All posts filed under: Human Rights

How the Trans-Rights Movement Is Turning Philosophers Into Activists

On July 3, I received an innocuous-seeming email from the Digital Content Editor of a London-based arts organization called the Institute for Art and Ideas. She asked if I might set out my views on the question, “How can philosophy change the way we understand the transgender experience and identity?” As the expected response was supposed to be only 200 words in length, the task didn’t seem particularly demanding. So I agreed, and sent along a brief answer in which I focused on the now common assumption that everyone has a “gender identity.” I provided some (necessarily) brief objections to the concept as it is currently being advanced by some trans rights activists, and ended by commenting that philosophers can help people to “understand what a gender identity might be, and whether it’s a fitting characteristic to replace sex in law.” The gender wars in philosophy had been heated since May, igniting with University of Sussex philosopher Kathleen Stock’s Medium post asking why academic philosophers—feminist philosophers, in particular—weren’t contributing to the discussion about Britain’s Gender …

Yaniv’s Other Racket: How a Single Gender Troll Managed to Get ‘Hundreds’ of Women Thrown Off Twitter

The Canadian human-rights litigant formerly known as Jonathan Yaniv—a trans woman who now goes by the name Jessica, but whom we will refer to simply as “JY”—is a unique figure among those who follow the debate over transgender rights. In 2018, this self-described “global internet personality” and “social justice warrior” contacted numerous Vancouver-area aestheticians seeking Brazilian-wax services—a process Wikipedia describes as “the removal of all pubic hair from the [female] pelvic region, vulva, labia, perineum and anus, while sometimes leaving a thin strip of hair on the mons pubis.” As reported by Joseph Brean in Canada’s National Post, JY seems to have sometimes used the name “Jonathan” when first making contact (an act of self-“deadnaming,” as it were), revealing only later in the conversations that the “Brazilian” in question would be performed on a client who is legally a woman, albeit a woman who has a penis and testicles. Predictably, some of the aestheticians indicated that they either didn’t have the expertise to perform their trade on such a client, or resisted the idea of …

The Rise of ‘Drag Kids’—and the Death of Gay Culture

Last month, the CBC—Canada’s public television network—ran a lavishly publicized documentary about “four kid drag queens as they prepare to slay on Montreal stage.” This was marketed as child-friendly content. Indeed, the CBC promoted the documentary, titled Drag Kids, on its “CBC Kids News” channel as a fun look at children who “sashay their way into the spotlight.” For me, as a gay man, watching the documentary was traumatic. The interviewed parents defend themselves against accusations they are abusing their children by encouraging them to dress up in drag. But to do so, the parents must purport to separate drag from sex and sexuality, which is simply ahistorical. They define drag as “a way of expression,” and assure everyone that “there’s nothing sexual to it” (a premise that the CBC clearly embedded in the marketing around the documentary). The kids themselves are very much on message. One remarks, “I was called gay-boy, but I did nothing but dress up.” That last remark actually brought tears to my eyes—though not for the reasons you might think. …

Is Liberal Immigration Anti-Democratic?—A Reply to Gadi Taub

In a recent Quillette essay, Gadi Taub argues that restricting voters’ power undermines the “ability of citizens to protect their hard-earned liberal rights.” He also says this is “bound to hurt these very rights, since their only real guarantee is the fact that we can dismiss our governments and appoint their replacement.” We may believe voting is an unreliable guarantor of liberal rights because more voters are turning to nationalism or socialism. We may also believe liberal rights and democracy, properly understood, imply wide restrictions on voting. The second reservation gives us a sense what’s wrong with Taub’s central argument. He says the debate over immigration is a “proxy for a far larger struggle over the future of democracy itself.” That’s true, as far as it goes. But this struggle is more complicated than he admits.   Taub claims there are two sides to the debate over immigration: one says the state may restrict immigration, and the other says the state may not. This is a caricature. Pretty much everyone believes states may exclude known …

Human Dignity and Human Rights

My forthcoming monograph for the University of Wales Press, Making Human Dignity Central to International Human Rights Law: A Critical Legal Argument, discusses a number of topics, ranging from the state of critical legal scholarship to international relations. However, much of what I might have written even a year earlier was profoundly altered by the rise to power of postmodern conservatives. Frequently agitating for a nationalist agenda, and opposed to universal human rights, this development lent my book a more cynical edge. Nevertheless, I still consider it an optimistic text—one that defends an emancipatory conception of human dignity and the steps we might take to realize it. Dignity’s Unusual History Conceptions of human dignity go back a very long way. Many of the great religions of the world—including the monotheistic faiths of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—offer human dignity as something bestowed by God. Buddhists argue that the locus of human dignity lies in our capacity to pursue self-perfection. The term itself arose in the thirteenth century from the Latin dignitas, which referred to the “worthiness” of …

Canada’s Treatment of Indigenous Peoples Was Cruel. But Calling It an Ongoing ‘Genocide’ Is Wrong

Two months after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed the public: “As his armies advance, whole districts are being exterminated. Scores of thousands, literally scores of thousands of executions in cold blood are being perpetrated by the German police troops…We are in the presence of a crime without a name.” By the end of World War II, we had at least two names for it, Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide. Now, almost 80 years later, a debate over the semantics of genocide has erupted in Canada, following a report from a National Inquiry investigating the problem of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG). The report claims not only that Indigenous communities were historically victimized by racist and murderous colonial policies, but also that a “genocide” is still going on in Canada to this very day. While many well-meaning activists are pressuring the Canadian government to act on the findings of the Inquiry, others have questioned the use of this term. The fact that the overall Canadian homicide rate …

How Prophetic Was Gattaca?

Dystopian science fiction films often have the veneer of plausibility. For example, the premise of an overpopulated world (Soylent Green), or a deep freeze earth (The Day After Tomorrow), or an infertility epidemic (Children of Men), generate voyeuristic horror but rarely possess the credibility to elicit anxiety of a real world, highly probable outcome. The 1997 film Gattaca, written and directed by Andrew Niccol, is an exception. Technology has now caught up with Niccol’s dystopian vision of a society where every member is categorized and determined by their genetic origin. Last year a Chinese bioengineer announced the germline editing and live birth of twin girls using CRISPR technology. In the world of Gattaca, preimplantation screening and genetic engineering have generated a culture of discrimination based on genomic scores. The story’s hero, Vincent (Ethan Hawke), has the bad luck of being conceived the old-fashioned way, his genome left to the crapshoot of meiosis. His genome is read to his parents at birth: neurological condition: 60 percent; probability of manic depression: 42 percent; probability of heart disease: …

Stonewall’s LGBT Guidance is Limiting the Free Speech of Gender Critical Academics

In 2015, the main trade union for UK academics, the University and College Union (UCU), objected to the government’s newly announced counter-terrorism strategy—specifically, the part concerned with universities’ legal duty to attempt to prevent student radicalisation. A central aspect of UCU’s highly critical response concerned the use of ill-defined, imprecise words in the strategy. One UCU briefing noted that (my italics): it is important that branches become familiar with how the government defines ‘extremism’.. as follows: ‘Vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.’ Branches should note the somewhat nebulous nature of so described ‘British values’ and the potentially very broad range of individuals and groups who may at some point fall foul of such a negatively constructed definition. In a similar vein, a Professor and a senior lawyer expressed their concern that that the vagueness and lack of definition of terms like “terrorism,” “non-violent extremism,” “radicalisation,” and “fundamental British values” could be understood to mean that…academics and …

‘The Guarded Gate’ Review: Elites and Their Eugenics Projects

A review of The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics and the Law That Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants out of America by Daniel Okrent, Scribner, 496 pages (May, 2019). ….our people refuse to apply to human beings such elementary knowledge as every successful farmer is obliged to apply to his own stock breeding. Any group of farmers who permitted their best stock not to breed, and let all the increase come from the worst stock, would be treated as fit inmates for an asylum. Yet we fail to understand that such conduct is rational compared to the conduct of a nation which permits unlimited breeding from the worst stocks, physically and morally… —T. Roosevelt to C. B. Davenport, January 3, 1913 How are we to understand the widespread enthusiasm for eugenics in the U.S. a century ago? Some scholars like Nicholas Pastore have argued that hereditarianism in general and support for eugenics in particular is more commonly found on the political right, whereas others like John Tierney argue that eugenics is …

It’s Time for Progressives to Protect Women Instead of Pronouns

On my way out of Edinburgh University last week, where I’d just delivered a speech on how feminists should resist male violence, I was attacked by a shrieking “transgender person” (to cite the term used in a Scotsman headline). Had it not been for the three burly security guards surrounding me, I would have been punched. I usually use female pronouns to refer to trans women, as a courtesy. But this is a courtesy I won’t extend to someone seeking to hurt me physically. This was a man—specifically, a misogynist who’d become notorious under the (since deleted) Twitter handle TownTattle. He was deeply offended that I’d been allowed to speak. That’s why he wanted to hurt me: for being a woman who opened her mouth. The event at which I’d appeared was called Women’s Sex-Based Rights. It focussed on the threat to women-only spaces and organizations posed by gender activists who seek to erase any legal distinction in regard to the treatment of male- and female-bodied individuals. In the run-up to the event, trans activists …