Philosophy

More Doubling Down on Faulty Principles

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 06/17/2015

Remember when I talked about our culture biting absurd bullets? Here’s how it works:

  1. A group argues for something by citing a reason that expresses a particular principle.
  2. Other people point out that the reason given for A would argue equally for situation B, such that if we accept A because of that principle, then we must also accept the absurd B.
  3. Though step #2 is intended to demonstrate that the principle being used to reason to A is faulty (since it equally supports absurd outcome B), instead of recognizing this, those arguing for A double down on their principle and accept B.

Well, this happened yet again this past week. I’m sure by now you’ve heard about Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who self-identifies as black. When the story first hit the news, there was shock and outrage. Clearly this woman was denying reality!

Not so fast, media. Didn’t you spend the last two weeks telling us that our own image of our true self is the true image, regardless of our irrelevant biology? Didn’t you say that living out one’s true self is courageous? Weren’t you lamenting the fact that societal bigotry causes those whose self-image doesn’t match their biology to hide the truth about themselves?

When challenged with these questions, the response... at least, at first... was that the Jenner situation was completely different. And how was it different?

She’s only a “white person pretending to be black... Caitlyn Jenner is not ’pretending’ to be a woman.”

“This goes WAY deeper than that. This woman is disturbed, clearly. Mentally disturbed.”

She’s “mentally disturbed” because her self-image doesn’t match the truth about her body? Because she hid the truth about the difference between her self-image and her body? Because she wanted other people to see her the way she saw herself? But Caitlyn Jenner, who still has the body of a man, is not pretending to be something he’s not (while demanding everyone else pretend so, as well), and there’s no delusion on his part about the reality of his body?

Dolezal sincerely believes she is black. Just as sincerely as Jenner believes he is a woman. Dolezal “felt very isolated with [her] identity virtually [her] entire life.” Mustn’t this isolation also be a result of our society’s bigotry preventing her from being open about the discontinuity between her self-image and her body?

If the principle that “self-image, not biology, determines reality” is true, then it’s true in every case (and race is just the tip of the iceberg). That’s not an easy bullet to bite, but as I pointed out in my last post on the current bullet-biting phenomenon, the human drive towards consistency is strong. Someone was bound to try to resolve their cognitive dissonance by moving on to step #3 eventually, and that person was MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry, who finally asked the question, “Is it possible that she might actually be black?” In the video below, she wonders, “Can it be that one would be cis-black and trans-black?”

Is it possible that Rachel Dolezal is black? No, it isn’t. But it’s very possible that subjective self-image doesn’t determine objective reality. For anyone.