Ed Driscoll

Weird Science Meets The 'Me' Decade Meets Magical Thinking

We don’t normally delve into much social conservative stuff here at Ed Driscoll.com, but Richard Fernandez has a fascinating post at the Belmont Club on today’s magical thinking run amok:

The Daily Mail describes a California lesbian couple who’ve persuaded their 8 year adoptive son to begin a sex change process because they feel he is really — and will be happier as — a girl.

A boy who started the process of changing sex at age eight has told how he always knew he was meant to be a girl.

Thomas Lobel, who now calls himself Tammy, is undergoing controversial hormone blocking treatment in Berkeley, California to stop him going through puberty as a boy.

His two lesbian mothers, who adopted him aged two, say that they have been criticized by friends and family, but insist they have not forced their son to become a girl.

They say that one of the first things he told them when he learnt sign language aged three, learned because of a speech impediment, was, ‘I am a girl’.

Tammy, now 11, wears dresses and effectively lives as a girl.

Whoever said the Age of Miracles is over is sadly mistaken. We live in a world where it is possible to borrow your way out of debt; produce trillions of dollars out of thin air; where it is but the work of a few treaties to start the sea levels falling by trading little pieces of paper on a carbon exchange; and where blond, blue eyed people can call themselves black. So why should it be remarkable when 8 years old boys start a sex change process to turn into girls?

Do not miss Richard’s follow-ups in the comments section below his post; just keep scrolling. (A few of them could have been stand-alone blog posts in and of themselves.) As David Frum and others have noted, it was in the 1970s that today’s world was formed, and traditional ways of living began increasingly to be discarded. (The hippies of the 1960s, like the beatniks of the ’50s were merely the advance guard; the seventies was when boomer rebellion went mainstream.) In 1976, Tom Wolfe wrote his legendary “Me Decade” essay for New York magazine, in which he referenced a then-well known TV ad that began, “If I’ve only one life, let me live it as…”

Whatever the Third Great Awakening amounts to, for better or for worse, will have to do with this unprecedented post-World War II American development: the luxury, enjoyed by so many millions of middling folk, of dwelling upon the self. At first glance, Shirley Polykoff’s slogan—“If I’ve only one life, let me live it as a blonde!”—seems like merely another example of a superficial and irritating rhetorical trope (antanaclasis) that now happens to be fashionable among advertising copywriters. But in fact the notion of “If I’ve only one life” challenges one of those assumptions of society that are so deep-rooted and ancient, they have no name—they are simply lived by. In this case: man’s age-old belief in serial immortality.

The husband and wife who sacrifice their own ambitions and their material assets in order to provide “a better future” for their children . . . the soldier who risks his life, or perhaps consciously sacrifices it, in battle . . . the man who devotes his life to some struggle for “his people” that cannot possibly be won in his lifetime . . . people (or most of them) who buy life insurance or leave wills . . . and, for that matter, most women upon becoming pregnant for the first time . . . are people who conceive of themselves, however unconsciously, as part of a great biological stream. Just as something of their ancestors lives on in them, so will something of them live on in their children . . . or in their people, their race, their community—for childless people, too, conduct their lives and try to arrange their postmortem affairs with concern for how the great stream is going to flow on. Most people, historically, have not lived their lives as if thinking, “I have only one life to live.” Instead they have lived as if they are living their ancestors’ lives and their offspring’s lives and perhaps their neighbors’ lives as well. They have seen themselves as inseparable from the great tide of chromosomes of which they are created and which they pass on. The mere fact that you were only going to be here a short time and would be dead soon enough did not give you the license to try to climb out of the stream and change the natural order of things. The Chinese, in ancestor worship, have literally worshiped the great tide itself, and not any god or gods. For anyone to renounce the notion of serial immortality, in the West or the East, has been to defy what seems like a law of Nature. Hence the wicked feeling—the excitement!—of “If I’ve only one life, let me live it as a ———!” Fill in the blank, if you dare.

And now many dare it! In Democracy in America, Tocqueville (the inevitable and ubiquitous Tocqueville) saw the American sense of equality itself as disrupting the stream, which he called “time’s pattern”: “Not only does democracy make each man forget his ancestors, it hides his descendants from him, and divides him from his contemporaries; it continually turns him back into himself, and threatens, at last, to enclose him entirely in the solitude of his own heart.” A grim prospect to the good Alexis de T.—but what did he know about . . . Let’s talk about Me!

But back then, the amount of weird science available to an individual was still somewhat minimal — and there was just enough of the previous 2000 years of combined morality left over to prevent most people from doing something entirely irreversible — not to mention doing something to completely screw up their children. A few months ago, Kathy Shaidle linked to a podcast by comedian/talker Adam Carolla in which he described plastic surgery, botox, and other surgical/medical techniques as currently going through the same experimental phase as digital special effects went through in 1990s Hollywood, i.e., some outstanding examples when it all works, and plenty of weirdness when it doesn’t. And like CGI in hollywood, there’s no doubt, in the next few years, plastic surgery and its spin-offs will become even more seamless and difficult to detect — and even more ubiquitous.

So will surgery in general, and combined with a lack of traditional morality and its societal restraints upon behavior, the story that Richard quoted above could eventually seem remarkably quaint.

Presumably most people reading the Daily Mail article that Richard quotes will assume that it’s quite likely that in in a decade or three, the child profiled will pull a Chaz Bono, and proclaim that deep down, he’s really a man — though as one of the commenters to Richard’s post writes, “Except in this case, he really is.” And speaking of Chaz, Newsbusters spots this story, the logical culmination on inviting “him” to go on Dancing with the Stars in the first place to gin up controversy in the big scary Red State hinterlands: “NPR Contributor Bemoans ‘Enormous Unease’ Towards ‘Chaz’ Bono.”

But why is that surprising? As Wolfe and other have noted, so much of what the Boomer-era has done has replaced morality with aesthetics — if it looks cool, or if it looks pleasing, why not try it? (Aesthetics drove the 2008 presidential election, of course: why have grumpy old guy McCain as your president, when you can have hip, sleek, handsome Barack? Particularly when that’s who all of the happy shiny faces on TV, both in the news media and in Hollywood are telling you to vote for.)

But back here on planet Earth, most people have an immediate negative aesthetic reaction to a heavy set, heavily bearded, heavily tattooed middle-aged man. I’m not sure that even Tom Wolfe could have foreseen the strangest turn the Me Decade meeting weird science could have taken: “If I’ve only one life, let me live it as a roadie for Lynyrd Skynyrd.”