We’ve been living in the latest version of western civilization for about 400 years now. For those who don’t follow philosophy, it’s called “modernity” and it’s been possibly the most destructive period of time in human history, having encompassed a handful of empires, at least a couple of attempted genocides and two world wars.
It began, more or less, with the ideas of two men, the theologian John Calvin and the philosopher Rene Descartes. The first good and thoroughly booted the sacred feminine out of the long-standing culture known as Christendom, and the second all but booted out the sacred masculine.
I would like to consider Descartes’ theory of innate ideas, because I think it applies to the current notion of transgender identities. Descartes is famous for kick-starting the scientific rationalism of this modern age with the concept of doubt. He purported to doubt everything, including the existence of God, and then to work his way to a method of knowing what was real and what was not.
He eventually decided that we all have an innate idea of God, and because we have this innate idea, we can be assured that God must exist. An innate idea cannot be proven to be true or false, real or imaginary. It exists outside of reason. You believe it or you don’t. But he called innate ideas “clear and distinct” and gave them validity.
His philosophy was of grave concern to the established Roman Catholic church, as well as to the recently founded protestant denominations, most of which were influenced by the theology of Calvin.
The problem was that the innate idea of God was and must be a pretty stripped down idea. It doesn’t include all the accoutrements invented by the Christian tradition and clinging like barnacles onto the idea of God. The three gods-in-one doctrine, which was a necessary belief for any church in the Christian tradition. The crucifixation of one of those three for the purpose of the salvation of all humanity. The punishment of humanity after the Eden debacle. The holy communion, whether literally the blood and flesh of Christ, or only a memory aid. None of these are implied by an innate idea of God.
In fact, as was pointed out fairly quickly, if all people have an innate idea of God, then who is to say which is the right one. Is there even a right one?
This led to a hundred or so years of pretty violent and vicious philosophical “debate”. It got personal. It was as ugly as the transgender wars on twitter. People were threatened with physical violence, and with the loss of their jobs (typically as philosophy profs at various universities).
Eventually the men who populated the public domain decided it was better to stop arguing the inarguable, and to look instead to ideas and theories that could be either logically proven/disproven, or were verifiable by observation and experiment. This was the philosophy of empiricism and it pretty much said to confine yourself to hypotheses that could be proven or disproven.
If we translate that sequence of events to today’s issues, we may conclude that the idea that we all have an innate gender is basically an innate idea, and like innate ideas, it can’t be proven or disproven. So maybe we should again confine ourselves to what we can prove. We know all humans, like all mammals, come in two biological sexes.
It could be argued that all the destruction of the last 400 years was and continues to be motivated by the greed and power-hunger of patriarchy. It could also be argued that it was all due to people (Europeans) insisting that they were innately superior and others (Jews, the indigenous peoples of the Americas, Asians, Africans) were innately inferior. Or insisting that their innate ideas (their God, their cultural and intellectual artifacts) were superior and that of others were inferior. All unprovable.
The thing about empiricism is that, if practiced rigourously, it doesn’t pander to anyone’s ego.
I vote that, as far as sex and gender go, we stick to what’s verifiable. If gender is innate, afterall, then children are born transgender, and it would be best to discover that as early as possible so that a massive medical assault can be initiated as soon as possible. Do we really want to consign thousands upon thousands of children to toxic drugs, suppressed puberty, and multiple surgeries because of an illness that can’t be detected or verified by any scientific testing?