Would it be useful or realistic to re-name Manhattan and call it Transhattan in respect of gender fluidity? Would that new name not also reveal that not only is gender fluid, but New York City is fluid in the sense of being a crossroads of the world? Millions emigrated into the USA through Ellis Island in Manhattan. If Manhattan is renamed Transhattan, would not the past migration of people be seen for what it is — a dramatic change in demographics revealing the inherent changeableness of the world, and that radical change is progress? Would not the re-naming help us see that deviation from the norm is normal. Our norms of today would have been considered deviations from the norm a couple of centuries ago. The philosopher Heraclitus said “all is change,” so if we accept his slogan as truth, “change” is the stable reality.
Yet, such a change does not sit well with most of us. We see that there are many radical changes in social composition, creation of new societies and even new civilizations throughout history. Yet, aspects of life, especially the biological compatibility and union of male and female seem to be an ongoing and ahistorical desideratum. Although this writer is a creationist, even evolutionists like Jean-Baptiste Lamarck believed that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” This means that the development of the individual organism mirrors the evolutionary development of the human race. If this statement were to be taken seriously, even the atheistic gender fluidity crowd would have to accept gender bifurcation as nature’s final say in the matter. Gender bifurcation into male and female is a phylogenetic reality for all times, cultures, places, societies, governmental systems, etc. Therefore, it trumps our individual “choices.”
How can we resolve this tension between ongoing changes and desire to maintain the status quo which seems to have consolidated radical “changes” that occurred in the past?
We saw a tremendous influx of people into the USA from 1890-1920 but in the short run it led to massive poverty, and especially brought socialistic and communistic ideas into the USA that were less popular at that time than they are today. There was no USSR, no PRC, no commie Vietnam, no Venezuela, and no Cuba. There was no welfare system at that time, and unlike today the USA was not a place where 39% pay income tax and 60% do not (2020). There were no violent, unemployed punks in the street chanting for the overthrow of the USA for extensive periods of time or occupying Wall Street or setting fires or defacing buildings or looting millions of dollars worth of Levi’s, headsets, and panties from stores. Fluidity seen as historical change, as movement of people, as innovations in our everyday lifestyles and in our mores is thus the norm. Yet, we desire to control, to resist change, to harbor grievances against “change agents.” Both trends are historical realities.
This tension has in the past given rise to dialectic thinking whereby the German philosopher Friedrich Hegel took the “transcendental categories” of another German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, in a new direction. For Kant, those categories of the mind gave order and direction to our choices and understanding, but the Hegelian dialectic found an inherent tension in those categories which Kant failed to describe or analyze. Thus, for Hegel, there is in all historical experience a Thesis which is opposed by an Antithesis. The Antithesis negates the Thesis, and the Thesis is then replaced by a Synthesis. The Synthesis is not merely a mixture of Thesis and Antithesis, but a historical condition that is different from Thesis and Antithesis, and this “condition” could not have emerged had there not been a conflict between Thesis and Antithesis. The Synthesis becomes the new Thesis, and the march of time and history continues. The path taken is one of continuous progress towards the Absolute. The perfectibility of mankind is implied.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engel said that this dialectic was more specifically grounded in economics than in Hegel’s philosophy as seen historically by looking at the “class struggles” throughout the ages. This dialectic they believed would and should culminate in the classless society called “communism.”
The most valid alternative to the dialectical reasoning arising out of Germanic culture is the one found in the English/Protestant tradition. Although Marxists would disparage this tradition as being bourgeois and proposing values opposed both to dialectic and to the proletariat, the English/Protestant tradition allows for progress without contaminating that progress with an ideal of a perfectly just social order and governance. Rather, it is a progress that is mediated and limited by purity of our motives, the requirements of conscience, the moral law as revealed in the Old Testament, and through faith in both the reason and revelation of the Messiah through the New Testament.
Faith is the linchpin of this progress since it is a progress supported by Almighty God through His Providential will. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson as well as Protestant colonial leaders who preceded them purposely cultivated their spiritual lives through Biblical study and prayer. Further, John Locke, Jonathan Edwards, and William Penn provided the philosophical and theological momentum for the ideal of the USA as a city on a hill. Although it may not be obvious on its face, the struggle we are seeing about human sexuality, economic and political justice, and health and happiness are at bottom a profound philosophical and theological struggle between German culture and English culture; and the English tradition is by far more vibrant and hopeful.
Jeffrey Ludwig teaches philosophy in New York City and preaches regularly at pulpits in Queens, a borough of New York City.
The featured image shows, “Declaration of Independence,” by John Trumbull; painted in 1819.