At what point did the old adage that “respect is earned, not given” change from being a statement designed to encourage respectable behavior, to a mark of the evil, oppressive, cis-hetero normative white supremacy machine? Understanding that throughout the true civil rights and gay rights campaigns wherein people were fighting observable, genuine discrimination, hate, violence and dehumanization that demands for respect as human beings was central, it almost seems as though in their cooption of these terms and concepts of old, the modern identitarian activist has lost all sight of exactly what the old guard was really after, or simply never really understood it to begin with. This question arises now due in large part to a recent set of incidents at the University of Toronto surrounding Professor Jordon Peterson and a newly proposed piece of legislation presently before the Canadian federal government.
The bill, known as Bill C-16 seeks to establish an anti-discrimination policy making it illegal to discriminate or create or promote anything deemed to be “hate propaganda,” extending these special protections to both trans and “gender diverse” people. Central in the fight against this bill, at least in respect to the public debate, is Professor Peterson. Stating that as a professor in a public university, he would refuse any mandate to address students or others by their “preferred pronouns,” Peterson has staked out a position against what he sees as strident authoritarianism which seeks to dictate under threat of legal sanction how individuals are meant to speak and think about trans and gender issues.
The heat which surrounds him largely stems from a recent rally Peterson held in which he spoke out against the proposed bill. During his own event a counter protest was launched by campus gender activists, at which Rebel Media correspondent Lauren Southern was violently attacked by a clearly unhinged activist. Following the assault, another activist on site glibly lied to police stating she hadn’t seen the attack, which was later discovered to be a lie when video of the attack surfaced. The second activist is presently facing criminal charges .
However following Peterson’s event and the protest which ensued, another small event kicked off wherein a gaggle of “non-binary” activists seemingly lead by a blogger and youtuber known as Lane accosted the professor accusing him of holding court with Neo-Nazis within his rally. From there a series of accusations ranging from the absence of the law will permit refusal of housing, up through one activist stating that in the United States the murder of a trans or non-binary person could be justified through the claim of temporary insanity tainted what the professor initially had engaged with under the assumption that there would be an actual discussion.
Since this has unfolded, a letter signed by over 200 University of Toronto academics has called on Peterson to apologize and accept the proposed mandates regarding language and pronouns. Peterson has held his line on the matter, refusing the give in and as such continues to be a central subject in the debate. However what the videos of the incidents described above, as well as the seemingly pervasive attitudes within circles of these new breed of gender activists increasingly seem to suggest is that a substantial portion of what many regard as “basic respect” seems instead to be more a matter of outright entitlement and selfish posturing than really anything else.
In the days of old, during the real civil and gay rights campaigns, activists who sought nothing more than equality under the law and the basic dignity of human beings in societies which routinely brutalized, marginalized and denied basic rights to them were typically met with attack dogs, fire hoses and police batons, if not worse. This brutality, which highlighted their struggles to many and put immense pressure on government officials to take steps to remedy what were truly unjust practices by both society and state is often looked upon as one of the many high prices paid to achieve the liberal sentiments of tolerance and humanity that western society largely seeks to promote wholesale as part of its social ethos. Contrast this however to the insistence that failure or refusal to use certain words and titles when addressing individuals is tantamount to systemic oppression and a very interesting contrast is exposed between activists of the past and those of today.
Rather than seeking basic rights, these modern activists are demanding of society as a whole a level of deference and reverence previously reserved for nobility who insisted upon being addressed by their desired pronouns, their titles. In this what should be posed as a request for common courtesy is instead painted as some crucial human right that, if denied, is tantamount to segregation or if we listen to some in trans and intersectional feminist activist circles, actual violence. Granted, whatever prolonged emotional injury sustained by one whose pronouns were not used correctly in the course of their day is in reality more a matter of their own emotional fragility than a systemic hatred against them, the questions of legitimacy go even deeper when one moves beyond those who are actually transgender and into the realm of the “non-binary” genders who are more often than not merely millennials suffering from identity crises, seeking to have such validated by mandatory public approval.
Be they “gender fluid,” “demi-boys,” “demi-girls” or any of the dozens of genders which seem to crop up, almost exclusively from the world of Tumblr, the application of dyed hair, facial piercings, colorful makeup and of course problem glasses all seem to increasingly be demanding not only that such fabrications of human identity be recognized and given legitimacy by public and private institutions, but that individuals be required, by law in some cases, to respect said presumed legitimacy outright.
The true perils faced by society, in the opinion of your author, which capitulates to such youthful and often times self-righteous identitarian crusades such as these are themselves multifaceted. Firstly and chiefly amongst these is the stolen legitimacy of the personal struggles faced by those who experience genuine body or sexual dysphoria. While many people, either by physiological or psychological causes struggle for years to grapple with and address their sense of gender identity, these “transtrenders” who take up unique and generally make-believe gender identities as a means to grant themselves a sense that they are special, undermine efforts on behalf of genuinely progressive advocates to engender compassion and understanding for those very struggles.
Following this, it is an exceptionally dangerous thing, again in the opinion of your author, to take up as a default position the notion that every self-proclaimed identity to come out of a generation who seem increasingly geared towards defining themselves more through attire, attitude and pronouns than deeds or accomplishments is worthy of validation or indulgence. As is often the case with youthful self-exploration, much of what these identity crises turn out to be are mere phases undergone by confused or bored young people. The danger here is that if the ever increasing plethora of made up genders and identities, as well as the self-righteous sense of entitlement which seems to come with them find themselves institutionally validated and empowered, the chances of people growing out of them into stable, healthy, mature adults lessens with each round of coddling they receive.
Finally though, just as academic institutions and even governments continue seeking to enforce acceptance of that which many are simply naturally opposed to, we as a society will find ourselves stepped every further away from the as of yet untouched first step, tolerance. In truth, what a person calls themselves, wishes to identify as, wishes to act as though they are should, provided it does not infringe in anyway on the lives of others, be no one’s concern. At all.
The reality here being that though some might put up a fuss or start an argument over their opinion on a given identity, it really ought not to matter in the slightest. However as activists are often keen to say, silence equals violence. In this, not paying attention to or caring about the professed identity of another is seen as an act itself of invalidation. This claimed invalidation of course being but little more evidence that activists seek not external tolerance for their identities, but external validation, possibly begging the question as to how secure with such they are in the first place, but ultimately reducing the whole matter to once again being “not my problem.”
All in all, just as with the coddling of the American mind, so too are identity politics and their infestation in our national and cultural dialogues both hijacking the aims of social progress for their own short sighted ends, while also breeding entire generations of weak, feckless individuals who find words, or in this case the lack thereof to be offenses so grievous that they seek and in some cases obtain legal statutes in defense of such. Demanding as they are of a level of respect their neither generally afford their ideological opponents, nor that which has been earned by way of deeds or accomplishments, the softening of our cultural character by way of identitarian indulgence is presenting in yet another new way in these increasingly banal demonstrations.