Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Border Lines

By James Howard Kunstler and originally published at kunstler.com  
If the Obama Justice Department was really honest about its “guidance” on transgender bathrooms, it would have stated clearly a requirement to provide a new, separate, third category of bathroom or changing room for people identifying themselves as transgender. This would have given such persons a safe, private place to perform their necessary bio-functions without making the other two categories of people, male and female, uncomfortable.
Actually, such a third option already exists in many public places: the handicapped bathroom. These could easily be relabeled “Handicapped and Transgender” — the main feature of them being that they allow for one-person-at-a-time occupancy, obviating any effect on others. And it wouldn’t require expensive renovation of public buildings.
But no, Mr. Obama’s DOJ decided to antagonize large numbers of males and females by coercing them to consort with transgender people, threatening to take away federal school funding if they didn’t allow persons of ambiguous sexuality to use whichever bathroom they felt like.
This reveals the fantastic smug certainty of the political Left in assuming that such matters as the nature of transgender behavior are adequately understood and settled — for instance, that transgender is actually a real sexual category rather than a psychological disturbance, a developmental problem, an extreme fashion statement, or a fantasy. I’m not at all persuaded that this is settled, despite the pervasive wishful thinking of the social justice corps that it were so.
It should be clear after some years of social justice hysteria in this country that coercion is now the method of choice on the Left side of the culture war battlefield: you must believe what we believe, or face punishment. As a Vietnam-era registered Democrat I hugely resent this oppressive political approach. I resent even more the supposed public intellectuals and thought leaders in government, academia, and the media who go along with this despotic conduct — which includes ruining the livelihoods and careers of respectable colleagues among them.
Though I am not generally sympathetic to the extreme political Right, especially its evangelical arm which adopted coercive and punitive tactics well before the Left did, I think the governors of North Carolina and Texas have a case in this new transgender bathroom dispute, though I hope their lawyers argue it on some basis besides scripture and sheer boobish obstinacy.
You may have noticed that more and more we live in a society where anything goes and nothing matters. We got there through the incremental eradication of boundaries, especially in social categories and behaviors. Some people find this exhilarating and others find this disturbing. I happen to believe that the elimination of boundaries is not altogether a good thing. We would probably benefit, I think, from more and firmer boundaries than squishier and fewer of them.
Despite the fact that a lot of people I associate with are arty types of what used to be called liberal inclination, I was not in favor of gay marriage, and said so — and was scalded with censorious opprobrium for it . Considering what I know, for instance, about the unintended consequences and diminishing returns of technology, I did not consider it a small thing to meddle with social institutions that are truly older than history. We don’t know what the eventual effects of gay marriage on the social order will be anymore than we knew that the consequences of “Atoms for Peace” would be Chernobyl and Fukushima. Things happen in history because they seem like a good idea at the time. Then time passes and we find out differently.
I was in favor of civil unions for gay couples, since the disposition of chattels and property is not a small matter in a broken partnership, as are medical issues and the care of children entailed in these partnerships, and some method of adjudication was obviously needed. But it was not necessary to call it marriage. Why make the distinction? For the basic reason that not all things and conditions of things are exactly the same. That is exactly the problem with the sort of extreme relativism that reigns on the Left these days. Anything goes.
In fact, I suspected then and still do that the crusade for gay marriage was more a seeking of official state approbation for homosexual behavior as much as a legal issue. In other words, it was about feelings — which has become the basis of argument for practically everything in our politics these days. Anyone disagreeing with those feelings was labeled a “homophobe,” and their ideas on the matter could be simply dismissed as a phobia, a terrible fear, a bad feeling rather than a reasoned position about the workings of society. I was not phobic or fearful about people who identified as gay. But I didn’t then and still don’t believe that we completely understand that behavior, and that it is a settled matter — contrary to the shibboleths of the moment.
The case is similar with transgender. We only pretend to know what it’s about because doing so affords comfortable feelings of superiority — that we are better people for going along with it because the transit of human progress is ever upward, and we are on the cutting edge of that journey to utopia. I don’t happen to buy that story, anymore than I believe that an “installation” of plastic vomit on the floor of the Whitney Museum is as much a work of art as Edouard Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass.
America has a boundary problem and boundary problems are disturbing both to individuals and societies. A common feature of societies in decline is a preoccupation with sexual freakishness, which is on display incessantly in this Republic of Twerking and in the much-valorized “sexual subversion” celebrated in the arts. The Obama government does a huge disservice to this dangerously declining nation by provoking even more dissolution of social boundaries at a time when we have so many other converging problems of polity to contend with.
This is the great contradiction, by the way, of Donald Trump. He has captured the attention of so many voters by invoking the case of our “broken border” with Mexico — a political boundary that is simple enough for most citizens to understand. But Trump himself actually operates by smashing the boundaries erected by his own party for acceptable political conduct. Thus, Trump perfectly personifies the nation’s essential predicament: America has a borderline personality. It is a danger to itself and others.