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E-Pluribus | September 1, 2022
American exports (of woke ideologies) are up; history is history, part two; and California takes a misguided swipe at "misinformation."
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Leor Sapir: America, Exporter of the Gender Revolution
When it comes to gender ideology, Leor Sapir at City Journal says the Biden administration is making sure the US doesn’t end up with a trade deficit. Based on a internal memo, Sapir says the State Department is aiming to use its influence to coerce other nations to conform to the US’s current policy on treatment of transgender individuals.
The Biden administration has defined “conversion therapy” as any effort to “suppress or change an individual’s . . . gender identity.” The Blinken memo cites as an authority the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, an organization that, like the American Academy of Pediatrics, has fallen victim to capture by a small but vocal and well-organized group of ideologues, among them Jack Turban. The memo relies on the United Nations Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, to clarify that “conversion” means only efforts to change a transgender identity into a “cisgender one.” Thus, a hypothetical scenario in which a child is put under intense pressure to become trans, even if this means medicalization, would technically not count as “conversion.” At the first signs of a child’s gender distress or confusion, the only legitimate, “human rights”-respecting outcome of treatment, according to the Biden administration, is social transition followed, in most cases, by body modification.
[ . . . ]
Ominously, the Blinken memo defines “conversion therapy” to include not only “electric shock” and “corrective rape” but also “talk therapy.” That’s right: using psychotherapy to help a child in distress about her changing body feel more comfortable in it rather than undergo expensive, risky, and irreversible hormonal and surgical interventions is, according to the State Department, no different from electrocuting gays and lesbians in order to “liberate” them from their innate sexual attractions.
The problem, for countries like Sweden, Finland, and the U.K., is that medical authorities in these places have concluded over the past two years that the evidence for pediatric “gender affirming care” is extremely weak and that, as a result, hormonal and surgical interventions are (as Finland’s COHERE put it) “experimental.” Sweden and Finland are now instructing clinicians who deal with minors to utilize an approach that emphasizes talk therapy as the first line of defense and “affirming” drugs only in extreme situations, if ever. Sweden has banned gender surgeries for minors—surgeries that are practiced in the United States, notwithstanding the repeated gaslighting of gender clinics and left-of-center media outlets.
The Blinken directive effectively turns American consulates and embassies into global “gender affirming” spies. Embassies are instructed to “submit robust information on the so-called ‘conversion therapy’ practices” of host countries “as part of the annual Human Rights Reports.” Jessica Stern’s office will then devise an “action plan to combat the practice across foreign policy and foreign assistance lines of effort.”
Read it all here.
Bret Stephens: This Is the Other Way That History Ends
Bret Stephens of The New York Times weighs in on the hornet’s nest stirred up by American Historical Association President James H. Sweet’s recent article about the trend towards “presentism” when looking at history. Stephens warns against oversimplifying the past in order to help achieve short term political or social goals.
[James H. Sweet’s] column offered some muted criticism of The Times’s 1619 Project (along with jabs at Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito) and warned that “bad history yields bad politics.” It immediately raised howls of protest on Twitter from left-wing academics. Within two days, Sweet produced a groveling apology, in which he indicted himself for a “ham-fisted attempt at provocation” that “alienated some of my Black colleagues and friends” and for which he was “deeply sorry.”
We should now feel deeply sorry for Sweet, who probably didn’t realize that, in the cancel culture we inhabit, apologies intended as bids for forgiveness are almost invariably taken as admissions of guilt. But the larger shame is that Sweet had important things to say in his thoughtful column — things that the reaction to the column (and the reaction to the reaction) now risks burying.
Between 2003 and 2013, a dwindling number of history Ph.D.s, he noted, were going to students doing work on topics preceding 1800. At the same time, historians were producing works that “collapse into the familiar terms of contemporary debates,” particularly those connected to identity politics.
“This new history,” he wrote, “often ignores the values and mores of people in their own times, as well as change over time, neutralizing the expertise that separates historians from those in other disciplines.”
Put another way, Sweet was warning that historians risked doing an injustice both to their own profession as well as to the past itself by falling victim to “the allure of political relevance.”
[ . . . ]
[H]istorians should make us understand the ways in which the past was distinct. This shouldn’t prevent us from making moral judgments about it. But we can make better judgments, informed by the knowledge that our forebears rarely acted with the benefit (or burden) of our assumptions, expectations, experiences and values. There’s a lesson in humility in that, as well as a reminder that we are only actors in time whose most cherished ideas may eventually seem strange, and sometimes abhorrent, to our descendants.
Read it all.
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Robby Soave: California Tries To Make It Illegal for Doctors To Spread COVID-19 'Misinformation'
Despite the lessons of the past two years about what might be COVID “misinformation” one month and a legitimate concern the next, California is working on a law to prevent doctors from sharing information that contradicts “contemporary scientific consensus.” Aside from the fact that “consensus” doesn’t equal “correct,” Robby Soave of Reason writes that such a law could never pass muster when put up against the First Amendment.
"Misinformation" is a highly dubious and debatable category. The scientific consensus has often expressed views relating to COVID-19 that were later contradicted. Official guidance with respect to masks has changed frequently. During the early days of the pandemic, White House coronavirus adviser Anthony Fauci initially downplayed the need for masks. Then, for more than a year, the scientific community urged people to wear any mask at all. Today, it is widely believed that only high-quality masks are offering meaningful protection. At various stages of the masking discourse, what many scientific experts had to say on the subject turned out to be inaccurate or at least incomplete.
The same is true of the COVID-19 vaccines. While they remain remarkable tools for preventing severe disease and death, particularly among older and more vulnerable populations, they do not substantially reduce COVID-19 case counts, contrary to what was said about them in late 2020 and early 2021.
Science is a deliberative process, and medical professionals need to be allowed to dissent from mainstream orthodoxies and challenge dominant perspectives. Patients deserve expert care, but it's unreasonable for the government to compel ideological conformity in this field.
Besides, the state has shown no particular aptitude for discerning what constitutes genuine misinformation. On the contrary, government actors have frequently instructed social media companies to be wary of perfectly legitimate points of view. This happened with the lab leak theory, which was brutally suppressed on social media at the behest of the government, and it happened with The New York Post's Hunter Biden laptop story, which was wrongly branded Russian disinformation by top law enforcement agents, and punished accordingly.
It's also likely that this bill violates the First Amendment. Governments have the power to regulate medical care, but the compelled speech component of AB 2089 would probably perturb the Supreme Court. Even some legal experts who support the bill's goals concede that it will have a hard time surviving scrutiny.
Read the whole thing.
A short thread based on a Persuasion article by Jed Shugerman and Alan Rozenshtein on the potential prosecution of Donald Trump. The article is the first of a two-part series with a counterpoint article due out later this week:
Via Peter Boghossian, a book recommendation - Woke Antisemitism by David Bernstein:
And finally, Colin Wright on personal responsibility in wake of a bomb threat at Boston Children’s hospital: