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Culture War Roundup for the week of April 10, 2023

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You yourself commented a few months back about doing a 'double-take' when reading some of my recent writing, suggesting (in different language) that I was becoming 'radicalized' on a few topics. One area you've counter-radicalized me is the conversation around falling birthrates in the west, and frankly, I'm coming to align more with the TwoXChromosome worldview that it's just a trojan horse for social control.

Don't get me wrong, I'm more concerned about the birthrate than I was. I'll even grant that surrogacy makes me uncomfortable, though more because I dislike the idea of disempowered people (surrogates in the third world are even more gross) being exploited in yet another way.

However, in the last 24 hours, we've had two comments explicitly shaming people who want to have children, specifically because the way they're trying to have children is aesthetically displeasing to you.

Wait what? Yes I do! I'm all for tolerance, and living and letting live, but you're not going to make me see this as a lovely family moment, and anyway I don't remember signing on to turning a fundamental human experience into an industry when I supported the gay rights movement. Accept the limits of your biology, and move on.

The limits of our biology are changing by the year. Will you make your children accept the limits of their biology and watch them be crippled by polio, or something? As Doglatine put it when seeing the reflexive support amongst locals for Russia's invasion of Ukraine, your position is boiling down to a reactionary rejection of anything the left and/or mainstream like, rather than a prospective, constructive worldview. So with that in mind, I have to ask: If, tomorrow, I invented a way to boost the birthrate comfortably above replacement (or to whatever arbitrary value you want), it's eugenic, it's whatever you want it to be - but it doesn't involve traditional, cis-het men repeatedly sticking their penises inside conventionally attractive cis-het stay-at-home tradwives followed by 9 months of pregnancy discomfort and childbirth - are you going to be joyful that we solved our demographic problem and charted a course towards our brave new future of eugenic John Von Neumanns? Or are you going to be upset that we didn't do it the way you wanted and those nasty degenerates are still having buttsex and dying xir hair blue?

If your answer is the latter (and I suspect for many of the Katja Grace haters it is), then yeah, I have to say TwoX are probably right about you.

Given the utter dominance of the trans ideology, the vindication of the slippery slope argument, and the extrapolated trajectory of these ideas, I believe we have no other choice - Transhumanism must be destroyed!

Still reactionary. Have you ever laid out a positive vision for what you want the future to be, since you don't like mine? I'm curious to hear what you actually want as opposed to talking about those awful people doing things that you don't like.

The limits of our biology are changing by the year. Will you make your children accept the limits of their biology and watch them be crippled by polio, or something?

You two seem to have an underlying philosophical difference that is causing this confusion. I would hazard a guess that Arjin, whether explicitly or not, has a Natural Law understanding of humanity. Curing children of polio is good, because humans are supposed to be healthy. Giving children tentacles and an extra set of eyes that can see infrared is bad, because humans aren't supposed to have tentacles or infrared eyes. If you give them tentacles and infrared eyes, are they still human?

Those who don't understand things in terms of Natural Law don't see the problem. To them there is no way humans are "supposed to be" so we can do whatever we want and be just as human as ever. Curing polio is the same kind of thing as transforming someone's body shape radically, or whatever. To someone with a Natural Law understanding, it is not at all the same kind of thing. One is fixing something that is wrong with someone, the other is creating things that are wrong with someone, insofar as wrong is deviation from what it means to be a human. Polio is a deviation; transhumanism is a deviation.

Similarly, humans naturally form families where a child has a mother and a father, because both sexes are needed to procreate and humans are the kind of creatures that care about their kids. If you don't care about your kids, then somethings wrong with you. If a kid doesn't have a mother or a father, then something's wrong with that family. Similarly, mothers are supposed to get pregnant, carry their child, and then care for it and raise it and be part of its life. If for some reason she can't (if she died in childbirth, if she's an unfit mother, if she is unwilling to care for the child) then adoption can happen, but adoption is not ideal. It's a deviation from how it should be. So deliberately creating situations where mothers bear children that aren't their own, for the purpose of giving them to someone else, is pretty "un-Natural" in the Natural Law sense.

Your primary disagreement is philosophical, that's where the debate would be most fruitful.

I sometimes see "Natural Law" brought up, the problem is that it's not a consistent framework. Anyone can claim Natural Law is whatever they want - and indeed the entire idea of what's in and out constantly changes!

I'm sure women being outside of the kitchen would've been against "Natural Law" a couple of centuries ago.

Can you provide a reason why I should consider Natural Law as anything other than a justification for arbitrary aesthetic preferences?

Well, for one, Natural Law is the philosophical setting out of which all modern Western societies came. It has a profound impact on our current institutions and cultural values, even if you reject it as being truthful. In that particular sense it is not arbitrary but conservative: not just anything can be considered Natural, there is a long tradition that is drawn on. You may think the tradition is arbitrary, but understanding what that tradition in is very useful to understanding where a great many people in the West are coming from, whether they know it or not.

Beyond that practical consideration, Natural Law seeks, at least, to be the opposite of arbitrary. The whole point is that things have a real nature, one that they can conform with or deviate from. That nature is rooted in what they are as a thing, and things are not arbitrary. For instance, Natural Law would say that humans have two legs. If someone is born with one leg, they have something wrong with them. Is the standard "humans have two legs" arbitrary? Did someone just decide it one day? Clearly not. Saying that humans have any number of legs would be far more arbitrary than that.

Most people, likely yourself included, have a lot of Natural Law built into your thinking already. If you say a bicycle is broken, it is because you have an understanding of what a bicycle is supposed to be, and comparing the broken bicycle to the Natural bicycle is how you know that the broken bicycle is broken. The same for a broken leg. If someone asked you whether we should vaccinate a child against polio, you likely wouldn't say "Why? Kids with polio are just as valid as kids without polio." Similarly, if your cat gave birth to a fish you would be surprised and dismayed: if someone told you "Why shouldn't a cat give birth to a fish if it wants?" you would think they were crazy.

Where disagreement occurs is outside the realm of the concrete. We can agree that kids aren't supposed to have polio, and that humans have two eyes, but when it comes to how a society should be we likely come into sharp disagreement. Natural Law comes from the perspective that since humans have a specific nature, human societies have a limited number of ways they can be structured for humans to flourish in them. Just as a human can't flourish if you stab it in the guts, because of the nature of the human body and digestive system, so to it can't flourish if society metaphorically stabs them in the guts. You are not free to structure society, or your life, any way you want to because the reality of what it means to be a human means that some choices are unavailable to you and some choices are really bad ideas (just as it's a bad idea to stab yourself in the guts: saying you shouldn't stab yourself in the guts may be trying to limit your freedom, but its good advice nonetheless).

Now people can disagree on how society should be structured, given the nature of what it is to be a human. That doesn't make those disagreements arbitrary. If someone is working from a Natural Law background then their arguments should be grounded in what it means to be a human. If you disagree with them you can use that grounding in human nature as support. You may be able to defend a great many positions on Natural Law grounds, but you cannot defend any position you like. You can't say that blindness is as good as seeing, or that humans by nature love to be tortured, or that if we pass this specific law people will suddenly start working together without incentive.

Without Natural Law at your back things get more arbitrary, not less. You might argue that transhumanism will prevent disease; without Natural Law I can retort "What's wrong with disease? Why should we value being healthy over sick? Sickness is just an arbitrary category that society puts on those who do not conform to it's expectations." If you argue that transhumanism will increase human ability I might respond "Why should humans have more power? If we have more power we will destroy the Earth, and every living thing on it. We should de-industrialize instead, and fade away until none of us are left." If you argue that transhumanism is a great step forward in human progress, I could respond "Progress is a meta-narrative designed to hide the crimes of industrialists and tyrants, and has no meaning beyond that."

Yet, as a follower of the Natural Law, if you argue to me that transhumanism will prevent disease I may be swayed, for humans are supposed to be healthy. If you argue that transhumanism will increase human ability I might support you, for it is the nature of humans to improve themselves and seek excellency. If you argue that transhumanism is human progress I may or may not disagree, but I would at least agree that there is something to progress towards. You might convince me that transhumanism will allow us to be more fully human than before.

TL,DR: You should take Natural Law seriously because deep down almost everyone in the West, including you, believes in Natural Law, and if you don't then there's nothing left but arbitrary narratives and you become the kind of ghoul who is mad the people are curing the blind because blindness is just as valid as seeing.

without Natural Law I can retort "What's wrong with disease? Why should we value being healthy over sick? Sickness is just an arbitrary category that society puts on those who do not conform to it's expectations."

And we arrive at the bonkers ideology of fat acceptance.

I think a compounding (and also, maybe somehow, complementing?) factor here is that Natural Law is implications in the direction of morality and moral absolutism. In the same way that arbitrariness creates more chaos and leads to negative outcomes for society, moral relativism creates far more pain, chaos, and evil than it "defeats" through its message of radical acceptance. A dirty trick that a lot of intellectually dishonest folks play is to intentionally conflate something amoral with something definitely moral(istic). Take for example the fat acceptance movement...he/she isn't a bad person for being fat! Of course. No one is disagreeing here. But a doctor will tell you you are an unhealthy person for being obese. Unhealthy? How dare you.

But excessive moralism has always been a favorite safety blanket of folks of all stripes. People have always traded social status for anything and everything else for more than they ought to for all of time. Being "right" may, in fact, feel a million times better than being independent and self-sufficient.

But, to quote the noted bard, Tyga, "I don't want to be famous / I just want to be rich."

It sounds like Aristotle’s telos and Plato’s Forms repackaged into a different system. I absolutely respect those ideas I just hadn’t seen that sort of framework before.

I’d argue it might better suit you to go back to the arguments of Aristotle and Plato for the sake of aesthetics and avoiding the No True Scotsman problem at the least. I appreciate the write up and agree with what you’ve spelled out as Natural Law, but I’ve seen so many others use it to arbitrarily justify what they like I honestly have trouble taking it seriously.

Are there any significant differences from Aristotle and Plato’s thought that are unique to Natural Law?

That's an excellent question, and one I'm not fit to answer. All I can tell you is a potted history of Natural Law. Aristotle and Plato are considered some of the first writers to expound on Natural Law, and the Romans (particularly Cicero) expanded on their ideas, particularly as they apply to society. Natural Law got refined further through the Middle Ages and beyond, particularly by Aquinas. A lot of Enlightenment thought was explicitly based in in Natural Law. I'd skim the Wikipedia article on it for more details. Beyond that, you'd have to ask a philosopher.