Doctor Science Knows

Friday, April 20, 2007

Blogcomment record: Gender Identity

In discussion at Slacktivist's that started out being about Imus and then wandered off to talk about gender identity, I wrote:

Not wading into the whole thing here, just a point about gender identity and transgender people:

Every study, book, or article about transgender people I've seen starts by saying something like "gender is one of the most basic of human self-identifications, blah blah blah." I think this is untrue.

I think that in fact somewhere between 20% and 80% of people (that is, 50% plus or minus) do not have a really strong gender identity. (See the works of the SF writer John Varley for speculative detail.) The proportion of transgender people is so low because in order to be TG you have to *both* (a) have a strong gender identity and (b) feel it is the wrong one for your physical sex. If you don't have an abnormally strong inner sense of gender identity, being TG seems like an awful lot of trouble.

I know that for myself, being female doesn't feel like a very important part of my sense of self. It's like my name -- it's what I'm used to answering to, and I didn't bother changing it when I got married, but I can easily answer to something else if need be, it's not stamped in my innermost core. In here ::touches chest:: I'm just me, hero and protagonist both.


Was gender identity a lot stronger in the past?

I don't know what you mean. Certainly the pressures to dichotomize the world of human experience were stronger, in that most cultures had strong sanctions against e.g. wearing gender-ambiguous or -inappropriate clothing.

Pre-modern cultures also had a much stronger division of labor & specialization, which I think would have bound up "I am the gender of my body" with "I am the gender of the work I do". So for most people they would reinforce each other more strongly, but for some people they would conflict more strongly than they do now.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Insights into VA Tech shootings: Within the Pale

Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings has a friend who at one point she feared was on the way to becoming a shooter, and talks with great insight and compassion about what it was like:
It should, I think, go without saying that there was something badly wrong with this person, above and beyond the fact that he wanted to go out and kill people. It manifested itself in ways that are similar, in some respects, to major depression. If you've ever talked to someone who is very, very depressed, you know that their thoughts tend increasingly to go round and round the same topics, as though they are trapped in some sort of horrible rut, which moreover tends to constrict with time.
It is for this reason that normal deterrence would not, I think, have had any effect. He just wasn't thinking in any such sane way. There was no particular effect he wanted to produce, other than: dead people.

This was a number of years ago, so *maybe* things would have improved, but at the time Hilzoy found basically no resources to help a non-professional deal with this situation
It seemed to me that if I could keep him from getting a gun license, I would make it much, much less likely that he'd end up killing people.

So I called the gun licensing board in his jurisdiction. ... Because I thought: while it would be awful if I could get them to deny someone a gun license just by making unsubstantiated claims about his sanity, surely there must be some provision for denying a gun license to someone who is demonstrably homicidal.

Guess what? There isn't. Or so that particular gun licensing board told me. If someone has committed a felony, they said, he can be denied a license. But if they are merely insane and homicidal, there's nothing anyone can do.

In the midst of the storm of comforting or angering generalizations, blame, rants, screaming, and cheap psychology, Hilzoy's piece keeps me focused on a profound ethical principle: you don't get to decide that anyone isn't human, no matter how bad they are. Any time you say, "he's a monster, he's an animal, he's inhuman" you are lying, making things easier on yourself. Even a mass murderer is within the human pale.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Conservation and Conservatism

Amanda posted about her recent visit with her family in Lubbock and the mind-set of modern conservatism -- as show in wedding planning, women doing housework while men sit around, and not believing in global warming. One of my comments was:

What is the connection between conservatism and short-term thinking?

Ethyl, I think you’ve got it backwards: young-Earth theology is attractive to conservatives because they’re already short-term thinkers, not the other way around.

I think the core of conservatism isn’t a philosophy, but an emotional attitude: a preference for the status quo. Don’t rock the boat, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, don’t change horses in mid-stream, the old ways are the good ways, give me that old-time religion.

But I don’t see why that attitude goes with short-term thinking, rather than the kind of long-term thinking traditionally called “prudence”. How did prudence become unconservative?

One commenter, Richard, also noted:
the corporate mentality that puts short term thoughts and profits over every other consideration in the business world. THAT mentality permeates all the discussions of global warming: “Why, if we do what you say, we would have to invest all this money in processes, equipment, whatever and our profits would go down.” It’s the penny-wise pound foolish attitude that causes firms to not invest in new equipment or preventive maintenance until it is too late.

Meanwhile, slacktivist had a discussion of the price evangelicalism pays for its bargain with the Republican Party. One commenter (Scott, our pet Libertarian not-quite-troll) deprecated environmentalism by saying
the green tree does have red roots after all

I replied:

Piffle. The root of the green tree is essentially *conservative*, but in an emotional rather than political sense. That is, it's the desire to keep things from changing -- that's why "conservation" and "conservative" are so similar linguistically, though they're the opposite in current American politics.

Speaking as a scientist and an historian of science who saw this develop over the last several decades, scientific concern about global warming is deeply conservative. It taps into many of the basic conservative feelings: fear that any change may be catastrophe, love of things the way they are, valuing the old above the new. But none of these feelings are attached to human power relationships, which by definition makes them apolitical.

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