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Anglospherical: The Region Report on the Anglosphere - February 2023

    2023-03-23
    Time to read: 12 min
    Like a Sturgeon?

    On the 15th of February, the First Minister of Scotland, Mrs Nicola Sturgeon, announced her resignation. The First Minister would be the equivalent of a prime minister if Scotland were independent. The occasion of the First Minister’s resignation was a bill at the leading edge – or the unfinished hem – of liberalism: trans issues, this time including teenagers. On December 22nd 2022, Scotland, using its devolved power in Holyrood, passed the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, popularly known as the ‘Gender Self-ID Law’. Westminster vetoed the bill, the first time it has done so since it devolved powers back in the age of Tony Blair. The law is now back to Holyrood to decide whether to pursue the matter further. Mrs Sturgeon called the veto ‘[a]n attack on Scottish democracy’.

    While it is an open question whether the dispute about this law was also the cause of her resignation, it should not be disputed that it calls into question the hierarchy of contemporary liberal political morality when a law ostensibly affecting so few can precipitate a change of leader and perhaps even a crisis of state.

    The Gender Self-ID law removes the question of determining gender (re-)identification from the medical world of psychiatry, or the medically proximate world of psychology. At present, at least one of those professions must be consulted to recommend a change in gender from the gender assigned at birth. Now applicants would be able to receive a government certificate confirming their self-declared gender after making ‘a statutory declaration that they have lived in the acquired gender for at least three months before applying (six months for 16 and 17 year olds).’ (Official information on the law: https://www.gov.scot/news/gender-recognition-reform-bill-passed/)

    Almost as if Holyrood knows this process is rife for abuse, making a false application for a gender certificate would be a criminal offense carrying the hilariously draconian punishment of ‘imprisonment for up to two years or an unlimited fine or both.’ This offense would thus carry one of the heaviest possible penalties in proportion to the character of the crime.   

    Then there is the intrusive enforcement regime. Consider for a moment the absurdities of asking the police or a judge, or some civil bureaucrat to determine whether someone has been ‘living in the acquired gender’ for a certain period of time. Would this necessitate asking for photos of them in men’s or women’s clothes, with men’s or women’s haircuts, posing in men’s or women’s ways? Will suspected offenders have their drawers searched (clothing, that is)? Will civil servants be checking their preferred pronouns? In each case, wouldn’t such an inspection regime solidify traditional sex differences as currently expressed in the genders of male and female,  rather than allowing for some flexibility or fluidity? That is, won’t this instance of a legislated trans issue once again entrench the bad old regime of ‘either male or female’? Chalk that up to another unintended irony of legislating hyper-liberalism.

    The legal issues are also not insubstantial, and this rather than the threat of an inspection regime seems to be why Westminster vetoed the bill. Two problems that are easy to imagine are ‘gender tourism’ and the disharmony of laws. The Gender Self-ID law would allow those who were born in Scotland or who are resident in Scotland to take advantage of its provisions. So, a person who was born in Scotland but is living in London would be eligible to have her gender re-assigned by Scotland. However, that would not be recognized in Wales, Northern Ireland, or England. Within the UK, someone would then, say, be considered a man in one place and a woman everywhere else.

    Minority rule by proxy

    The numbers are hard to determine accurately, but trans persons are unlikely to rise even to a quarter of one percent of any total population. If you disagree, I challenge you to ask yourself: How many trans persons have I ever met in person, in my entire life? Unless you are living near an enclave like the Village or a university, or are currently enrolled in a girls school where bullying is enforcing transitions as a fashion, it is unlikely that you will be able to count even two known trans persons (I have met exactly two, one who is a dear colleague and one who is a frenemy). You have almost certainly met more dwarves or Eritreans or yogis or koalas in your life than trans persons.

    That anything related to such a tiny minority should become a matter of state – a minority which is neither enslaved nor persecuted (more than by mere slurs), which is not socially excluded (e.g. untouchables in India’s now ‘forbidden’ caste system) or literally the royal family itself, illustrates that a side-show has replaced the main attraction at the political circus. Our purported leaders – first cultural and now political – have hoodwinked us into thinking that one’s opinion on the identity of the tiniest group of sexual eccentrics should rise to the level of a litmus test of moral acceptability (the judgement of J.K Rowling by the Guardianistas) or national interest, as it now is in the UK.

    We can at least find comfort in this not being the first time. Two near parallels easily come to mind, one satirical and one historical. Jonathan Swift, in Gulliver’s Travels (1726), wrote of the conflict between the ‘Big-Endians’ and their enemies, whom we might call the ‘Little-Endians.’ The two sects are divided about dread matters, chiefly which end of the boiled egg one should break, the big end or the little end. By the time we are introduced to the action, it has already become a matter of state and of international relations. For personal reasons, the emperor has sided with the Little-Endians and forbidden breaking boiled eggs from the big end. But there are those who persist, and now these Big-Endians must be punished for their obstinance.  If the parallel to Scotland is not by now clear, then you are almost certainly a Little-Endian sympathiser!

    Historically, empires from China to Persia, and some phases of the Roman Empire, rose and fell by the interests and the intrigues, advice and admonitions of highly-placed sexual eccentrics that we call ‘eunuchs.’ It is a curiosity that these men made safe by castration should have attracted such fascination and influence, court prestige and power over emperors. But the historical record is clear and nearly unbelievably stranger than fiction. A chief difference between then and now is that rule by eunuchs was nearly direct rule by specific persons or conspiracies of persons from stations proximate to the purported rulers. With the exception of the good doctor-admiral Rachel Levine, the current turning of the body politic to the presumed interest of a few transexuals is a curious case of the rule of a minority by proxy. It is yet unclear in whose interest such rule is conducted.

    From Brexit to ‘Regrets it’?

    On the 10th and 11th of February a secret cross-party meeting was held at a manor house in Oxfordshire. Its purpose was to assess Brexit. Top politicians and business leaders gathered to ‘confront the failings of Brexit,’ in the words of the Guardian. (Report of the meeting: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2023/feb/11/revealed-secret-cross-party-summit-held-to-confront-failings-of-brexit).

    Island life in sovereign Britain since Brexit hasn’t been all piña coladas and palm trees accompanied by soothing taps of the steel drum (See my The UK: The DDR of Europe?). It turns out that governing a sovereign state involves actual work. Contemporary Brits are notoriously work shy, especially when it involves service work. That’s what all the Poles and Bulgarians were for, right? To do the work that we didn’t want to do? As for public service work, Brussels could govern, whilst we collect vacation days to visit our second homes in the countryside, or in France, or for short lashes in Ibiza, depending on whether we are suitably upper or middle class, or installed somewhere downstream, respectively.

    Back when certain Americans were MAGA-fied, going around making everything great, and after my brief flirtation with Make America Great Britain Again (MAGBA), I suggested that one could do little better on these isles than to Make Great Britain England Again. Alas, the acronym MGBEA is not fit for a baseball cap. This is not a pitch for English nationalism. Quite the contrary: it is an appeal for the revival of a common political culture that is not merely a negation of things past. There is a serious issue of the devolution of a common political culture as the rule has shifted from the Old Establishment to the New Diversity. The recent celerity of change is a continuation of longstanding changes afoot in British culture and society. Britain has spent the better part of two centuries ridding itself of its traditional class system, but without replacing it with another suitable leadership class. It has replaced honour with infamy, or ‘celebrity’ as it is now called, and privilege with popularity, or ‘democracy’ as it is now called.

    The old class system separated out the rulers from the workers with a steady supply of middle class shop-keepers and parsons nested neatly in between. It was certainly often unjust at the individual level, as any system with strong, multigenerational social barriers must be. But it was also both stable and prosperous. Britain was the first great land to industrialize. It was also progressive in the original sense of that word. Between around 1700 and 1920, each generation in its maturity was able to look at the generation preceding it both as the forebear of itself and as something surpassed in many ways by its own achievements. There was continuity, and there was openness to well-considered change.  

    This allowed two famous modern conservatives, Edmund Burke and William Gladstone, to be labelled in their own time as ‘liberal’, whilst a Jewish convert was able to lead government as a Conservative without even needing to change his surname, ‘Disraeli,’ into something more soothing to English Christian ears. Together with its continuity, it was a society not without opportunities for single-generational social mobility.  You or I would not want to live there ourselves, perhaps especially not as a woman. But that is not really the point. We are not in danger of becoming Victorians or of living in the nineteenth century. We are in danger of becoming nothing in particular. And nothing is something to be afraid of. The social and political right that should be sought now might be called a ‘right to continuity’ (a concept which I believe I have pinched from a conversation with Prof Rémi Brague).  

    Political nothingness is not mere absence, for it is not total. It is the absence of a defined form applied to the stuff that is there. It is like water or earth or air or fire without the boundaries making them, respectively, into this lake, that island, an atmosphere, or a sun around which a habitable planet rotates. At the limits of our imagination, it is the Scholastic ‘prime matter.’ And so, absent an Old Establishment to impress itself on politics, it is captured and formed from time to time by this or that special interest of the New Diversity.  

    The new ‘British’ ruling class is schizophrenic, split between the neo-technocrats (of whatever stripe), London-directed financial interests, and a cohort of new participants that are hard to gauge, such as Islamic action groups or age-cohort activists or the Green lobby. None of them have yet become a standing interest, such that they could reliably provide the motif that connects society to politics or the reverse. They tend to be like punctuation that interrupts or alters the meaning of the other groups but does not add its own sense. And neither the technocrats nor the financial interests provide substantial ends for society or politics: the one ‘manages’ whilst the other ‘enriches.’

    All the while, the remnants of the old order have not wholly disappeared – whether trade unionists, aristos, churchmen, chamber of commerce types, civil servant supplicants, the military, and the champions of this or that region or native people (e.g. Welsh nationalists) – but they are by now pushed to the very back of the backbenches.  

     

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