The purpose of absurdity1 is a blog post that goes a little deeper into conspiratorial waters than I’m willing to go, but still raises an issue that I believe is worth considering.
Many folks have observed that, especially as you move out towards the fringes of socially liberal dogma, the ideology becomes increasingly self-defeating and self-contradictory. For some humorous examples, consider the College Humor sketches This Video Will Offend You and if it Doesn’t I’ll be Offended and The Social Consequences of Everything. For a more serious treatment of the absurdity, consider John McWhorters article for The Daily Beast: The Privilege of Checking White Privilege:
I firmly believe that improving the black condition does not require changing human nature, which may always contain some tribalist taints of racism. We exhibit no strength—Black Power—in pretending otherwise. I’m trying to take a page from Civil Rights heroes of the past, who would never have imagined that we would be shunting energy into trying to micromanage white psychology out of a sense that this was a continuation of the work of our elders.
Or, you know, pick any of the numerous recent articles like this one: Classical Mythology Too Triggering for Columbia Students. If you’re still not convinced, just go with it for the sake of argument: elements of socially liberal politics are absurd.2
So the question then becomes, not to put too fine a point on it: so what? Say that the philosophical premises of transgenderism (e.g. gender essentialism) conflict with the philosophical premises of feminism (gender is a social construct), so what? Why don’t we just go ahead and accept philosophically contradictory premises if it’s what makes people feel better. Are we really such sticklers for logical precision that we put cold rationality ahead of people’s lived experiences? What harm could it do?
Believe it or not, I think that’s a serious question. And it deserves a serious answer. Which takes me back to that initial link on the purpose of absurdity. Here’s the basic story. A Chinese minister named Zhao Gao helps Huhai usurp the throne and then assassinates a whole bunch of potential rivals to secure Huhai’s claim as emperor. But then Huhai starts to be difficult to manage. And so:
Zhao Gao didn’t like that. He started to think that maybe they should have a change of emperor, but he couldn’t be sure he could pull it off.
So Zhao Gao brings a deer into the palace. Grabs it from the horns, calls the emperor to come out, and says “look your majesty, a brought you a fine horse”. The Emperor, not amused, says “Surely you are mistaken, calling a deer a horse. Right?”. Then the emperor looks around at all the ministers. Some didn’t say a word, just sweating nervously. Some others loudly proclaimed what a fine horse this was. Great horse. Look at this tail! These fine legs. Great horse, naturally prime minister Zhao Gao has the best of tastes.
A small bunch did protest that this was a deer, not a horse. Those were soon after summarily executed. And the Second Emperor himself was murdered some time later.
The point of the story, of course, is that it doesn’t really matter at all if you call a deer a horse. But asking people to go along with something that is simply not true is a really good way of identifying the troublesome folks and removing them. And then I think of the way Ryan T. Anderson has been ostracised or Brandon Eich got hounded out of his job. Set aside, just for the moment, the substantial issue of whether or gay marriage is right or wrong and just ask the more general question: how does society treat our dissidents? How do we treat the people who sincerely believe that they are being asked to go along with something that is simply not true?
The costs of speaking your mind on these issues is becoming very, very high. Perhaps to the point where–even if you agree with gay marriage (as Damon Linker and Andrew Sullivan)–the social cowing of dissidents and iconoclasts has gone too far.