Controversy … as an abstact concept, how can we describe it? In other words, what form does it take, regardless of its content?
As a form, controversy is that which can only be spoken about softly. If it is broached explicitly, it meets opposition. It invites scorn and hatred on one side, apologetics on the other. Even if the promoter of a controversial topic ‘carries the day’ he must still guard against criticism. His enemies wait in the long grass, furious and indignant. Controversy can scupper friendships, and poison waters. Often it doesn’t engender deadly conflict as that would be something more than mere controversy. But it certainly would prompt murderous thoughts amongst antagonists, regardless of their actual intentions.
Such is the basic form of a controversy. Its content may take on many varieties. 100 years ago, bare female flesh was controversial in Western countries. Now heavily covered women are more likely to excite controversy. What we call ‘immorality,’ e.g. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, used to be controversial, now it’s normal. Even the very idea of universal health care or welfare stoked controversy in many countries 100 years ago. Now, cutting funds for public services engenders emotional chaos in public discourse.
An exhaustive list of all controversies throughout time and place would be impossible. As society changes, so do what is considered controversial. Yet historically, controversies have usually involved some questioning of moral standards. All the philosophers and theologians, professional or amateur, likely still took many forms as ‘givens.’
I wonder what these great philosophers and theologians would make of the controversy surrounding Jordan Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto. Peterson has been accused of making statements that “are leading transgender students, faculty and staff to feel unwelcome and unsafe on campus.” His crime?: refusing to use genderless pronouns. No doubt Aquinas or Averroes would depict us as morons.
Peterson says ‘he’ if he sees or refers to a male and ‘she’ if he sees or refers to a female. He is supposed to use words like ‘they,’ instead of provocative words like ‘her’ or ‘him’ because, apparently, transgender students and staff feel threatened and are in fear of their lives because of Dr. Petersens ‘malice.’
My emotional reaction to this? I suppose it wasn’t a total shock. Thete are more and more of these facile campaigns which attack the well-established idea that fundamental differences exist between men and women. However, this would be at the extreme of what I thought was possible, even by the limbo-bar standards we’ve gotten used to.
On more rational grounds, I’ll make the following points. First of all, here was me thinking that transgenders still were male or female. Isn’t that the whole point of transgenderism? After all, there are only two genders, so even if someone swaps horses in mid-stream, they still remain in one of two boxes. Secondly, a campaign to silence people differentiating between sexes must be carried to its ultimate conclusion. Love songs or poems which identify a male or female object of devotion will have to be censored if Petersen is muzzled (She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah will become They love you, yeah, yeah, yeah) or we will have to continually apologise for artists who were ‘genderist.’ Thirdly, and this is the most important point, the distinctions between men and women which are vital to the propagation of the human species within Canada, or any other country, will be eroded. This is ridiculous because human beings are actually split into male and female pairs. It’s a fact. But we can’t discuss it any more. What implications does that have for matters of sheer survival?
When a topic is so controversial it can’t be talked about, we have reached the pinnacle of controversy. When a topic is suppressed for fears it may spark controversy, that subject is a ‘taboo.’ We are not there yet, but the categoric typology of gender is emerging as a taboo, as something that can’t be spoken of or acknowledged. Once sex becomes a full-blown taboo, men and women will have to live in this strange, twilight zone whose guardians tell them their sensible notions about sex are ‘socially constructed’ … unless more sensible individuals like Peterson conscientiously object.