological development into a woman. She recounts the indignity of “the trials of growing up as a girl, of longing to be a beautiful woman”:

My development was particularly humiliating. While all my friends had developed nice, full breasts early, my boyish looks held fast—until the little buds began to grow in middle school. The thing was, with me, they didn’t exactly grow evenly. The right one developed before the left one. I was painfully self-conscious about it, and would wrap myself with tape when my mom had me wear a fitted shirt. Not knowing much about such things, I became convinced something was terribly wrong with me and that I probably had breast cancer…

…he (Bruce) will never know what it’s like to wait expectantly for that first period…Then…the magic happened. My heart raced, and my face flushed. I was so relieved, so happy. I was finally a woman like my friends. I wasn’t destined to be a freak like I was afraid I’d become…

…That early delight faded pretty quickly as the pain and drudgery of menstruation set in. I had heavy flows, cramps, and lots of accidents. The worst was in ninth grade, when I was sitting beside a boy I liked at school. It was an extended class because we were testing that day. I was wearing blue slacks and had lost count of my days between periods. As I sat there, pink-cheeked and stealing glances at the boy next to me, I felt that sudden warm flow, and knew I had to get to the bathroom. I raised my hand, and the teacher excused me.

When I got there, I realized I had leaked all the way through. Thankfully, my mom worked at the school, and she went home to get me a change of clothes. When I returned to the classroom and approached my seat, I looked down in horror to see blood smeared on it, now dry and browning. The girl who sat behind me snickered, and the boy wouldn’t look at me. I considered that a kindness. I sat down and tried to clean it off with my palms. I never looked at that boy the same way again.

Jenner won’t have to endure such humiliations. He’ll never know what it’s like to be a girl, to bravely face the realities, not the fantasies, of nature.

I think McAllister has made the point both graphically and rather eloquently, but I’d like to pile on a bit. For example, what about being the victim of sexism that feminist harpies like to harp on about. Surely, every woman knows what it’s like to be a woman living in man’s patriarchal world: The catcalls, you’re worth and success judged by your sex appeal, etc. I mean, it’s not like Jenner has been objectified like Alex Morgan of the women’s US national soccer team has been — as in posing for Sports Illustrated for ogling — prior to accomplishing great athletic feats like winning the Women’s World Cup, or in Jenner’s case, winning the men’s Olympic Decathlon. On the contrary, he’s been primarily valued for his achievements and not his looks, while Erin Andrews is more renowned for her fetching appearance, not her skills as a sideline reporter. Moreover, pregnancy, birth, menopause and a life growing up acknowledging and mentally preparing for these realities that most women face, are all phenomena of which “Caitlyn” Jenner is also intimately familiar, right?

On the flipside, for any woman “transitioning” to become a man, it’s also impossible for them to know what it’s phenomenally like to be manly. Like the experience of getting racked in the nuts: The pain, the tears streaming down the eyes, the sudden drop before rolling on the floor and the all the guys present howling with laughter while simultaneously offering solutions to assuage the discomfort like lying on your back and humping the air. Nor do they really have any clue what it’s like to have sexual thoughts and desires always lurking in the back of your mind like a shark, all day, every day. What’s that oft-cited statistic that men think about sex every 7 or 15 seconds? Or the what it’s like to have your first erection, fathering a child, etc., and how these experiences formulate the male psyche.

Admittedly, even all these relayed examples are still impoverished third-person accounts and fail to capture the richness of what it is like be a man or a woman. Yet, I think they do invoke the right kind of memories to “get” what I’m driving at.

All these qualia or these types of exclusively male and female subjective moments are necessarily elusive to the transgendered individual claiming to be a member of a club that requires this similarly shared, personal life experience to gain entry. Whatever is Jenner’s notion of what it means or feels to be a woman, it was inspired by a third-person, objective conception as created by culture like that found in TV, music and other forms of media — which are notorious for being littered with false and or misleading stereotypes; so the cues aren’t very accurate — and was unequivocally influenced by his perception of femininity while being a man. Hence, at best, transgendered individuals like Jenner can and only do is approximate their chosen gender based on unauthentic and corrupted experiential inputs. The facsimiles constructed from the best fake breasts, prosthetic penises, makeup, plastic surgery still fall incredibly short, as phenomenally, something inherent to being either male or female is very much missing.

So yes, thanks to Nagel, we have a good reason to not only suspect that transgender individuals actually can’t really be men or women in the wrong bodies but also that scientific justification for such a misconceived phenomenological event is also hokum. And with the latter conclusion, it’s not that the explanation is false. In “What is it like to be a bat?,” Nagel refuses to rule out physicalism as such. His critique is actually more withering, arguing we can’t claim it as false because currently we don’t actually have a comprehensible understanding of what it means when the physicalist asserts that the mind is exhausted by the brain and its accompanying physiology. It’s gibberish. Likewise, to assume as Gruenke does, that the feelings of gender dysphoria, i.e. qualia or conscious subjective experience, is at bottom just a chunk of grey matter composed of synapses and can be neurologically detected as such is also sheer nonsense.

Let me be forthcoming: I don’t argue this thesis to be mean or demean the struggles of transgendered people. Rather, I seek to savagely discredit those ideologues who, in my perspective, demand that we all indulge in the mass delusion of the emperor wearing the empress’s clothes and vice versa.

Therefore, with this in mind, we should empathize and look for real solutions for those afflicted with such psychoses instead of those false ones pushed by dogmatists hellbent on imposing their views on the rest of us at both the transgendered’s and our expense.

Now, wouldn’t that be something?

Modus Pownens

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3 thoughts on “What is it like to be batshit crazy?: Nagel, qualia versus “Caitlyn” Jenner, transgenderism

  1. This was really well said. Thank you, I enjoyed the bat analogy.

    There’s a guy here who perceives himself to be a tiger and has engaged in assorted tattoos, piercings, and dental work to become more tiger-like. It’s somewhat ironic, because no self respecting tiger would engage in any of these pursuits. In the process of trying to manifest himself as a tiger, it becomes somewhat obvious to everyone else that what he is seeking is his own subjective, fantasy definition of what a tiger “is.”

  2. You know IB, concerning your remark on Tigers, I think you’ve just added a wrinkle to this that I had not considered and leads me to a disturbing conclusion.

    Most women do not augment themselves to make themselves more feminine. Yet, it would be remiss to not mention that there are women who get artificial breasts, plastic surgery, botox and go to extraordinary ends to exemplify some feminine ideal of beauty that’s highly illusory. This exists within the cultural world of men too, but I think it’s a much more recent development, the demand for testosterone enhances, Viagra and such. Our culture is rife with Sartrean narcissism that we can make and remake ourselves in our own image — our only limitation is our own wills.

    It’s easy to identify the more obvious cases like transgenderism or this Tiger aficionado, but as a society we’re sick and have a rot festering away at our core.

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