Tobold's Blog
Monday, September 07, 2020
Biology vs. Identity

I am very happy that I don't live in America. I don't think my political opinions would fit into the US categorization. I would say that I am left of center, which is to say that I support capitalism, but think that it needs an added dimension in the form of unions and government controls to make sure that the fruits of capitalism are fairly distributed. That basically counts as a "socialist" in the USA. However, many of the identity politics of the US political left are completely strange and incomprehensible to me. For example I am for equality, but against affirmative action (two wrongs don't make a right), so for a US liberal I am basically a "fascist".

Reading the news from the USA this week, I stumbled upon another story that is incomprehensible to me, the one about white people claiming to be black. I mean, I understand why somebody in a system of affirmative action would want to claim to belong to a minority, in order to trick a system that discriminates against his actual race. What I don't understand is the reaction and arguments of the "woke" people to this story. Suddenly biology is all the rage, and the identity you have been born with is declared to be an absolute truth.

But don't the same people use exactly the opposite argument in the discussion of gender identity? If somebody can be biologically a man, but identify as a woman, then why can't he be white and identify as black?

The reason I can't understand this is probably because I am a scientist, and I know a bit of biology, and believe in science. "White" and "black" are social constructs. Homo sapiens has no races, scientifically speaking. If you take a DNA ancestry test, the result you will get will be a list of percentages, and if you do several tests, you get different results. Elizabeth Warren has Native American ancestors, but expressed as a percentage, that ancestry is small. Pretty much nobody has one ancestry at 100%. On the other hand, a DNA test is pretty clear about whether you are biologically a man or a woman. Biology is a lot more definitive on gender than it is on race. Which to me means that if we accept somebody identifying as a gender that isn't supported by his biology, we also must accept if he identifies as a race that isn't supported by biology. Saying that race is absolute, and gender is relative, is not only inconsistent, but also contrary to the science behind it.

Trans people are born, they don't choose to be trans. This is part of current thinking even among biologists - humans are analog creatures and don't always fit neatly into the binary male/female categories. A man discovering that they're actually a (trans)woman does not wake up one day and decide that they want to be a woman - they have always been a woman in some ways. It's just that they didn't have the vocabulary to express it.

The concept of "black" is more nebulous, as it's fundamentally a cultural concept, not a biological one. But it's undeniable that there is a distinct group of people in the US who identify as black, that these people share a culture at least in part distinct from the majority in the US, and that they have both a long history of extreme discrimination and also that some of this discrimination continues in the present.

What Krug did was to claim some of the few benefits of "identifying as black" without ever having had to deal with the (much larger) disadvantages. I can understand why people are pissed.
I didn’t say they weren’t born that way, I only said that this isn’t visible in a DNA test. It is mostly related to neurochemistry, and there isn’t a test for that.
DNA is only part of what determines gender. Again, biology isn't simple. Chromosomes, dna and genitalia do not necessarily match (if only in a small percent of individuals). Neurochemistry is still part of biology, and if we can test for it or not isn't the important bit.

Again, gender is biological - but it's a lot more complicated than those who usually harp on about "biological sex" realize - while "race" is mostly cultural. While there are similarities, there are also fundamental differences.
"What Krug did was to claim some of the few benefits of "identifying as black" without ever having had to deal with the (much larger) disadvantages. I can understand why people are pissed."

So in order to identify as black you have to actually deal with the disadvantages? Then what about the rich black people? What about white people struggling with similar disadvantages but a different colour of their skin?
"So in order to identify as black you have to actually deal with the disadvantages? Then what about the rich black people? What about white people struggling with similar disadvantages but a different colour of their skin?"

Struggling white people do not deal with the same disadvantages. They deal with different disadvantages. Life can be horrible in many different ways.

But again, "identifying as black" and being a transperson is not the same thing.
Having read your blog for many years, and based solely on posts you have made, I would, with some certainty, describe your political views as right of center, even in a European context. You clearly identify as "Left" but the evidence suggests otherwise, which is somewhat ironic given the context of this particular post.
You're not wrong, though. Currently in some fields, the Left make up the 'science' as they go along, and their drones in the media will call you a Nazi if you challenge it.

As for your point about transracialism, there was a kerfuffle a few years back: see
“I would, with some certainty, describe your political views as right of center, even in a European context.”

What do you even know about the European context? In Europe left vs. right is still to a significant extent an economic question. Europeans not only achieved things like universal health care, but are also experimenting with even more extreme forms of redistribution, like universal basic income. Me being in favor of that puts me econmically on the left, even in Europe.

The US left has lost their way by mostly abandoning economics in favor of extreme identity politics. You judge whether somebody is left or right solely on how “woke” he is. And then you wonder how it is possible that the USA votes for Trump, and might even reelect him. Hint, it is because the left to many people looks at least as scary and crazy as the orange clown.
Much of Trump's support comes from a variety of elements/factions, IMO "the craziness of the Left (i.e. Dems)" is performance and roleplay for peer group inclusion. Most Republicans fall into a couple of slots: racists (hard or soft: 'slavery was long ago, you're just lazy!'), anti-abortionists/anti-queer Xtian fundamentalists, libertarian "get the 'guvmint' off our backs" and outright capitalists who want sympathetic legislation, judges and regulators. No less a "coalition" than on the left. "Pwning da libz" and "telling it like it is" and "draining the swamp" is part of Trump's shtick and gives cover to the other groups expressing their actual agenda.

As to the pretending to be black: yes, even rich black folk have to give their sons "the talk" and in many ways are not treated much different than lesser well off. Black athletes (and actors and politicians) routinely post to social media about their interactions with the police and prove that it's a race thing, not economic.

Also, IMO, the lower unionization rate makes people identify and socialize with their political party way more than in Europe, and contributes to the weird helplessness/hopelessness that occur is strongly capitalist economies where "dog eat dog" is the rule vs. "all for one and one for all." Having economic rights is a totally foreign concept here. As you say, it's thought of as "socialist" (or "communist" in earlier times.)


Do you define the boundaries of your social circles in life, in terms of who you are responsible for, or to? Do you reserve the right to remain autonomous in that regard, and to be free from external influences that might attempt to force you to let someone inside those circles that might not fit with your own cultural norms, or someone who might cause harm to yourself or family? Regardless of your claim to be left of center, I'd bet that you would still go to great lengths to protect those closest to you from those things you don't support or believe in.
@NoGuff : No, I can't say I have closed social circles or try to close them. I am very much in favor of immigration, and I believe that economically immigration is good both for the immigrant and the country he goes to (it might hurt the country he is leaving, if he isn't sending anything back). For example Germany taking in half a million Syrian refugees was a very good move for everyone involved, and Mrs. Merkel who pushed for it is actually center right. It isn't very often that a party that is touting Christian values actually applies those to immigration policy.

I think the concept of "protecting people from things they don't believe in" is a fundamental error of both the left and the right. Gerry Quinn's Hypatia link makes me sick, because it clearly shows how the left uses mobbing to suppress opinions they don't believe in. An environment in which the thought police actively suppresses any dissent is extremely harmful. And it doesn't matter whether that thought police is the woke brigade or the Gamergate trolls.
Tobold it seems to me a lot of your opinions on what "the left" is seem to come from Social Media. Social media is not and has has never been a mirror of reality. The "left" on Twitter is this boogeyman woke culture you describe seeking to stifle all disagreement. The "right" on Twitter is Nazis, Klansmen. Neither reflect the average Democrat or Republican.

What is on social media is the extremist versions of both groups. The worst of both sides of the spectrum. The vast majority of Americans fall in between.

That's why I never put stock into places like Reddit or Twitter as they don't reflect reality. Reddit and Twitter were 100% sure Clinton would win. They were 100% sure Bernie was the nominee.

The only sure thing about the upcoming elections is Trump has pissed of a lot of average Americans, not just the extremists on Twitter.
@Bigeye: I am sure that you are right that social media are the hotbeds of this extremist thinking. But I don’t follow that. I follow regular news and news aggregators. And yes, the woke uproar about the woman who “identified as black” was in those mainstream news. And a lot of what you call Nazi and Klansmen stuff is in regular news as well, e.g. Fox News. Especially if the guy spouting the Nazi stuff happens to be the President of the United States of America.

Face it, the Walter Cronkite type of news media is dead. Today you have the choice between not reading news at all, or reading different versions of partisan news and trying to divine the truth by splitting the difference.
You arent wrong about how terrible American news is. But the news picks up on and exemplifies the worst aspects of both sides. US media is all about ratings and clicks and nothing generates those like getting people into a rage. CNN and Fox News specialize in this but many other news Corp's arent that far behind.

I personally get my news from stuff like my local NPR station or ironically enough foreign outlets as they tend to be the most evenhanded when covering US news.

It's just crazy to me how far off people on social media are from the real world. The people on the far left swear that the world is doomed without Bernie as the nominee and that Biden is a republican in disguise and the same as Trump. The people on the far right say Biden is a socialist and a commie and will destroy the great America Trump has built.

Both these notions are absurd to the point of being laughable if it wasn't for these voices being amplified by social media and the news.
Affirmative action is a crude tool to counteract systemic racial prejudice. In a perfect world it would be totally unnecessary. Maybe in Belgium is is unnecessary. But pointing out that race is a social construct, while accurate, doesn't really grapple with the problem on the ground. Being black does not actually provide an advantage in America, on the whole. The idea that identifying as black would provide you with an advantage is ludicrous. For example:

Imagine a marathon. Some people are forced to run the marathon with 50 lbs strapped to their back. Other people have no additional weight at all. Some get to run 10 miles and call it a marathon.

Affirmative action lets the people who 50 lbs on their back occasionally run with only 25 lbs on their back in certain circumstances.
I fully agree that in the majority of cases, "whitening your job resume" would be more likely to land you a job (in the US as well as in Belgium). But here we are talking about the specific case of US academic careers, where the general culture is rather left wing, and affirmative action is strongly established. In that specific case, "blacking your job resume" can increase your chance to get a job. Which is exactly what that lady is being accused of.

Look at it that way: If somebody would "identify as black" and get nothing out of it, why would other people be so upset about it?

I think the general problem with identity politics is that for an external observer, "identifying as something you are not biologically" is impossible to verify. Thus for example the discussion about transgender in athletic competition. I am pretty certain that *most* people who identify as something else are honest about that, but there are always a few bad apples giving the rest a bad name.
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