Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sloppy Reasoning

I've long been of the opinion, and have said so in many different contexts, that if you don't know WHY you believe what you believe, then you don't have much credibility to claim that belief. You are just parroting what someone else told you. An unexamined position isn't worth holding.

Sometimes, that will even lead you to a position that's not in your own selfish interests.

Certainly, there are limits. If you tell me you believe, or disbelieve, in evolution, you don't have to hold a doctorate in Biology AND theology to have an informed and credible opinion. but you DO need to have reasoned it out within the knowledge base you do have, and not just say "a scientist (or a preacher) told me so it must be so."

In fact, that's actually a pretty good example. Have you ever thought about how many people would say "I don't believe in evolution" while breeding, or being in the market for, a specific breed of dog or horse or rose or whatever? the REASON there are Beagles and Spaniels and Dalmatians or whatever, is BECAUSE of the forces of evolution - albeit most of those breed differences generated by the direction of human breeders.

What you really mean to say is, "I don't believe evolution explains everything that is attributed to it by many" or some such. Saying "I don't believe in evolution" is just lazy or ignorant. And no, for the record, I myself don't believe that evolution as currently understood can possibly account for the diversity of life we have now but I won't ever get into such a deep discussion on this blog, it was just an example. But do I "believe in evolution"? Oh yeah. Just not in the caricature of evolution most people talk about because they never gave much THOUGHT to what they were saying.

So why am I bringing this train of thought up tonight? Because most people who speak out with an opinion on transsexualism (and homosexuality too, for that matter, but that's not my pony to ride, I already have my hands full) have never given 10 consecutive minutes thought to the subject - what it is or why it occurs or how to deal with it. And far less than that to the implications of the uninformed opinions to which they are so married.

Take for example this article on CBS News on the reaction of one religious lobbying group to the potential vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Let me be clear, I have no problem with one objecting, on the basis of personal freedom, to ENDA. I'm sympathetic to the idea that "It's my business and I'll hire any darn person I want to - or not." BUT, that particular freedom was gone long ago when you lost the right to not hire a black or a Jew or whatever. so if you want to oppose the bill from that angle, THINK about the implications of your position and be intellectually honest enough to tell me you think being forced to give equal consideration to black applicants is also an imposition on your freedom. If you can't or won't make that claim, then you undermine your own position.

Let me go even further here and say that I am not unsympathetic to the idea that we should consider the impact of anything we do as a society on our children. I think it's a mistake to be cavalier about that. So I do not mean, here, to attack the position the group takes out of hand. But that said . . .

The statement released by the Traditional Values Coalition demonstrates exactly the sort of lack of thought about the implications of your stated beliefs that I'm talking about. Even if they happened to hold the right position, they don't have a lot of credibility because their own statements indicate they haven't given much thought to their position. rather, they are mouthing the knee-jerk "traditional" opinion and then flailing for an argument that supports it.

Witness this quote from Executive Director Andrea Lafferty (discussing the group's concern about schools being forced to hire and retain transgender persons as teachers):

"Every state will be forced to recognize transgendered and transsexual individuals as part of a protected class," it said in a statement. "Schools will then be forbidden to reassign any teacher undergoing a so-called sex change because this would be considered 'discrimination.' Thus, children will be trapped in classes taught by men undergoing a so-called sex change to become women and will be taught that it's normal behavior." (Emphasis theirs.)

The bill "protects what is listed in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a mental illness, Gender Identity Disorder (GID)"

Tell me, dear reader, can you spot the flaw in her logic? No, I'm not talking about the derisive "so called" dig (hardly becoming of a religious group, but not what I'm speaking of), nor am I speaking of the use of "trapped with" as if we are dangerous perverts (though I know there are probably readers of this blog who think just that).

No, that to which I refer is this:

The bill "protects what is listed in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a mental illness,

One wonder if Ms Lafferty would wish to see those who have clinical depression, for instance, fired from their jobs as teachers, or anything else, because of their mental illness. Is it the position of the TVC that ALL mental illness is a disqualifying factor for employment protection?

Mind you, I'm not speaking here of a person who cannot preform the duties of their job, or engages in misconduct because of their illness such that the employee has to let them go, I mean simply the existence of and treatment for the condition.

You see, Ms Lafferty has painted herself into a rhetorical corner. In the first place, she defines her opposition to the employment of transsexuals as teachers a being rooted in our "mental illness." Okay, fine, let's say she's right and we are required by the DSM to discuss this as a mental illness.

What that means then, by direct logical implication, is that what we have is a CONDITION that is not of our making or in our control. there goes all your knee-jerk remarks about perversion, or "lifestyle choices." Once you concede that you are dealing with a non-elective condition, rather than a choice, then you MUST, if you are intellectually honest, consider our situation in the same manner as you would any other mental illness. you are therefore required to argue that ALL mental illness disqualifies one from employment protection, or you must admit that, like all other mental illnesses, the transgendered can only be terminated for cause (i.e the condition causes conduct which is inconsistant with the goals of the employer such as a kleptomaniac stealing from the company).

Now, one can argue that transitioning in front of a school full of other people's kids IS a just cause. I disagree as I will explain below, but that's not the point. the point is if you want to argue that they should be fired for cause, that is NOT the same as arguing they should not enjoy protection simply because they are mentally ill.

Now, while its not the point of this column (really, the article cited was just a nice illustration of the point I wanted to make) since I am transsexual and since I do hold (for a few more months) a Mississippi Teacher's License, I can't resist weighing in on the point at hand.

Let me lift another quote from Ms Lafferty:

Thus, children will be trapped in classes taught by men undergoing a so-called sex change to become women and will be taught that it's normal behavior."

There are two things wrong with this statement, one self evidently sloppy, and the other a matter of differing opinion.

On the former: in this same statement Lafferty points out that this is, in her position, a mental illness. Nothing about requiring employers to not terminate a person simply on the basis that they have and are being treated for a mental illness involves implying that this is "normal." It is not "normal" to be bi-polar, or have clinical depression, or anything else that is in the DSM (else it wouldn't be there) nor is it "normal" to be treated for it. It's not "normal" by the way to have cancer or be a paraplegic. "Normal" is an irrelevant word here.

Of course, Ms Laffery doesn't really mean "normal" what she means is "right." But since she resorted to pointing out it is a mental illness, her rhetoric prevents her from then citing morality (since it can hardly be immoral to have a non-elective and diagnosable condition any more than it could be said to be immoral to be bipolar or have heart disease).

But the words she chose to use are there, and being "normal" is not a qualification for getting or retaining employment anywhere in this country. The question is, does your abnormality interfere with your ability to do the job. If the law passes and the prediction that transsexual teachers remain in the classroom comes to pass - and I agree it will, I have some online friends who are teachers and HAVE transitioned on the job (in states where we are already protected by law) and, by all accounts, have not irreparably traumatized any children- the fact that this happens will say nothing to the children about the "normalacy" of being transsexual.

It will, however, say something about showing human decency and respect to people who are not like yourself, even those which make you uncomfortable, so long as their actions do you no harm. I should think that's a lesson worthy of teaching anyone's child.

And that is why, in the end, there's more to be gained from the passage of this law as it applies to teachers than possibly anywhere else. You see, your children and grandchildren don't live in a convent, they live in a messed up world with messed up people. If you lived in this town, or most any other of any size, your 9 year old son or 7 year old daughter has a considerable likelyhood of running across someone like me in your local Wal-Mart. They very possibly have a lesbian aunt or a gay cousin. Do you really think your child can go through life without knowing about people like me?

If not, don't they need to know at some point what to think about us? Tell the truth, if you are one of those who believes I'm mentally ill, or a pervert, are YOU going to sit your child down one day and introduce the subject to them on your own initiative and explain to them that there are crazy men in the world who think they are women? if you said yes, chances are you will lie about other things too. The only way your kid gets to know what you think about all this is if your pastor happens to make a passing reference from the pulpit some Sunday (which many are loath to do) or if they actually have occasion in their life to have to encounter one of us.

The fact is, if your child is sitting in my history class one August and they find out that female teacher was "once a man" then that gives you, if you are an active and involved parent, a golden opportunity to share your values with your child. You can explain whatever you view of how I got this way is, and you can discuss the reality that the child lives in a world where God's rules (as you see them) are not always followed and what the Christian reaction to such people should be (love them, pray for them, that IS what you were thinking, right?).

For those of you who are not so judgmental, it's still a good thing for your kids to learn WHY people like me are the way they are, rather than just listening to some ill-informed idiot telling them we are just perverts. The appearance of a transsexual teacher in your child's classroom provides a wonderful teaching moment where everyone can learn more about the subject itself (because who knows, it might be their own brother or sister who's the next TS they meet) but more importantly, about displaying respect and human decency to all people while we have to share this world with each other.

In my not so humble opinion, if you don't want your kids to learn about being decent to other people, even when you disagree with them, you have a lot bigger problem than them being exposed to some icky transgender person.

Lastly, before you start telling me about the dangers to your children represented by a transsexual teacher, I invite you to cite me a case of such students being materially harmed emotionally or otherwise by having such a teacher. Since such teachers DO exist, surely there's an example of some kid turning gay, or setting a cat on fire, or something because of their confusion about their teacher, right? Let's see the evidence. And be sure, by the way, to demonstrate no other kids ever turned gay or burned a cat too, just so we know you have a valid case.

My contention is, that just like Ms Lafferty engaged in sloppy logic and inconsistent reasoning in constructing her statement, even so the entire assumption that a transsexual teacher somehow harms her students is nothing more than an emotional knee-jerk claim, rather than the product of reasoning and sound logic.

Do you, gentle reader, know WHY you believe what you believe? About ANYTHING? Or do you wait for sloppy minds like Ms Lafferty's to tell you how to think?

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