The case of an American whistle-blower who leaked critical information about US war crimes in Iraq to Julian Assange’s Wikileaks is once again at the centre of attention due to a Senate campaign in the US state of Maryland. The case of an individual once known as Private Bradley Manning and now known as Chelsea Manning has forced many individuals otherwise unconcerned with American and pan-western social trends to examine the issues.
The issue here of course is the issue of gender identity which has become increasingly discussed in North America and Europe. For someone with agnostic views on such an issue, what is most striking is how self-described liberals have become decidedly illiberal towards people they claim to advocate for.
Typically, the classical liberal argument is that you can be who and what you want to be so long as you don’t bring harm to others. This means that the son of a bricklayer could decide to become a disco musician, a man born John could transform himself into a woman called Jane, or someone like Michael Jackson could (allegedly) bleach his skin in order to change his outward appearance.
Implicit in liberalism is free choice without either positive or negative interference. This means that while you can be what you want to be, no one in the public sector will go out of their way to help you achieve the goal. Likewise, they will not pass legislation in order to stop you. Today, this view is typically called libertarianism.
When it comes to the gender issue, many self-described liberals might appear to be libertarian when they argue that people can be what they want to be. However, they quickly betray the liberal philosophy when they stake their claims on the alleged fact that people are born in a way that determines their behaviour later in life. In other words, in spite of the scientific method reaching no definitive conclusion on the matter, western liberals tend to claim that people are born with transgender or homosexual proclivities which are latent even during a childhood where one is too physically underdeveloped to express such behaviours with clarity.
Because the scientific community is divided on the ‘nature versus nurture’ argument, there is no point in my taking a side. What is fascinating from a socio-political point of view is why contemporary western liberals feel the need to emphasise the pre-determined nature of one’s later behaviours.
If one was truly liberal, it would not matter if one is born with transgender proclivities or chooses to express them later in life. For a true liberal this would be a sovereign matter where the individual reigns supreme; whether the individual cannot control one’s behaviour or whether one decides to engage in such behaviour due to a cognitive choice, or whether such behaviour is inspired by external stimuli.
But for today’s self-described western liberals it seems to matter very much. Many such activists stake their claims on the fact that people cannot help wanting to be ‘who they really are’ and should therefore be accepted because they had no say in the matter. The clear implication is that if people are free to choose whether to be transgender or to remain the gender of one’s birth, that somehow this is a bad thing.
Certainly for secular traditionalists as well as the majority of religious people, consciously electing to change one’s gender is a bad thing. However, for secular liberals who are supposed to believe in free choice, surely it should neither be a good nor bad thing, but simply a perfectly acceptable thing.
It is incredibly bemusing to see self-styled liberals adopt the most rigid aspect of low-church Protestantism, in this case the Calvinist doctrine of Predestination. Contemporary western liberals are essentially saying, “peace be upon Chelsea Manning for she could not help not being Bradley”. By contrast, a true liberal would offer good will to Chelsea Manning even if she just wanted to be Chelsea rather than Bradley. In this sense the two most extreme elements in contemporary American society, ultra-liberals and low church evangelicals have both adopted a similar pre-deterministic rationale for their arguments. In so doing, both have betrayed the libertarian traditions of the United States.
As a social conservative, but one who detests any and all forms of religious extremism whether it be the US culture of “televangelism” or the Takfiri terrorism of groups like al-Qaeda, I think it’s time to adopt a libertarian line on Chelsea Manning. Unless the person was your child or close friend, it really isn’t our business to comment on the individual’s transformation from Bradley to Chelsea. Furthermore, as someone who respects the sovereignty of cultures, one must respect that in western countries like the US, it is now culturally normative for people born Bradley to become people called Chelsea. One has to respect this part of the culture even if it seems highly alien, just as world peace is impossible unless the US begins to accept cultures that are alien to them, whether it be the Juche culture of the DPRK ,the Islamic Revolution of Iran or the Ba’athism of the Syrian Arab Republic.
And this is why I support Chelsea Manning in her election campaign for the US Senate. While the individual’s life and lifestyle is something I admittedly cannot apprehend, I not only respect but praise Manning’s heroic whistleblowing on US war crimes which took place within the framework of the illegal and despicable war on Iraq.
At the time, an individual called Bradley Manning did the correct thing and suffered for it greatly as a consequence. Now it is time for all anti-war and anti-imperialist voices to support the political campaign of Chelsea Manning, because whatever her domestic policies might be, none of them are as important as her clear, consistent, courageous and deeply moral stand against the barbarity of the American war machine.