“Language is the first domino in the war over reality, and pronouns have nothing to do with politeness and everything to do with ideological submission” – Jonathon Van Maren
Monty Python’s 1979 box office hit comedy “Life of Brian” was often said to be the funniest film of all time. Set in the Roman occupation of Judea at the time of Christ, one scene depicts four members of the People’s Front of Judea, who are opposed to the Roman occupation.
In the scene, Stan says “I want to be a woman”, and “from now on, I want you all to call me Loretta”. He says that it’s because he wants to have babies, explaining that “it's every man's right to have babies if he wants them”.
Reg explains “you haven’t got a womb”, but the others support Stan’s right to have babies, as it is "it is symbolic of our struggle against oppression”.
Judith has a solution: that they agree that though Stan can’t have babies, he must have the right to have babies.
Back in 1979, it’s doubtful if anyone, in one’s wildest dreams, could have imagined that the “people’s front of Judea” conversation could have been so prophetic. Only weeks ago, the Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was accused of ‘transphobia’ when he answered ‘no’ to a question “can men have babies?”
Beyond offending a tiny minority of transgender activists, it’s doubtful if Albanese was politically damaged by a statement of biological reality shared by the great majority of voters.
The same cannot be said for academia. Until October 2021, Kathleen Stock was Professor of Philosophy at the UK University of Sussex. After she supported proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act – which would have allowed people to legally self-identify as a particular gender without a medical diagnosis – she began to get hostile criticism from students, and even fellow academics. Masked protesters called for her to be sacked for her opinions on transgender rights, and buildings were plastered with posters demanding her sacking. After receiving death threats she was advised to bring security guards with her on campus.
So what did Stock actually say? In written evidence to Parliament in November 2020 she set out her views:
· Womanhood and manhood reflect biological sex, not gender or gender identity;
· The claim 'transwomen are women' is a fiction, not literally true;
· Sexual orientation (being gay, being lesbian) is determined by same-sex attraction, not attraction to gender identity;
· Spaces where women undress and sleep should remain genuinely single-sex, in order to protect them;
· Children with gender identity disorders should not be given puberty blockers as minors.
Views such as these are held by a large proportion of the UK population and are only ‘controversial’ in the alternative universe of academia.
And so, in April 22 2023, the Oxford Student magazine reported that the Oxford Union had invited Stock to speak. Clay Nash of the Oxford Student Union LGBTQ+ Campaign, told the magazine that: “it’s shameful and irresponsible for the Oxford Union to have invited Kathleen Stock” in what is currently a dangerous climate for trans people in the UK”.
The Oxford Student Union is quite independent of the Oxford Union, which is a debating society, famously known as an incubator of countless UK prime ministers.
So, the LGBTQ+ Campaign thinks transgender is an issue that should not be debated, even by a world renowned debating society. They are not just trying to deny Stock the right to speak – they are arrogating for themselves the right to decide what can and cannot, be heard. It would be interesting to hear how Nash thinks this differs in kind from the persecution of scientists who questioned the crackpot teachings of Lysenko in the Soviet Union in the 1930s.
Trofim Lysenko was a Ukrainian agronomist who promoted the idea that if you change the environment of a crop, not only will the crops adapt to the change, their offspring will also be better adapted.
Though this Lamarckian idea of the ‘inheritance of acquired characters’ had long been discredited, it appealed to Stalin because it suggested that if people were forced to work for the common good, eventually their children would inherit good socialist attitudes.
As a ‘barefoot scientist’, Lysenko was hailed by Stalin as the embodiment of peasant genius. He sneered at those academics who had hitherto dominated genetics, and indeed denied the very existence of genes, maintaining that they were a ‘fascist’ invention. Any geneticist who was naïve enough to think that science was about testing ideas by experiment and listening to alternative hypotheses went to the gulags or was put up against a wall.
Is history repeating itself when the transgender Thought Police deny biology and the right to question ideas?
So far, the signs are not encouraging.
Martin Hanson is a retired King's College science teacher and author of school textbooks, who now lives in Nelson.