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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7 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.

      • Craig Collins

        Your article is titled “Much Is Lost”. It looks for gender sanity in the past by harkening back to the “good old days” when girls were girls and men were men. In doing so, it completely overlooks the misery & oppression that obsolete world view imposed on anyone who wasn’t a “normal” heterosexual, and any woman who had the temerity to make her own reproductive choices.

        • Hendrik van der Breggen

          Craig Collins, your uncharitable interpretation of my article works if you continue with your previous comment’s fallacious reasoning (false dichotomy x 1, straw man x 2). But I rebutted that fallacious reasoning in my last comment. Again, I still think it’s true: much is lost—especially when it comes to reason and truth.

  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.

      • Hendrik van der Breggen

        B.M.,

        Sorry to take so long to reply—thanks for your patience with me. I am still facing some health issues that are slowing me down, but I am feeling much better. (I was given a medication that was wreaking havoc with me physically and mentally, so my doctor wisely ended that medication. But I’m not out of the woods yet, health-wise.)

        You set out several criticisms, so I’ll address them one at a time.

        1. Re: my comment about Bruce (Caitlyn) Jenner. I wrote: “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.”

        In response, you point to Cecilia Dhejune’s work that initially corroborates my parenthetical claim about the high rate of suicide for those who have sex-change surgery, and you point out that she goes on to argue that this suicide rate trend changed (lessened) as time passed. In addition, because the group undergoing sex-change surgery is a small group, comparisons with the larger Swedish population should be taken with a “grain of salt.”

        Points taken. But only to some extent.

        Why? Because I notice that in the article you posted Dhejune has more to say, under the sub-heading “Still large problems.” The writer of the article adds:

        “That said, there are still many who suffer mentally. In the 1990s persons who had received sex reassignment surgery were more commonly admitted to psychiatric wards than other Swedes.

        “In fact, 20 percent had such admittances and nine percent received treatment for suicide attempts.

        “Even when the researchers took into account that this group of persons was more likely than other Swedes to have had mental disorders prior to their operations, the risk for ending up in hospital for psychiatric reasons was three times as high.”

        That’s still significant, it seems to me.

        To buttress my case, I would also point out that when it comes to children who are being prepared to transition, there are concerns about puberty-blocking therapy, as Ryan T. Anderson points out in his 2018 book, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment. Anderson reports: “there are some known effects of puberty suppression on children who are physiologically normal, and these carry long-term health risks. Children placed on puberty blockers have slower rates of growth in height, and an elevated risk of low bone-mineral density. Some other possible effects are ‘disfiguring acne, high blood pressure, weight gain, abnormal glucose tolerance, breast cancer, liver disease, thrombosis, and cardiovascular disease.’ And, of course, all of the children who persist in their transgender identity and take puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones will be infertile.” (Anderson, p. 128.)

        In view of Dhejune’s and Anderson’s investigations, and to allow for the above-mentioned grain of salt, I would be willing to change my article’s claim about Bruce (Caitlyn) Jenner to something like this:

        “In view of the dangers associated with sex-change (in transgender-friendly Sweden the rate of serious mental health problems for those who have sex-change surgery is significantly greater than normal, also there are significant medical health risks for children who transition), might this be somewhat like offering liposuction to someone with anorexia? Surely more research is needed—before the world applauds.”

        For additional thought: Gender Dysphoria in Children: Understanding the Science and Medicine. This is a video discussion (1 hour, 8 minutes) with Michelle Cretella, MD (President, American College of Pediatricians), Paul Hruz, MD, PhD (Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Endocrinology, Cell Biology and Physiology, Washington University School of Medicine), and Allan Josephson, MD (Professor and Division Chief, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University of Louisville), hosted by Ryan T. Anderson, PhD (Senior Research Fellow in American Principles and Public Policy, Heritage Foundation).

        https://www.heritage.org/gender/event/gender-dysphoria-children-understanding-the-science-and-medicine

        2. Re: Your argument that my reductio ad absurdum argument (in my last paragraph) does not weaken the transgender claim.

        You argue that my appeal to examples of individuals who claim to be trans-national/ethnic, trans-age, and trans-species are not “really comparable” to transgender individuals because transgender individuals (people who identity as transmen and transwomen) would still be recognized as equals in the eyes of the law (as are other men and women), whereas this isn’t so for the other examples. So, you conclude, because of this “crucial difference” my reductio argument fails.

        In reply, I think you make an interesting point regarding the trans-age and trans-species cases, but it’s beside the point of my reductio ad absurdum argument. That is, your criticism is not relevant to my argument. My argument has to do with whether one’s feelings are a sufficient justification for the truth or reality of identity claims, not whether one will be still recognized as an equal in the eyes of the law. My argument has to do with physical-metaphysical reality/ fact, not political-legal reality. This is a significant difference. For your critique to work would require a misrepresentation of my argument (i.e., a straw man fallacy).

        Here is my argument (again). (Note: in a reductio ad absurdum argument a thesis to be argued against is assumed temporarily to be true for the sake of argument, then, if falsehoods can be deduced logically, the falsity of those consequences counts against the truth of the thesis, because falsehoods can’t be deduced logically from truths.) So, let’s say it’s true that mere feeling is a sufficient guide to reality. If mere feeling is a sufficient guide to reality, then the following consequences arise. (a) A person who feels he/she is overweight (but isn’t in fact) would be overweight in fact; but this logical implication is false. (b) A man who feels he is a Filipino woman (but is neither Filipino nor a woman in fact) would be a Filipino woman in fact; but this logical implication is false. (c) An adult man who feels he is a seven-year-old girl (but isn’t in fact) would be a seven-year-old girl in fact; but this logical implication is false. (d) A man who feels he is a dog (but isn’t in fact) would be a dog in fact; but this logical implication is false. (e) A woman who feels she is a cat (but isn’t in fact) would be a cat in fact; but this logical implication is false. (f) A man who feels he is a dragon (but isn’t in fact) would be a dragon in fact; but this logical implication is false. So, if we accept that a man who feels he is a woman (but isn’t a biological woman in fact), then we have to buy into the logical consequences of taking feeling as a sufficient guide to reality, consequences that reduce this thesis—that feeling is a sufficient guide to reality—to absurdity.

        Again, my argument has to do with whether one’s feelings are a sufficient justification for the truth or reality of identity claims, not whether one will be still recognized as an equal in the eyes of the law. My argument has to do with physical-metaphysical reality/ fact, not political-legal reality.

        3. You wrote: “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.”

        My reply: I suppose that “only feeling” is sufficient for legally changing one’s name, and your examples about marriage and divorce are appropriate. But when it comes to gender and changing one’s gender identity merely on the basis of feeling and this feeling is disconnected from biological reality/fact, then we run into the logical problems outlined by the above reductio argument. Sure, one might be able to change one’s legal identity, but in fact we run against the hard edges of reality.

        There are some deep and important and oft-neglected philosophical issues involved here, but I don’t have the time (or energy at the moment) to outline them for you in this reply. I’ll simply recommend Ryan T. Anderson’s previously mentioned book, When Harry Became Sally. See his chapters “What the Activists Say” and “What Makes Us a Man or a Woman.”

        https://www.amazon.ca/When-Harry-Became-Sally-Transgender-ebook/dp/B06Y39GXWF/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1519080302&sr=8-1&keywords=when+harry+became+sally

        Conclusion. I’m really tired now. Thanks for your comment, B.M. And thanks once again for the kind way you’ve taken issue with some of what I have written. I hope what I’ve written in response is helpful and expressed kindly.

        Best regards.

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