The story of the gender-neutral Gentoo penguin chick at the London aquarium, is the kind of weapons-grade liberal bullsh*t that is entirely characteristic of our time. The lefty loonies in charge of a scientific institution have decided to use animal biology to make a statement about social engineering. As I was passing through Heathrow airport yesterday, I read in one of the English papers — I think it was the Times, though I see that their story is behind a paywall now — someone from the aquarium quoted as saying the institution wants the baby penguin, who has not yet been named, to help child visitors realize that they don’t have to be limited to whatever gender society “assigns” them.
Incidentally, the supposedly gender-neutral penguin chick is being raised by a lesbian penguin couple (“Come with meeeee, lesbian penguin…”). As you can see if you follow that link, and watch the straight-faced Sky News interview with an aquarium employee, this entire stunt is a put-up job by the institution to advance left-wing cultural politics, especially among children. We’re all laughing at stupid crap like this … well, not all of us: an English actor has branded Piers Morgan as a “transphobic” terrorist for making fun of it:
This ain’t funny, it’s transphobic. Can we stop mocking gender identities and help normalise it? We need to be accepting and break the stigma. People are gonna be terrified into keeping quiet and aren’t going to be comfortable in their own bodies because of comments like these. https://t.co/lQJ1QGGBNm
— James Moore ♿️ (@jamesmooreactor) September 11, 2019
Whatever. Anyway, look: this kind of thing is a punchline, but I kind of agree with James Moore. It may be idiotic, but it ain’t funny, in that this is part of a never-ending progressive campaign to deconstruct the human personality around sex.
People — including conservatives like David French — love to make fun of Sohrab Ahmari for getting wound up about Drag Queen Story Hour, but it’s the same kind of thing: a communal institution advancing socially destructive progressive cultural politics in ways that appear trivial, but really aren’t.
It’s true that DQSHs aren’t the end of the world. Why is Ahmari so triggered by them, then? (And for the record, I share his views.) Because they are a condensed symbol of totalitarian aspect of progressive cultural politics. Here’s what I mean. In the Soviet Union in the early Stalinist years, some members of the Soviet chess community complained that chess was becoming politicized. The cry went up that chess should be left alone, that “chess for chess’s sake” ought to be the rule. The head of the chess institution responded by saying that it’s naive to believe that chess can be apolitical. Everything is political, is part of the struggle.
In her 1951 classic The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt says that the “chess for chess’s sake” problem is a sign of totalitarianism. Why? Because it’s a signal that a society is becoming so politicized that not even chess can escape forced ideologization by authorities.
Not even animals at the zoo.
Not even children’s libraries.
So what’s the ideology? From the “about” page at the Drag Queen Story Hour site:
DQSH is explicitly not about mere entertainment. It is intentionally designed to inspire children to identify as queer and genderfluid, and to “present as they wish.”
Similarly, the ideological content of this stupid penguin stunt is intentionally to provoke children into doubting their gender identity. The American Library Association, the professional guild of librarians, is militantly behind this stuff.
You can’t go to the zoo or to the library with your kids without being confronted by this radical gender ideology. David French has an important point when he points out that Sohrab Ahmari doesn’t have a clear answer about what, exactly, he wants government to do about Drag Queen Story Hour. French, an experienced religious liberty litigator, writes that to abandon “viewpoint neutrality” to stop DQSH would mean disaster for Christians, who maintain access to public spaces despite being hated by many administrators, precisely because of the First Amendment’s viewpoint neutrality. This is why even though my heart is completely with Ahmari in the Ahmari-French dispute, I can’t fully endorse him over French because I fear that abandoning First Amendment jurisprudence in an increasingly anti-Christian culture would make any local victories over things like DQSH Pyrrhic ones.
I’ll be writing about that in a different post. In this one, I simply want to point out that Ahmari is not at all wrong to point to things like DQSH — and, should he so desire, to the London aquarium’s abolition of penguins-for-penguins’-sake — as a more serious threat to the moral order than people think.
Ever notice how progressives are never, ever satisfied with the status quo on sexual politics? How they are always finding new things to “queer”? Well, if you think Ahmari is a screaming-meemie on the DQSH topic, I have bad news for you. Hannah Arendt points out that another element of the totalitarian — something that both the Nazis and the Bolsheviks engaged in — is to keep everything in constant motion. Authoritarian regimes only want a monopoly on state power. Totalitarian regimes want to control everything — and this is not something that can be done solely through state power. This can be accomplished only by intimidating people from within, “by a movement that is constantly kept in motion: namely, the permanent domination of each single individual in each and every sphere of life.” In the DQSH context, it amounts to bringing radical sexual politics even to children’s reading hours at public libraries, and bringing opprobrium on those who criticize it.
The point is not the library events. The point is to destroy traditional sexual identities in children during their formative years by normalizing transgressive sexuality. The First Amendment is one means; mass media and popular culture is another. Ask yourself: how did we get to the point where at public libraries across America, transvestites appear to read to child audience books that encourage the children to embrace queer identities — and this is considered perfectly normal, even good (and those who disagree keep their mouths shut for fear of being condemned as bigots)?
Again, Hannah Arendt, from The Origins Of Totalitarianism:
There is a great temptation to explain away the intrinsically incredible by means of liberal rationalizations. In each one of us there lurks such a liberal, wheedling us with the voice of common sense. The road to totalitarian domination leads through many intermediate stages for which we can find numerous analogies and precedents. … What common sense and ‘normal people’ refuse to believe is that everything is possible.
To update Arendt for our situation: What normal people refuse to believe is that goofy things like Drag Queen Story Hour and gender-neutral zoo animals are intermediate steps on the way to a soft-totalitarian society in which normality is stigmatized, even forbidden. In Europe last week, I heard about a seminary in which seminarians could publicly deny the existence of God, and that would mean no impediment to ordination, but publicly criticizing homosexuality or transgenderism would cause instant dismissal. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. Common sense and “normal people” refuse to believe is this is possible, and therefore sit like inert lumps when the impossible becomes reality.
To conclude: things like DQSH and gender-neutral penguin chicks are what the anthropologist Mary Douglas called “condensed symbols” — practices that stand for an entire worldview. Reader Raskolnik had a great comment here a few years ago using Douglas’s term to explain why conservative Christians tend to be triggered by things like this, and not about things that are a more serious threat to the moral health of this society, like pornography (which Raskolnik says that he too is more worried about). He wrote, in part:
[Douglas] used the example of fasting on Fridays, which the Bog Irish (generally lowerclass Irish Catholics living in England) persisted in doing, despite the fact that their better-educated, generally-upperclass clergy kept telling them to give to the poor or do something else that better fit with secular humanist mores instead. Her point was that the Bog Irish kept fasting, not due to obdurate traditionalism, or some misplaced faith in the “magical” effectiveness of the practice, but because it functioned as a “condensed symbol”: fasting on Fridays was a shorthand way of signifying connection to the past, to one’s identity as Irish, as well as to a less secularized (or completely non-secular) vision of what religious practice was all about. It acquired an outsized importance because it connected systems of meaning.
I bring up the notion of “condensed symbol” because I think that’s the best way to understand what’s going in (what you perceive to be) the “freakout” about homosexuality. The freakout isn’t about homosexuality per se, it’s about the secular world shoving its idea of sexual morality down the throats of orthodox Christians. If you haven’t read Rod’s piece Sex After Christianity, you really should, and if you haven’t, I think you should be able to connect the dots between the Christian cosmology of sex and the Christian opposition to same-sex marriage as a “condensed symbol” of Christian resistance to secularism writ large.
Both Drag Queen Story Hour and Gentoo the Gender-Neutral Penguin are condensed symbols of a worldview that sees sexual identity as at the core of the human person, and that says that identity should be fluid, governed only by the individual’s will; and further, that this sexual radicalism should be taught to small children in public institutions.
It is a separate question as to whether or not it is practical or wise to use the mechanism of the state to combat this. But the meaning of this cultural assault on normality ought to be completely clear to anyone, Christian or otherwise, who has a sense of moral awareness.
I cannot believe that I have written an entire post invoking Hannah Arendt to explain why people really should care about some ridiculous stunt by wokesters running an aquarium. But these are the times in which we live. Everything is possible. The liberal within people (even many conservatives) rationalizes that it’s only about storybooks and baby birds, what’s the big deal? Haha, those right-wingers think that baby penguin is gonna turn children into drag queens! I’ve told you what the big deal is. The Left knows that it’s a big deal, which is why they’re always doing things like this, while at the same time pretending that these things are basically harmless. They understand how cultural politics works; conservatives are basically cowards and suckers when it comes to this stuff.