Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Worthy things that I could have written about, but didn't

Yesterday’s Dominion Post included a letter from Victoria University academic Dolores Janiewski, in which she took a poke at me for my recent column about the transgender mountain biker Kate Weatherly (see “When gender politics morphs into craziness”, August 9).

Janiewski, a historian who includes gender, race, class and culture among her research interests – make of that what you will – has criticised me before, as she’s entitled to do. But on this occasion she seemed offended because I didn’t write about things she thinks I should be writing about.

She questioned my use of the phrase “peak lunacy” in a column about gender issues and noted that I failed to mention the killing of Walmart shoppers in El Paso. (She may also have noted that I failed to mention Hiroshima, the Manson Family, thalidomide, rising sea levels and Catholic sex abuse. Just trying to be helpful here.)

Janiewski went on to imply that because I didn’t write about the El Paso shootings, I must think transgender mountain bikers are every bit as mad and dangerous as white nationalists with guns. I believe this is called a non sequitur – or if you want to be fancy, a deductive fallacy.

Yes, lots of things – hundreds of things, maybe even thousands – happen in the world on any given day that are far crazier than a transgender mountain biker who insists on being regarded as a woman. But on the day I wrote that column I happened to be interested in Weatherly. In any case, thousands upon thousands of words were written all around the world about the El Paso shooting and America’s gun laws (which is what I suspect Janiewski was getting at), and anything I said would have merely duplicated the futile pontificating of innumerable other commentators.

It’s not the first time I’ve been criticised for not writing about what other people think is important. This assumes there’s some sort of consensus about the things that really matter and anything not on the approved list should be dismissed (or perhaps even censored) as being inconsequential, or a distraction from pressing issues, or deviating from ideological orthodoxy. Underlying this, it’s not hard to sense a moralistic urge to control the public conversation.

As for that phrase “peak craziness”, of course it was hyperbole – a journalistic device used for effect. It shouldn’t need to be explained to someone with a PhD from Duke University (Janiewski’s alma mater) that I wasn’t literally suggesting Western civilisation had scaled the ultimate pinnacle of insanity. That moment has yet to come and I hope I won’t be around when it does.

Janiewski also thought she’d skewered me because I approvingly cited a University of Otago study about transgender athletes. How did this square, she wondered (I’m paraphrasing her letter here), with my previously expressed theory that all universities are complicit in a neo-Marxist plot?

In fact there’s no inconsistency at all. It’s well within the bounds of probability that any university which employs neo-Marxist crackpots will also have academics on its staff, particularly in the sciences (and I don't mean the social sciences, which are not sciences at all), who are uncontaminated by ideology and prefer objective, verifiable evidence. There may be even a few of the latter at Victoria.

Finally, in what Janiewski probably thought was another “gotcha” moment, she said I hadn’t noticed that prominent lesbian and radical feminists, including Germaine Greer, had criticised transgender politics. “Perhaps noticing such disagreements would cause du Fresne too much distress at having to abandon his claims about a unified “Left” conspiracy bent on destroying gender, biology and rationality itself,” she wrote.

Actually, no. The original draft of my column included the following:

I’m not suggesting that Weatherly is consciously part of a neo-Marxist plot to take over the world.  But I do suggest that she’s in denial when she insists she’s a woman – and what’s more, despite her protestations, that she does have an unfair advantage over her female competitors.

I am supported in the former assertion by many feminists, including the redoubtable Germaine Greer and her fellow terfs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists), and in the latter by old-fashioned and rather inconvenient science.

I took that latter paragraph out because I was over my word limit. So, no distress at all. On this issue, if not on many others, I’m on the same side as Greer and the terfs.

What’s more, I don’t claim there’s a “unified” leftist conspiracy, since one thing we can always rely on the left to do is tear itself apart in ideological squabbles (which is pretty much what seems to be happening right now on the gender battleground) while the rest of the world gets on with things that matter.


MarkJ said...

Is it just me, or do other people also get concerned when supposed academics start talking about what other people should write? As far as I'm concerned an academic has no more right to opinion than anyone else. One might argue that the opinion of those who are coddled their whole life by the education sector might have less to contribute to a discussion than someone who has lived and worked in the real world - but not I. Let them prattle on in their self absorbed moral vacuum, as is their right.

rowang said...

This post made me smile and even laugh a bit. And we need to do more of both, so well done Mr du Fresne.

hughvane said...

You're damned if you do, and damned if you don't - so what's new? Dickyamics (as I call them) are crawling out of every nook and cranny to tell us how we should be thinking about almost everything. Just listen to World Watch on RNZ National (weekdays at 1343 or thereabouts). When something newsworthy (cough) happens, “here’s a dickyamic”. As often as not they’re from an Australian university, and lecture in Social Awareness, Peace Studies, or similar. And wow, do they know it all!

So, Karl, the fact that you didn’t happen to mention an event far removed from what you were actually on about, should not concern you one iota. Your critic will go back to her blinkered and self righteous existence, and no damage done.

another man said...

Excellent, bet she didn't undertsand your position.
keep on keeping on Karl.
Soemof us appreciate your wisdom