The narcissism of the trans movement

The intolerance of trans activists stems from our Me, Me, Me culture.

Patrick West

‘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.

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Cassie Curtis

30th September 2019 at 5:03 pm

So first off I’m a little confused with how we went from Narcissism in Transgender to Luxury beliefs seeing not all atheists are rich or white. What religion you believe in is a choice but considering the pain and suffering that goes on in this world by those who call themselves religious can see why some choose to stay out of it.
Talking of ‘choice’ nobody really knows the cause of transgender enough to say that its solely a ‘choice’. Research has shown that parts of the brain of transgender people align more with what would be seen in ‘biological’ women in size and shape and that transgender has a shorten version of a gene receptor compared to men. Maybe the psychological symptoms of transgender are based in a biological deviance instead of the often believed ‘sexual’ deviance past theories have espoused?
People have made comment of how wrong it is that a healthy person should wish to ‘chop’ bits off but everyday there are surgeries performed because people don’t like the way they look. It’s why plastic surgery is such a big business but nobody bats an eyelid when people want to be injected and have part of their face go numb to appease their vanity all because they’re losing their looks due to aging?
However regarding Trans Rights I believe people on both sides of the debate are too quick to go to name calling once their views are challenged. Without listening to others views and acknowledging their concerns the debate can’t move forward in any manner. Trans will never be able to express what they feel inside and the distress it causes them and get the protections they seek to live a normal life and will always be viewed as ‘men in dresses.’
Women (men too) will never be able to express their fear that letting transgenders in will lead to an invasion by ‘men in dresses’ the things that should only be sacramental to womanhood. Comprise can only be made when both sides decide to listen to each other and have an adult debate.

Christopher Tyson

24th August 2019 at 9:13 am

So Glasgow University is going to pay out £20 million for slavery reparations. While Cambridge University has been taking the flak, Glasgow has quietly established the precedent. Other institutions can now follow suit and make payments of their own. We have gone from a position of denial of the role of the Atlantic slave trade in the economic development of Europe, to one where people who weren’t alive at the time are paying off people who weren’t alive at the time. The historical facts remain the same, and the idea that you can right historical wrongs by paying out compensation is historically specific to our own time. Those paying the money will feel better about themselves, I nearly said salve their consciences, but what consciences, they didn’t do anything? More realistically they are paying off the slavery repatriation lobby. The Caribbean was built on slavery but there is much more to the Caribbean and the Caribbean people than that. We seem to have this historical narrative, slavery, Windrush, deportation. What were the West Indian people doing between the abolition of slavery and the mass migrations of the 1950s? What were those who stayed at home up to? What about the independence movements which were often positive and forward looking, my own West Indian parents and grandparents were never interest in slavery reparation, they wanted to build a future. Today some would no doubt say that they were suffering from false consciousness. My grand dad founded a company in the Caribbean that is still going strong although he died in the 1980s. Recently I’ve received a few quid (not life changing) follow the death of my aunt who had shares in the company, it is nice to get some money for nothing, not everyone has an aunt who will leave them shares, who am I to say that black people shouldn’t take the money that is being offered? In the case of Glasgow reports have said that the money will go to the University of the West Indies. Did you know that they have middle class people in the West Indies, you will find them at places like the University of the West Indies. White middle class academics will be handing over £20 million to black middle class academics and they will work on joint ventures. Perhaps some conflict of interest here with a whole new industry of academics as compensation lawyers, rather than academic integrity. In the west we have moved away from authoritarian states with jackboots and rubber truncheons, towards a therapeutic state, paternalistic state. The University of Glasgow building bridges with the University doling out money and soothing their pain, finding like minded placemen to do business with, a therapeutic colonialism for our age. It’s nice to receive money for nothing but rare, there’s usually an angle.

Hana Jinks

24th August 2019 at 9:55 am

Loved this post.

Neil OL

24th August 2019 at 8:59 pm

You should be a columnist on spiked! Great piece.


24th August 2019 at 11:26 pm

Yawn. Did it take you a long time to write that essay?

JeanClawed Brexit

26th August 2019 at 7:36 pm

Good shout, thanks Chris

Hana Jinks

26th August 2019 at 8:15 pm

LOL..that’s one of the funniest names I’ve ever seen.

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