Ontological totalitarianism by numbers

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  1. Human beings have a right to freedom of conscience and belief.
  2. Human beings have a right to their own perceptions.
  3. Humans beings have a right to speak in a manner which expresses their own conscience, belief and perceptions – providing that speech is not an incitement to violence against another person (see 14).
  4. The only pronouns one can prescribe to oneself, ethically, are ‘I’ and ‘me.’
  5. Third person pronouns are granted to you by another person.
  6. Pronouns function as a ‘recognition procedure’ in order to instruct someone else how they are to recognise someone, often in the absence of, or in contradiction to, observable cues.
  7. Asking someone to use certain pronouns is a request that they perceive or recognise you in a certain way.
  8. Prescribing pronouns is a diktat that another person perceives or recognises you in a certain way.
  9. Prescribing pronouns and enforcing that prescription is an act of coercion which violates people’s freedom of conscience. This is ontological totalitarianism.
  10. Resisting coercion is not bullying.
  11. Ontological totalitarianism may well be bullying.
  12. Recognition must be freely given if it is to meaningfully function as validation.
  13. Coerced recognition is both a violation of people’s freedom of conscience and is functionally worthless as validation.
  14. Resisting coerced recognition is not an act of violence – literal or otherwise – nor an incitement to violence.
  15. Trans people who are visibly gender non-conforming are subject to violence as a result of the policing of patriarchal gender norms.
  16. Feminists do not police patriarchal gender norms.
  17. Violence directed at people who violate patriarchal gender norms is an artefact of patriarchy, not an artefact of feminism.
  18. Many feminists believe that sex and gender are analytically distinct, and do not believe that the performance or identification of a person’s gender changes their sex.
  19. This is a matter of our perception of reality and a matter of political conviction. It is not a pretext.
  20. Blaming feminists for patriarchal violence against gender non-conforming and trans identified people is empirically baseless political strategy which serves as an instrument of coercion.
  21. People refusing to validate your identity may be painful.
  22. Something being painful is not conceptually identical to it being a moral harm, structural violence, or an act of oppression.
  23. Not getting our needs met is sometimes painful.
  24. Sometimes our needs don’t get met because other people also have needs, beliefs, and interests.
  25. Thinking you must always have you needs met and refusing to understand why other people may not meet your needs, is narcissistic entitlement.
  26. Narcissistic entitlement is the refusal to recognise the needs and interests of other people.
  27. Narcissistic entitlement is the opposite of mutual recognition.
  28. Mutual recognition is the condition of possibility of justice.
  29. Ontological totalitarianism is a political manifestation of narcissistic entitlement.
  30. Ontological totalitarianism is antithetical to the conditions of possibility of justice.


  1. I am incredibly touched by the depth of your willingness to expose yourself to what may come your way as you write about these topics. They are so often taboo, and there is so much reaction to ideas such as the ones you posted. And the quality of your mind is so astonishing to me, how you walk so fully through the very delicate and sensitive lines that surround these conversations (which usually just don’t happen).

    Have you ever had a conversation with someone who disagrees with you to get to a place of mutual understanding? That is what I bank on for any future possibility of humans collaboratin: starting with mutual understanding and then looking at solutions from a base on knowing all the needs on the table and looking for what would best attend to them sufficiently for all to be on board with the solution. It’s what humans do so well when life presents them with challenges that they collectively need to address. We have lost this art. I am, in part, working around the globe to support us in reclaiming it. (See this: http://efficientcollaboration.org/minnesota-case-study for an example of collaborative lawmaking in a less charged area, child custody.)

    I am super grateful for the opportunity to follow your way of being and thinking. I hope one day to have the opportunity to meet you in person. (I come to the UK from time to time to teach precisely about collaboration and systemic ways of thinking about life and how to approach thorny issues.)


    1. It’s a good question. I think in this case it would be a pretty grave form of moral injury, because it’s a refusal to grant recognition of someone’s humanity when they are clearly a human. So it would be a) factually incorrect and b) morally heinous. I’m not sure, however, that we have a right – how would it be enforced – to prevent people having factually incorrect and morally heinous views, providing they don’t do anything to enact those views. Calling someone ‘it’ may well be enacting those views – this is tricky, because we don’t actually have laws about ‘hate-speech’ in this country, providing you are not inciting violence/hatred. Certainly a strong argument could be made that that is inciting hatred, and in the case of the KKK, that would certainly be given weight by the fact that such speech is associated with a whole raft of actions designed to enact those views and to target Black people with violence. And those acts are an actual harm to the people they are directed at, and can therefore be legitimately proscribed.

      I don’t think the analogy holds in this case though. It is by no means factually obvious that male people are female people because they assert or believe themselves to be. It is absolutely the case that a person has an absolute right to hold that belief, that they have a right to enact that belief in the way they present themselves, that they should be absolutely protected from discrimination in doing so, and that they should be accepted *as a trans person.* It is not evident, however, that other people are obliged to share the belief that a trans person is the sex that they identify with – because sex is not mutable, and hence, many of us believe that *it is not true.* Secondly, it’s not clear that refusing to believe a male person is female, is the same type of moral offence as not believing someone to be human. When I don’t share someone’s belief that they are female, I am not denying their humanity – I’m just denying something which I don’t believe to be factually true about their identity.

      Lastly, the refusal to believe that someone who identifies as the opposite sex is, in fact, the opposite sex, would, for a strong case that it is an act designed to incite hatred to stick, have to be placed inside a pattern of actions designed to target those people with violence etc. Much as people like to claim that this is what is going on here – the whole evidence for that rests entirely on characteristing the refusal itself as an act of hatred. It’s entirely circular. The gender critical feminist movement is not in any way committed to propagating violence against trans people. We have repeatedly said that we want their rights to express their identity and be free from discrimination and violence to be protected in law. There is no empirical relationship between the violence directed at trans people and feminist thought. There is, within the trans rights movement, a great deal of energy being pushed into telling trans people that feminists hate them and want them harmed, and that our refusal to believe that male people are female people is an act of ‘phobia.’ It’s not. Phobia is a form or moral disgust or hatred. Not believing female people to be male is not hatred – it’s just our belief about reality. None of this noise about our hatred is coming from us. It’s coming from the trans rights movement, and it’s functioning in order to produce political pressure. It is, in fact, deleterious to the mental health and wellbeing of trans people and I happen to think its morally repugnant. Because a political movement genuinely committed to its constituents well-being would do a great deal better than to keep telling people that people who have an ideological disagreement with them are actually intent on harming them, when we’re not, and we keep saying we’re not.

    2. Of course. I have been reading some egregious anti-semitic material on FB recently, and while the pronouns in this case were somewhat irrelevant (“they” and “us”) they also take on meaning which excludes and attacks. I’d also argue that it’s useful to KNOW which people do not see us as human, so making a rule that YOUR self identification, rather than THEIR identification of you, must be the norm is shortsighted. But of course, it can be quite offensive. ( Most people, to be honest, don’t care much about pronouns; what should be mentioned is that it’s also a class thing, for people without many material concerns, or who have material concerns and displace them onto language.) I’m a rhetorician, and I can find a dozen ways any piece of discourse excludes, or embraces. But language doesn’t change by policing — study the prescriptive linguists someday, and how after 100 years they didn’t get very far. The nearest to it is if moms and dads correct the child all the time: “Jack and I, not me and Jack.” Language changes by making the need for new words arise in a speech community. It didn’t take anything like 100 years to turn the meaningless term “google” into a common verb.

  2. Excellent, as always.

    This point made in a comment could use amplification: “None of this noise about our hatred is coming from us. It’s coming from the trans rights movement, and it’s functioning in order to produce political pressure.”

    That’s the nub of what’s going on. It’s not about trans rights, it’s about shouting at women and telling them to fix everything and screaming if they don’t.

    That’s why it doesn’t matter how often feminists point out they’re not anti-trans, or that there is no evidence of any violence on their part.

    If trans activists cared about violence, they’d be shouting at the men who perpetrate 99% (98%?) of it. They don’t. They shout at women.

    And the other big red flag is that none of this noise is about transmen. Nobody is telling men they have to be “inclusive” to the point of erasing themselves. Because it’s not about trans rights.

    It’s about misogyny without losing coolness cred. That’s also why it’s taken over the discourse in mere years. When don’t people jump on a chance to exercise cost-free misgyny?

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