Friday, June 3, 2016

Craig Greenman: But What About Transgendered?

Yesterday I wrote a blog about defining conservatism in response to a comment on NRO by academic Craig Greenman: "Yes, What is a Conservative?" Craig kindly responded by email, and here is his full response.

Thank you for using my question in your blog!  It's always an honor when one's thoughts serve as a catalyst for another perosn to move beyond them in various ways.

I think your definition of "conservative,"  as a person not particularly interested in power, is very interesting.  It accounts for both of my suggested definitions, in a sense:  A conservative could be someone (1) who does, believes, or values, what has happened in the past because she doesn't seek to overcome the past or move beyond it, towards any personal power of her own; or a conservative might be someone (2) who believes in the idea of a "free market," because she submits herself to the judgment of the market and doesn't insist that her values are always right.

So your definition might be a neat way to tie those two definitions that I offered together; and it also fits with what one other thoughtful person said on the NRO site, connecting conservatism with the notion of "gratitude" (in this case, I take it, gratitude for the traditional arrangements, institutions, and so on in a society; or gratitude for the judgment of the market), which I guess was argued by Jonah Goldberg.

But as I read your definition, I thought, hm, this seems a bit too wide.  All conservatives are people who are not particularly interested in power?  I don't know.  My guess is that there are a number of conservatives, just like there are a number of folks of every strong political persuasion (including liberals and whatnot), who are interested in power. It would be difficult to convince me or any other Left-leaning person that some members of the Bush administration weren't interested in power -- or that many of the powerful folks who support them aren't interested in power.  So I agree with you that some people on the Left could be interested in power, but that's a shared malady, it seems to me.  I don't fully buy your definition, then (if I may use the market language, "buy," which is so at the center of the academy now, too -- recalling where my post originated).

I agree with you, in any case, that a big part of wisdom is realizing "that life, the universe, and everything is not just about Me."  As I grow older (I'm 44), this feels more and more true, if only because I am constantly reminded, by my interactions with my students, my colleagues, my neighbors, my state, my country, and nature itself (including my finite physical body!) that I am not the center of the universe.  One of the reminders of everybody else is being on National Review Online and knowing that there are millions of people in the U.S. who think differently from me.  And you and I, too, probably have very different views of many things.

But let me riff for a moment on the notion of power.  Let's take an issue that you've commented on, it looks like, on your blog (I looked around just a bit before commenting here).

Let's say I'm a young person who looks and feels strange.  I don't exactly know why, but I don't quite fit into my body, or who I feel like I am.  And people pick on how I move, act, and dress.  Maybe I've been bullied a lot, too, in school.  I grow up and I enter the workforce.  By then, I've tried to understand myself, and adjust my life accordingly; and the way I dress and act, consequently, doesn't seem to fit the gender that my genitalia and other features outwardly reflect.  I've tried my best to be myself -- to be an individual in a society that's supposed to care about individuality -- and I'm a hard worker, or at least as hard-working as most people, and an honest person, which is shown by the fact that I don't hide who I am.  I have something to contribute to the market.

Then I go to job interviews and I am rejected, again and again, because I look and act different.  I am weird to many other people, even though I'm good at what I do and I try to be nice to them.  But I don't get a good job, because, again, I'm different.

What should I do?  Should I just say, well, it's not all about Me, and if people don't want to hire me, that's okay?  It's all right to be a marginal member of this society?  It's all right to be bullied, formerly on the playground, now by the market itself, so to speak?

I'm trying to tell the story of a transgendered person.  This person will probably vote on the Left in this election.  Is the reason because s/he is particularly interested in power?  No.  More likely, s/he wants to live a productive life without harassment, and to join the workforce and make a good living.  But because s/he is different, neither (1) the traditional values nor (2) the market -- to borrow on what I said above -- will respond to him/her.  So s/he will seek help from somebody who *has* made it in society, somebody who is better placed in it: a politician or activist on the Left.

This helping person will often be a straight Left politician or a party that consists primarily of them.  And those politicians will use the power they have, that has been loaned to them by the voters -- voters like me -- to help him/her.  They might even propose a law that says discrimination on the basis of gender in the workplace is wrong. They may also go overboard sometimes, in not fully thinking through how changes to help this transgendered person might harm, in some way, some conservative people, especially conservative women who will feel unsafe as a result of new policies.

But I don't think our transgendered person, or transgendered people in general, are particularly interested in power.  And the people they look to for help, often, if they are interested in power, are interested in it, in part, anyway, from a genuine desire to help people like our friend.

My point is this:  Sometimes people don't have the option to as easily submit to traditional values or the market as you and I, as non-transgendered men, say, have.  It's one thing to not want power over other people; and I think it's noble, the way you don't want an excessive amount of that; it's another thing, though, to want enough power to be able to flourish as a hard-working person in a society, and to use power, when you have it, to help people who are left out.  Many good people want those kinds of power, and many really nice things happen as a result of it, it seems to me.  Mistakes also happen, but with every government, with every society, and with every culture and family, mistakes happen.  We do our best and hope for better.

As I've reached the higher points of my profession, it's become easier for me, personally, to say, yes, we all need to submit to the universe; it's not just about Me; and young people, for example, need to learn not to be so damned insistent that their way is the correct way.  I experience this now at middle age.  But I recognize that part of why I can say that is because that same system is treating me much better than it used to.  I don't deny that one has to make compromises with the universe and society, and that activists on the Left can be too strident in sometimes refusing at all to do that.  But we have to recognize the extent to which those systems of (1) traditional values and (2) the market, may reject people to a larger extent than they reject you or me.  And maybe that fighting back of those people, or appealing to those who will fight on their behalf, is a good way to keep *us* in check, you and I, to make sure *we* don't get too cocky -- like our submission to the universe is as easy for everybody.

This, to me, then, is also wisdom: knowing that the very gesture of submitting to the universe may not be equally possible for all of us. And that sometimes power is useful for helping people just stay in the game and have a chance.

I'm sorry I went on so long.  I hope this makes sense, as it's a very large question and I'm only making some suggestions.  I may be mistaken in various ways.

I appreciate your quoting me and I think your own piece here -- including your definition of "conservative" -- is worthwhile.  Take care.


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