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The Evil of Banality
Why do you care about thousands of children altering their gender?
An American who wants to understand how political change occurs in their country must study what I’ve come to think of as the “yawning” habit of sophisticated liberals.
The yawn is an avoidance tactic that feigns moral and intellectual superiority while exhibiting dullness and cowardice. It is deployed when some flagrantly abnormal thing is occurring, which the sophisticated liberal is too sophisticated to defend outright—since to do so would expose them to potential mockery and loss of status—but too cowardly to condemn, since that would risk placing them on the wrong side of Progress.
Here we can observe the liberal pundit Josh Marshall, yawning as loud as he can in response to questions about the precepts of gender ideology.
Marshall has not given much thought to why thousands of people, including adolescents, have suddenly decided to alter their bodies in irreversible ways. He’s not just incurious, he’s bragging about it. Only right-wing, extremist Putin lovers (of course, Marshall was a Russiagate conspiracist) would possibly care about an historically unprecedented, institutionally directed revolt against sexual dimorphism. A 2018 study by the British government found that the number of minors being referred for gender treatments, including hormone injections, increased by more than 4,000% in a single decade … How uninteresting. Yawn. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health just lowered the minimum age for children to receive puberty blockers or undergo transition surgery from 16 to 14. Double yawn.
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“I’d like to know why you care,” the conservative pundit Matt Walsh is asked repeatedly in his new agitprop documentary What Is a Woman?. The academics and other gender experts whom Walsh interviews clearly view this as an effective response to his line of questioning. It tells you something about the moral and intellectual vitality of contemporary liberalism that they simply assume that the people whose opinions they care about would agree there’s something very suspicious and déclassé about insisting on a definition of woman.
When American campuses erupted over the past decade with the ideological manias of overindulged students and overemployed administrators carrying on show trials, demanding racially segregated dormitories, and dictating to professors what kind of material was acceptable for teaching, the liberal pundit borg responded by dismissively mocking the idea that anyone would care. Vox co-founder Matthew Yglesias, assured his readers in 2018 that worry over the decline of free speech on college campuses was just right-wing fearmongering. In fact, Yglesias wrote, in a piece about how free speech was actually getting stronger on campuses, “People on the moderate left really have become less tolerant of racists while growing more tolerant of all other groups.” Isn’t this just what we’ve all observed: the flowering of tolerance in the United States.
“Honestly an investigation into why the Trump administration was so ineffective at quelling rioting during the summer of 2020 isn’t a terrible idea,” tweeted Yglesias last week. While we’re at it, perhaps a second investigation could be ordered into the chorus of liberal experts and pundits who yawned at the riots while they were occurring, declaring they were no big deal, merely property damage caused by an excess of righteous enthusiasm, or “mostly peaceful.”
Defund the Police! Yawn. That was a slogan for activists, but midwit liberal sophisticates are not activists. Rather, they are guardians of a particular lifestyle and its attendant set of values.
The yawn is powerful because it neutralizes opposition that might otherwise inhibit the dismantling of established conventions or the launching of social engineering programs while providing the pundits who downplay the significance of those efforts with plausible deniability. People like Marshall and Yglesias know better than to try and defend the frothing ideas of campus Maoists and gender ideology maximalists, so instead they try to dissuade others from caring.
It works because it recalls the victories of earlier movements. Yawning at gender ideology is a way of cannibalizing the moral victory of the gay rights movement. It fails because the attitude of tolerant disinterest, expressed in phrases like “Why do you care what consenting adults do,” simply makes no sense when it’s applied to medical interventions performed on children.
Large-scale social transformations can’t be accomplished without the vehemence of activists and the complicity of institutions, but they also tend to require the nonchalance of the chattering class, which is often most influential not when it opines but when it yawns.