Solving the problem of transgender pronouns with discourse ethics

I. Background.

Discourse ethics is a metaethical theory developed by Jürgen Habermas and Karl-Otto Apel that states that moral truths may be known by examining the presuppositions of discourse or debate. (A bastardised version developed by neo-feudalist anarcho-capitalist philosophaster and fascist sympathiser Hans-Hermann Hoppe, who studied, oddly enough, under Habermas, is known as argumentation ethics, and aims to demonstrate the truth of the right-libertarian conception of self-ownership, but fails by confusing the idea of a liberty right with a claim right.) The theory is as follows: When two or more people engage in discourse, there are certain norms that everyone is obliged by necessity to presuppose. For instance:

  • The participants are engaging in the same language-game.
  • No relevant argument is being suppressed or excluded by the participants.
  • The only force used is that of the superior argument.
  • All participants are motivated solely by a concern for the better argument.
  • Everyone agrees to the universal validity of the thematic claim.
  • Everyone capable of communication and action is entitled to participate.
  • Everyone is equally entitled to introduce new topics.
  • Everyone is equally entitled to express their attitudes, their needs, or their desires.
  • No claim to validity is categorically or uniquely exempt from critical evaluation through argumentation.

Following from these presuppositions is the universally binding obligation to maintain impartial judgement when engaged in discourse, which requires each participant to adopt the perspective of every other participant.

Now, an important notion in discourse ethics is that of the performative contradiction; that is, when asserting a proposition, the proposition contradicts the very presuppositions of asserting it. For instance, if I were to state that I do not exist, then that would be a performative contradiction, since in order to assert that I do not exist, I must exist. The very action of asserting that one does not exist presupposes that the one who asserts it exists.

In discourse ethics, the performative contradiction takes a central role in deducing moral rules. As an example, one of the presuppositions of discourse is that, unless the participants have already mutually consented to a fight, violence should not be used to resolve a dispute. Thus, to argue for the use of violence to resolve a dispute is a performative contradiction, and the moral rule 'Do not use violence to resolve a dispute' can be deduced.

The fundamental principle of discourse ethics may be paraphrased as such:

The only norms that may be claimed to be valid are those which have the ability to meet with the approval of everyone in a practical discourse affected by them.

This principle presupposes Habermas' conception of universalisation, again paraphrased:

Everyone who is affected by the anticipated consequences of the general observance of a given norm can accept said consequences for the satisfaction of everyone's interests, and said consequences are preferred to those of alternative possibilities.

II. The argument.

The presuppositions of discourse listed in Part I are not the only ones; rather, they are simply initial examples. By further examining the necessary obligations of discussion and referencing the initial examples, I may derive some additional presuppositions, which I will justify and use in my argument:

  • Everyone capable of communication and action must be made to feel that they are equally welcome to participate, as an atmosphere in which anyone is discouraged from participation hinders discourse.
  • Each participant's needs or desires which are necessary for their participation must be satisfied.

From all of these presuppositions, I'm pretty sure I can construct a damn fine argument.

Premise I. To make a person feel that they are not equally entitled to participate in discourse or to dismiss a person's stated needs or desires contradicts the presuppositions that everyone is equally entitled to participate in discourse and that everyone is equally entitled to express their needs and desires by implicitly establishing a hierarchy of participants and their needs and desires in opposition to the principle of universalisation. (Hence the two additional presuppositions listed in this part.)
Premise II. To use pronouns inconsistent with those preferred by a person can make them feel uncomfortable and alienated; these feelings of discomfort and alienation may make them feel that they are not equally entitled to participate in discourse. If they express the need or desire for others to use their preferred pronouns, then, given that failure to satisfy this need or desire may make them feel that they are not equally entitled to participate, this need or desire must be satisfied.
Conclusion I. To use pronouns for a person inconsistent with those preferred by that person or to argue against using any given person's preferred pronouns contradicts the presuppositions that each person must be made to feel equally entitled to discourse and that each person's desires and needs necessary for them to equally participate in discourse must be satisfied.
Conclusion II. Given that any argument against using any given person's preferred pronouns is a performative contradiction, then to use others' preferred pronouns, even if reluctantly, is a universally binding obligation.


III. Afterthoughts.

This whole argument can really be applied to any form of misgendering or invalidation, including the use of a trans person's dead name, not just in the case of preferred pronouns, and not even specifically limited to trans people.

Engaging in this argument has left me with an even more intense curiosity about Jürgen Habermas' work. As I write, I have three Habermas-related tabs open in my browser. Both his earlier work developing critical theory with the Frankfurt School and his later work on communicative rationality and pragmatics interest me.

If you find a flaw in my argument, please let me know in the comments. I'm always happy to learn from my mistakes and improve my knowledge of philosophy!

Some ideas for a non-identitarian, egalitarian feminism

  • The mistakes and excesses of the second and third waves must be understood and discarded, while their accomplishments and good ideas must be preserved and expanded on.
  • The idea of intersectionality must be replaced with what I shall call 'multidimensionality', in which systems of social oppression or marginalisation are not conceived as binary oppositions (male/non-male, white/of colour, straight/LGBQ+, cisgender/transgender), but as systems which harm everyone bound by them in different ways (male disposability, female objectification, non-binary invalidation; straight fear of being perceived as 'queer'; cis male and female fears of being perceived as 'too feminine' or 'too masculine').
  • The demonisation of 'oppressor classes' (men, white people, straight people, cis people, Christians and culturally Christian atheists) must be recognised as toxic, counterproductive, and harmful and must be discarded.
  • Anecdotal evidence and personal experience must not be considered a substitute for statistical research and theory.
  • If you don't speak a dialect that normally refers to people as 'folk' and 'folks' then please stop referring to us as 'trans folk' or 'trans folks' it's really annoying and it bothers me for some reason
  • The two fundamental rules of the movement must be:
    1. Do no harm, whether physical or emotional.
    2. Respect everyone (and their identities).
  • The objective of the movement must be to change society such that it embodies those rules.

On punching Nazis

By now, almost everyone has seen the video of white nationalist leader Richard Spencer getting punched.
Notice how he got decked instantly after mentioning Pepe? It appears that Kek has turned on him. Praise Kek!

I've noticed left-wingers. both my friends and random people online, celebrate Dick's decking. Myself, I'm mildly amused by it. He's a hateful white nationalist bastard, and while I cannot condone the unidentified protester's action, I feel like he got what he deserved.
Until I saw this tweet:
Oh dear God.
(Hat tip to Spinosauruskin for pointing it out in his video.)
Leading ethicists have weighed in on whether it is acceptable to punch a Nazi:

Are you familiar with this video of Richard Spencer getting punched?

Yeah. Do you really not know if it's ethical to punch someone even though they have odious politics? I mean, should we call your mother? Or my mother? Or anybody's mother?

—David Cohen, interviewed by Newsweek
Some people have even argued that not punching Nazis leads to genocide:

Let me read to you one comment that I saw on Twitter: “If you don't punch Nazis, Holocausts happen. That's what we learned from letting Nazis speak in public the last time. You have to punch them.”

That’s ridiculous. That's nonsensical. One does not flow from the other. Because one of the most monstrous catastrophes in human history occurred, it is not because people failed to punch Nazis. It simply doesn't follow. Nor does it follow that if you fail to punch Richard Spencer, there will be dire consequences. It would seem to me Gandhi's example or King's example are quite to the contrary. Where even allied against incredibly powerful armed opponents, genuine social change is possible without resorting to the gutter tactics of people like Spencer.

There are two different arguments here. One is: Is the behavior justified on its own terms? Is physical violence a morally justifiable response to the expression of odious ideas. In my view, it is not. The argument you're reading on Twitter is what's called a consequentialist argument. So this person is asserting that the only way to stop the rise of Nazism is with physical violence. And I think that's a quite dubious assertion. Even if one were doing a consequentialist analysis here, this is a dubious assertion. The assertion becomes: It is necessary to punch Richard Spencer in order to halt some impending Holocaust, and I just don't think that's true. It seems to me this fails both on the grounds of moral reasoning and on the grounds of political strategy.

Cohen went on to note that, while the act of punching is itself immoral, there's nothing wrong with laughing at the video and its various remixes (as I have done myself; my favourite remix is the one set to New Order's 'Blue Monday':

This next question is not really an ethical question. But did you personally watch the video of Richard Spencer being punched?

I did not. It wasn't because I was averting my glance; I just didn't see it. I would make one other exception. I have read about images of Richard Spencer being punched set to music. That sort of thing. To delight in a kind of comeuppance when someone is hoisted by his own petard—when someone who advocates violence against others meets a kind of of nonlethal violence—to enjoy hearing about that, that's not a crime. That's not an ethical transgression. That's asking more of human beings than they can resist. When someone who's truly despicable gets punched in the nose, you commit no ethical transgression by enjoying that idea. Now we're describing—

Schadenfreude.

Yes, yes. In the recesses of my heart, do I take any pleasure in this? Well, yes. Would I advocate this as an action or defend the action? Well, no. There are no thought crimes. If in your heart of hearts you're enjoying this, well, you do no one any harm. But no, you do not get to go out and respond to contemptible political ideas with physical ideas.


Now for me, as a lefty and an armchair philosopher, there are two main questions here: ethics and tactics.
I've already stated that my ethical position is one that I call rational extrapolated preference utilitarianism; essentially, everyone's preferences should be fulfilled unless they're in an irrational state, in which case their preferences if they were in a rational state should be extrapolated from circumstance and fulfilled.
It seems to me that Richard Spencer has a preference not to feel pain, and thus his preference to not feel pain was violated. This is unethical.

But there's also a tactical argument to be made here: Most people have no idea who the hell this Richard Spencer guy is. They don't know that he's a white nationalist and they don't know that he's called for a 'peaceful' ethnic cleansing of America. They don't know that he has refused to disavow people within his movement who have advocated violence.
But when Dick got decked, his name and face were plastered all over the media. It gives him a platform to spread his odious views and makes ordinary conservatives start to think that 'the intolerant left' is coming for them next. When Richard spencer gets branded (correctly) as alt-right, and people like Milo Yiannopoulos or Alex Jones are branded (incorrectly) as alt-right, it just muddies the waters and makes it seem that ordinary Trump-supporting conservatives are under attack.
And remember the tweet I embedded above? Well, guess what: he's right.
His being punched makes it seem that his ideas are valid and that the only possible response to them other than agreement is violence. It makes it seem that his 'race realism' is true and his white nationalism is just a normal political position that just happens to provoke 'the intolerant left' to irrational violence.

Let me tell you a little story:
In the 1980s and '90s, there was a Dutch MP named Hans Janmaat. He was vocal in his opposition to immigration based on economic reasons: with immigration having to be addressed, it was difficult to focus on unemployment and slow economic growth for the native population. He had a cordon sanitaire imposed on him by the majority of other MPs, which basically meant that they would walk out of the building when he began to speak and only return when he was finished.
In the early 2000s, Pim Fortuyn became a notable and controversial public figure in the Netherlands. He opposed immigration on cultural grounds, arguing that Muslim immigration into the Netherlands would end up reversing the rights of women and LGBTQ+ people and stated that Islam is a 'backward culture' (the Dutch word for 'backward' can also mean 'retarded'). He was assassinated by a mentally-ill schizoidal left-wing activist who believed he was going to 'save the Netherlands' from the right-wing.
In the late 2000s, Geert Wilders, an outright Islamophobe who has compared the Qur'an to Mein Kampf and advocated for its banning, believes that the European Union and Muslim organisations are conspiring to 'Islamise' Europe, and was convicted of hate speech last December, is now a major political force in Netherlands, having become the de facto leader of the populist right in the Netherlands. The aforementioned conviction has only led to more popularity, since Dutch right-wingers can now claim persecution.

Let me tell you another story:
Holocaust denier Bradley Smith took out a full-page advertisement promoting Holocaust denialism in multiple university newspapers in the United Kingdom. Rather than refusing to run them, those papers ran them alongside an editorial on the opposite page refuting every point made in Smith's advert. Today, his influence is negligible and his group, the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust is minuscule and its influence limited to the fringes of the far-right.

I know I won't convince some people with these examples, but banning or using violence against white nationalists is only going to expand their influence. It'll just help them thrive in the shadows and on the fringes until they can refine themselves enough to mainstream their views.
Violence is not the key. Effective debate is.

Softcore fascism and the policies of Trump

There have been a variety of fascist dictators, and not all of them are Hitler or Mussolini.
One could argue that fascism exists on a scale of severity. I'd like to propose one here.
    Scale of Fascist Regimes:
  1. Straussian/Neoconservative (ex. United States under George W. Bush).
  2. Quasi-Democratic (ex. Italy under Silvio Berlusconi, New York City under Rudolph Giuliani).
  3. Softcore Fascist (ex. Chile under Augusto Pinochet, Singapore under the People's Action Party).
  4. Hardcore Fascist (ex. Italy under Benito Mussolini).
  5. Genocidal/Megalomaniacal Fascist (ex. Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler).
Trump is showing himself to be on the border of №1 and №2. Depending on how much he consolidates power under the Executive Branch, he could develop into a full-blown №2 or even straddle the line between №2 and №3. The worst-case scenario for Trump that I can see so far is that his administration develops into a №3, but that would require nothing short of a new 9/11 and a national state of emergency complete with purges of ideological opponents and extreme consolidation of federal and executive power.
For now, though, we shouldn't worry about that. Our main focus should be on preventing Trump from graduating to №2 and preventing the negative effects of his current policies.

One year

It's been one year since I started this blog, and boy, does it feel good writing it.
Happy belated Christmas to all you readers!
I think I'll be getting a full-fledged website later this week. My Shure SM57 microphone is excellent, but the XLR-to-USB cable that I use for it is faulty, so sadly, I can't really do a new FreqRes episode until the replacement cable comes.
My website will probably be at Gnostiquette.net; Schrödinger's Cat Enterprises' website will probably be at SchrodingersCat.co.
I'm currently reading Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein and The Devil's Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America's Secret Government by David Talbot (I'm using some of this material for my next podcast episode); I'm also playing Steins;Gate.
Well, in any case, happy Fourth Day of Christmas!
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Eva Gnostiquette

Eva Gnostiquette
Hi!
My name is Eva Gnostiquette.
I'm a multimedia artist, podcaster, game developer, programmer, and aspiring physicist and neuroscientist. I'm a Gnostic druid.
I enjoy reading, music, and various other things. I write about nerd stuff, spirituality, and conspiracy theories, alongside more mainstream politics and science.
I am also a queer trans girl of Jewish, Welsh, Irish, and Scottish descent with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, OCD, and PTSD.
Please enjoy my blog!

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