Andrew Sullivan on the gender-and-sex morass—and the persistence of Obamacare

I have to admit that I haven’t read much from Andrew Sullivan since he left The Dish and ultimately wound up writing for New York Magazine. And perhaps that’s my loss, for at least his recent column, “The triumph of Obama’s long game,” shows an intelligence and thoughtfulness that I should have followed. Back in the old days, I was critical of Sullivan’s Catholicism, and of his adherence to the Church despite its retrograde stand on gays (Sullivan is of course gay). We had our contretemps, most notably when he cursed at me for claiming that many people (including those in the Vatican) took the Adam and Eve story literally. That story was, he said, clearly metaphorical, and Catholics had always seen it that way. Wrong, wrong, wrong!  But I haven’t wavered in my respect for the man.

Or is Sullivan a man? In his Friday column, he takes up the convoluted issue of sex, gender, and their connection to biology. I’ve always been willing to accept gender as a “social construct”, since people can, without changing their DNA, assume the identity and phenotype of a man if they were born a woman, or vice versa, or assume one or the other if they were one of those rare individuals born with intermediate sexual characteristics.

But I’ve never agreed that “sex”, as some Leftists maintain, is a social construct as well. Yes, there are individuals born as intersexuals, but that doesn’t mean that biological sex is a continuous “spectrum” having no discernible modes. It is in fact bimodal, with the vast majority of people born as men or women, identifiable by their appearance, chromosomal constitution (XX or XY) and the gametes they produce—with a few people in the middle. If you plot indices of sex versus frequency of individuals, you get a U-shaped curve with two big modes at “woman” and “man”, and a deep valley between those peaks. So it is with humans, and so it is with virtually all animals (yes, I know there are hermaphroditic species). After all, the very concept of “transgender” people assumes that there are identifiable modes between which people can transition.

In his latest column (there are actually three topics discussed), Sullivan agrees. I’ll give some excerpts from his take and then a few from another issue he discusses: the failure of Republicans to dismantle Obamacare. Sullivan’s comments seem eminently sensible, though they’ll anger those misguided people who think that in our species the concepts of “male” and “female” are purely subjective social constructs. This bit follows his discussion (see below) of how the Republican failure to pass a healthcare bill is a triumph of reality—inexorable moral progress—over ideology:

Speaking of ideology versus reality, there is, it seems to me, a parallel on the left. That is the current attempt to deny the profound natural differences between men and women, and to assert, with a straight and usually angry face, that gender is in no way rooted in sex, and that sex is in no way rooted in biology. This unscientific product of misandrist feminism and confused transgenderism is striding through the culture, and close to no one in the elite is prepared to resist it.

. . . we have constant admonitions against those who actually conform, as most human beings always have, to the general gender rule. Boys who behave like boys have always behaved are suddenly displaying “toxic masculinity” and must be reprogrammed from the get-go. Girls who like pink and play with Barbies are somehow not fully female until they’ve seen the recent Wonder Woman movie or absorbed the stunning and brave decision to make Doctor Who a woman. We have gone from rightly defending the minority to wrongly problematizing the majority. It should surprise no one that, at some point, the majority will find all of this, as Josh Barro recently explained, “annoying.”

I say this as someone happily in the minority — and who believes strongly in the right to subvert or adapt traditional gender roles. It’s a free country, after all. But you can’t subvert something that you simultaneously argue doesn’t exist. And this strikes me as the core contradiction of ideological transgenderism. By severing the link between sex and gender completely, it abolishes the core natural framework without which the transgender experience makes no sense at all. It’s also a subtle, if unintentional, attack on homosexuality. Most homosexuals are strongly attached to their own gender and attracted to traditional, natural expressions of it. That’s what makes us gay, for heaven’s sake. And that’s one reason the entire notion of a common “LGBT” identity is so misleading. How can a single identity comprise both the abolition of gender and at the same time its celebration?

Exceptions, in other words, need a rule to exist. Abolish gender’s roots in biology and sex — and you abolish gay people and transgender people as well. Yes, there’s a range of gender expression among those of the same sex. But it’s still tethered among most to the forces of chromosomes and hormones that make us irreducibly male and female. Nature can be interpreted; it can even be played with; but it cannot be abolished. After all, how can you be “queer” if there is no such thing as “normal”?

Transgender people exist and should be treated with absolutely the same human respect, decency, and civil equality as anyone else. But they don’t disprove traditional notions of gender as such — which have existed in all times, places, and cultures in human history and prehistory, and are rooted deeply in evolutionary biology and reproductive strategy. Intersex people exist and, in my view, should not be genitally altered or “fixed” without their adult consent. But they do not somehow negate the overwhelming majority who have no such gender or sexual ambiguity. Gay people exist and should not be coerced into behaving in ways they find alien to their being. But the entire society does not need to be overhauled in order to make gay or trans experience central to it. Inclusion, yes. Revolution, no.

Before Sullivan discusses this, which as a biologist I found the most interesting bit, he argues why the failure of Republicans to deep-six Obamacare is a triumph for morality, and, Sullivan thinks, for conservatism, as he considers conservatism to be the victory of reality over ideology. In this case, though he doesn’t say it explicitly, reality is the kind of irreversible moral progress limned by Steve Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature: a ratcheted improvement of society from which there’s no return. Calling Trump a “monstrous, ridiculous fool”, Sullivan lambastes the Republicans for Trumpcare and celebrates its demise:

And if universal coverage was unstoppable, the most conservative response to that change was … something very much like Obamacare. It was an incremental reform, it kept the private insurance market, and it attempted to create as big a risk pool as possible. No one argued it was perfect. But it adapted ideas from left and right into a plausible, workable synthesis. And yet the GOP — still fixated on abstract ideology — pretended none of this had happened. Caught in the vortex of their own talk-radio fantasies, they opted to repeal and replace 21st-century reality. And — surprise! — reality won.

Maybe if they’d made a case that this was essential unless we wanted the country to go bankrupt, they might have had a chance. But when they combined it with massive tax cuts for the rich, they were never going to win, except by diktat. So they tried diktat. They lied about their bill; they attempted to ram it through quickly; they suppressed public hearings and any semblance of a deliberative process; they all but ended senatorial debate; they made no compelling public case for the bill (because there was none); they passed it in the House before even scoring it; they tried to force it through by a reconciliation process that was never designed for such a thing.

They tried everything, in other words — led by one of the wiliest Senate Majority Leaders in modern times, and a president with a cultlike hold on his own voters. They controlled the House and Senate and had a chief executive willing to sign literally anything he could call a victory. And they still failed. Rejoice!

Amen, brother.

h/t: Simon


  1. E C Siegel
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    China run by a communist party is less ideological and more pragmatic than an America run by the GOP.

    • W.Benson
      Posted July 23, 2017 at 9:51 am | Permalink


  2. Posted July 23, 2017 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Well put.

    It should surprise no one that, at some point, the majority will find all of this, as Josh Barro recently explained, “annoying.”

    Ever so slightly, yes

  3. Harrison
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Sullivan points out what so many forgot or never understood: The ACA always WAS the conservative alternative. But like every other conservative, market driven plan, once liberals embraced it, Republicans turned on it (hello cap and trade).

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 23, 2017 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      Indeed, the ACA had its genesis in the hidebound Heritage Foundation think tank, its first iteration as Romneycare under Gov. Mitt of Massachusetts.

      • rickflick
        Posted July 23, 2017 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think this point is made often or loudly enough. Bernie Sanders and Elisabeth Warren should make this point every time they talk publicly about healthcare.

        • Mark R.
          Posted July 23, 2017 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

          Unfortunately for us, one of the Democrats’ greatest failings is their piss-poor messaging.

  4. Randy schenck
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    I am not sure that rejoicing is the proper attitude for the democrats or others to take, simply because the republicans have, so far, failed. The entire health care issue in this country is a symptom of a much larger problem that has been in place and getting worse for several years. Congress no longer is required to listen to their voters back home for the most part. They no longer even care about that most of the time because they have other ways of getting the votes required to get re-elected time after time.

    After all, Obama Care (ACA) did not solve the health care it just put a patch on it. Before the health care problem can ever be solved, we first must understand what is wrong with our government and fix that. So rejoicing over failure is not really the reaction I would be looking for.

    • mikeyc
      Posted July 23, 2017 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      That’s right. It’s just a patch and one poorly sewn on at that. There are deep and foundational flaws in our health care system and ACA is little more than lipstick. It is good lipstick to be sure – many have insurance who couldn’t afford it before but even with the really nice lips we pay the most for the the least effective heath care in the developed world. At a time when the costs of housing alone for many (not just the poor) consumes more than thirty percent of their income, no change in real wages in…what, decades, etc, ensuring insurance companies profits are maintained isn’t good national health care policy.

      • Randy schenck
        Posted July 23, 2017 at 10:41 am | Permalink

        So True. And even with this compromised patch (ACA) system, there are million who are relying on Medicaid as their only coverage and this new improved Trump version would slowly kill that. In fact, that is where they were going to get the big tax cut for the rich.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted July 23, 2017 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      I am not sure what is meant by “solve health care” or a “problem” since the ACA is somewhat stable and could be improved (or “patched”) against less coverage/increased costs. That looks like the immediate plan while figuring out how to cover the remaining 10 % that are outside the system.

      If it refers to the larger cost of health care in US compared to all other nations it is likely mostly a consequence of having litigation as a key mechanism as well as better access to technology. As I understand it US citizens are costly and health compromising overdiagnosed to keep doctors and hospitals on the green. Possibly also the conservative private insurance method is a problem on top of that, seems for example UK private pensions are inferior to group pensions due to lack of specific monitoring [ ] It looks to me that litigation is not a specific enough system.

      As for “what is wrong with our government”, surveys seems to agree that US is a flawed democracy as a result of a near century long downhill social process. Specifically an erosion of trust “in government and elected officials” [ ].

      In general, “There has been a long-term secular trend of declining trust throughout the Western world since the 1970s. This accelerated after the collapse of communism in 1989 and deepened after the 2008-09 global financial crisis, as has been well documented in regular surveys by the World Values Survey, the Pew Research Centre, Gallup, Edelman, Eurobarometer and others.” [p14]

      In US specifically, “According to Pew, the erosion of public trust in government began in the 1960s after peaking at an all-time high of 77% in 1964. Within ten years—a period that included the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement, the assassination of Martin Luther King and Robert F Kennedy, civil unrest and the Watergate scandal—trust in government had fallen by more than half, to 36%, after which it oscillated around this relatively low level. Since the early 2000s confidence in government has fallen further, in the wake of disastrous wars in the Middle East, a deep recession after the 2008-09 financial crash, and gridlock and dysfunction on Capitol Hill.” [p15]

      How do you build trust? In near term, since the recession is over and US job market fine, possibly by fixing Capitol Hill gridlock. The two party system is not historically the cause – see other Western nations – but the gridlock problem seems caused by it!? Also still applicable: downsize US military and stop aggressive warfare from happening again – all sides suffer!

      • Randy schenck
        Posted July 23, 2017 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

        When you talk about Public Trust or loss of it by the people as the big reason you are simply talking of the end result. The issue here is money and the great American Lobby institution, some refer to K Street whatever you like. This institution has taken over the political systems of the country. The Congress, the Executive (Washington DC) in general is working for and with this institution. What goes on in the rest of the country means very little. Many of the X Congressmen now run or are part of the lobby. The people are now interchangeable. You are a staffer in the Executive or in Congress one day and in a lobby the next. All of your mention of civil rights or assassinations or Watergate, that is not the issue. The issue is who runs and controls all the levers of our political system. Your vote does not mean anything.

      • phil
        Posted July 24, 2017 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

        The 2008-09 global financial crisis.

        Yeah we heard about that. Australia is apparently no longer part of the globe. 😦

    • rickflick
      Posted July 23, 2017 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      Obama did the ACA as a gateway effort to real national healthcare. Certainly he could not have passed anything better. You do what you can.

      • Randy schenck
        Posted July 23, 2017 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

        I agree mostly but recall it was the republicans who said – no single payer, let the Insurance companies handle it and Obama caved in and said okay. For compromise it is the best we can do. But wait, how many republicans voted for it anyway…none. So what did his compromise really get? A half ass system and no votes.

        • rickflick
          Posted July 23, 2017 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

          “what did his compromise really get?”

          If there is a substantial portion of it left after our 4 years of purgatory, maybe Americans will be eager to move on the single payer.

        • tomh
          Posted July 23, 2017 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

          What did it get them? It got the ACA passed, because the compromises were not with Republicans, but with “centrist” (read conservative) Democrats, like Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) who, at the last minute, struck a deal with Harry Reid on new language restricting federal funding from paying for abortion coverage. They needed his vote too, since it had to have 60 votes to pass in the Senate, and that’s what it got, passing 60-39. Single payer was never an option, even the so-called public option was too much for many Democrats. The myth that Obama caved to Republicans ignores the many conservative Democrats who insisted on all sorts of compromises before giving up their vote.

          • Randy schenck
            Posted July 23, 2017 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

            So maybe cave is too strong a word for you. So he compromised and compromised and he lied to people about what they would get and so on. Some people are still getting coverage on the ACA but a hell of a lot do not and never did. Mostly what he got was more for Medicaid and what is that?….govt. provided, just like Medicare. And that is what the republicans want to cancel or throw out to the states so it can die there.

            • tomh
              Posted July 23, 2017 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

              I’m not sure what your point is. That Obama shouldn’t have made any compromises and passed no health care at all? Millions of people were insured after ACA that weren’t before.

              As far as the Republicans, there is a school of thought that their bogus plans are driving people toward some type of single-payer scheme, and maybe that’s true. I hope so.

              • Randall Schenck
                Posted July 23, 2017 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

                My point…millions are still without any medical insurance in this country and many more with poor coverage. A 10 or 20 thousand dollar deductible is not good insurance by any measure. So I am not ready to throw a party for Obama or anyone else just because the republicans are worse. Subsidizing insurance companies because the rates are through the roof is not a great ending. Better than bad, what kind of a grade do you get for that?

              • tomh
                Posted July 23, 2017 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

                I don’t think anyone would argue with any of that, but given the current state of politics in the country, there are few good options. All you can do is what’s possible in that moment. For now, that’s to kill the Republican plan.

          • Noelcjr
            Posted July 25, 2017 at 10:06 am | Permalink

            Conservative democrats? That is really borderline mythology. Denial comes in many forms, this one is new. What is next, liberal-neocons? Regressive progressives?

    • Posted July 23, 2017 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

      “They controlled the House and Senate and had a chief executive willing to sign literally anything he could call a victory. And they still failed. Rejoice!”

      The Republicans are fine with death by a thousand cuts- that’s how they crippled “Obamacare” to begin with.

      I have been to one of their Conservative Political Action Committees once. Mainly because the published speakers for the event had the speaking times posted next to their names, and they were unusual: some got 7 minutes, some got 13, etc.

      I am used to Democratic events where speakers ignored the times and droned on and threw the schedule off. Not there- they had a gigantic clock, at least six feet long, counting down the minutes to seconds remaining in the scheduled speech.

      And these were all the heavy hitters and top celebrities of the party, too. Not one of the speakers went over their allotted time. Not one.

  5. Historian
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    We should not be too ecstatic over the apparent demise of Trumpcare. The vast majority of Republican senators supported it. But, since they hold only a four vote majority in the Senate, just a few defections apparently killed it. In 2018 most Senate seats being contested are currently held by Democrats. Several Democratic senators are from red states. This means that it would take only a few new right-wing Republicans to allow the Senate to repeal Obamacare (assuming it would take only 50 votes with Pence breaking the tie as opposed to the usual 60 votes). This would not mean so much if the Democrats could take back the House of Representatives. This is a long shot due to gerrymandering.

    The rabid right-wing Republican ideologues will continue their attempt to destroy Obamacare. They must just bide their time until after the 2018 elections. This is no time to rest easy for those who not only want Obamacare to be improved and expanded or possibly replaced by true universal health care. One thing we can say for sure about the right wing – they never give up.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted July 23, 2017 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      Fixing the gerrymandering problem is something being worked on now but unlikely to be fixed at the federal level for obvious reasons. At the state level, some states have or are fixing it – California, Arizona and I know Iowa fixed it some years ago. The bigger overall problem with our system is money and if this is not fixed – very little will be accomplished.

      • tomh
        Posted July 23, 2017 at 10:35 am | Permalink

        Ruth Bader Ginsburg says a case dealing with how far political parties can go to draw election districts to their benefit might be the “most important” the court will hear next term.

        • Randy schenck
          Posted July 23, 2017 at 10:50 am | Permalink

          And yet this should not even be something for the courts to decide if the state legislatures simply pass a law that has been passed in some states. And that simply says that the political party is not who should be making the maps and deciding these things. It should be an impartial committee or group such as how it is done in Iowa. They now have a couple of people with a computer program who can do the redistricting in any state, totally free of politics. This is not brain surgery.

          • tomh
            Posted July 23, 2017 at 11:03 am | Permalink

            If it’s not decided at the federal level, by the SC, every state would have to pass such a law. That seems unlikely.

            • Randy schenck
              Posted July 23, 2017 at 11:42 am | Permalink

              My understanding is that the Supreme Court is only looking at the Wisconsin issue and that would not necessarily apply or fix the issues in other states. It might provide a guideline but who knows.

              • tomh
                Posted July 23, 2017 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

                A panel of three federal judges ruled in 2011 that Wisconsin’s Republican leadership had pushed through a redistricting plan so partisan that it violated the Constitution’s First Amendment and equal rights protections.

                If the SC agrees that it is unconstitutional it will affect every state. The problem is that it will be a 5-4 decision, with Kennedy being the deciding vote.

              • tomh
                Posted July 23, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

                I don’t mean 2011, the redistricting plan was created in 2011, the case is from 2016.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted July 23, 2017 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

          I agree with the Notorious RBG that the pending Gill v. Witford case has the potential to be a landmark decision in the Court’s “one person, one vote” jurisprudence. It could remake the constitutional standards applicable in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

          The vicious, unconscionable gerrymandering conducted by Republican legislatures in numerous states has been designed for a single purpose — to ensure that, even where a majority of American voters nationwide cast their ballots for Democratic candidates, the GOP will claim a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives.

          • tomh
            Posted July 23, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

            It will be the usual 4-4 with Kennedy deciding the case. He has given mixed signals on gerrymandering. On the one hand, he voted with the conservatives to lift the stay the District Court had put in place, which would have meant redistricting before the 2018 election. On the other hand, he made an interesting free speech argument about gerrymandering in a decision in 2004. Basically he said, when the districts are drawn to dilute votes of one party, it punishes voters on the basis of expression and association. By classifying individuals according to political party, the minority parties’ votes are essentially meaningless. He calls it a “burden on representational rights.” He had a lot more, but it really comes down to “viewpoint discrimination.” His biggest problem was where to draw the line between partisan redistricting and innocence and it will be interesting to see which side he comes down on. I’m not optimistic.

          • Randy schenck
            Posted July 23, 2017 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

            In the big states with lots of population, this is all true. But in the plains where every Senator and every representative is republican, including most state legislators and governors, it means very little. And all those little states with no population get 2 Senators, just like the big guys.

      • nicky
        Posted July 23, 2017 at 11:49 am | Permalink

        Not to mention voter disenfranchisement an (well, this is just a strong suspicion) irregularities in the counting.

      • nicky
        Posted July 23, 2017 at 11:55 am | Permalink

        I think voter disenfranchisement is a greater problem. And , due to the discrepancies between exit polls and count, we may even suspect counting irregularities.

        • nicky
          Posted July 23, 2017 at 11:57 am | Permalink

          Sorry for posting approximately the same thing twice. The first post had disappeared, but suddenly re-appeared.

          • Randy schenck
            Posted July 23, 2017 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

            If you are talking about voter fraud this is a story promoted mainly by Trump and is not a real problem at all. In fact the only people screwing around with the voters are the republicans in some state added more difficult voter registration and id laws which are nothing more than ways to keep certain voters from voting. If anyone know of any large scale finding of voter fraud, lets see the evidence? Having a list of voters on registration that include a bunch of dead people does not indicate anything, other than they need to update their list.

            • mikeyc
              Posted July 23, 2017 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

              I don’t think he’s talking about that fraud nonsense. Republicans around the country have attempted, sometimes successfully, to build roadblocks to voting. It is a craven and obvious attempt to make it difficult for people to vote, effecting mostly the poor and racial minorities; people who normally vote for the Democratic party – when they bother to vote at all.

              • jay
                Posted July 23, 2017 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

                Democrats have refused to even research the possibility (I remember a relative years ago , a Democratic house staffer joking about their distribution o of walking around money– paying people to vote)

                The truth is, we are probably the only major democracy in the world that doesn’t require positive ID to vote.

              • Randy schenck
                Posted July 23, 2017 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

                Well, I know that Trump has created this election Commission, headed up by the Sec. of State from Kansas (Kobach). They have demanded lots of voter info from all 50 states and many of them are not providing it. It is pure crap and the republicans only want all this info so they can make it harder yet for people to vote. Remember folks, every state runs their own show on voting and they do not like federal intrusion especially when it makes no sense. The only thing they should be doing is making it easier to vote in this country, not harder. Again I say, if you have any proof out there of real voter fraud, lets hear it. The only one pushing this is Trump so that should tell you the answer.

              • Mark R.
                Posted July 23, 2017 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

                The commission demanding voter rolls is also causing people to unregister to vote; people don’t want Big Brother putting their information on some Federal data base. The commission is probably cheering at this (I assume) unattended consequence.

              • mikeyc
                Posted July 23, 2017 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

                Maybe so Jay, but the Republicans are fooling no one. Voter ID laws are NOT about combating fraud. Any attempt to defend them on that account should be met with the derision it deserves. Those laws are a bald and craven attempt to disenfranchise people they believe would not vote for them.

            • Posted July 23, 2017 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

              I believe that people are registered to vote in Oregon when they apply for a driver’s license. (I know that’s how it’s done in Washington.) Oregon votes by mail. There are still people who probably won’t vote, but it’s not because of difficulty in getting to a polling place or having to produce ID.

              • Randy schenck
                Posted July 23, 2017 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

                Done this way in many states but everyone does not apply for drivers license or drive cars. So how do they get registered to vote?They have to take public transportation to some remote place and when they get there they are asked to provide photo id. Sorry, you don’t get to register or vote.

              • Posted July 23, 2017 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

                You raise a valid point. In some states, registering to vote is made onerous for a reason; they don’t want you to vote.

                However, there’s more than one way to skin a cat (as my ol’ Dad woulda said) in re voter registration in Oregon. In addition to registration at the DMV, you can register online, register by snail mail or in person at the county elections office. You can go to the Secretary of the State’s office. There are sometimes voter registration drives. When trying to “get out the vote”, there are often people who will provide transportation to register.

                In addition to driver’s licenses, there are a number of proofs of residency accepted. Here is one online site that gives info on voter registration in Oregon:


                In the last election, over 2 million people voted, higher than the number who voted in the previous election. About 1/5 of registered voters did not. It was thought that most of these were people not affiliated with a party. Also, neither candidate was sufficiently attractive to voters. There were quite a few Bernie supporters before, during and after the election who remained irate and incensed.

                Do you have some workable suggestions about what more should or could be done to help people vote?

              • phil
                Posted July 24, 2017 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

                One way to get more people voting would be to institute a system like Australia’s: compulsory voting.

                Technically everybody is legally required to register to vote, and are liable for small fines if they fail to do so, or if you fail to vote. It sounds heavy handed I’ll agree but in truth the system is not rigorously enforced and the penalties light. I’ve known people who are not enrolled. Even if you are enrolled you don’t really have to vote, you just have to get your name crossed off then you can draw penises all over your ballot paper and it will be considered an informal (i.e. invalid) vote. Or you could just leave the ballot paper blank. If people were sent to gaol for failing to vote I would have issues with the system, but a little encouragement to get people out to vote is not a bad thing IMO. We are talking about democracy after all. What price do you put on it?

                As for showing ID, I don’t recall what was required when I first registered about 45 years ago, an address I think might have been all. However since then I have never (to my recollection) been asked to show any ID to vote, they just ask your name and address and it is checked against the roll.

                And the system works for the most part. We also have an independent commission that determines the geographical boundaries of electorates. And an electoral commission whose duty it is to collect every vote, which entails that some officers set out weeks before the election to collect votes cast on the day. Some have to get to remote areas by boat. Postal voting is also an option.

            • nicky
              Posted July 23, 2017 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

              No, Randy, I did not mean that. The virtually inexistent ‘voterfraud’ is used as an excuse to carry out actual electoral fraud on a massive scale. I was referring to ‘Crosscheck’, ‘provisional’ (and other discarded) votes and the like.
              On a funny note: apparently Mr Bannon should be suspected of ‘voterfraud’, since he forgot to de-register when he left Florida.

  6. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    The appearance Andrew Sullivan made on Sam Harris’s “Waking Up” podcast just before the 2016 election (entitled “The Lesser Evil”) — which covered some of the same ground as Sullivan’s New York magazine piece — was flat-out the best discussion of the topic by a pair of intellectuals I heard during the entire election cycle.

  7. prinzler
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Perhaps the left’s ideological abuses come from its idealism that we should not just conserve – as conservatives must – what is, but we can become anything we think is better.

    We must remake ourselves and our society into something better, but we can’t remake reality. There’s the tension, and we can see each side’s mistakes trying to negotiate it.

    • mikeyc
      Posted July 23, 2017 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      The abuse in any ideological position is always the ideology itself.

      • prinzler
        Posted July 23, 2017 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

        Yes. It’s the curse of absolutism and the failure to see both (or more) sides of the coin.

        And I believe that absolutely! ; )

    • phil
      Posted July 24, 2017 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

      I seems to me that a fatal flaw encompassed in the basic conservative idea is the notion that society doesn’t change, and/or that it has already achieved its optimal state. If that were true then only the aristocracy could be allowed to vote, and slavery would still be widespread.

      And I find Sullivan’s description of conservatism to be out of whack, and if anything the opposite of conservative. How can conservative be progressive?

      • phil
        Posted July 24, 2017 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

        Here it is:

        “Pragmatism, moderation, incrementalism, reform: These might be conservative virtues in principle…”

        Incrementalism? Reform? Conservative virtues?

        I am not questioning their virtue, just “conservative virtues in principle”.

  8. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Sullivan’s analysis is timely for me since it deepens and possibly ground an analysis I was attempting.

    I have not really considered nationality in a multiethnic world but the fact remains that we have nations. First I accepted the view of a scholar of international politics – possibly misunderstanding the point – that citizenship was the robust system (in democracies). But often people that have citizenship disappoint me by describing themselves as “not a Swede”, similarly I disappointed a Mexican born that after studies here feels like a naturalized Swede by the clash with my prejudice. The better system, I now think, is to realize that an underlying robust distribution has an important overlay of cultural roles. In that sense perhaps citizenship is the lawful distribution analogy to sex characteristics, while national character – roles – is the, re Sullivan, inclusive distribution analogy to gender roles.

    The observation that there is a communicative coexistence – a “link” – is of course important! If we have relative morality as the inclusive overlay onto the observed universal moral reactions likely given by biology, or personal purpose as the inclusive overlay onto observed lawful nature, does not mean that human rights are “no morals” or secularism is “no purpose” as the religious wants to have it.

  9. cherrybombsim
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    “”After all, how can you be “queer” if there is no such thing as “normal”?””

    Ahh, for the good old days when you could be an “avowed” homosexual. Nowadays, you can even really get away with “avowed” atheist. You have to go for something like communism

    • jay
      Posted July 23, 2017 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      Frankly, it’s been the complete divorce from reality of the transgender nonsense that put the final nail in my rejection of the American left after being a lefty for years. When the government started mandating that any guy who decided he’s a woman is REALLY TRULY a woman , and basically classified my legitimate disbelief as harassment, I realized this is just too nutso.

      The scene in 1984 where Winston is repeatedly told that 2+2=5 summarizes this exactly.

      • tomh
        Posted July 23, 2017 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

        “When the government started mandating that any guy who decided he’s a woman is REALLY TRULY a woman ”

        When did the government mandate that?

      • pali
        Posted July 23, 2017 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

        “When the government started mandating that any guy who decided he’s a woman is REALLY TRULY a woman , and basically classified my legitimate disbelief as harassment, I realized this is just too nutso.”

        How has this been done? Regressive Lefties may well have gone too far in these regards, but I’m not aware of their silliness having made been made into law anywhere.

        Also, are you aware that transgenderism is far more complicated than a “guy who decided he’s a woman”? It’s more along the lines of a person being born with a woman’s brain in a man’s body (or vice versa, and yes, this is what neurological studies of trans people find rather than ideology) – there is a biological disconnect within the individual’s body, and it’s transitioning that is the proper treatment for that disconnect. Trans people don’t seem to have any more choice than gay people in their status.

        • James Walker
          Posted July 23, 2017 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

          Well, jay may be referring to the recent bill C-16 passed in Canada, which protects “gender identity”. Some of the opposition to the bill came not only predictably from the right but also from women’s groups who are concerned about the infiltration of women-only spaces (like women’s shelters) by men who have not fully transitioned physically.

          I have seen a study suggesting that the brains of transgender individuals differ from those of non-transgender individuals, but I’m not familiar with any studies that have shown that transgender individuals have a “woman’s brain” in a man’s body (or vice versa). (I’m not even aware that there are such things as “women’s brains” and “men’s brains”.)

          • pali
            Posted July 23, 2017 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

            As with all things neurological, it’s complicated. There are many known differences between male and female brains, but they are general rules rather than absolutes – you’ll find plenty of exceptions to most of them. The link below lists a number.


            Trans people don’t really have either male or female brains, but their own, and their own will often show a number of similarities with their experienced gender that a “normal” brain of their natal gender will not. The article below lists some.


            The reason I phrased my last post as I did was because, in my experience, when discussing the topics with someone whose starting position is “this person decided to be X”, nuance is not the best argument of the hour – right away the point needs to be made that this is biology, not choice, and that it is often exceedingly difficult for the person dealing with it. Frankly, I wish this distinction didn’t have to be made – what’s wrong with a man deciding he wants to be a woman? – but for many it does.

            As for C-16, as I understand things all it did was add gender identity to the list of matters that cannot be discriminated against, as well as opening it up as a category of hate crimes. Nothing in it qualifies Jay’s disbelief in trans women as harassment, unless he’s, you know, harassing them about it.

  10. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    the kind of irreversible moral progress limned by Steve Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature: a ratcheted improvement of society from which there’s no return.

    It’s been a while since I read Pinker’s book, but my recollection is that he was careful not to make any claims of irreversibility. Moral progress can be and has been reversed many times in history; you yourself have recently lamented the reversal going on in Turkey right now.

    Even here in the US, it’s hard to see the replacement of Obama by Trump as “a ratcheted improvement of society”.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted July 23, 2017 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      Oops; blockquote fail. The first paragraph is a quote from Jerry’s post.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 23, 2017 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I think it’s often been two steps forward, one step back — and there’s no guarantee that, as on a Craftsman socket wrench set, the ratchet won’t be switched to move monotonically in the opposite direction.

    • Historian
      Posted July 23, 2017 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      I agree that moral progress is not irreversible. Hitler came close to winning. It took the combined power of the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain to defeat him. After his defeat, for several decades communism seemed a real threat. Today, fascist-like movements are popping up around the world. One can look back at the past few centuries and reasonably conclude that the general moral trend has been generally upwards (with a few bumps in the road)while acknowledging that the world was very lucky. But, one must be aware that such progress can be reversed and such a reversal could last a long, long time.

      • Randy schenck
        Posted July 23, 2017 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

        We in this country with the biggest military industrial complex the world has ever seen will still collapse under our own stupidity. Generally, nations collapse from within.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted July 23, 2017 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

          If someday a future Gibbon writes the history of our decline and fall, he will I think see Trump as the American amalgam of Caligula, Nero, and Constantine.

          • Randy schenck
            Posted July 23, 2017 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

            You may be right on that one. Right now, just to temporarily put the brakes on, all of our hopes are with Mueller and his team. And even if they are successful and they get this Russian puppet out, we still have to see what the next election brings.

  11. Posted July 23, 2017 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Biologists would be able to tell me if all, or most, life forms develop notions of what the range of “normal” is in their species like humans do. Is a human with a tail normal? Is a person with webs between the fingers? Is a male
    who feels like a female, or a female who feels like a male? Is a black man who feels like he’s white Italian or a white woman who defines herself as black? Are autistics (or the opposite, people with too much oxytocin)not normal? Sometimes I think we are far too rigid in determining what section of the human bell curve we choose to define as normal. It would be a terrible world if we all had to be the exact same model of woman or man. Live and let be!

    • mikeyc
      Posted July 23, 2017 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      In a Gaussian sense, tails and webbed fingers are not normal, falling as they do, far off the mean. You’re asking to use the word as a value judgement. In this sense, tails on humans are not normal, but humans with tails can be.

      • mikeyc
        Posted July 23, 2017 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

        Sorry about all those unnecessary and wrongly placed commas. No excuse exceot inattention.

  12. Inigo Montoya
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    What you have to say on gender is a lot more sensible than what he has to say to be perfectly honest. It’s disappointing to see an obviously intelligent person trot out the old “boys will be boys” nonsense. You can justify *anything* with that argument.

    • mikeyc
      Posted July 23, 2017 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

      Yeah but he has a point. What many call “toxic masculinity” isn’t toxic, especially among young boys. Many parents of young boys in public schools know exactly what I’m talking about. I think that is what Sullivan is referring to.

      • Inigo Montoya
        Posted July 23, 2017 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

        I don’t have children (yet). Could you elaborate?

  13. eric
    Posted July 23, 2017 at 8:57 pm | Permalink


    I’ve always been willing to accept gender as a “social construct”…

    …But I’ve never agreed that “sex”, as some Leftists maintain, is a social construct as well.

    I suspect a lot of language policing going on here by the regressive left. For instance, I bet if we said “okay, we’ll give you both the words sex and gender…so now what other word do we use to distinguish individuals with XY vs. XX chromosomes?” they wouldn’t give you a cogent answer. For them, (IMO), they understand there’s a real physical and biological difference between people in terms of chromosomal makeup or the presence of testes vs. ovaries. THey just don’t want anyone labeling it. Like if we stop talking about it, it will stop existing. Pure bullflop, of course, but it’s a pretty old and common strategy. “Language policers” have been doing it for decades. The conservative types keep trying to ban sexual references from texts and stories thinking that doing so will stop people from having sex. The liberal policers try to ban words like fat, ugly, race labels, and now this, under the hopes that if nobody says them the ideas will disappear.

    They’re both utterly idiotic.

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