Judith Butler: Enough Already!

If I were Judith Butler, I would desist from giving interviews to journalists. She has done a few lately (with Owen Jones on YouTube, with Slate magazine last year, with the Guardian a few days ago, etc.) and in each and every one of those interviews, she repeats the same thing. And in this repetition, she affirms she still lives in the 1990s. It may not be altogether her fault. She is repeatedly interviewed about her book Gender Trouble that was published in the ‘90s, the occasion being the contemporary dominance of the trans movement. And so she opines on what she said in the book. The trouble, though, is that she opines as if what she says is “subversive,” a radical parole in a langue of traditionalism. “We need to rethink the category of woman,” she repeats in her latest interview with the Guardian (September 7th) as if we had not already done far more than that.

Judith Butler: ‘We need to rethink the category of woman’The author of the ground-breaking book Gender Trouble says we should not be surprised when the category of women expands to include trans women

We have legislated gender in which her main claim in Gender Trouble that sex is “socially constructed” is the heart of the legislation. Not only have we legislated it, but the cultural institutions of this country have adopted it as the new normative order and used their institutional power to enforce it.

Transgender fighter Alana McLaughlin wins MMA debut https://t.co/S4RLM3JEa6 pic.twitter.com/yeBo9YF1xM— New York Post (@nypost) September 11, 2021

From the legacy media, to social media, to tech companies, to educational institutions from schools to universities are all now repeating in unison: “sex is socially constructed.” Butler speaks as if what she says is not already endorsed by the state. Perhaps it is terrifying for the subversive professor of the ‘90s to realize she is now in power? She would have to confront the rebellion from the margins, a place that Butler has endowed with virtue and has positioned herself in. If power was everywhere, as Butler, per Foucault, had theorized, and Butler was now in power, then surely rebellion against it is not just what the theory foretold, but the same virtue would have to be attached to it.

In the same interview, we read the same tired talking points: the bad TERFS are allied with the religious Right obstructing trans rights, shame on them. This is an assertion that goes even further back to the ‘80s. The one hint she reveals in that interview that we lived in a different era, is her assertion that we must fight the forces of “fascism.” This is clearly a reference to the right-wing populism that brought Trump to power. She has sought to update the evil forces I suppose: it is now right-wing populism, the religious Right, and radical feminists (TERFS) who are standing in the way of her subversive claims. This is all nonsense, of course. None of these forces holds power over cultural institutions, especially the elite ones and those which indoctrinate youth to her theories of gender. Perhaps recognizing that her theories are in power will force Butler to look at their impact in the world.

Butler, like many celebrity academics of her generation, was an academic of “theory” with no interest in “sociology.” Theory is elite, it is what smart professors do. They deconstruct the reigning order through their theories. Whether ordinary people are interested in deconstructing the gender order or what the impact of enforcing these theories on them via powerful cultural institutions is of no interest. It is demeaning for the theory professor to look at the social lives of others. Considering the plight of lesbian teenagers who went further than “enjoying the world of they”—as Butler refers to herself in the Guardian interview—by moving from taking hormones to undergoing a double mastectomy within a year, is just too messy. To know that these girls lived to regret it and wondered where all the adults were is even messier. To wonder as to the impact of the disappearance of the “dyke” in the lesbian community many of whom have decided they are now transmen, erasing the erotic place of the “dyke” in the lesbian community, is too “sociological.” Goodness: What is the fancy theory for that?

The whole point, of course, is that those theories are a discourse and pedagogy directed at people: a continuous finger wagging at their very common ideas and the very ordinary gendered lives they live. If they were the source of theorizing, theory one suspects would look very different. To claim that “sex is socially constructed,” is not just to utter gibberish, it is to attack the very common sense of people. It is to make people feel “mad!” It denies the material foundation of the reproduction of the species (male/female) and the linguistic recognition of the fact. It is idealist to the core. Not that her interviewer—a self-described “Queer Historian who edits Transgender Marxism”—would point that out, mind you! Speaking of which, if you were in doubt that this was elite discourse directed at ordinary people, check the credentials of Butler's interviewer. (The more legacy media fills its ranks with the hyper-educated and their rarefied ideas manufactured in elite universities, the more those journalists long for the graduate seminar.)

Butler asserts that “queer for me was never an identity, but a way of affiliating with the fight against homophobia.” If this were a critique of the identity-obsessed trans movement, it was so subtle I doubt that her object of critique even noticed it. The trans movement has indeed taken “identity” from its usual liberal legalist articulation and inflated it beyond recognition, and Butler is right to notice that and to distance herself from it. It is identity on steroids in which one's identity changes by the day if not by the hour. A buffet of identities that one serves oneself with daily and screams for the world to recognize it on TikTok. From group identity as liberal entitlement to individualist identity as neoliberal consumerism.

But, then again, perhaps daily or hourly identity is the only possible cultural embodiment of academic “anti-identity!” Not only was her critique of the trans movement barely noticeable, indeed, a paragraph later, she withdrew it and endowed the trans movement with the best of intentions, “The right is seeking desperately to reclaim forms of identity that have been rightly challenged. At the same time, they tend to reduce movements for racial justice as identity politics, or to caricature movements for sexual freedom as concerned only with ‘identity.’ In fact, these movements are primarily concerned with redefining what justice, equality and freedom can and should be.” A hint of critique that is immediately withdrawn through the usual trick of re-centering the evil Right as the problem.

This allows Butler to do two things: on the one hand, deny the state power her ideas have acquired (the new hegemon), a power that has produced horrible distributive consequences across the board: revival of heterosexual norms (dykes becoming trans men who sleep with women); medicalization of children’s bodies; the slippery slope of endowing children with capacity to consent to “gender identity"; thought and language control that attacks the very common sense of people; and the list goes on. On the other hand, it allows Butler to imagine that ‘90s politics go on; a discursive trope familiar among the militant progressives who have become mainstreamed by the post-Trump Democratic Party.

Maybe Butler is an anti-identitarian when it comes to gender, but she sure defends her political identity most rigidly, indeed, in an obscurantist way. Academics who pedaled “critique” 30 years ago are having a hard time. Not only are they unable to see how their very ideas predict their own demise, but that those ideas are no harbinger to a deepened democracy as they had heretofore claimed. It turns out that anti-identity translates into daily identities of the therapeutic subject; a menu of consumer selection sought for self-soothing; “social construction” as a commodified business plan for the post-humanist future; and radical progressivism which amounts to nothing but a constant denunciation of the people those academics claim to want to liberate. Far from being apostles of revolution, those academics provide the most articulate apologetics for the contemporary war of the elites on the working class.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://quillette.com/2021/09/12/judith-butler-enough-already/
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Exactly.
And of course so much of this ‘contemporary war of the elites on the working class’ is fought thru changing of the definitions of words. Nobody who has to spend time working for a living has time to surf of the waves of ever-changing word meanings.
This was a nicely written piece; it wasted few words, it had punch. We welcome the author into Quillete Circle.

But @claire, we still have the issue that the name of the author never appears in the forum.quillette.com version. I had to follow the link back to the ‘original entry’ to see the name and credentials of the author. Shouldn’t it just take a biy of mark-up tagging in the original, for the author info to appear at the foot of the article here?

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Will fix this issue ASAP.

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Nothing says elitist more than presuming “ordinary people” have no intuitions or agency of their own & thus are hapless victims to any zany idea from the likes of the evil cabal of gender construct professors. They never would have been uncomfortable in their skins or acted on their intuitions otherwise?
Resistance to traditional gender identity has been around a lot longer than these theories its just “ordinary people” weren’t allowed to express them. The fact that “ordinary people” take gender transformation to unhealthy extremes nowadays is more related to the human condition of an inclination to take things too far given the opportunity.
Sure, you could say gender ideology has gained power in certain quarters but its extremes are hardly broadly accepted by “ordinary people” who after still hold the most.

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Note: The collection edited by Butler’s interviewer “Transgender Marxism”, is a set of 14 essays on their Gender Jihad theme. I scanned the essay titles, and I can’t find anything recognisably Marxian about the book. Nor can I see anything recognizably Marxian in Marcuse, Adorno, Horkeimer, or the rest of the Frankfurtsters. Apart form Henryk Grossmann, I doubt the Frankfurt School ever had any Marxians (pre- or post-war). Nor, to the best of my knowledge, did any of these German Critical Theorists ever call themselves ‘Marxists’. OK, I accept the US CT and CRT people call themselves Marxist. But they turned it into a floating signifier, and identity badge. When your badge has no meaning and represents nothing, it becomes nothing more and a badge of abstract otherness. Probably there to give the academic warriors a deeper sense of othertarianism. It’s convenient for them to badge themselves this way because by virtue of calling themselves revolutionaries, they can be so in their heads. Their messy reality of being puppets making fog for the elites is then easier for them to blank out.

Still - Quillette represents itself as a journal for the Intelligentsia - so I expect it to apply standards. Much like we wouldn’t call just anyone a Fascist, despite the Left stamping the label on every 2nd person; so we shouldn’t apply Marxist or Marxian to people who lack any kind of economic analysis or critique of Capitalism. It doesn’t serve any purpose either; in fact it is counterproductive. When we accept their self-identity ‘Marxist’ label, we give them intellectual legitimacy as the revolutionaries they think they are! Whereas the reality is they’re just confusing and gaslighting students (mostly). On the topic of the elite’s class war against the rest of us. It is done entirely through fear. Climate ‘crisis’, COVID-19, WMDs - all present real or imaginary existential threats. All come with neat elite policies to fight the threat. Policies which, strangely enough, leave us in a worse position. The ‘oppression’ of trans people; not so much. This is why their Gender Jihad against heteros is doomed to fail.

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I pretty much agree. It’s not Marxism, but a wolf wearing the clothes of a Marxist shepherd leading the sheeple. And it’s not Leftist, as it is now more and more proclaimed by the richest of the rich, the and finance giants, the modern aristocracy, which sponsors the works of the academic clerisy, while scorning legitimate artisans and petty bourgeoisie. It is really a constructed religion of the Right. But I’ve been trying to say this for several years now, and it seems that trying to give it a label other than “cultural Marxism” is a losing battle.

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Best post I’ve read for some time. But the righties now employ pretty much the same techniques as the lefties. The labels are just just tribal insults – to the lefties every questioner is a fascist, to the righties every questioner is a commie.

‘othertarianism’ brilliant new word. Perhaps one of the metrics for a healthy society is the number of people who like to style themselves outsiders and rebels vs. the number of people who style themselves contributing citizens. Many have noted that MLK wanted ‘in’. Contrast your basic wokie who wants ‘out’ – indeed wants to burn civilization to the ground – in the name of Smashing Patriarchy and White Privilege and Heterocentrism and so on.

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Two superb comments in a row! It’s a good day.

Nice to read someone else who understand this. Look below the surface. Follow the money. Cui bono? Who benefits from the fragmentation of society into warring tribes of Victims and Oppressors? Who’s getting richer? Who’s getting poorer? Ah, for my days as a radical shop steward being denounced – with some truth – as a commie. The war was between the greed of capital and the possibility that united workers could grab a piece of the action. How very clever to divert the left from thinking about workers to thinking about Victims. Divide and Rule.

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Let’s split the difference and call it Stalinist.

Cultural Stalinism does have nice ring to it, I think. And very many people who considered themselves to be “real” Marxists have gone to their graves denying Stalin was a Marxist.

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Marxists kill the Enemies of the People.
Fascists kill their own enemies.
Stalin ordered the murder of Trotsky.
Trotsky 's theory of the Permanent Revolution is a reasonable extension of Marxism.
Stalin was paranoid, but that doesn’t mean his enemies weren’t out to get him.

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I find it amazing that heretofore I’ve never heard of or from Judith Butler, but now that I have I prefer to never hear from they again.

Yesterday I listened to an NPR interview with someone who “identifies as trans”. Is it just me or does that ‘identifies’ convey some doubt about whether she is or isn’t? Perhaps it’s just another word that has lost any meaning.

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