There is much talk about the ‘gender wars’ in which there are said to be two sides: the GCs (Gender Criticals) and the TRAs (Trans Rights Activists). Neither GCs nor TRAs are a united force, so this is a major oversimplification. But for now, let’s go with it.
In a war, strategy is important. One of the most famous books on military strategy is The Art of War, an ancient Chinese text:
Another Chinese text, less famous, is the Thirty-Six Stratagems, which focuses on the role of deception in warfare. These Stratagems are typically combined, and adapted to circumstance:
Both texts are worth reading, though to understand them it is useful to read the various commentaries added, over the years, by accomplished generals and scholars, as well as businessmen.
Even under ideal conditions it’s not easy to translate the advice contained within these texts into actionable political strategies. In the current situation we have the added complication that our forces are poorly organised, undisciplined, and prone to constant squabbling among themselves. There is no prospect of disciplining our troops, even if we could find suitable generals to organise them, which we can’t. We have no generals. We have no batallions. What we have is not quite a rabble, but it’s close. The situation is the same on both sides of the battlefield.
I find myself on the GC side of the conflict, thinking about strategy. Due to the disorganisation of our forces, thinking about strategy often seems to me a complete waste of time. But I think about it anyway.
(Note: This is a purely theoretical discussion which should not be taken seriously by anyone. If you are reading it, please stop now.)
Hard and Soft
In Chinese martial arts, a distinction is made between hard and soft styles. Roughly, hard styles favour direct attacking and blocking moves; force is met with resistance. In soft styles, force is instead redirected to unbalance an opponent or manipulate him into an unfavourable position, before mounting a counterattack. There is also a saying: ‘softness always beats hardness’ — this is because it is always better to evade or redirect the force of a strike than to resist it head on. To put it another way — it is better to bend than to break.
But if that is the case, why do hard styles exist at all? In fact there are no purely hard or soft martial arts styles; it is a question of emphasis.
Modern Aikido, for example, is almost entirely soft, relying on manipulation of the opponent’s momentum to throw him off balance and place him in a position of vulnerability to attack. In modern Aikido, the ‘hard’ attack never comes. This is because modern Aikido is not a true martial art; it’s a sport. Ancient Aikido was different — it was used by unarmed peasants to defend against armoured, highly skilled samurai with very sharp swords. It focuses attention on the joints, which were the weakest points in the samurai’s armour. The strikes were necessarily extremely hard and brutal — the snapping of limbs, the ripping of throats, etc. All these strikes have been removed from modern Aikido, because they are designed not just to hurt, but to maim or kill.
Kung Fu, on the other hand, remains a true martial art, as both hard and soft techniques may be taught. In sporting competition, many hard techniques (such as eye-gouges, or the tearing off of testicles) are illegal, and others can be applied only with caution in order to avoid serious injury or death.
Yin and Yang
Softness and hardness can be related (respectively) to the ancient Chinese concepts of yin and yang. There is no direct translation for these words, but they refer to an interconnected duality of forces within nature and all of life. You cannot have one without the other. Yin and yang are not opposites, strictly speaking, but complements. The balance between yin and yang changes constantly, and expresses itself in myriad ways through all of nature and human life.
Yang is associated with hot, fast, hard, dry, direct, focused, unyielding, active, loud, and with light, the sun, sky, fire, daytime, extroversion, and masculinity.
Yin is associated with cold, slow, soft, wet, indirect, diffuse, yielding, passive, quiet, and with dark, the moon, the earth, water, nighttime, introversion, and femininity.
Neither yin nor yang is superior. The two are interdependent, and complementary. Together, they speak of change, and of the dynamic balance of the universe.
Introverts and Extroverts
Everything that exists contains an interplay of yin and yang elements. The GC movement is no exception. A balance of yin and yang exists at both the individual and the group level. At the individual level, no-one is completely one or the other, as this is an impossibility. But at the group level, an individual can be considered either yang or yin, depending on their temperament — which again, may vary with time.
Extroverts tend to be yang — direct, unyielding, active, hot-tempered, loud. Introverts tend to be yin — indirect, yielding, passive, cool-tempered, quiet.
Jung was very interested in these ideas — he noted that Eastern cultures tend to be more introverted, more yin.
Western cultures are more extroverted, or yang. Introversion, in the West, is valued less than extroversion. In the East, the converse is true.
This difference leads to great difficulties in mutual understanding between these cultures. The same is true of individuals. Extroverts and introverts very often do not understand each other.
I am an introvert, and quite an extreme one. I tend to find extroverts annoying — loud, brash, demanding of attention. They seem to find me weird — closed, cold and depressing. Introverts are not necessarily shy, but we are often happy to be alone; attempts to bring us ‘out of our shells’ are frequently misguided and irritating. We often simply want people to go away. Unfortunately, extroverts may take this as a personal insult. It’s no surprise that we often don’t get on.
No-one is completely introvert or extrovert — these are aspects of yin and yang, and as such are in constant flux. Jung characterises this as each person having both an introverted and extroverted side, with one side typically dominant. The distinction is therefore imperfect, but useful.
There is no particular difference between introverts and extroverts in terms of intelligence. Each has different strengths and weaknesses. Introverts tend to focus on the abstract (yin); extroverts on the concrete (yang). Jung characterised these two basic types as ‘attitude-types’. But he went further. Within each type, there are subtypes — which Jung based on what he called the ‘basic psychological functions’ of thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition. He called these ’function-types’. Both introverts and extroverts come in all these ‘function-types’, which are described in detail in Jung’s work Psychological Types.
If all this seems a bit artificial, that’s because it is — there are many different systems which divide people into ‘types’. (In Myers-Briggs terms I am supposedly INTP, which makes me a weirdo.)
Jung’s theories are often dismissed as ‘pseudoscience’, and he is also criticised for his interest in paranormal phenomena, which is considered uncool.
In the end, whether such ‘types’ really exist is a moot point — what matters, in a given context, is whether the classification is useful.
For this discussion, we don’t need much detail — so we’ll stick to just yin and yang, or introverts and extroverts.
Introverts are more inclined towards abstract thought. Strategy is abstract, so introverts tend to be better at it. Extroverts are more inclined towards concrete actions, so they tend to be better at getting things done.
One might think that in a political movement, the introverts should be put in charge of strategy, and the extroverts should execute it. The wisdom of this is doubtful — but in any case it would require some organisational hierarchy, which the GC movement not only lacks, but actively resists. We have many small groups (both formal and informal) each doing their own thing. Hierarchy is frowned upon. This is not just a weakness, it is also a strength. If the snake has no head, you can’t cut it off.
I am an introvert, and I think about strategy. The ideal strategy would contain elements of both yin and yang — both soft and hard, hidden and visible. This is true not only for the GC movement, but for our opponents too — the dreaded TRAs.
In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory.
Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhaustible as Heaven and Earth, unending as the flow of rivers and streams; like the sun and moon, they end but to begin anew; like the four seasons, they pass away to return once more.
There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.
– The Art of War, Chapter 5, Lines 5-7
Transactivist Strategy (Offensive)
The TRAs have a two-pronged strategy, with each prong containing both yin and yang elements. The strategy is as follows:
Prong 1 – The visible (yang / direct)
Yin: Insert the TRA narrative into the political system by means of stealth in order to achieve long-term objectives.
Yang: Tie up your opponents (the GCs) by drawing them into a series of interminable battles that sap their energy and morale. (This might also be called the ‘tar-baby’ strategy.)
All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.
Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him.
– The Art of War, Chapter 1, Lines 21-22
Prong 2 – The hidden (yin / indirect)
Yin: Infiltrate the GC camp with spies and double-agents to gather intelligence and sow discord with malicious rumours and gossip. Here’s how it works:
A covert TRA can create a sock account (or, better, several) to endlessly parrot the standard GC talking points. After gaining a following, they can create a private group of trusted individuals, and engage in chit-chat and gossip. (‘Hide Your Knife In A Smile’)
They then amplify any personal disagreements they hear about, picking endlessly over the bones. If they hear scandalous rumours — true or not — they will embellish and spread different versions of the story. Then they choose an influential target, and privately accuse them of wrongdoing. They will claim to have privileged information, using screenshots (fake or otherwise) to support this claim and intensify the campaign of whispers and innuendo. Sooner or later, the squabbling will begin. (‘Kill With A Borrowed Sword’)
We know from past experience just how much trouble these squabbles can cause, even when they arise naturally.
Yang: While the GCs fight among themselves, the main TRA force goads their anger with jeers and insults, leading the GCs to lash out foolishly at friends and enemies alike. They will bring to public attention any and all examples of overzealousness by the GCs — doing all they can to make them appear nasty, rude, unreasonable, and threatening.
Once the public turns against the GCs, their internal fighting will escalate further, leaving the GC camp in complete disarray. Then the TRA troops can storm in to battle and win an easy victory. (‘Loot a Burning House’)
What could be simpler?
If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them.
Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected. These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand.
– The Art of War, Chapter 1, Lines 23-24
Gender Critical Strategy (Defensive)
How can we counter this two-pronged strategy?
Prong 1 – The visible (yang / direct)
At the moment, the GCs are countering only the first (visible) prong of the TRA strategy.
Yin: We fight the yin part of this prong by resisting the TRA narrative. For this, we deploy our politicians, lawyers, and philosophers.
Yang: We fight the yang part by joining the battle; energy and morale are maintained by means of tea, biscuits and humour.
Our counter-strategy is essentially a mirror image of theirs. It is working quite well; however, we often make the mistake of getting drawn into pointless battles which sap our strength. (And too often, we lack the cunning of Br’er Rabbit in formulating a plan to escape the tar-baby’s clutches.)
Prong 2 – The hidden (yin / indirect)
We are not (as far as I know) countering the second (hidden) prong of the TRA strategy. We’re barely even talking about it. Some believe it exists, but we can’t prove anything. Most of us don’t believe in conspiracy theories, and those who do may see them everywhere. All this leaves us vulnerable to strategies of deception.
But if the hidden prong does exist, how do we counter it?
Yin: One way would be passive (yin) — ignore all rumours, refuse to spread gossip, avoid internal squabbling, and remain calm and reasonable at all times. Unfortunately there are so many divisions and personal disagreements between GC individuals, and the insults thrown our way so egregious, that this strategy is impossible to put into practice.
Yang: Instead, we could use a more active (yang) counter-strategy by infiltrating our own spies and double-agents into the enemy camp to spread rumours and discord.
You could do this with sock accounts, or better — pretend to defect by throwing a violent shit-fit. After a few months spent sulking, simply fake an epiphany and begin relentless criticism of the evil GC bigots. Soon you will become a trusted member of the TRA ‘community’ and the spreading of malicious gossip can commence.
This strategy is immoral, and should never be admitted to by anyone. It is essential to create an impression of utter guilelessness. Anyone who dares suggest such an appalling plan should be castigated most severely, especially by those who will put it into practice.
In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack — the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of manoeuvres.
The direct and the indirect lead on to each other in turn. It is like moving in a circle — you never come to an end. Who can exhaust the possibilities of their combination?
– The Art of War, Chapter 5, Lines 10-11
Gender Critical Strategy (Offensive)
The above discussion relates to counter-strategies, which are designed to frustrate the enemy’s plans. They are essentially defensive. But we need an offensive strategy too.
Again, it should have both yin and yang elements, must further our goals, and ideally be very difficult to counter.
The onrush of a conquering force is like the bursting of pent-up waters into a chasm a thousand fathoms deep.
– The Art of War, Chapter 4, Line 20
So what are some strategic goals that could reasonably be achieved within a short timescale?
1 – An end to the erosion of women’s rights, particularly the right to single-sex spaces, which may exclude where necessary anyone born male, regardless of trans status.
2 – No self-identification of gender identity or sex. This should be replaced with high-quality assessment and gatekeeping of the transition process in order to minimise potential harms, especially to children.
3 – Better healthcare (including mental healthcare) for those with (or recovering from) gender dysphoria, before, during and after transition, and / or detransition.
4 – More research into the causes, nature and treatment of gender dysphoria.
5 – The provision where necessary of third spaces to cater for those who might be uncomfortable in the single-sex spaces of their own natal sex.
6 – A ban on pornography that is inherently degrading to women (or to men, children or trans people). Here we could take a similar approach to that of the Dworkin-MacKinnon Ordinance.
As far as I can tell, none of these goals conflict with the goals of feminist groups such as WPUK, but only the first goal is of benefit only to women. The others should be of benefit not only to trans people, but to men and women also. All these goals are contentious, and the first two are particularly so — nevertheless, I think they are reasonable.
You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended. You can ensure the safety of your defence if you hold only positions that cannot be attacked. Hence that general is skilful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skilful in defence whose opponent does not know what to attack.
O divine art of subtlety and secrecy! Through you we learn to be invisible, through you inaudible; and hence we can hold the enemy’s fate in our hands.
– The Art of War, Chapter 6, Lines 7-10
Prong 1 – The visible (yang / direct)
In the Thirty-Six Stratagems, this is a version of ‘Feign Madness, But Keep Your Balance’.
Yang: These goals (and many others) can be argued for openly without any need for subterfuge.
Yin: The pushback will come chiefly in the form of accusations of transphobia. We should therefore emphasise the benefits of our proposals to trans people, and show how the competing demands of transactivists are harmful to them.
To do this, we must push for an open discussion about transphobia itself, and its prevalence within transactivism. The transactivists must be exposed for what they are: not just misogynists, but transphobes too — and of the worst possible kind.
In making tactical dispositions, the highest pitch you can attain is to conceal them; conceal your dispositions [in your mind], and you will be safe from the prying of the subtlest spies, from the machinations of the wisest brains. How victory may be produced for them out of the enemy’s own tactics — that is what the multitude cannot comprehend.
– The Art of War, Chapter 6, Lines 28-30
Transactivists are very controlling of trans people. Any trans person who expresses opinions that deviate from transactivist dogma are viciously attacked; they are told that if they do not hold certain beliefs, they are (by definition!) not trans at all. Transactivists view trans people as a political grouping, and nothing more. This denies the right of trans people to be recognised as individual human beings, with thoughts and opinions of their own, and as such, to flourish in society. This is not so different to the way sex-stereotypes (or ‘the gender system’) operate on women — to keep them in their place. Transactivism has nothing to do with the liberation of trans people. Rather, it is a way to oppress them — and as such, it must be opposed.
Prong 2 – The hidden (yin / indirect)
This is where it gets weird.
Hiding order beneath the cloak of disorder is simply a question of subdivision; concealing courage under a show of timidity presupposes a fund of latent energy; masking strength with weakness is to be effected by tactical dispositions.Thus one who is skilful at keeping the enemy on the move maintains deceitful appearances, according to which the enemy will act. He sacrifices something, that the enemy may snatch at it.
– The Art of War, Chapter 5, Lines 18-19
In the yang (visible) prong of our strategy, we are making use chiefly of yin GC individuals to argue in favour of ‘being nice’. I would expect many yang GCs to oppose this. They will insist that ‘being nice never got women anywhere’ and may even see nastiness as a virtue — at least in this context. We can make use of those yang individuals in the yin (hidden, or sneaky) prong of our strategy, simply by allowing them to do what comes naturally, while the yin GCs do the same.
In the Thirty-Six Stratagems, this prong could be thought of — overall — as ‘Lure Your Enemy onto the Roof, then Take Away the Ladder’:
Yang: The yang GCs will mock and insult the TRAs. This will enrage them, and they will react by lashing out in fury. (‘Lure Your Enemy onto the Roof’) Yang GCs should also complain about the yin traitors who insist on ‘being nice’.
Yin: The yin GCs must condemn the yang in the strongest possible terms, and insist they take part of the blame for the enraged TRA reaction. (‘Take Away the Ladder’)
Yes, it’s the timeworn ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop’ routine! If you squint a bit, you can also view it as a combination of ‘Sacrifice the Plum Tree In Place of the Peach’, and ‘Replace the Beams with Rotten Timbers’.
By holding out baits, he keeps him on the march; then with a body of picked men he lies in wait for him. The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy, and does not require too much from individuals. Hence his ability to pick out the right men and utilise combined energy. [i.e., the effectiveness of the team, not its constituent individuals, is what matters.]
– The Art of War, Chapter 5, Lines 20-21
Yang / Bad Cop: The yang GCs are absolutely vital. Without their contribution, we will not win this war. They will lend credibility to the yin GCs by virtue of their refusal to compromise. The yang will appear unreasonable and bigoted in comparison to the yin, and will come under heavy fire from the TRAs. They are well-prepared for this, and may even relish it. In later years, songs will be sung of their heroic deeds on the battlefield. The yin GCs will not receive the same recognition, and may widely be viewed as traitors — this is the price of our victory. (‘Sacrifice the Plum Tree [purity] In Place of the Peach [success]’)
Yin / Good Cop: Meanwhile, the yin GCs will encourage trans people to speak up for themselves as individuals. The yin will amplify trans voices, and engage these individuals in polite conversation and respectful debate about the issues. They will take note of the abuse hurled at them by TRAs, and defend the right of trans people to speak freely — whether we agree with them or not. (‘Replace the Beams [anti-GC sentiment] with Rotten Timbers [gradual GC acceptance]’)
The yin will highlight the transphobic attitudes prevalent in transactivism, and condemn them. They will draw attention to similarities between the TRAs and the yang GCs (who enact the ‘Bad Cop’ role in this drama) and complain about the crazy extremists on both sides. The yin will commit to fighting transphobia in all its forms. They will insist trans people should be seen as human beings deserving of respect — and not pawns in some cruel political game. This is the truth, and it sounds good too — at least to normal people. And it’s them we have to convince.
Military tactics are like unto water [and follow the line of least resistance]; for water in its natural course runs away from high places and hastens downwards. So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.
– The Art of War, Chapter 6, Line 33
How do we put this strategy into practice? We don’t; we can’t. We have no leaders, no hierarchy, and no generals. We are constantly fighting among ourselves. There is no ‘we’ — there is only a disorganised mass of individuals, connected loosely by interlocking circles of friendship. The best we can hope for is to keep out of each other’s way. There’s plenty of room for everyone. We can do as we wish, both individually and in groups. We will never agree on everything.
Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he is facing. Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions.
– The Art of War, Chapter 6, Lines 34-35
However, we should avoid malicious gossip and the stoking of vendettas; these only help the enemy, and may be rooted in schemes to sow discord. When others insult us, we should not take it personally; it should be considered political theatre, and nothing more.
The rest can take care of itself.