Facts are Stubborn Things

This article is a response to “A Response to Ben Shapiro’s ‘Facts'”

I agree with you wholeheartedly – “the next time you come to a place of higher education to tell us about how our feelings do not matter when it comes to the truth, I suggest that you get your facts straight.”

The problem is that neither of you – not Ms. Author, nor Mr. Shapiro, have stopped to consider what those facts are.

I see your article as being divided roughly into two different objections to Mr. Shapiro’s talk. Let’s take them one at a time. First, your objection as aired in the following statement: “You made it perfectly clear that you thought that the term ‘politically correct’ served as a barrier between you and your freedom of speech, and, therefore, should be abolished in society.”

In this case, I agree with you (though not for any love of political correctness). It’s ridiculous to think that “political correctness” infringes on freedom of speech. “Political correctness” is a social/cultural construct, one that isn’t formally designed and can’t infringe on someone’s rights. For this same reason, “political correctness” can’t be abolished – what would you do, ban English? The only ‘right’ it might limit is their ‘right’ to be free from the social consequences of their actions (AKA – not a right).

facts-areYour second objection is, in my opinion, much more interesting. The relevant excerpt is:

“You mentioned that to her face you called her ‘sir’ and you got upset when she lashed out. You then went on to say ‘just because this man has a mental illness and believes that he is a woman, does not mean that I have to use specific pronouns to address her’ as a further argument to justify your irrational thought about facts being separate from feelings.”

Your article argues that Mr. Shapiro’s treatment of the reporter is wrong for four reasons, which I’ll address in turn.

  1. “You offended not only that woman, you offended me and every person who has had the unfortunate burden of being diagnosed with a mental illness.”

I agree. This isn’t a question of identity, it’s a question of respect. I’m pretty sure that if I went around calling everyone who wore glasses “four-eyes” instead of their actual name, I’d end up being called “black-eyes”.

  1. Having a mental illness is not an identity.

I agree with this as well – there are biological, chemical, and empirical causes for mental illness. The brain is an organ, and all organs can get sick. Sickness is not an identity.

  1. “Being transgender is not a mental illness. If you look at a complete list of scientifically categorized mental illnesses, you will find that being a part of the LGBTQ community does not fall on this list.”

This is where it gets tricky. The claim that being transgender is not a mental illness is, at best, debatable. Consider:

  • Paul McHugh, former psychiatrist-in-chief at John Hopkins Hospital and Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry: “This intensely felt sense of being transgendered constitutes a mental disorder in two respects. The first is that the idea of sex misalignment is simply mistaken – it does not correspond with physical reality. The second is that it can lead to grim psychological outcomes.”
  • The American Psychological Association, while not defining identifying as transgender as a mental disorder, does note that the DSM-5 diagnoses those who “experience intense, persistent gender incongruence” – the leading ‘symptom’ of a transgender identity – with “gender dysphoria”.
  • It’s true that being a part of the LGBTQ community doesn’t fall on the list of scientifically categorized mental illnesses, but this wasn’t always the case. It wasn’t until 1987 that homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and Hysteria was listed until 1980. Whether these, or any other so-called disorders, are really disorders is not as important as the fact that the DSM is highly shaped by politics, and therefore can be seen as less than authoritative.
  1. Being LBGTQ is not an illness, it is an identity.

Mental illness, in your own words, is something you “(are) not proud of. You keep it quiet. You don’t like it, no, you loathe it. You don’t want to own it; it is more of an unwelcomed guest at the party that is your life.” By contrast, “if you were LGBTQ, you would be proud of it. You would shout it from the rooftops, you’d fight for people to love me for the way that I loved myself. You’d advocate for it. You’d own it.”

But is the only difference between illness and identity pride and shame? If that’s the case, then all someone has to do is flip the words “identity” and “illness” in your quotes and obtain the contrary – but supposedly valid – argument. If the only difference between illness and identity is pride and shame, then we are justified in looking at LGBTQ identity as ‘LGBTQ illness’ depending on our opinion of it. If we love it, it’s virtue. If we loathe it, it’s vice. This argument, in its saturation with personal preference, pushes dangerously close to Shapiro’s own failings

I’ll close with a quote from John Adams: “facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence”. You’re right – it’s not about being thin skinned or being ‘triggered’. It’s not even about whether being transgender constitutes a mental illness. It’s about intellectual honesty in a discussion that’s tied to a debate about our very core. I encourage both you, Ms. Author, and Mr. Shapiro, to more closely consider where facts end and assumptions begin.