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Coopting the Words

The difference between human beings and other creatures, Aristotle teaches, is logos, humans’ unique capacity to employ language to express moral abstractions. Aristotle never met Judge Henry Floyd of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

One can read nearly the whole of Judge Floyd’s opinion in G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board, the transgender bathroom case in Virginia that was decided last week, and search in vain to understand the controversy in the case. “G.G.,” he opens, using the initials for the minor plaintiff, “a transgender boy, seeks to use the boys’ restroom at his high school.” Is there a problem here? Well, yes, because one discovers—though not until the next page—that G.G. is biologically female.

Welcome to law-by-redefinition, the practice of settling arguments—and unsettling law, not merely in discrete cases but as a social institution—by coopting the meaning of words.

In this case, definitions settle the argument. If G.G. is a “boy” there is surely no reason to exclude “him” from the boy’s restroom. Yet the whole of the opinion accepts the new dogma, as does the media reporting on the case—as does even Judge Paul Niemeyer’s thoughtful dissent—of utilizing nouns and pronouns in a manner indicating personal will rather than objective reality.

Similarly, the U.S. Department of Education triggered this litigation by equating Title IX’s protection against “sex” discrimination with “gender” identity. Never mind that we’ve heretofore been instructed, by those pushing the agenda the Department means to serve, that these two terms mean different things. It turns out they mean different things, or the same thing, depending on what serves that agenda.

G.G. has also been “diagnosed,” the opinion says on page six, with “gender dysphoria, a medical condition,” although we learn on page 35 that the district judge had to be admonished that it was only a “disorder” when untreated. When treated, apparently, it is not a disorder—which raises the question of why it was “treated” in the first place.

So is it a “diagnosis” or not? There are states where doctors who treat it as such face the loss of their licenses. Yet gender dysphoria appears in the DSM-5, the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.” The reason for reflecting these mirrors upon mirrors is to embrace the status of disability when helpful and to cast off its stigma when it inconveniences one’s political program.

The core of that program is to enforce compliance through intimidation, as in: According to the Fourth Circuit’s opinion, many speakers at a public hearing on the school district’s bathroom policy “displayed hostility” by referring to G.G. as “a young lady.” This is a locution that in certain places is actually still considered to be chivalrous. The problem, however, is that G.G. does not want to be referred to as a young lady, whereas on the speakers’ understanding, G.G. objectively is a young lady.

Thus the resolution: Comply, or be guilty. The ground for compliance is that, language being a social construction, it ought to be fungible. (Thus buttons were distributed to children last November, during Transgender Awareness Month, inviting them to choose which pronouns others are to use for them.)

But the demand for compliance breaks with that logic. Whoever referred to G.G. as a young lady had no say in the meaning of the language he or she was supposed to use. Just get with the program, is the message. The fungibility has suddenly gone away; we no longer have language as social construction but as individual will.

Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling learned this the hard way. He mocked—distastefully and puerilely, to be sure—those who order others to get with the program on transgender bathroom access. He was then, without any sense of irony on the part of his ESPN overlords, fired for refusing to get with the program on transgender bathroom access.

On social media, Schilling referred to a picture of a man dressed as a woman with the caption: “LET HIM IN! to the restroom with your daughter or else you’re a narrow-minded, judgmental, unloving racist bigot who needs to die.”

“Die” might have overdone it. But “lose your job” was about right.

The New York Times headline said he was fired over an “offensive” post. One is tempted to ask what is objectively offensive about saying “man” has an objective meaning or that men’s rooms should be assigned anatomically. But that would assume words mean something objective. Only one word was accorded objective meaning here—“offensive”—even though that in fact is one of those opening-up-a-can-of-worms words. That inherently refutable word has gained sacred status.

As we ponder the ironies we are reminded that this is language as an exertion of power. Those wielding that power—those winning arguments by redefining words—should be prepared for the weapon to be turned on them. Example: We do not torture because waterboarding is not torture, a formulation that has been mocked by—wait for it—The New York Times. Or: We can restrict your speech because it is not speech. Or, from the opposite side: This activity is regulable because “commerce” does not mean “commerce.”

It is one thing to say one is a girl who wants, because of a medical diagnosis, to be treated like a boy. Society can debate that. Society can also respond with compassion, and express this in words.  It is quite another thing to beg the question by saying the reason one wants to be treated like a boy is that one is a boy. To settle the question in that manner is to stigmatize as irrational and bigoted anyone who disagrees.

These irrational and bigoted unfortunates may wonder why society is being convulsed—and the interests of the majority of people who do not want to expose their opposite anatomical parts in bathrooms—over a phenomenon that is vanishingly rare. The DSM-5 places gender dysphoria’s prevalence at between .005 and .14 percent in men and between .002 and .003 percent in women.

We can hazard a guess: It provides an opportunity for the rest of society to demonstrate its enlightenment, which has overcome what Judge Niemeyer’s dissent was so atavistic as to call “custom, culture, and the very demands inherent in human nature for privacy and safety.”

Ask college undergraduates about this controversy, and they will shift in their seats and finally settle on the idea that they do not want to “judge.” But society does want to judge. It wants to judge Curt Schilling. So “tolerance,” too, is a word whose meaning has become a matter of convenience.

It does not take much imagination to see that law is impossible on these assumptions because laws are made of words. Coopting the words is not an attack against privacy or modesty on the one hand, or, on the other, against transgender “rights.” It is an attack on the institution of law itself.

Reader Discussion

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on April 26, 2016 at 08:34:55 am

When judges insist on calling biologically male litigants "females" (and vice versa), in cases involving transgender rights, they are pre-judging the merits of the case. The activist judges who have granted sex change operations to "transgender" prisoners do the same thing.

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Mark Pulliam
on April 26, 2016 at 08:53:20 am

Welcome to Humpty Dumpty Justice, where words mean whatever the Judges want them to mean. We have gone down the rabbit hole. Can we return?

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Daniel Artz
on April 26, 2016 at 09:56:37 am

Both the earth and biology on earth emerged from physics."Physics" means not a scientific study but mass, energy and space-time from which everything on earth has emerged or will emerge.

A solution is to reform from opinion-based law to physics-based ethics. Humankind discovers what emerges and masters best use of the discovery.

This approach favors conservatives, where "conservative" refers not to religion but to defense of reality, as in "fiscal conservative." Religion is and always has been a private pursuit. Thus, the reform will effect private liberty with civic morality (PLwCM). "Civic" refers to both preferential and incidental human connections because the persons are living the same moments in the same places. "Social" implies either choice, class or imposition, and "civil" implies either submission to opinion or eternal division over opinion.

The "attack on the institution of law itself," was resumed when the first Congress, in 1789 rejected the signers' negotiations to exclude religious governance from the constitution for the USA. Later, the ABA began to adapt said constitution to accommodate Blackstone, with its Protestant Christianity.

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Phil Beaver
on April 26, 2016 at 10:09:01 am

Here I go with the same old redundant theme:

Here is "litigation" about a (claim of) "right" which requires a concomitant obligation for its existence.

For this "right" to exist in this society others in the society are deemed to have obligations to observe and provide for an individual's concept of that individuals "sexual" or "gender" self (identity).

In this issue, those obligations have not been sufficiently recognized, acknowledged and accepted by the members of the society (as have thou shall not kill, steal, pee or fornicate in public) to establish the offsetting rights of freedom from those offenses.

Instead an obligation is to be imposed by legislation or its excrescences under powers delegated to an Administrative State to establish its parameters. This issue thus engages the issue of the power to impose obligations, through litigation, rather than the finding of obligations from the relationships and circumstances in the society.

This becomes the Land of Censors where conduct is prescribed. The prescriptions are in "words," but it is not the meaning of words that is at issue. At issue is whether obligations shall be imposed.

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R Richard Schweitzer
on April 26, 2016 at 10:28:47 am

Richard:

Absotively "spot-on."

In a certain sense, one may define totalitarianism as nothing more than the repeated imposition of obligations upon an otherwise unwilling (or supine) populace.

Someone please tell me where all this silliness ends.

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gabe
on April 26, 2016 at 10:47:17 am

The Washington Post this morning gave Ted Cruz "two Pinocchios"--i.e., accused him of lying--on this topic in its fact-checking column. As far as I can tell, the offense was using the politically wrong--i.e., biologically accurate--pronouns. So I would expand on the above by noting that one is not merely irrational and bigoted if one declines to comply, one is a liar.

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Greg Weiner
on April 26, 2016 at 11:36:53 am

"... all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

I don't know that it is our duty yet to throw of our government, but it is certainly time to provide new guards. My wife is disgusted at the prospect of having random men in the women's restroom or shower, under the personal claim that they identify as a woman.

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Scott Amorian
on April 26, 2016 at 13:24:10 pm

Careful now, Scott. You may soon find yourself in some Kafkaesque public (or corporate) trial during which you will be labeled a bigot.
After all, nobody really doesn't want to defend the "sanctity of the bathroom."

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gabe
on April 26, 2016 at 14:52:17 pm

1. I agree, we need to exercise concern about language usage. In this case, I don’t worry about how we use the words “female” or “male,” but rather the word “is.”

Various schools of linguistics, especially General Semantics, strive to better conform the structure of language to what we understand about the structure of the world we seek to describe. Thus, I try to avoid phrases such as “an unhappy coincidence.” I have no evidence that abstract phenomena such as coincidence feel emotions. Rather, *I* may feel unhappy about the coincidence, and I may anticipate that you (and perhaps everyone) shares my feeling. Nevertheless, I strive to speak and write with a structure that reflects the structure of the thing I’m describing.

Some people who strive to act in accordance with the lessons of General Semantics adopt the practices of E-Prime -- and in particular, strive to avoid using the verb “to be.” Admittedly, it’s hard – er, admittedly, I have difficulty doing this. But this discipline helps me avoid my tendency toward the “Deity mode of speech,” which "allows even the most ignorant to transform their opinions magically into god-like pronouncements on the nature of things."

What does the verb “to be” contribute to a statement? In fairness, people often use it harmlessly. But people also use it as an exercise of power: to assert a worldview as if no one could ever hold any contrary views. Humility leads me to want to avoid making such pronouncements – at least, so long as I can find substitute ways to express myself.

2. In this current case, what causes Weiner’s discomfort with Judge Floyd’s decision? Does Weiner think that the judge misunderstands the facts of the case? Not that I can tell. Judge Floyd states, “G.G.’s birth-assigned sex, or so-called ‘biological sex,’ is female, but G.G.’s gender identity is male.” While I (and Weiner) would prefer the judge to use different language, it appears that the judge understands the relevant facts.

Floyd identifies the issue as whether “the regulation is susceptible to more than one plausible reading because it permits both the Board’s reading—determining maleness or femaleness with reference exclusively to genitalia—and the Department [of Education]’s interpretation—determining maleness or femaleness with reference to gender identity.” Observe that when the judge states the issue without relying on the verb “to be,” he arguably avoids the problems that trigger Weiner’s objections.

Floyd then concludes that the Board’s reading leaves many issues unresolved:

It is not clear to us how the regulation would apply in a number of situations—even under the Board’s own “biological gender” formulation. For example, which restroom would a transgender individual who had undergone sex-reassignment surgery use? What about an intersex individual? What about an individual born with X-X-Y sex chromosomes? What about an individual who lost external genitalia in an accident? The Department’s interpretation resolves ambiguity by providing that in the case of a transgender individual using a sex-segregated facility, the individual’s sex as male or female is to be generally determined by reference to the student’s gender identity.

In short, we might articulate a variety of ways to discriminate between male and female, and existing rules do not articulate which one should apply for purposes of Title IX. Under Auer v. Robbins, 519 U.S. 452 (1997), where a court finds ambiguity in how to apply a rule, the court gives controlling weight to the interpretation offered by the agency that promulgated the rule in question.

I understand that many people have stated objections to the Auer holding. But those objections really have nothing to do with the linguistic objections stated by Weiner.

3. That said, I share Weiner’s view that Free Speech accords people the right to refer to a transgendered person in pretty much any way they like, and the fact that I do not accede to a transgendered person’s preferences does not automatically signal animus.

- The pro-life movement seeks to give priority to “a woman’s right to choose” an abortion. A pregnant person might self-identify as male – and if so, it would not surprise me to learn that that person might seek an abortion. I would not understand pro-life advocates to denigrate that person’s right to choose an abortion, gender identity notwithstanding.

- Discussions of a transgendered person’s past rapidly get complicated. While I mean no disrespect to either of the transgendered people I know, I feel no special compunction to say that she belonged to the Boy Scout, or that she served as a priest. If George H.W. Bush announced that he had begun transitioning to a she, would we then conclude that America elected its first female president in 1989? In each of these cases, describing the past in this manner would cause miscues on the part of the listener. I would need to balance the preferences of the transgendered person with the desire to speak clearly to my audience.

In contrast, Shilling’s remarks seemed designed to belittle the concerns of transgendered people. I don’t know if I would have regarded his remarks as a firing offense, but clearly when a public personality does unpopular things, employers may choose to disassociate themselves from him.

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nobody.really
on April 26, 2016 at 21:07:55 pm

Nobody:

Reasonably stated. couple of comments.

"I understand that many people have stated objections to the Auer holding. But those objections really have nothing to do with the linguistic objections stated by Weiner."
Agreed - Auer deference ought to be discarded; however, in this particular instance it may well be argued that such "deference* contributes to the linguistic "confusions" in that it would appear to sanction the very "confusion" of which you rightly speak. In this case it appears that adherence to Auer has enabled (compelled) us to re-define "is." (Hey, Billy Boy Clinton sure could have used this approach a few years back. I suspect Madam Hillary will soon be employing it).

#3: Do you mean to say that the "pro-choice" movement "seeks to give priority to “a woman’s right to choose” an abortion"? - perhaps, a case of linguistic confusion if original text is kept.

also agree that animus is not necessarily involved - weariness, perhaps!

"...employers may choose to disassociate themselves from him." - and viewers have, of course the same choice.

Yet, it is not at all surprising that when ESPN was presented with (actually was present at) evidence that some big time ESPN female sports reporter exclaimed, "F*ck Jesus*, no disciplinary action was taken. There are numerous other such incidents at ESPN.

Hmmm! What ought one to conclude from that?

Bye-bye, ESPN!!!!!!! One DOES grow weary of this Disneyland version of social righteousness!
Methinks, the cartoonists at Disney Corp have taken over the entire enterprise.

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gabe
on April 27, 2016 at 01:02:37 am

Whenever something is suggested as a right, it is only natural to try and extend it as far as possible, often by neologism, faulty locution, dubious analogy, and tortured logic. As I have suggested before, a minor amusement is to play "thesaurus golf," going to a site like Thesaurus.com, selecting a word and seeing how many synonym links it takes to arrive at the opposite meaning of the original word. One example would be:

Black->shadowy->ghostly->wan->ashen->white; or
Happy->contented->serene->quiet->reticent->taciturn->dour->glum->sad.

The point of the exercise is to illustrate a limitation of language and the anomalous results that occur when we make the fallacious assumption that analogies, synonyms and verbal surrogates are transitive, with no loss of precision. It is an accommodation of pathos at the expense of logos, and leads to language becoming increasingly detached from reason and reality. Thus, the word "safe" has acquired a psychological connotation that would be regarded as simply weird only a few years ago, as have the words "violence," "privilege," "oppression." "appropriation," and literally "literally." The aim is to get obfuscation and rhetorical sloppiness to do the work that facts will not. They are the argot of the social justice warrior; the lingo of virtue-signalling when one's cause is defined by emotional satisfaction.

Of course, there are potential real world consequences to such silliness as treating sex a construct. One does not have to strain to imagine that a man with a full set of original equipment will "identify" as a woman to qualify as as woman owned business enterprise, or that a male will contest his denial of student loan benefits conditioned on draft registration status, claiming that he is exempt because of his self identity. Perhaps a business will eliminate any gender wage gap by having a few individuals "identify" an advantageous sex. Who is to say that a person must definitively identify as one sex or another. and cannot identify as one when that is advantageous and another otherwise, or to do both simultaneously? If common sense is to be ignored because it may possibly lead to hurt feelings, or more likely deprive "activists" of opportunities of self-congratulation, why should it it not be gotten rid of altogether, and let the audacious and unscrupulous reap whatever bounty they can claim? Is it really inconceivable that some individual will claim a gender identity to engage in voyeurism, or to expose himself or herself for their own gratification? Does everyone just have to accept this?

The language of Judge Floyd cited by nobody.really indicates just how unserious this issue really is. If he cannot figure out the "resolution" to his hypotheticals, he should probably recuse himself from further consideration of the issue. A transsexual who has undergone sex reassignment surgery would use the restroom corresponding to the sex resulting from the sex reassignment process. A person with Klinefelter's syndrome (XXY) would use the male restroom. An intersex individual would use the restroom of the sex they started with. Someone who loses genitalia in an accident would not thereby change sex. Castrati are not female, otherwise they would be castratae. And just to help the good judge out, even though he didn't mention it, a person with testicular feminization syndrome (XY) would use the women's restroom. Was that so hard?

It is far from obvious that persons who identify as a sex that is different from their phenotype make up a homogeneous class. Anyone who has spent any time around persons with psychiatric illness will eventually come into contact with someone who is delusional. They may be delusional about whether the CIA is after them, or that they are the president, or that they are pregnant, or that their left hand is evil. It seems at least plausible that some people will have delusions of sexual identity. What do we do with them? If a person identifies as one sex when manic and the opposite when therapeutic on lithium or valproate, do we take their manic identifications seriously? Or do the gender identity crusaders not care about them? If it is illegal to try to alter someone's sexual desires by "therapy," why is it okay to alter someone's sexual appearance? Some people have anxiety disorders that lead them to extremes of body modification, and even mutilation. Might not some, no matter how few, seek sexual alteration for the same reasons? Is it even legitimate to ask? Some people have sexual fantasies about amputation. Are these to be regarded as pathologic, or accommodated as "identities" so as not to offend?

I suppose it is best not to think too much about these things, because thinking doesn't seem to enter into it.

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z9z99
on April 27, 2016 at 09:01:38 am

'@ x9 et al.,

All that said is well and good.

BUT,

Why does it invoke the legal system? What is to be accomplished; what objectives attained? Why is litigation the means?

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R Richard Schweitzer
on April 27, 2016 at 11:13:53 am

“Thesaurus golf” – I love that!

z9z99 raises excellent arguments – but, I would argue, for a conclusion different than his.

I sense z9z99 argues that words, and conceptual categories, have fixed, god-given meanings that correspond to reality. I would argue that worlds reflect social convention. And I would argue that conceptual categories reflect reality less than they reflect the human mind’s inability to cope with reality; they reflect a mental strategy to reduce reality’s complexity into easily managed units. I don’t disparage this strategy per se, provided we bear in mind that categories merely reflect a simplifying schema. I find maps useful but, as Alfred Korzybski reminds us, “[t]he map is not the territory.”

One does not have to strain to imagine that a man with a full set of original equipment will “identify” as a woman to qualify as a woman owned business enterprise….

Great! So how should we think about this?

z9z99 expresses deep concern about enforcing categories, lest we slip into a game of thesaurus golf. As any good zealot, he regards text as the rock of his foundation.

In contrast, I’d look to purpose. For what purpose does government target business to women-owned enterprises? And what form of discrimination best promotes that purpose? Contrary to z9z99’s suggestion, I know of no instance in which the allocation of business to a woman-owned enterprise involved the inspection of genitals.

Now, maybe discriminating on the basis of a person’s professed gender identity would not best promote the government’s purpose for the policy. In that case, disputing this matter would compel government to better articulate its purpose – and perhaps better refine the basis for its discrimination. And that suits me just fine.

…or that a male will contest his denial of student loan benefits conditioned on draft registration status, claiming that he is exempt because of his self identity.

Again, I fail to see the harm. To the contrary, I’d like to see government articulate its purpose in discriminating on the basis of gender here. In this case, maybe “birth” gender makes sense, in that testosterone might correlate with a desired type of physique, even if weakly. Then we’d get to argue about whether the government’s bona fide purposes justify this kind of discrimination based on weak correlation, rather than pursuing a more narrowly-tailored type of discrimination – or simply shifting to a universal draft registration.

Perhaps a business will eliminate any gender wage gap by having a few individuals “identify” an advantageous sex.

Indeed. And perhaps they already do – or do you know of firms that conduct genital inspections before reporting wage information? (Sex workers/nude dancers, perhaps....)

Is it really inconceivable that some individual will claim a gender identity to engage in voyeurism, or to expose himself or herself for their own gratification?

z9z99 seeks to justify gender segregation in an effort to separate people who might have some sexual attraction to each other. This rationale may have made sense in an era that denied the existence of homosexuality or other types of attraction. But today? People who feel chagrined at the idea of being in a locker room with others who might harbor lust should have long ago reconciled themselves to this fate. All those people in various states of undress in the locker room -- who knows which of them derive gratification from exposing themselves? Sorry to harsh your mellow, but reality has been knocking on your door for a while now; maybe you should answer it.

Who is to say that a person must definitively identify as one sex or another. and cannot identify as one when that is advantageous and another otherwise, or to do both simultaneously?

Indeed. We know of many examples of black people “passing” for white when it proved advantageous to do so – and the fact that they could do so helped illustrate the meritlessness of the black/white conceptual dichotomy. I expect women seek to pass for men and men for women under various circumstances (although I can only cite to fictional accounts off the top of my head).

I favor empiricism. I don’t reject public policy discriminating on the basis of relevant criteria, but let’s identify the relevant criteria. If genitals reflect the relevant criteria, great – but given the shortage of circumstances in which anyone actually inspects another person’s genitals, I have to suspect that we actually use some different criteria. So let’s state that actual criteria.

For example, I have heard that the military has learned that women experience greater knee injuries than men. This might provide an evidenced-based reason to discriminate between women and men, however the military defined those terms for purposes of gathering the data. But I want to emphasize that point: We should look to the distinctions relevant to the policy – and not to how a word gets defined by Webster’s Dictionary or z9z99.

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nobody.really
on April 27, 2016 at 11:53:24 am

Richard,

The reason that the legal system is invoked is explained by the legendary revolutionary zealot Melissa Click: "I need some muscle over here." It is the same reason grievance grifters bring civil rights actions over pastry and flowers, why colleges "mandate" diversity this and that, and "ban" certain histories in revanchist frenzy. The reason is that the progressive project aspires to the use of force, and at the moment the legal system allows them a tool to do so. As long as judges and bureaucrats are amenable to using force, as in the bogus "John Doe" investigations in Wisconsin, the Jacobin wannabes will make use of them. If they are not , the activists will abandon the legal system. They will not abandon their dreams of monopolizing the use of force.

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z9z99
on April 27, 2016 at 12:35:34 pm

nobody,

Good God, you have created a fire hazard by bringing so many straw men in here.

I sense z9z99 argues that words, and conceptual categories, have fixed, god-given meanings that correspond to reality.

Actually I don't. Once again, you need to check the ground wire on your sensor.

As any good zealot, he regards text as the rock of his foundation.

Wrong again. You may wish to brush up on the utility of distinguishing vagueness from ambiguity. Or re-read Orwell.

z9z99 seeks to justify gender segregation in an effort to separate people who might have some sexual attraction to each other.

Swing and a miss. In fact, it is much more likely that a young boy will have shared a restroom with a pedophile, or a teenaged girl share a locker-room with a lesbian, and almost certainly that everyone has shared a restroom with a homosexual. And yet Melcher Carillovaldo was arrested for placing a camera in a Starbucks restroom. If only someone could explain this apparent inconsistency

And why do you refer to genital examination when the underlying hypothesis is that genitals do not determine a person's sex? .It may be, just maybe, that genitals correlate very highly with a person's sex, and even a person's sexual identity, which of course can be verified empirically.

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z9z99
on April 27, 2016 at 15:41:02 pm

Right on Z!!!
Nobody is famous for obfuscation "in the mellifluous tones of National public radio." It all sounds SO reasonable. Yet, look to his earlier comment on abortion and the assertion that "pro-lifers" are first concerned with the WOMEN's right to abort - and thus these same pro-lifers would not object to a pregnant MALE having an abortion. AS IF the objection to abortion by pro-lifers is a weapon to be used against WOMEN and NOT in defense of a helpless and undeveloped human child.

That is nobody's preferred method of obfuscation or linguistic confusion.

It all sounds so reasonable and well articulated - "Come into my Little Cabin said the witch to the two wayward children!!!!!!!

And while words may not be affixed with a god-given meaning, surely a reasonable mind must afford some value to a coherency of language and meaning. When words are transformed to their opposites, are we to simply accept this as the inevitable result of the mutability of language or are we to call a spade - a spade. oops, npwadays that is probably an offensive term suggesting a phallic penetrator.

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gabe
on April 27, 2016 at 16:26:00 pm

[A]re we to simply accept this as the inevitable result of the mutability of language or are we to call a spade – a spade. oops, npwadays that is probably an offensive term suggesting a phallic penetrator.

Well, if you are looking for a way to make "spade" offensive, you needn't look very far; people used the word as a derogatory term for Negros -- er, colored people -- er, black people.

But as I say, words arise from social convention. So perhaps that meaning of "spade" has passed so far out of common understand as to render the term available for new offensive connotations. Ah, the mutability of language...!

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nobody.really

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