Much Is Lost

By: Hendrik van der Breggen

At the beginning of the film Lord of the Rings, as forces of darkness gather strength, Lady Galadriel whispers sadly: “The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the Earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.”

I think our society no longer remembers some important truths. Here are some examples.

We used to think we should help those who feel suicidal. Remember National Suicide Prevention Week? Now, for many, suicide is understood as an achievement of personal autonomy. Also, we are beginning to encourage the weak and infirm to take advantage of “physician-assisted dying”/ “medical aid in dying” (euphemisms for physician-assisted killing).

We used to think doctors’ conscience rights were important. Now in Canada doctors’ rights of conscience not to refer patients to others who will kill them are suspect.

We used to think children, especially handicapped children, should be given great care. Now a large percentage of prenatal children diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted.

We used to think abortions should be rare and the option of last resort. Now, for many, abortions are a badge of autonomy, honor, and equality (of course, only for those who have the privilege of already being born). Think of Oprah Winfrey’s recent support for the “Shout Your Abortion” campaign.

Think, too of the last U.S. presidential race. Presidential candidate Hilary Clinton acknowledged that unborn children are actual persons, but denied that they have the right to life. Yet the 1973 Roe v. Wade court decision that made abortion legal in the U.S. stated abortion rights would collapse if the unborn were persons.

In Canada, we used to think that if science could establish that the unborn child is a human being, then the law should reflect that. But our law continues under the delusion that the unborn child isn’t a human being until birth. And so far any attempts by Members of Parliament merely to investigate this have been dismissed.

Speaking of human beings, the director of U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) believes, contrary to sound reason, that the human embryo is merely a potential human being (it’s in fact a human being with potential). We used to think using human embryonic stem cells and mixing them with animals isn’t a good idea. Now the NIH is seriously considering such research.

We used to think tolerance of others’ opinions was good. Now, when it comes to gender identity and expression, it’s not acceptable to disagree (even via careful reasoning and appeals to medical and mental health concerns). In fact, a couple years ago a gay pride parade organizer in my home city in Manitoba said to those who disagree: “No! No! You are not entitled to your opinion.” Moreover, according to some, you are “homoppressive.” (Pause. Hmmm. Does a doctor’s concern about the well being of smokers make her “smoker-oppressive”?)

We used to think that reason carefully used with evidence should put a check on feeling (which is sometimes out of touch with reality). Remember anorexia nervosa, the disorder in which a person feels overweight when in fact isn’t, so diets to a dangerous extreme? Here reason shows feelings, though sincerely held, can be untrue.

But now, for many, feelings are trump. Consider Bruce (“Caitlyn”) Jenner. He is a man who feels he is a woman and so has had plastic surgery to “feminize” his face and throat, has taken hormones to grow breasts, and has had surgery to remove his testicles plus use his penis to construct a so-called “vagina.” But the “vagina” isn’t a vagina (it’s fake, a simulacrum).  Biologically, Jenner is not female. In view of the dangers associated with sex-change (in transgender-friendly Sweden the rate of suicide for those who have sex-change surgery is 20 times greater than normal), isn’t this like offering liposuction to someone with anorexia? Yet the world applauds.

Moreover, if my feelings about myself are sufficient justification for my identity, why stop at transgender (e.g., a man identifying as a woman)? Why not also trans-culture/ethnicity/ nationality (an American man identifying as a Filipino woman)? Why not trans-age (an adult identifying as a child)? Why not trans-species (a human identifying as a dog or cat or dragon)? Upshot: Feeling as a sufficient guide to reality reduces to the absurd.

We seem to have lost sight of reason and truth.

Is all lost?

Happily, Lady Galadriel speaks also of hope that weds reason and truth with love and courage—and forces of goodness unseen.

I pray this is so.


Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College, Otterburne, Manitoba, Canada. Hendrik’s teaching and research interests include philosophy of religion, philosophy of science, critical thinking/ logic, and ethics. Over the past ten years, Hendrik has written (and continues to write) the newspaper column “Apologia” in which he attempts to make philosophy accessible to the general reader. Past and current installments of “Apologia” are available at Hendrik’s blog. Links to Hendrik’s other articles can be found at his faculty profile page. The views expressed here or in his column/blog do not always reflect the views of Providence.

Image: “A world of Lord of the Rings” photo by Dirk Förster of the Rakotzbrücke (devil’s bridge) in the Azalea and Rhododendron Park Kromlau, in Gablenz, Germany.

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4 Comments

  1. Craig Collins

    Yeah, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could return to those great days when gays were jailed, lobotomized, and zapped with electricity to “cure” them. You know, those grand old days when abortions were illegal and dangerous; when guilt-ridden unwed mothers with no access to sound birth control options were forced to give birth and raise their babies alone, in shame and poverty, because the fathers had abandoned them. Yes sir, those were good times all right. As Archie Bunker sang, “when girls were girls and men were men” and anyone whose genitals did not match their deep sense of gender identity were just considered “sickos” and a legitimate target of ridicule and violence for homophobic men. Wow, we sure have lost a lot, haven’t we? Boo-hoo.

    • Hendrik van der Breggen

      Ha! Craig Collins, that’s one way of thinking about what I’ve written! Here’s another—better—way.

      Re: Let’s return to “those grand old days when abortions were illegal and dangerous; when guilt-ridden unwed mothers with no access to sound birth control options were forced to give birth and raise their babies alone, in shame and poverty, because the fathers had abandoned them.”

      No, let’s not. To think my article suggests or implies this seems to require a false dichotomy in one’s thinking: (1) abortion, or (2) have more vulnerable, suffering, abandoned single mothers with no other options (i.e., we don’t want the latter, so we’ve got to choose the former, or so the implicit faulty reasoning goes). Instead, it seems to me, we should promote a third option: (3) helping the mother AND her child. Why? Because killing children as a solution to social problems is weird and wrong. And because not helping the mother in a crisis pregnancy is weird and wrong, too. Let’s help BOTH.

      An insightful book on this topic is ethicist Charles Camosy’s “Beyond the Abortion Wars.” In case it’s of interest, I have a review of Camosy’s book here: http://apologiabyhendrikvanderbreggen.blogspot.com/2016/08/beyond-abortion-wars-book-review.html .

      Re: “wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could return to those great days when gays were jailed, lobotomized, and zapped with electricity to ‘cure’ them.”

      Huh? Thinking carefully about or disagreeing with same-sex matters, as I am attempting to do, does not imply this at all. For one to think it does suggests one believes careful thought and disagreement preclude respect. They don’t. To suggest that my view is or implies this is to misrepresent my view or the implications of my view—a.k.a. a straw person fallacy.

      To encourage some additional careful thinking, I recommend that we also listen to those folks who have same-sex attractions and choose not to embrace acting on them. Their voices count, too. And, surely, we can listen to them without being phobic of or disrespectful of those persons who choose otherwise. Seeking truth and showing respect to others are not mutually exclusive. Check out the websites for Living Out, or Restored Hope Network, or Journey Canada. Also, see the video “Such Were Some of You.”

      Re: Transgender people are “sickos” and “a legitimate target of ridicule and violence for homophobic men.”

      Again: Huh? Of course, that is wrong—but I do not suggest this at all in my article! If this is an attempt to represent my view, it’s (another) misrepresentation. In my article I recommend a return to careful thinking, i.e., discerning the absurd logical-metaphysical implications of “I feel I am X, therefore I am X” (implications that I point to in my article/s). This return to careful thinking neither entails nor justifies derogatory remarks about or violence against transgender individuals. In fact, such careful thinking may be helpful to them—and the rest of us—as a guide to reality and flourishing. Again, truth-seeking (via careful reasoning) and showing respect to others who might disagree are not mutually exclusive, contrary to what you seem to think.

      A thoughtful book on the transgender issue is Ryan T. Anderson’s “When Harry Became Sally.” Some of the links in my above article may be helpful, too. The following recent article may be of help as well: “What Two Former Trans Men Want You to Know about All the Lies.” http://thefederalist.com/2017/10/11/what-two-former-trans-men-want-you-to-know-about-all-the-lies/

      In sum, I still think it’s true: much is lost—especially when it comes to reason and truth.

      Cheers.

  2. B. M.

    Hello Hendrick,

    The passage in which you talk about transgenders caught my attention. I did a quick research about the statistic you mentioned about transgenders swedes and found this:

    “In another study, Dhejne and colleagues looked into the circumstances of 324 Swedes who had undergone sex change surgery, mostly in the years from 1973 to 2003. They discovered that the suicide rate among them was much higher than for the general population. They also uncovered higher rates of attempted suicide and for treatment for mental disorders.”

    Which of course corroborates your argument. But the article goes on:

    “Fortunately, this trend changed after 1989. By then those who had undergone the surgery ran about the same risk as Swedes in general of dying from disease or suicide. More died prematurely than other Swedes but the disparity was not statistically significant.

    Statistical comparisons between Swedes in general and those who have undergone sex reassignment surgery must be treated with a grain of salt, as the latter is such a small group. Also, the researchers have not followed up all the persons who have had the surgery since 1989 for a whole ten years. Some have had their new gender for less than a decade and the likelihood of mortalities is largest after ten years. Attempted suicides also decreased from the 1990s and onwards.”

    (Via http://sciencenordic.com/few-swedes-regret-sex-reassignment-surgery)

    So based in this new information, I don’t think that statistic alone is enough to be a strong argument. I’m curious to know of more statistics if you happen to know of them.

    There’s another topic I’d like to discuss in this comment. Your last paragraph you mentioned the terms “trans-nationality”, “trans-age” and “trans-species” and use the reduction to absurd argument to weaken the transgender claim. But there’s a crucial difference about those terms and transgender. Ideally, in the eyes of the law, men and women should be recognized as equals. So there would be no difference for the society, in a macro scale, whether an individual chooses to be identified as a man or as a woman. They still have to pay taxes and obey the laws. The other examples you mentioned would break this premise. That’s why I don’t think they are really comparable.

    As about whether “only feeling” is enough for people to be entitled to legally change their names and gender. People can choose to legally change their names of different reasons. Marriage and divorce is the most common of them. Is “only the feeling” of loving someone else enough of a reason for someone changing their names? I personally think it’s only a matter of personal preference and exercising individual freedom.

    Thank you for the thought-provoking article and using a space open for discussion. Hoping to read your reply soon.

    • Hendrik van der Breggen

      B.M.,

      Thanks for your comment. And thanks especially for the kind way you’ve taken issue with some of what I have written. You have restored my hope in civil discourse.

      I will ponder what you’ve written, and I will get back to you (hopefully) in the near future. At present I am facing some health issues that are forcing me to back off from some of my writing projects, including responding thoughtfully to comments on my articles.

      Best regards — and thanks again for modelling civil discourse.

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