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What Makes You, You?

 

What makes you, you? And what does it mean to be true to yourself?  On a personal level, we all wrestle with these questions. But the way we answer these questions has cultural consequences as well.

One view of “self” claims that “living authentically” means being true to your desires. “If it feels good do it.” Or, in more modern parlance, “You do you, man.”  The corollary, of course, is that to deny myself my desires (or to expect someone else to do so) is essentially denying yourself the chance to be who you really are.

You find this view of “self” in the arguments in favor of redefining marriage.  “If you have the right to marry the person you want to marry, I should have the right to marry the person I want to marry too.”

Justice Kennedy echoed this sentiment in the Obergefell decision that redefined what marriage is as a legal matter. “The opportunity to marry is integral to human dignity.”

The unspoken premise underlying this argument is that there is no objective reality that should prevent me from being able to be who I want to be and do what I want to do.

My feelings define what is true.

It is clear, however, that that this does not extend just to marriage.  Only minutes after marriage was redefined, we were told that the ability to self-select ones gender was the next crisis of human dignity.

The sentiment is identical.

“If you have the right to be the gender you feel you are, I should have the right to be the gender I feel I am.”  The arguments appeal to the libertarian in us all because, “Hey, if you can do what makes you feel whole, it’s only fair that I get to do what makes me feel whole, right?”

The challenge with these arguments is that they require us to affirm a person’s worth by affirming their desires before pausing to ask whether it’s objectively true or good.

“Hey, if believing 2 + 2 = 4 makes you happy, I should be able to believe that 2 + 2 = 137 because that makes me happy.”

“Right on, Bro.”

The idea that each of us is the sum of our feelings will inevitably lead to irrational outcomes (more of which can be seen here).

But it does something more—and worse—as well.

While we all have impulses and desires, we all understand that many of our impulses and desires are not helpful because we have something else as well: the ability to reason.  That ability to reason allows us to consider what qualities make for an honorable and upright life, which, necessarily allows us to make judgments about what habits, behaviors, or choices are inconsistent with what we know to be virtuous.

However, in a culture which believes people live authentically solely by fulfilling their desires, the use of our reason to conclude that some feelings should be suppressed is judgmental and denies others human dignity.

And who wants to be guilty of that?

We can all understand the appeal in believing that the purpose of my existence is fulfill my desires. I mean, who doesn’t think that sounds good?

Still, despite the insistence of modern progressives that the path to personal fulfillment is being true to our desires, we live in a world in which our desires are trying to destroy us.  We know this because those of us who are indulging our desires most intentionally and consistently are also the most miserable.

So I ask again, what makes you, you? Are you a rational being capable of making choices despite how you feel, or you are defined by your desires?

By viewing ourselves as the sum of our desires, we deny ourselves the chance to be something better.  And, at some point, we’ll discover that we are now convinced that feeling female actually makes it so.

‘Disturbed’ UW Grad Student Angry Over FPIW Video

 

Last month, I interviewed some students at the University of Washington discussing identity in the context of the recent debate over bathrooms.  It was published in video form as College Kids Say the Darndest Things.  The response to this video has been diverse, as you would expect it to be.

Today, however, I received maybe my favorite response of all from someone named Katie W., who claims to be a graduate student at the University of Washington.

Here it is.


To Whom is [sic] May Concern,

I am a graduate student at the University of Washington. I recently viewed a video in which the director of your ‘institute’ interviewed students on my school’s campus and was extremely disturbed. I came to this website to read his bio and was further concerned by the work that he and this group are attempting to accomplish.

Perhaps you should take another view of your own video, 5’9 white guy, in an attempt to hear what these young people are trying to say about identity, their opinions are much more developed and thought out an than your fixed idea of how people are allowed to be.

I’m unsure if you have taken any kind of history class, or learned about how Western civilization has been developed, but white dudes like yourself have been attempting to control and fix identities for a pretty long time. And this video is a clear example of the anxiety they begin to feel when human beings push the borders of their attempted control.

I would encourage you to do some anti-oppression race and gender training, maybe led by someone who in not a straight white man. There are other people in the world that have allowed themselves to think outside your boundaries. Even though that gives you extreme fear, anxiety, discomfort, they still get to be alive, and surprise: their lives and being are still valuable.

The questions you pose in these videos deserve thought, attention, and reflexivity. The way you present the issue of identity is a reductionist attempt at control.

Signed,

Katie W.


The thing Katie and I agree on is that we were both “extremely disturbed” by what we witnessed, but for different reasons.

It appears that merely questioning the wisdom of logic that allows anyone to be whatever they want whenever they want is simply a “reductionist attempt to control.”

Apparently, this is what we learn in grad school.

FPIW’s Zach Freeman to Appear on BBC Northern Ireland

 

FPIW Communications Director Zachary Freeman will appear tonight on Nolan LIVE, a late-night talk program on BBC One in Northern Ireland.  The live broadcast will take place at 10:45pm GMT (3:45pm PT).

If you aren’t able to watch the program live, you can catch the segment following the broadcast on the BBC, and on our Facebook page Thursday morning.

Zachary will join award-winning host Stephen Nolan for a discussion of transgenderism, and give some insight into the first episode of FPIW’s viral video series, College Kids Say the Darndest Things.