Free speech includes the right of people to say silly, or even hateful, thingsby Deirdre McCloskey / August 13, 2020 / Leave a comment
A few weeks ago, I was asked to sign the Harper’s Magazine open letter supporting a bromidic recommendation that free speech, free of dogmatic “cancelling” from left or right, is a good idea. I did sign it, as did JK Rowling, who has got into trouble recently for saying silly things about some transwomen and trans activists. I’m a transwoman. She and I disagree—but we both believe in free speech. So does, to take another signatory most of whose ideas I disagree with, Noam Chomsky. I debated him last year at HowTheLightGetsIn festival in Hay-on-Wye. All this disagreement, though tiring, is rather the point. Over the entrance to the old city hall in Gouda in the Netherlands is affixed the commonplace medieval tag: Audite et alteram partem. Listen even to the other side. Good advice for city councillors and for the rest of us, eh?
Take Rowling’s opinions on the trans issue. I do not want to ban her from conferences or stop people from reading her childish books. I just want her, and the numerous people who wax wroth when anyone says that gender is a social construction, to listen to the other side. I want to correct what I believe are her mistakes, as she can then correct mine. Nice. As an economist, I approve of mutually advantageous exchange.
She is mistaken, for example, to believe that a sound reason to oppose gender change in say, children, is the alleged “accounts of detransitioners.” She seems to have believed the rhetoric of the “accounts of” her friends known as Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFS, who are oddly virulent in Britain). The phrase reminds me of my lamentable President’s phrases “some people say that” or “I’ve heard that,” followed by one of his documented 20,000 public fabrications. The overwhelming bulk of transitioners, male-female or female-male (whose numbers, by the way, are about equal), are happy with their decision, whether they did it as children or as adults. “Ecstatic” is how I would describe it. I did it at age 53 in 1995, 20 years after the pioneer Jan Morris, the Welsh writer. The extremely small number of transitioners who…