So he signed the letter alongside the current lightning rod of Twitter abuse that is J K Rowling. Does that make him anti-trans? Well, no. Chomsky is, as far as I can tell, a fairly disciplined and unhypocritical thinker, with one key corollary to that lack of hypocrisy being that you can't advocate freedom of speech for people you agree with and then shut down and censor people you don't agree with.
As in, Holocaust deniers. As in, racists. Homophobes. Xenophobes. Sexists. Whatever the view, the view itself cannot be such that it must be censored. It's a level of consistency rarely seen in anything more mainstream: things that get on the news each day, such as politics, cannot afford to have so much principle attached to them because someone would be bound by their principles to say something unpalatable, and as far as I can tell, that is anathema to modern politics. Do I agree? This is a tricky one, because freedom of speech and thought is one of those areas where introducing any kind of restriction is a slippery slope, both in reality and in arguments about it. Prevent people airing racist views by criminalising it? It's not that this is a bad thing in itself, but the argument is that once a government has the power to limit the ability of someone to say something, it's a simple matter to extend that to, for example, criticising the government being made illegal. As it happens, I neither support full freedom of speech or full freedom of the press, for a number of reasons that really centre around the way that the power of those who possess it can be used to influence people who do not possess power. But I suppose, at the core, that reveals me to be a kind of left-biased liberal who thinks that by-and-large it is the right, the moneyed, the haves, who then use that very freedom to deny a certain level of freedom, not so much of speech but of choice, to those who are the have nots.
The UK government finds itself in a bind. It has to take a position on whether or not trans women are women. It has to come down on some side of the debate, because whatever the legislation ends up being, it will make a difference to people's lives. Today, I saw the hashtag onlyfemalesgetcervicalcancer trending on Twitter. The adversarial nature of the debate is now such that no reconciliation seems in sight, whether that be a recognition that biological womanhood is not the same as gender femininity, or that there is a way for the word 'woman' to encompass trans women, or that trans women are welcome to join the community of women but in doing so they do not instantly become all that women are and have experienced. As is so often the case with a delicate and nuanced set of considerations that run deeply in individuals' lives, the slogans and the name-calling have reduced any discussion to a slanging match. It's what happened with Brexit, certainly. Jeremy Corbyn gave a balanced view on the EU, saying he was seven-out-of-ten in favour of remaining, and he got torn a new one for equivocating. Oddly, this was not deemed an appropriate line to take with Boris Johnson, who in fact did hedge his bets, preparing to pick a side that was the most advantageous to him at the time. When the bloke in Pirates asks if he plans it all out, or just makes it up as he goes along, that would be a great question for Boris.
So, what? I don't have a dog in the fight when it comes to the trans / TERF debate. I don't think seeing two sides as lining up against each other does either side any good. Being kind - loving - is a good guiding principle, but it doesn't always make it clear what the best thing to do is. I did have a fascinating exchange with a colleague who praised another colleague by saying 'he thinks like a grown-up; he's not woke.' Which is an odd thing to praise, in itself, and I suspect a two-fold misreading of the situation. A deep sympathy with the children he cares for, together with a very clear guiding principle of love, the first a personal and the second an institutional quality, strike me as both entirely grown-up and woke.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought