All posts filed under: Culture Wars

Keep Social-Justice Indoctrination Out of the Therapist’s Office

One of the earliest stains on the legacy of psychiatry, my medical specialty, dates to the American 1840 census, when the US government first began systematically collecting information on “idiocy” and “insanity.” According to the results, the purported rates of mental illness among free blacks in northern cities were deemed to exceed those among enslaved blacks in the south by an 11-to-one ratio. South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun, a notoriously strident defender of slavery, seized upon the results as “proof” that “the African is incapable of self-care and sinks into lunacy under the burden of freedom. It is a mercy to him to give this guardianship and protection from mental death.” Five years later, the American Statistical Association published a new analysis of the census data, in which it illuminated what distinguished American psychiatrist Edward Jarvis called the “inconsistencies, contradictions, and falsehoods” of the original. Jarvis’s own review revealed recording errors and deliberate misuse of data. Yet many citizens in pro-slavery states continued to believe that enslaved blacks were less inclined toward insanity because …

Gaslighting the Concerned Parents of Trans Children—A Psychotherapist’s View

I first met Jo and Carol in Manchester two years ago, when I spoke as a clinician on a panel at what is believed to be the first conference dedicated to the issue of detransitioners (people who once presented themselves as transgender, but then decided to live in accordance with their biological sex). At this event, seven young women spoke publicly about why they transitioned, why it wasn’t successful, and how they came to the decision to detransition. All of these women had undergone mastectomies, and some had hysterectomies and even oophorectomies (the removal of both ovaries). They had all taken testosterone, which permanently deepened their voices, and gave rise to new forms of body and facial hair. Although they had experienced much in their lives, none was over the age of 25. As you might imagine, these testimonials were shocking and harrowing. Jo and Carol both have daughters embroiled in the trans-activist cause. (As at all points in this piece, I am using terms such as “girl,” “boy,” “son,” and “daughter” in reference to …

The White of the AI

“It is a truth little acknowledged that a machine in possession of intelligence must be white.” I do appreciate a Jane Austen reference and so I read on, hoping to find a stylish argument, only to be disappointed. The very next lines of the paper by Stephen Cave & Kanta Dihal in Philosophy and Technology said this: In this paper, we problematize the often unnoticed and unremarked-upon fact that intelligent machines are predominantly conceived and portrayed as White. We argue that this Whiteness both illuminates particularities of what (Anglophone Western) society hopes for and fears from these machines, and situates these affects within long-standing ideological structures that relate race and technology. The paper is entitled “The Whiteness of AI,” and the authors explain that they will use “white” and “black” for colour and “White” and “Black” for race. They go on to argue that AI is White on the basis that images of AI have a lot of white in them. This Whiteness, the authors suggest, discourages non-Whites from getting into AI. They say their article aims to …

When Sons Become Daughters, Part IV: Parents of Transitioning Boys Speak Out on Their Own Suffering

What follows is the fourth instalment of When Sons Become Daughters, a multi-part Quillette series that explores how parents react when a son announces he wants to be a girl—and explains why so many of these mothers and fathers believe they can’t discuss their fears and concerns with their own children, therapists, doctors, friends, and relatives. To find out more about how the author collected and reported information, please refer to his introductory essay in this series.   The Man Who Wouldn’t Be Queen Menno is a gay man in his early 40s—Dutch by birth and a Londoner by choice. He’s “gender critical,” meaning that he rejects the fashionable belief that self-declared gender overrides the reality of biological sex. His YouTube channel features a satirical listing of newly conceived pronouns, set to the tune of The Sound of Music’s Do-Re-Mi; a song about pop star Sam Smith’s non-binary identity, modelled on Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee from the musical Grease; and a reworked version of Kylie Minogue’s Locomotion, in which a pharmaceutical pied piper …

Australian Indigenous Activists Call Out White Feminism’s Deadly Blind Spot

In March, three Indigenous women flew to Canberra in an attempt to draw attention to a horror story playing out in their communities. These were Alice Springs Deputy Mayor Jacinta Price, who heads up the Indigenous Research Program at the Centre for Independent Studies; and Cheron and Meesha Long, cousins of 15-year-old Layla Leering, who died in 2017 after apparently being sexually assaulted in the Northern Territory. Layla’s death—along with that of two other girls, Fionica Yarranganlagi James and Keturah Cheralyn Mamarika—has been the subject of a coroner’s inquest, and has brought renewed attention to the threat that Indigenous girls and women face within their own communities. Unfortunately, the scope of that attention has been limited, because the narrative of intra-Indigenous abuse is seen as unfashionable to report. Since reporting my own story of childhood sexual assault, I’ve been closely attuned to the many other survivors who’ve shared their own. I’ve also observed how these stories are variously ignored or signal-boosted according to the political and cultural agenda of journalists and politicians—adding another layer of …

The Search to Explain Our Anxiety and Depression: Will ‘Long COVID’ Become the Next Gender Ideology?

In December, I wrote a detailed report for Quillette about the race-based social panic that had recently erupted at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. One of the reasons why the meltdown seemed so surreal, I noted, is that this elite school appears to the outside world as picturesque and serene. The average annual cost of attendance is about US$76,000. And most of these students live extremely privileged lives, insulated (physically and otherwise) from what any normal person would regard as suffering. Nor is there much in the way of substantive political discord on campus. According to survey results released in late 2019, 79 percent of Haverford students self-identify as politically liberal, while only 3.5 percent self-identify as conservative. It’s as close to an ideological monoculture as you can find outside of a monastery or cult. On paper, it resembles one of those utopian micro-societies conceived by science-fiction writers or 19th-century social theorists. The survey results I’m alluding to originate with Haverford’s “Clearness Committee,” an excellent resource for anyone seeking to understand the attitudes of students at …

When Sons Become Daughters, Part III: Parents of Transitioning Boys Speak Out on Their Own Suffering

What follows is the third instalment of When Sons Become Daughters, a multi-part Quillette series that explores how parents react when a son announces he wants to be a girl—and explains why so many of these mothers and fathers believe they can’t discuss their fears and concerns with their own children, therapists, doctors, friends, and relatives. To find out more about how the author collected and reported information, please refer to his introductory essay in this series.   Coral’s story starts earlier than those of the other parents I’ve profiled, even if it contains familiar themes. While her prodigiously intelligent, literal-minded son wanted to talk about the science of black holes, his friends were still playing with Lego. Once he hit age 12, things got rough: All his friends left his school in one hit; the remaining kids took to bullying him; a close family member died. He was just beginning to realize how different he was, but not how he was different. He’d also just been given his first computer. The first declaration that …

What Happened to Social Democracy?

In a world that seems to be divided between neoliberal orthodoxy and identitarian dogmas, it is possible to miss the waning presence of traditional social democracy. Born of the radical Left in Marx’s own time, social democrats worked, sometimes with remarkable success, to improve the living standards of working people by accommodating the virtues of capitalism. Today, that kind of social democracy—learned at home from my immigrant grandparents and from the late Michael Harrington, one time head of the American Socialist Party—is all but dead. This tradition was, in retrospect, perhaps too optimistic about the efficacy of government. Nevertheless, it sincerely sought to improve popular conditions and respected the wisdom of ordinary people. In its place, we now find a kind of progressivism that focuses on gender, sexual preference, race, and climate change. Abandoned by traditional Left parties, some voters have drifted into nativist—and sometimes openly racist—opposition while more have simply become alienated from major institutions and pessimistic about the future.1 The revolution in class relations Social democracy was a product of the inequities of …

When Sons Become Daughters, Part II: Parents of Transitioning Boys Speak Out on Their Own Suffering

What follows is the second instalment of When Sons Become Daughters, a multi-part Quillette series that explores how parents react when a son announces he wants to be a girl—and explains why so many of these mothers and fathers believe they can’t discuss their fears and concerns with their own children, therapists, doctors, friends, and relatives. To find out more about how the author collected and reported information, please refer to his introductory essay in this series.   Blindsided You don’t have to spend long with Christine to get an idea of the kind of woman she is. She’s modest—perhaps even diffident—at first, and when we get to talking, I realize I interrupt her too much. But then, you begin to understand: this woman is a serious success story. She loves her work, and it’s pretty exciting work, too. I’m envious. She wouldn’t volunteer the information, but I bet she has a few people she could fire, if she wanted to. I could be wrong, but I’ll never know, because she wouldn’t let on if …

When Sons Become Daughters: Parents of Transitioning Boys Speak Out on Their Own Suffering

What follows is the introductory instalment of When Sons Become Daughters, a multi-part Quillette series that explores how parents react when a son announces he wants to be a girl—and explains why so many of these mothers and fathers believe they can’t discuss their fears and concerns with their own children, therapists, doctors, friends, and relatives. A few months ago, I was allowed into an online group of American parents of young men who have decided that they are in fact young women. I am neither a parent, nor transgender, nor an American, and therefore a tourist: there was an understandable hesitation about letting me in. In a few cases, such parents have been harassed, as they’ve left comments online that dissent from the received wisdom on transgenderism; in all cases, they are deeply wary of rights activists. The parents are mainly, although not entirely, mothers. They and their spouses are nervous of losing their jobs, and below everything rumbles the threat that their sons might discover their communications. While most have expressed to their …