What are ‘terfs’, why are they opposed by trans activists and liberal / ‘intersectional’ feminists, and which side should I be on?
This thread made a few people angry. It was criticised as an ‘abstract philosophical debate’.
[Originally posted on Twitter, 13 June 2018 – slightly edited]
Surprise! Blocked, essentially for rejecting this definition of the word ‘woman’.
“A woman is anyone who says they are a woman.”
Apparently this makes me a terf, and expressing my view on this is an appalling act of violence, which means it is okay to punch me, always.
But I am not a terf – why? Terf is a derogatory term for a radical feminist. If it’s not derogatory, it’s redundant. Terf is also inaccurate; I prefer merf, or Male Exclusionary Radical Feminist. All males are excluded from radical feminism. For once it is not about us.
But I’m not a merf, either. I am male, and so I can’t be a radical feminist, but only an ally.
I would’ve thought all males can be allies, should they choose.
Liberal feminism? I’m done with that, thanks.
Over the last few days I have become increasingly convinced that liberal feminism is, ultimately, toxic. This is because I dared to ask ‘Why are people claiming it’s okay to punch terfs?’. And honestly, I still don’t get that.
It looks to me as though rad fems acknowledge biological sex, but want to liberate all humans from an oppressive gender system. Lib fems want to extend the oppressive gender system but erase the concept of biological sex.
Lib feminism is convenient for male humans who don’t hate female humans. They abhor the patriarchy and blame it on ‘men’. But by declaring themselves ‘women’, they can avoid responsibility for doing anything about it.
This is problematic.
Lib feminism is convenient for female humans too, because it is no threat to the patriarchy, and is inclusive of male humans. No need to face those scary fuckers down.
This is understandable, but it will not lead to liberation from the patriarchy.
Rad feminism is inconvenient for everyone. It is a true threat to the patriarchy.
However, it is problematic because it does not concern itself with the rights of non-female humans – particularly ‘men’. This tends to upset them – particularly ‘men’.
Radical feminism is also problematic because some of its most famous proponents have made statements that many humans find very offensive. Frequently, this offensiveness is gratuitous, and distracts people from the point being made – if there is one.
There is no question that many humans feel deeply threatened, in various ways, by rad feminism, and / or by its proponents.
Rad feminism aims to destroy the gender system. Gender is one component of individual human identity. Thus, rad feminism can be perceived as a threat to our individual sense of who we are as humans.
If there are no more ‘men’ to oppress ‘women’, no gender system at all, and no patriarchy, how will people relate to one another, and especially, how will male humans relate to female ones?
When there are no genders…
I will not be a man. There will be no such thing as men. I will not be a woman. There will be no such thing as women. I will not be non-binary. There will be no such thing non-binary.
When there are no more genders…
There will still be male humans, and female humans. And there will be sexual orientation, and sexual preference.
When there are no more genders…
There will be the opportunity to dress how I like, modify my body as I like, love whoever I choose to love, express my masculinity and my femininity and my sexuality just as I like.
When there are no more genders…
Who will I be?
I don’t know.
I’ll just be myself?
Is that a threat to my individual human identity? Or is it liberation for all sexes, all genders, and all sexual orientations?
Is that something I want?
But I have been informed, most seriously, that expressing support for this goal is an act of violence against trans people, and makes me a terf, for which it is morally necessary for lib feminists to punch me at every opportunity.
That seems odd.
Could it be…
That liberal feminists are invested in the patriarchy?
Or that trans people are invested in the patriarchy?
Or is it that ‘men’ are invested in the patriarchy, and everyone else lives in fear of upsetting them due to the ever-present threat of male violence?
Given my awareness of the ever present threat of male violence, particularly against all humans who are not ‘men’, what are my responsibilities as a male human who disapproves of this patriarchal system of oppression?
I have a responsibility to oppose male violence, and the threat of male violence, particularly against female humans, but also other humans, especially those who are not ‘men’.
I have a much lesser responsibility to oppose female violence and threats. But that responsibility is greater if that violence / threat is directed against other female humans, and tends to advance the interests of male humans at the expense of female ones.
I have a responsibility to listen to female humans, to take them seriously, and to do my best to understand what they are saying. I do not have to agree with them. I do not have to speak, but if I do I must try not to dominate the conversation.
I have a responsibility to listen to, and take seriously, humans who disagree with me, particularly female humans and others who are not ‘men’. I must be open to alternative ideas and perspectives, particularly those of female humans. But I do not have to agree.
As a male human who disapproves of our patriarchal system of oppression, I have many responsibilities.
I must do my best not to evade them.
As a human male, one of my responsibilities
is to avoid taking up positions and invading spaces that have been set aside specifically for female people.
In particular, I must not occupy those female positions and spaces by insisting that I am in fact a human female.
I am a male human.
I am stuck with that.
There is no way to make a male human into a female human. I cannot be female, because I am male.
As a social convention, I accept the label ‘man’. But that does not mean I must conform to the gender stereotype labelled ‘man’.
It is relatively easy for me to accept all this, because I am not trans.
It’s been just over six months since I found out I’m an evil terf. Until then I didn’t know what a terf was, or why anyone would want to punch one.
Even now I find it impossible to accept that I am little better than a nazi, or that my beliefs promote the genocide of trans folks. I can’t accept it, and neither can I shift my thinking so as to escape my self-imposed terfdom.
I guess I’m just a bad person, full of hatred; a foolish pawn of right-wing Christians and an unwitting supporter of the moronic psychopath Donald Trump.
Twitter hasn’t changed much. Every day, a fresh argument errupts over the definition of the word ‘woman’. An endless supply of beardy woke bros step forward one by one to inform us that ‘sex is a spectrum’, and that to believe otherwise is unscientific and bigoted.
Every day, they spout the same old nonsense, and every day it is refuted.
I don’t usually get involved in those arguments; I don’t have the patience for it. I don’t know how anyone can stand it.
Still, I’ve always been interested in the question of why people believe what they believe. It’s normally not hard to figure that out, and most of the time, there’s a kind of sense to it.
But in the case of transgenderism, I’ve been stumped. I really couldn’t see how an intelligent person could possibly come to believe, for example, that a lesbian can have a penis. Just thinking about it makes my brain hurt.
What kind of mental contortions could possibly lead people to believe such things?
Misogyny’s a big part of the story, yes. There’s no escaping that fact.
And Queer Theory’s another piece of the puzzle.
But Queer Theory could never convince scientifically-minded types that ‘sex is a spectrum’. Those types need to construct at least the semblance of a logically-coherent world view. I don’t think Queer theory can do that, even with added misogyny. I think there’s more to it.
So I’m going to talk about Transhumanism and its philosophical underpinnings.
This will not be a ‘conspiracy theory’. But it will be a bit technical, with lots of references. Please fasten your seatbelts.
There is a common idea in our culture that the human brain is a kind of computer; that what we call a ‘mind’ is just a program running on that computer; and that the human body is just a kind of meat robot controlled by that computer.
Some people say this is just a metaphor. But many people believe it to be true.
Nobody knows whether or not it is true, or if it’s even a good metaphor.
People may pretend the matter is settled one way or the other, but it’s not.
We don’t know how the brain works, nor how it (or anything else) could produce consciousness. We have little – if any – understanding of the mind, let alone consciousness or thought. We don’t even know if those concepts make scientific sense.
But let’s sweep that all aside! Could the brain really be a kind of computer? Could the mind be a computational process?
Well, what’s a computer? And what is computation?
Here’s a fun explanation of what a computer is, by the late genius Richard Feynman:
Essentially, Feynman tells us that a computer is a glorified filing system, operated by an extremely stupid, but extremely fast-working file clerk. And that’s all it fucking is.
Nevertheless, a system like that is capable of performing any computation whatsoever – and this fact is mathematically provable.
But what is a computation? It is an operation that can be carried out step by step to produce a correct result, even without understanding why the procedure works, why the result is correct, or even what the operation is for.
It’s any operation that can be carried out by an extremely stupid file clerk, if only they can follow strict instructions without deviation. Such an operation is called an ‘algorithm’ – or (when performed by a computer) a ‘program’.
No insight is required to carry out the steps of an algorithm; in fact, insight would only get in the way. A computation is best performed mindlessly.
The following example will allow you to calculate the square root of any (real) number:
1. Pick a number – call it N.
2. Guess the square root of N – call the guess G.
3. Multiply G by G. Call the result R.
4. If R < N, your guess G was too low. Go to 2.
5. If R > N, G was too high. Go to 2.
6. If R = N, G is the square root and you can stop guessing.
This algorithm will work with one proviso – you must keep a record of your lowest over-guess and your highest under-guess of G, and always re-guess between those limits. Otherwise a sufficiently stupid person with no insight is likely to get stuck in an infinite loop.
Fortunately it’s easy enough to include the extra steps to prevent this. The improved algorithm can be implemented on a computer (or by the idiot filing system) and will calculate square roots.
A UTM is a mathematical idealisation, not an actual machine. A modern electronic computer is a practical version of the idea. In principle, there’s nothing a modern computer can do that a UTM cannot. Turing proved that anything that can be computed, can be computed by a UTM.
You could implement a UTM using Feynman’s super-duper filing system, or you can do it in silicon. In fact, you could do it any way you like – you could use a system of water-pipes, or a cleverly designed maze complete with mice and cheese.
You could even use a bizarre contraption based on string, farts, and cabbage. The hardware is irrelevant – the only thing that matters is that it implements the UTM correctly.
In the real world, we don’t usually build computers out of mice, farts, or water pipes. In principle we could, but in practice it’s very inconvenient. It is much easier to build computers out of silicon, metal and plastic.
So if it is true that the brain is a computer, and the mind is a computational process, then in theory it must be possible to set up a UTM to carry out that process. You could do it using a filing system, an electronic computer, or with a machine made of lentils and hot air.
Some of you may worry that I’ve mischaracterised this argument, to make it seem more preposterous than it really is. I haven’t. Also – I don’t think it’s preposterous that in principle one could implement a computer by means of lentils and hot air. I think it’s true.
But *is* mind a computational process? Nobody knows. But there are good reasons at least for taking the idea seriously.
So far, nobody’s proved it’s not. It’s one of the few scientific ideas we have. And though it may seem preposterous, we’re used to that in science. Many scientific theories seem intuitively preposterous but are nevertheless true.
First, he writes about something called the Imitation Game. In this game a Questioner (Q) is placed in a separate room from a man and a woman, labelled at random X and Y. He can’t see or hear them. Q is allowed to ask X and Y written questions; they must give written answers.
By asking these questions, Q is supposed to figure out whether it is X or Y that is the woman. Both X and Y are supposed to convince Q that they are the woman; therefore the man will have to lie.
So Q might ask (stupidly), ‘X – how long is your hair?’. Q continues until they think they know whether it is X or Y who is the true woman. If Q is right, Q wins.
Next Turing considers a different version of the game, in which X and Y are a human and a computer, and Q’s goal is to tell which one is the computer. Turing wonders if Q will guess wrongly as often as when the game involves the man and the woman.
Turing himself wrote, ‘The original question, “Can machines think?” I believe to be too meaningless to deserve discussion. Nevertheless I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.’
A program that can trick the Questioner, some argue, should be considered intelligent. Some argue that such a program must be considered to have a mind, to be capable of thought, and perhaps even to be conscious.
(But would they argue that any man who can trick the Questioner into believing he is a woman, is in fact a woman? Perhaps some would.)
There are others who doubt that a computer of any kind could be conscious. Remember – the implementation is irrelevant; all that matters is the algorithm. So a computer could, theoretically, be constructed from string, farts, and cabbage – and it would make no difference.
There is a bad smell about all this; it smells like the mind-body problem. Supposedly this is a big mystery – how can the mind, which is non-physical, affect the body, which is physical? How could that work? Philosophers still worry about this stuff.
But looky here! If the mind were a computer program, then… well, we’ve cracked it! Champagne all round. This helps explain why this idea – the Computational Theory of Mind – is so attractive. It does away with the mystery of consciousness.
It does away with all ideas about spirits, souls and magical essence. Computation is a physical process, after all – there’s nothing mysterious about it!
So, if the brain were a computer, and the mind a computer program, we’d have a scientific theory of consciousness – or at least, the beginnings of one. Not bad.
You might also see how this ‘solution’ to the mind-body problem could relate to transgenderism and the thorny debate about whether it’s possible to be ‘born in the wrong body’:
– ‘Clearly, if the mind and the body are separate entities, and if the mind is a program that runs on the hardware of the brain, then, since we have a mathematical proof that any hardware can execute any program, the body must be irrelevant to the question of identity!’
– ‘Computer games prove this too. Just look at the huge range of avatars in World of Warcraft – there’s everything from little bitty hyper-feminine elf-girls to giant hulking uber-masculine ogre-guys. But you can never assume the player’s sex from the appearance of the avatar!’
– ‘One can easily imagine a more masculine elf – or a more feminine ogre – with the exact same genitalia! In theory one could control the avatar’s masculine / feminine balance with a slider; the avatar could morph smoothly from one extreme to the other – in real time, even!’
– ‘Why not? And there’s no need to change the genitals. The difference between the elf and the ogre is so much more than that. This is why sex cannot possilbly be binary. Binary means there are just two possibilities – it’s like a simple on-off switch, a single bit of data.’
– ‘How could you possibly encode the gender diversity of WoW using just a single bit? The very idea is ridiculous! Anyone who knows anything about computers will tell you the same.’
– ‘A woman is simply a type of mind, no more, that typically runs on particular hardware (the female body and brain) but could, theoretically, run on different hardware (a male body and brain). And, if it did, surely it would be no less a woman for that? It’s logical, no?’
No. It’s bollocks – but I can see how someone might think this way.
But have we really solved the mind-body problem with this Computational Theory of Mind?
There are some with doubts. The philosopher John Searle is one such person. For those who would like to believe that the mind is just a computational process, Searle’s ‘Chinese Room’ thought experiment has been a major pain in the arse for over thirty years.
Here he is speaking at Google, annoying people. Google’s chief futurist Ray Kurzweil (more from him later) is in the audience, and his hairpiece is on fine form:
John Searle: “Consciousness in Artificial Intelligence” | Talks at Google
His argument is simple: Searle imagines himself locked in a room. Outside the room are Chinese-speaking people. They write Chinese characters on bits of paper and pass them into the room through a slit.
Searle does not understand Chinese, but he has an instruction manual written in English. The manual does not tell him what the characters mean, but by following the instructions, he is able to assemble a different series of Chinese characters and pass them out through the slit.
The people outside the room interpret these characters as ‘answers’ to their ‘questions’. The manual is so well-written, and Searle is so good at following instructions, that the responses produced are indistinguishable from those of a native Chinese speaker.
Yet Searle still understands not a word of Chinese! Since in this situation Searle does not understand Chinese, there’s no way a computer executing such a program could understand Chinese either, because the computer has nothing that Searle doesn’t have.
This argument can be generalised to cover any possible computer program; so according to Searle there’s no way a computer could ever understand anything!
Here, Searle is imagining himself in the role of Feynman’s idiot filing clerk; and it’s intuitively obvious he’s right – Searle in the room could not understand Chinese; neither could an idiot filing clerk performing the same task, and neither could a computer.
Thus, it seems, the mind cannot be a computer program. (NB: Searle is very clear that he believes the mind must surely arise from some physical process – he just doesn’t think that process could be computation.)
The debate is still raging. Nothing is proved. But clearly there are good reasons for doubting that the mind really is a computer program.
Nevertheless, the idea is very attractive to those immersed in the world of technology and science. Such people often have little background or interest in the arts, and regard philosophy as a waste of time. But they’re as susceptible to human folly as anyone else.
Here’s just some of the ridiculousness that stems from the idea that minds can be created by computer programs:
Kurzweil is a major proponent of the idea of the coming Technological Singularity, in which the invention of a computer exceeding human intelligence will trigger a feedback loop of rapid technological innovation & civilisational change beyond imagination: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity
The origin of this idea is often credited to the science fiction writer and Computer Scientist Vernor Vinge. I’ve read several of his books and enjoyed them, but was dismayed by one of them (on my shelf as ‘Across Realtime’).
One minor character is a female environmentalist concerned about the destruction of planet Earth; but her concern is motivated by a deep hatred of humanity. (I read this as Vinge’s own view of those who give a fuck about any species but our own – but who knows?)
Not only does Kurzweil believe in the Singularity, he longs for it. He’s getting old now, and he’s desperately searching for a way to cheat death. Presumably, he’d tell us not to worry about the extinction of the chimp, the rhino or the tiger.
Extinction’s no problem after all; when the Singularity comes, all the creatures that ever lived can simply be resurrected inside a computer, where they will live happily every after – like Kurzweil himself, with a full head of hair.
This is the essence of transhumanism – the idea that biology is irrelevant to our existence as individuals; that we are defined entirely by our conscious minds, which are just computational processes constrained by outdated hardware.
Transhumanism rejects those biological constraints. It rejects Mother Nature as inadequate, and seeks to improve on her sloppy design.
‘[A]ccording to [Kurzweil]’ writes Searle, ‘within a very few decades, sensible people will get out of neurons and have themselves “downloaded” onto some decent hardware.’
Searle concludes, ‘The title of the book is The Age of Spiritual Machines. By “spiritual,” Kurzweil means conscious, and he says so explicitly. The implications are that if you read his book you will come to understand the machines and that we have overwhelming evidence that they now are or will shortly be conscious. Both of these implications are false. You will not understand computing machinery from reading Kurzweil’s book.’ (And you won’t understand consciousness either.)
Damn those pesky philosophers! They ruin everything!
Let’s just ignore them and hope they’ll go away…
– In a (slight) return to sanity, here’s a story about a man who claims to have spent seventeen years as a soldier on Mars. It relies on similar ideas about the possibilities of technology, but apart from that it’s unrelated to transgenderism: https://www.gaia.com/article/randy-cramer-mars-defense-force
This man’s story is not unique. And is it any less plausible than transhumanism?
– Here’s another example of this kind of thinking – an interview with Rob Rhinehart, who invented Soylent (a specially-formulated nutritional slime) to free us all from the dreadful ickiness of normal human food…
What we have in transhumanism is a blind faith in the power of technology, combined with a rejection of biology as icky, outdated and oppressive. We see the same thing in transgenderism. But that basic attitude – of Nature as a nuisance – is prevalent throughout our culture.
It is Mother Nature who gives birth to all things; archetypically, she is Chaos, who must be tamed by man so as to give birth to the Order of human civilisation.
(This is why Jordan Peterson goes on about Feminine Chaos – he’s talking about archetypes, and – sexist or not – he’s got a point. These archetypes are not facts, but they are important cultural themes with significant power over the human subconscious.)
I’ve always thought it strange that the subconscious (or the unconscious) rarely figures in discussions about the Computational Theory of Mind; it’s as if these people don’t think it exists.
There’s nowt so queer as folk.
Jung once said:
‘We need more understanding of human nature, because the only real danger that exists is man himself. He is the great danger. And we are pitifully unaware of it. We know nothing of man… far too little. His psyche should be studied – because we are the origin of all coming evil.’
– C.G. Jung, Interview with John Freeman, Face to Face,1959:
(‘Fuck you, Jung! What’s wrong with wanting to live forever? Psychiatry is nothing but witchcraft and lies! What could you possibly know about the human condition? You’re dead!’)
Also from that article:
’Facebook and Apple both offer “female-friendly perks” that include covering the costs of egg freezing in a bid to delay workers having children, and Apple also covers the legal costs of adoption.’
What are we to make of this? Is it all just bollocks?
There are clear links here to Silicon Valley, plus the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, all of which are important for the transhumanist project to liberate humanity from the limitations of Mother Nature.
There are links to the porn industry too, though here it’s more complicated:
‘While straight men make up the vast majority of consumers of the mainstream ‘shemale’ porn market, the popularity of performers resides in their status as “chicks with dicks.”’ https://www.dailydot.com/irl/trans-surgery-porn-fund/
Sometimes when people bring all this up, they are accused of peddling a ‘conspiracy theory’. But as I mentioned before, no conspiracy theory is necessary.
It all sounds remarkably like a transhumanist version of Queer Theory! Apparently this essay made quite a splash, and was all the rage in academic circles of the time. It’s hard to imagine Judith Butler (one major culprit of Queer Theory) was not aware of Haraway’s work.
Sandy Stone (a central figure in the Olivia Records controversy, who features in Janice Raymond’s 1979 book ‘The Transsexual Empire’) was a student of Donna Haraway’s at the time Haraway was writing the Cyborg Manifesto:
Stone went on to write ‘The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto’ in 1987.
The more I look into this, the more I see deep connections between Transhumanism, Transgenderism, and Queer Theory.
To me they look like different ways of articulating the same basic idea – that humans as a species can create a utopia only by rejecting all cultural norms, and ultimately, our humanity itself. It’s completely insane. But that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
It does not need to be a conspiracy. What we have here is True Believers. They read too much science fiction. They have too much money, and an unshakeable faith in their intellectual superiority – which is nothing but a mirage. These people are fucking fools.
His talk about computers was filmed there, and so was this lecture series ‘The Quantum Mechanical View of Reality’. Here, Feynman is interrupted constantly by stoned clever dudes, and becomes irritable. It’s painful to watch, but fascinating:
Transhumanism is the cultural equivalent of a brain-fart. It sounds insane, and it is. It comes down to a bunch of techies in a hot-tub, dropping acid and struggling to make sense of ideas far too big to fit in their brains.
Transhumanists think of humans as gods; infant gods, oppressed by a tyrannical Mother Nature. But one happy day they will kill her, and then we shall be free!
Free from gender! Free from sex! Free from the ickiness of womanhood, and the evil of men! Yea, free even from the unnatural restrictions of our pathetic physical bodies! Hallelujah, children! No need to fear death!
When your body wears out, just download into a new one – a better one, made from odourless plastic! It even has interchangeable sex-organs – so easy to clean in the dishwasher! Who needs a vagina, girls, when you can have the VaginatorXX+ instead?
But is any of this possible?
Perhaps – but what does it matter?
There’s money to be made – and lots of it.
The point is these people *believe* it’s possible, and they’re trying to make it happen. To them the ends justify the means – for who wouldn’t want to live in their glorious Utopia? Only uncool people, like terfs and fascists, and people who go to church.
‘The villagers had said justice had been done, and she’d lost patience and told them to go home, then, and pray to whatever gods they believed in that it was never done to them. The smug mask of virtue triumphant could be almost as horrible as the face of wickedness revealed.’
Of course this stuff is anti-woman. But it’s worse than that.
This is not just an attack on feminism; it’s an attack on humanity itself.