September 8th 2018

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COVER STORY Caution with gender transitioning: children's futures at risk

EDITORIAL Turnbull the architect of his own demise

CANBERRA OBSERVED Coal-Hand ScoMo pulls off an accidental coup

ENERGY Daniel Andrews' sun worship turns delusional

MEDICINE AND POLITICS Sacrificial Virgins: Is Gardasil even necessary?

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Turkey-U.S. dispute further destabilises Middle East

GLOBAL BAILOUT Follow those zeroes! U.S. Federal Reserve doled out $US29 trillion to save the world

POLITICS AND SOCIETY Business next to fall to 'progress'

OPINION The Victorian ALP observed from up close

SPECIAL BOOK REVIEW Assault on Kokoda Track heroes fails evidence test

BOOK LAUNCH Live not by lies. An appraisal of Patrick J. Byrne's new book, Transgender: One Shade of Grey

CINEMA In praise of horror: That most visceral of genres

MUSIC Aretha Franklin: A singer of spiritual intensity

BOOK REVIEW A self-defeating experiment?

BOOK REVIEW The four firms that rule the world


EDITORIAL Power companies in clover after closures

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Live not by lies. An appraisal of Patrick J. Byrne's new book, Transgender: One Shade of Grey

by Conor Sweeney

News Weekly, September 8, 2018

Dr Conor Sweeney delivered the following talk at the launch of Patrick J. Byrne’s book, Transgender: One Shade of Grey, in Melbourne on Wednesday, August 15, 2018. Pat Byrne’s book is available from the Australian Family Association, the National Civic Council or Wilkinson Publishing. See further information on pages 16 and 28 of this edition of News Weekly.

Back in 1974, shortly before his arrest and imprisonment by the Soviet communists, Russian novelist and historian Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, of The Gulag Archipelago fame, wrote a short piece with the simple title: “Live not by Lies”.

In it, he argued that the simplest path to the liberation of the self from all forms of bondage is “personal non-participation in lies. Though lies conceal everything, though lies embrace everything, but not with any help from me.”

Not too long ago, a fellow countryman of mine (granted, a little more famous and successful) took this maxim seriously. You may have heard of Jordan Peterson, University of Toronto professor and clinical psychologist. In 2016 he made a very public stand against the provincial government of Ontario, making clear his refusal to abide a new law that would compel the use of gender-neutral pronouns.

Apparently, he was not saying that he would categorically refuse to call someone by their preferred pronoun, that is, if they asked him on an individual and personal basis. But a bridge too far for him was the precedent created by the state presuming that it could legally enforce and police the personal preferences and choices that some of its citizens might wish to force on others, compelling them, with the threat of sanctions, to recognise and affirm what amounts to entirely subjective value judgements of individuals.

In other words, Peterson, with great personal risk, refused a law that would require citizens to lie at the behest of the state.

It is this same determined refusal to lie that animates Patrick J. Byrne’s new book, Transgender: One Shade of Grey. It’s a compelling read. An important read. For in it, with refreshing clarity and unsettling detail, and with particular attention to what is happening now in our Australian setting, Byrne makes a strong case for why it is so important not to lie about something as basic as maleness and femaleness.

Byrne makes and sustains a very focused argument: when we no longer legally recognise biological maleness and femaleness as a normative measure and instead make legal recognition of maleness and femaleness a function of subjective consciousness (that is, “gender identity”), a fundamental “uncertainty in law” is introduced. Uncertainty is introduced because, bereft of all objective anchors of identity outside of the conditions dictated by the sovereignly autonomous individual, the law will become the handmaiden of subjective preference.

We will, for example, be powerless to preclude biological men from participating in women’s sports or using women’s restrooms if they “identify” as female. If one’s social and legal definition of human identity is whittled down to “person” abstractly defined according to an individual freedom that has become absolute, then there is theoretically no limit as to what any given individual can claim as a right of their perceived gender identity.

Meanwhile, Byrne makes it clear that this attempt legally to recognise greater “diversity” does much more than simply enlarge the field of play, as it were, giving more rights to more people, and without threatening existing rights. No, because once it is determined that will rather than reality defines a person, reality itself will become a function of will. In this case, in order to accommodate transgender identity (where biology is understood as irrelevant to gender identity), the law must therefore eliminate altogether any reference to biology as anchoring identity.

When this happens, every professed identity (there are lots of identities, more than 58, according to Facebook), whether straight, gay, queer, questioning, two-spirit and so on, is regarded as equally valid before the law, inasmuch as one operates on the premise that they are all grounded in little more than subjective preference or will.

As Byrne puts it, this “means that Male and Female become cisgender [that is, a person who just happens to identify with the gender in which they were born, that is, they only ‘line up’ with their biological sex because of their subjective determination] terms. They are options open to being self-redefined, not innate and immutable terms fixed by biology at birth.”

In other words, then, the moment you make the basic frame of sexual identity “transgender” (that is, neutral to the given meaningfulness of maleness and femaleness as such) you effectively make every form of sexual identity – including heterosexuality – transgender; that is, generated by will, not by reality.

For example, one could be forgiven for thinking that something like giving birth and breastfeeding is a uniquely and essentially female reality. Self-evident, right? Whatever concrete value you might wish to ascribe to it. But, no, if the determination of the meaning of one’s biology is a function of the subjective perception of the individual (as it is in a transgender definition of gender identity), then restricting our definition of such things to women is actually a form of “heteronormativity”, the ultimate in unforgivable sins, as no less than a classical feminist like Germaine Greer has recently discovered.

The bottom line is that if biological gender has nothing to do with it, and if freedom has everything to do with it, then everyone must have access to every theoretical experience and identity. Byrne provides many examples of the dangerous places this precedent leads. And if this is now what the law protects, then everyone must submit to everyone else’s preferences and identifications (and increasingly, celebrate them).

So, if you and I think that biology has something to do with identity, that in fact in the body is encoded the existential, personal, and ultimately sacramental logic of what it means to be human, then the “transgendering” of law amounts to the “transgendering” of reality itself. And thus it legally compels us to lie; or at the very least, legally compels us not to tell the truth.

And this is what is so seemingly remarkable about our cultural moment: that we are as a society apparently super-happy, indeed eager, to allow the deconstruction of one of the last constitutive pre-political barriers against the lies told by state power, individual whim, or any totalitarian aspiration whatsoever. Instead, we have willingly opted for what Joseph Ratzinger called the “dictatorship of relativism”, where truth becomes a function of will, and therefore a means of power and coercion without limits or safeguards.

For all practical intents and purposes, we killed religion and reason a long time ago; now we have finally killed the empirical, biological givenness of male and female, our last credible universal norm and source of value.

So we are now left in a tenuous and uncertain situation, with no checks or balances left, facing the transgender activist anxious for total social validation and change, and willing to achieve it by the power of the state; which, for its part, is more than happy to expand its powers.

But which is the master, and which the apprentice? Pure, formless freedom of the individual and pure, formless power of the state, in bed with the profiteering of corporations and elites and technological possibilities that can now make almost any wish and fantasy reality: what could possibly go wrong?

But perhaps none of this is so remarkable after all. For the greatest lie already precedes us: “your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil” (Genesis 3:5). Indeed, I tend more and more to read our cultural situation in the West as a remarkably perfected form of comprehensive lying which, the more time you spend in it, the more you become incapable of even seeing its lies.

While some have characterised our situation today as “post-Christian”, others have suggested that in fact our cultural condition is understood better as a corrupted Christianity, one that perversely combines the best aspects of Christian belief with the worst aspects of belief in the death of God.

In other words, the person raised to an incredible degree of dignity by sharing in Christ’s filial relation to the Father as Son has now, after squandering the family fortune and committing patricide, not so much negated his birthright, as simply stripped its key elements of its divine clothing. Exalted aspirations and contents remain (which the pagan world could never imagine or countenance) – for example, “rights”, “equality”, “progress” – but all now in the name and according to the criteria of the cult of the self.

At a certain point, this self, no longer a son, decided that, in the name of a more perfect freedom and self-realisation, nature and biology themselves should bow before its almighty dictates. Transgenderism is thus simply the completion of this broader project.

Perhaps this is overly bleak. But I think it at least captures something of the absoluteness and almost religious fervour of what we are witnessing today. Freedom, tolerance, the concern for victims, democracy, rights, technology – yes, they have undeniable Christian origins, and they have led to fundamental and undeniable advancements. And yet, taken on their own, and shorn of the community of faith that always underwrote them, they have now been weaponised against themselves. The corruption of the best is the worst.

Where does all of this leave us? It leaves us in a situation where telling the truth is hard; where telling lies is far easier. It’s far easier to affirm someone’s “gender identity”, however untrue, especially when they have the weight of the culture and now the law behind them. It’s always easier to look the other way or bury one’s head in the sand than to speak (or even seek) a truth that may come with the loss of status, employment, and prestige.

Whether it’s the transgender revolution “out there” or, hitting a lot closer to home, whether it’s a culture of sexual immorality, homosexual predation, abuse, complicity, and cover-up at the heart of our own Church, whether it’s any issue that is at odds with the cultural zeitgeist, it’s always easier to lie.

With this book, Pat Byrne does none of this. Instead, he faces an uncomfortable and deeply contested area, one that most of us naturally shy away from. And not only does he face it, he does so with systematic rigour, meticulous research, not to mention restraint and delicacy.

If you have found my presentation a bit overly intellectual at times, fear not! Byrne’s treatment of the issue is probably the most comprehensive yet eminently accessible treatment that I have yet seen. In it is critical information for what is already happening in front of eyes that are more easily shut to lies than they are open to truth.

So, with Byrne, let us take Solzhenitsyn’s dictum to heart: let us not tell lies. Let us refuse to submit to chaos, to a world of arbitrary and empty signifiers and the play of power. In Solzhenitsyn’s words: “Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.”

Dr Conor Sweeney is a lecturer at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family. He is the author of two books, including one published this year called Abiding the Long Defeat: How to Evangelize Like a Hobbit in a Disenchanted Age.

All you need to know about
the wider impact of transgenderism on society.
TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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