The narcissism of the trans movement
The intolerance of trans activists stems from our Me, Me, Me culture.
‘Professors bullied into silence as students cry transphobia.’ So ran a headline in The Sunday Times at the weekend. According to the report, more than a dozen academics, including several feminist professors, fear their voices are being silenced by students complaining that they are transphobic. They say that the questioning of transgender policies is being censored on campus.
One leading feminist academic, Selina Todd, a professor of modern history at Oxford, has been subject to a Facebook petition about comments she made on social media, and now has been told by students that she will face a campaign in the autumn for her to be sacked. ‘It is intimidating and isolating’, Todd told the Sunday Times. ‘The view of these activists is that anyone who feels themselves to be a woman should be allowed to call themselves such. Questioning that desire is seen as hate speech that could be harmful.’
To question’s someone’s identity or personhood, especially one’s chosen gender, is one of the most profound transgressions one can make in liberal circles today. And the key word here is ‘chosen’, because at the very heart of the trans wars is the concept of ‘choice’.
When a biological man decides to identify as a woman (or vice versa) they do so out of choice. This is why trans people become so indignant when their adopted gender is called into question: not only is it perceived as an affront to their selfhood, but it is also an insult to their intelligence. It is a slight against their wisdom of ‘choice’.
‘Choice’ is one of those virtues that transcends political divisions. Liberals praise it in the social sphere while the right exalt it in the economic sphere. In both cases, it reflects a veneration of individualism, which in recent years has degenerated into a culture of narcissism and self-obsession. This culture has many manifestations: the selfie, Instagram, identity politics, the culture of taking offence (‘you have hurt my feelings!’), trigger warnings (‘you have mentally damaged me!’) and Safe Spaces.
Perhaps the most perfect embodiment of the culture of narcissism and attention-seeking is the trans movement, in which all the world collapses upon Me. Everything becomes about celebrating Me and my brilliant, audacious ‘bravery’. No wonder trans people become so angry when people question the authenticity of their new identity. Wouldn’t you if someone said you are not really you?
The rich can afford to be woke
‘Luxury beliefs’ are the latest status symbol for Americans. Whereas in the past the upper class in the United States would display their social status with luxury goods, today they do so with luxury beliefs. This is the thesis recently put forward by the psychologist Rob Henderson.
Henderson holds that social status is intrinsic to our sense of wellbeing, and that we feel under pressure to display our status in new ways. A traditional method has been to be seen wearing the latest expensive fashion. But, Henderson notes, since trendy clothes and other products that confer wealth have become more accessible and affordable, there is increasingly less status attached to luxury goods.
‘The upper classes have found a clever solution to this problem: luxury beliefs. These are ideas and opinions that confer status on the rich at very little cost, while taking a toll on the lower class’, he writes. For instance, one luxury belief articulated in recent decades is that marriage and the traditional two-parent family are outdated or a sham. Affluent people seldom have children out of wedlock, but are more likely than others to express the luxury belief that doing so is of no consequence. Yet out-of-wedlock birth rates in the US, he goes on, are 10 times what they were in the 1960s, mostly affecting the poor and working class.
Another luxury belief is that religion is irrational or harmful. Henderson notes that members of the upper class are most likely to be atheists or non-religious – but they can afford to be so, as they ‘have the resources and access to thrive without the unifying social edifice of religion’. Yet for working-class communities, places of worship are essential for social fabric. ‘Denigrating the importance of religion harms the poor.’
Perhaps the most dishonest luxury belief is that of ‘white privilege’. Members of the upper class claim that racial disparities derive from inherent advantages held by whites, despite the fact that Asian-Americans have higher earnings than whites. The paradox is that while affluent whites are the most enthusiastic about the idea of white privilege, they are the least likely to incur any costs for promoting that belief. Any laws enacted to combat privilege won’t harm them. Instead, poor whites will bear the brunt.
I find the idea of ‘luxury beliefs’ fascinating. And utterly compelling. In recent decades there has been a greater understanding that people say certain things or spout liberal political opinions, often insincerely, to improve their social standing. Indeed, it was the central thesis of my short 2003 book Conspicuous Compassion. More widely known today as ‘virtue-signalling’, it’s one of the hallmarks of our digital age.
What’s interesting about the latest interpretation by Henderson is that it points us not only to the egotism and hypocrisy of the utterer, but also to the terrible social consequences of his or her egotism. Here’s hoping ‘luxury beliefs’ becomes common parlance.
Owen Jones on being attacked on a Friday night
‘I was attacked outside a pub on Saturday night.’
‘I was karate kicked outside a pub on Saturday night.’
‘I was attacked with military precision.’
‘I was attacked by the SAS.’
‘I was attacked by neo-Nazis.’
‘I was attacked by actual Nazis. “For you, Owen, ze war is over”, said the lead Nazi. And then they packed me off to Colditz.’
‘I was attacked by some Peaky Blinders. “Naowun insults the fooking Peaker Blinders”, said one, before clubbing me with the butt of a Ballester-Molina pistol.’
‘I was attacked by a gang of marauding Aztecs who threatened to “cut me” and tear my heart out as a sacrifice to their gods.’
‘I was attacked by the cast of the popular 1990s panel show Whose Line Is It Anyway?. There I was, minding my own business, when along came Josie Lawrence, Ryan Stiles, Mike McShane and Tony Slattery, armed with dangerous comedy props provided to them by Clive Anderson.’
‘I was attacked, verbally at least, by Cliff from Cheers, who threatened me with a “little known fact”. Just because I’m gay and a socialist.’
Jones was later asked at a press conference whether he was just attacked by a drunk, a familiar incident at closing time on Friday evenings. ‘Don’t be such a fantasist!’, he replied, angrily.
Patrick West is a spiked columnist. His latest book, Get Over Yourself: Nietzsche For Our Times, is published by Societas.
Picture by: Getty.
Rod Liddle and Brendan O'Neill
– live in London
Podcast Live, Friends House, London, NW1 2BJ – 5 October 2019, 2.30pm-3.30pm
To get tickets, click the button below, then scroll down to The Brendan O'Neill Show logo on the Podcast Live page.
spiked is free, and it always will be, which is why we need your help. We don’t have a paywall, or bonus content for paying customers, because we want our arguments for freedom and democracy, against misanthropy and identity politics, to reach as many people as possible. Which is why we ask those of our readers who can afford it to chip in. One-off donations are hugely appreciated, but monthly donations are even better. They allow us to plan for the future and to grow. Even £5 a month is a huge help. It’s much cheaper than your average magazine subscription, and it ensures that spiked is free and open to all. To make either a monthly or a one-off donation, click here. Thank you for your support.
To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.