You’re supposed to bridge Hume’s gap, not dive into it

Hume’s gap, Hume’s law, Hume’s guillotine, the “is-ought” problem, the naturalistic fallacy–they’re all phrases for the same observation: That a moral prescription (an “ought” statement) cannot be derived from an empirical observation (an “is” statement) by itself. The gap that you ought to bridge, if you want other people to clearly see your reasoning and thus evaluate your claim more accurately, can be done with the use of an “if” statement, which will delineate a specific goal or intention and which provides the avenue for empirical investigation. Which, astute readers will note, I just did with that exact sentence: “You ought to bridge the is-ought divide if you want your moral reasoning to be understood clearly because the ‘if’ will provide a logical avenue of investigation.” We could do a poll and ask which argument is more convincing: “trees produce oxygen, I need oxygen to breathe, and if I want to breathe, I ought not to cut them all down” or “trees occur spontaneously in nature, nature is good, therefore trees are good” and thus shed some light on whether my premise is accurate.

Of course, even that formulation assumes “I want my moral reasoning to be understood clearly” and so it carries a few weaknesses: If I am a charlatan, my actual moral reasoning is likely related to my immediate material gain, but being a charlatan I’d want to convince you my moral reasoning is something else, in which case my argument falls apart–the charlatan doesn’t want their moral reasoning to be clear, so they have no incentive to bridge the is-ought divide and instead pretend you can make it from one side to the other with a judicious application of creative thinking.

And so we jump feet first into moral skepticism, the intellectual quagmire in which I have been stuck waist-deep for a few years. My arms are outstretched, if any theorists from other moral schools care to grasp them in a bid to free me from my prison. I invite you to heave-ho and extract me from this intellectual quicksand in the comments, though I suspect my colleague Marcus will likely try sabotage your efforts.

All of which was a rather long-winded introduction to one of the more stark demonstrations of the is-ought divide I’ve seen in trans-antagonistic arguments: Society hates trans people, transition “cures” gender dysphoria but marks us as “trans,” therefore we should (somehow) get rid of gender dysphoria without transitioning. I’m not the first trans feminist to see this proposed to them, either–here’s Zinnia Jones: (emphasis original)

[Read more…]

I still need Pride in 2017… but this year it’s complicated

Last year I continued my annual “Why I Need Pride” essay series on FreethoughtBlogs–it was one of the works I submitted as a writing sample when I first applied to FTB, an ongoing project that started in 2012. A lot has changed since last year and my approach of Edmonton’s Pride festival has changed accordingly.

My opinions have shifted quite drastically in that time, a process which excites me greatly, but a process which also forces me to confront my relationship to the things around me. Since last year, I’ve become increasingly disenchanted with representative democracy as a system of government. I ended up immersed in Robert Wolff’s In Defense of Anarchy, in which I walked away conceding his points about the tension between the moral autonomy of the individual and the authority of the state. The stock-fare response to the question, “is there any rational justification for the authority of the state?” is “the consent of the governed”–and yet, not a single neoliberal democracy has enjoyed even a basic majority consensus from its voters in decades, in some cases even centuries; to say nothing of how the minority by definition does not consent to the decisions of the majority. It seems to me that the governed have only “consented” if you’re willing to stretch the definition of consent on a rack for a few hours. (If you need convincing on this point, I might consider doing that in another post, just not here).

From there the actions of law enforcement in our various democracies starts to be painted in a much less favourable light. I went down the rabbithole that was the prosecution of Canada’s anarchist organizers during the G20 protests–a mass arrest in which some ~1,100 Canadians were indiscriminately rounded up in Toronto at the 2010 G20 Summit. Following this, organizers from various networks found themselves in court over conspiracy to commit mischief charges because some of the protesters damaged property. The Crown’s argument was that the organizers ought to have plausibly known that some of the people were going to damage property because they had expressed frustration during (what were supposed to be private) meetings, and so they were party to the crime. This “evidence” was acquired through surveillance and police infiltration of activist groups.

[Read more…]

Dear Donna Trimble: “Catholic educator” is an oxymoron

Is it time for Catholic propagandists to be ejected from our allegedly public school system? I think so, but Donna Trimble thinks Catholic doctrine is “under attack” because the Alberta Teachers’ Association voted to back employees who teach actual facts in their curriculum.

Yes, we needed a union vote to guarantee that, apparently.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) has voted that Catholic educators should have the autonomy to choose lessons that are in contradiction to the Catholic doctrine upon which their schools exist.

Translation: Teachers, even if employed by the Catholic school board, can teach facts without penalty.

The primary curriculum supplement for which this vote was likely conceived, was mentioned in a recent Edmonton Sun article: “In particular, there have been concerns about teachers being discouraged from using the Professionals Respecting and supporting Individual Sexual Minorities (PRISM) toolkit that has been developed for teachers to talk about sexual and gender diversity in the classroom.”

The PRISM toolkit describes the binary understanding of male and female, as “overly simplistic and often wrong,” “misleading” and “exclusionary and harmful” (page 21), while imposing only one perspective of gender as fluid and subjective. This premise is profoundly discriminatory towards Catholicism and many other faith traditions who deem the binary understanding as sacred.

I’m not sure I see the problem here. There are plenty of “perspectives” from the Bible that we discriminate against. We don’t sell our daughters into slavery (I hope). We do not keep slaves at all, nor do we generally consider it acceptable to beat someone within an inch of their life. Why is it that your scientifically illiterate binary is suddenly untouchable?

It is up to Catholic educators, parents and the separate school boards to discern how they will confront this latest attack on their schools. The rights of parents to choose an authentic Catholic education for their children, grounded in Catholic values and permeated by their faith, must be protected.

I’ve got an idea. Maybe you can… teach it in your church?

Just a thought.

But there is a deep lack of logic in the vote itself that cannot be permitted to stand.


This vote claims to offer up “rights” to educators that are supposedly losing autonomy, when in fact the ATA used the tyranny of the majority of their membership in an attempt to strip separate schools of their Catholic identity.

The ATA itself states in their Going to School in Alberta document, that “69 per cent (of their teacher membership) are in the public system, 22 per cent in the separate system and one per cent in the francophone system.” The vote that took place did not account for the fact that 70 per cent of the ATA membership do not teach in Catholic schools and have no vested interest in Catholic education. That is tyranny of the majority.

We ask, if the ATA decided to disrespect francophone schools and call a vote that allowed teachers in the one per cent of francophone schools to “have the autonomy” to teach in English instead of French, and 99 per cent of ATA members, with no vested interest in francophone education, voted in favour, would that stand?

Are the francophone schools trying to alter the curriculum or merely teach it in French?

With the ongoing attack on Catholic schools by the ATA, we ask, is it time for Catholic schools to find a legal framework for deregistering with the Alberta Teachers’ Association?

Yes. De-unionize. Squeeze talent out of your administration. Fuck off and wither in the dustbin of history. You can’t go fast enough.

When there is an apparent attempt to undermine the very foundation of the faith tradition that Catholic education is built upon, how can parents be assured that their children will be provided with an authentic Catholic education in each and every classroom?

You have this building, see, tax-exempt and everything, for this exact purpose. It’s not a school. Maybe you should use that.

I know you struggle with this whole “wahhhhh I have to share public space with people different from me waaahhhhh” thing but come on.


Vague rhetoric and female “spaces”

Siobhan — then you agree that cis women have a right to their own spaces, that trans women have privileges from having been brought up as boys, and that cis women have a right to talk about how their female bodies shape their experiences of oppression?

This is an extremely common tactic I see deployed in criticisms of my work. I don’t know if the people using it realize just how loaded some of those word choices are, and I wanted to pause a moment to unpack that.

For starters, a lot depends on what exactly we mean by the word “spaces.” Are we talking about a Sunday scrap-booking club or a crisis shelter? The differences between the two touch many areas–legal, practical, ethical, just to name a few. A private interest group needs absolutely no justification for setting its boundaries. In addition, no self-respecting trans person wants to curry favour with people who treat them like they’re untouchables. But when trans women (and it’s usually trans women who are the subjects of exclusion) talk about accessing “female” spaces, we’re not typically signing up to be the subjects of mockery at a poncy tea party. We’re usually talking about accessing the same life-or-death safeguards as cis women, those precarious flotation devices tossed overboard in a desperate bid to keep the drowning above water.

The problem is when a service that typically falls under “public accommodations” is treated as if it were legally and morally equivalent to a private interest group. The standard sleight-of-hand for the trans-exclusionary type is to drop a byline about “supporting trans resources” but unsurprisingly, not a single “womyn-born-womyn” radfem cent ever actually goes to trans-specific startups for that exact purpose. If a particular jurisdiction has few or no resources to help trans women in crisis, I feel fully justified in interrogating the motives of trans-exclusion from the existing services. It is, after all, directly and immediately contributing to the catastrophic civil and health outcomes of trans people.

[Read more…]

Transmisogyny is still misogyny

I think most feminists would do a double-take if they had received the endorsement of evangelicals, but not Meghan Murphy. Undeterred by the fact that the Conservatives have selected her to share the limelight alongside evangelical pastor Paul Dirks, Murphy has the privilege of taking her transmisogyny to a national stage as a “witness” for the Senate’s third reading of Bill C-16.

The sad part is that there are legitimate critiques of Bill C-16. Advocates pointed out (and I’ll admit I was a bit late to the party on this one) that trans women are already disproportionately targeted by police and are therefore more likely to be represented in prison–the same prisons that would house hate crime offenders for longer periods of time thanks to Bill C-16’s hate crime provisions. But that’s not the argument Conservatives or Murphy are making.

[Read more…]

A familiar story

I have asked at multiple points in my time here on FTB whether those taking various anti-trans positions have bothered to read the material they claim to be criticizing. The answer, at this point, is most often “no,” but sadly ignorant cisgender editors of otherwise respectable media outlets continue to publish these dog awful jokes.

So how do they get away with it? Zinnia Jones explores that. Her answer–“through denialism.

This exercise, of searching outward from a given state of the world in order to map the many tendrils of its implications, can be a very efficient way of detecting errors, distortions, or outright nonsense. If you have an idea, does that idea imply anything about reality, or concretely connect to the world in any way? At which points does it come in contact with reality? Does it make testable predictions? Can it be disproven, and what would disprove it? What elements of the world changing would affect the validity of this idea?

The facts of the world generally don’t support transphobic arguments, and transphobes don’t really have the option of making robust arguments based on an honest assessment of the current state of our knowledge. They know this – they make use of this same technique of pondering counterfactuals. The difference is that they work backwards to fabricate an entirely new counter-reality, tailored to support their positions and vast enough that it can substitute for reality itself in a person’s mind. It’s called denialism: an entire ideological support system made to preserve a desired belief by rejecting the overwhelming evidence that would threaten this belief.

Denialism is wrongness with an infrastructure – ignorance with an armored shell, a whole fake world weaponized against the real world. Denialism can be observed in the various forms of “scientific” creationism, where facts of evolutionary biology and earth science contradicting certain readings of the Bible are targeted for incompetent rebuttal by non-experts working for various conservative Christian “institutes” of “creation research”, which is not a real field. It can be seen in climate change denialism, where the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming is discarded in favor of fringe nitpicking, oversimplified misunderstandings of the science, and so very many conspiracy theories.

Some forms of transphobia have grown so well-organized that they, too, now constitute an instance of denialism. Diethelm and McKee (2009) describe five core themes of the phenomenon of denialism:

Jones outlines the following themes of denialism, and just to help support her point, I’ll link to some of the works I’ve examined to corroborate them.

  1. Allegations of conspiracy are used as grounds to dismiss a well-established and consistent body of science.
  2. Fake experts are presented to lend apparent authority to denialist claims.
  3. Denialists will be extremely selective when it comes to the evidence and facts that they accept as valid.
  4. Standards for scientific findings are shifted in order to be practically impossible to meet.
  5. Shoddy arguments, fallacies, and deliberate misrepresentations are deployed to mislead the public.

As Jones concludes, if the factual arguments for transphobia existed, transphobes would just use them. Instead a heavy reliance on lies fiction gets them where they want to be.


“I can’t go two paragraphs without contradicting myself”

But apparently that’s the sole qualification for writing at LifeSiteNews.

Hey, you know what we haven’t done in a while? Tuned in to some bonafide Catholic hysterics occurring in the Province of Alberta. Behold the beauty that is LifeSiteNews’ totally unbiased coverage (or don’t, you might want to save your brain cells).

EDMONTON, Alberta, April 18, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – A Christian political action group and a parents group are responding to the controversy over a pro-life group comparing the Holocaust to abortion by accusing the New Democratic government of promoting unscientific and dangerous gender ideology.

Basically: Steve Weatherbe, the intrepid reporter on this scoop, is freely and literally admitting that the only thing Conservatives can do when presented with criticism is change the topic rather than defend their actions.

Off to a good start.

[Read more…]

You Were a Trainwreck Before Estrogen

An addendum to Rae Rosenberg’s “You Were a Misogynist Before Testosterone


Trans communities often have something that resembles religion in my estimate–hormones. On the topic of testosterone and its masculinizing effects, Rosenberg criticized a This American Life episode featuring a trans man who justified his sexual objectification of women by citing testosterone as his excuse. Rosenberg notes (and rightly so) that misogyny is a learned behaviour and that there was no basis to connect a biochemical molecule to social norms about expressing sexual attraction.

As much as I would like to think otherwise, there’s no reason a trans person will be any better educated on the notions of biological essentialism or the Euro-colonial gender binary, so it follows that you will also find among trans women a range of anti-feminist or misogynist behaviours. Rosenberg’s article deals with the stereotypes associated with masculinity, and so I thought I would do the same for trans feminine folks and femininity–specifically the trope that we become emotionally fragile simply because we take estrogen.

With trans men, testosterone is often used to reinforce ideas of toxic masculinity, encouraging stereotypes about men as hypersexual, aggressive, angry, emotionally stunted beasts who want to hump everything they see. I see these narratives everywhere, from ‘activist’-leaning online forums to mainstream media.

If I go to a local trans feminine support group, I could ask each member to stand if they could answer “yes” to a few different questions. I could ask if anyone has been raped, and around two-thirds of the group will stand up.  I could ask if anyone lost their jobs and has struggled in their careers, about a quarter. If they are on poor terms with their parents, about two-thirds. How many lost their marriages, maybe a third. Assaulted? Half. Victims of domestic violence? Half again. Harassed on the street? All of them. Most of the circle will have experienced two or more of these things.

These same ladies will insist, vociferously and from the bottom of their heart, that it’s the estrogen making them cry.

Don’t get me wrong, as a trans woman and someone who has the liberty and dumb luck to have the option of hormone replacements, I’m well aware of its effects. I felt that I had been gasping for air at high altitude for two decades before I transitioned, and just starting hormone replacements alone felt like I began to breathe for the first time in my life. But I am quite confident that my sudden inability to remain stoic had everything to do with surviving multiple assaults and a domestic abuse situation and nothing to do with a steroidal hormone, despite both occurring at the same time.

And let’s not forget the suffocating effect untreated gender dysphoria can have long before we figure any of this out. The oft-quoted 41% statistic referring to the rate of attempted suicides in trans Americans isn’t actually lifelong or spread out evenly–it’s mostly clustered around coming out and the planning thereof, usually settling to be no different than the general population as a person’s transition progresses. The closet is no place for a person, yet I see its effects seldom recognized by those crediting estrogen for their newfound emotions–something which usually begins shortly after coming out.

One thing I appreciate about Rae Rosenberg’s piece is that it reminds us that oppression is something you do, rather than something you are.

When trans men argue that they can’t be misogynist because they were socialized as women, it further erases that women can also reinforce and reproduce misogyny.

I would certainly say it is also misogyny–albeit of the internalized variety–for us trans feminine folks to look at the ruins around us and assume we’re emotional because of estrogen. I think this does a disservice to us all when we don’t recognize that anybody would be right in feeling a bit fragile in the circumstances I described above. We’ve earned our tears, estrogen be damned.

All this occurs alongside and in addition to our hormone replacements. I’m just not convinced causation has ever been teased out. It sounds far more likely that we are just reproducing the idea that expressing emotion is effeminate, rather than an ordinary adaptation to stress, something most of us are under a tremendous amount of. And while it is validating in the context of a support group, let’s not forget that it will just as easily be the justification of our dismissals by transmisogynistic people when we leave it.



Don’t get *too* optimistic, there

Abby Brockman strikes me is a bit too optimistic despite catching a critical detail in this scoop: The United States’ border patrol agencies are bleeding out employees faster than they can hire. However, it’s not because the employees in question are having crises of conscience--it’s because the conditions in which they work are shitty.

Trump has ordered the agency to add 5,000 agents to beef up patrols and surveillance in advance of his proposed border wall. But its current 19,000-strong force is already 2,000 shy of a target set during the Obama administration.

Officials said tough screening, especially a lie-detector test, rejected many qualified candidates, and that tough conditions such as living in remote, rugged areas prompted more than 1,000 agents to quit every year.

“Some people just don’t want to live there,” said Randolph “Tex” Alles, acting deputy commissioner of CBP, a 60,000-strong agency that includes Border Patrol. “Hiring challenges are not new. Attracting and recruiting high quality individuals is a challenge for us.”

I wish I could claim optimism and say more people are becoming aware of the imperialist functions required by a state like the USA and consider said functions morally unconscionable, but those functions typically attract the bullies and sociopaths anyways. Boredom definitely strikes me as a much likelier culprit than the sudden discovery of a moral compass.

As ever, authoritarians give us a glimpse into their mindset with delightful(?) Freudian slips: (emphasis mine)

Tony Crowder, the executive director of Air and Marine Operations, told the Guardian his agency was struggling to retain and recruit enough pilots.

Commercial airlines were luring pilots who in some cases were expected to work in remote areas and participate in arrests. “They pay more and it’s a different type of work.”

Another problem is the attitude of young people, especially those for whom 9/11 is distant history. “They have a different view of public service. I don’t want to indict an entire generation but it’s harder to sell self-sacrifice for the common good.

I would argue the reverse, Mr. Crowder. Millenials are more likely to accept that the brown people you’re abusing count as part of the “common good.” To say nothing of how the Mexicans and South Americans brutalized by your practices had sweet fuck all to do with 9/11. That my generation is less willing to blindly accept authority is in my estimate a virtue we must desperately cling to. By the time we’re your age, the coastal cities will be flooded and we’ll need to start electing politicians governments who can think farther ahead than 4 years.