Liberalism is a smiley-faced demolition project – in a purely positive, hopey-changey sense of the word “demolition,” that is. Since the innumerable “social constructs” that litter the highway of history are impediments to human progress, the time has come to clear them out of the way. Margaret Mead taught us that patriarchy was a social construct. According to moral relativists, right and wrong are social constructs. Recently we discovered that traditional marriage (i.e., between a man and a woman) was a social construct. And just yesterday, we learned that even being a man and a woman is a social construct. Any more social constructs and we’ll need a building permit.
For liberals, there are only a few things that are not in fact social constructs: e.g., unrestricted abortion, subsidized housing, school lunches, and food stamps, which are permanent and immutable rights, not to be tampered with. Modern liberalism reduces to: “Out with social constructs; hands off my entitlements.” It is a philosophy, as P.J. O’Rourke has observed, of big ideas: so big, they can usually fit on the front of a T-shirt.
Now that the gender to which humans are arbitrarily assigned at birth has been revealed to be a social construct, one only hopes that liberals will some day be able to deconstruct other annoying biological atavisms, such as the digestive system, perhaps. Eating does lead to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, and it rapes the body of Gaea – remember that male rape culture is not a social construct – of innocent plant and animal life. If we can raise our consciousness above such artificial conventions as male and female, surely we can rise above the small intestine.
As near as I can tell, a social construct is anything that progressives disapprove of. Heterosexuality, for instance, is a social construct, whereas homosexuality is not. An “alternative lifestyle” isn’t a choice or preference that homosexuals can elect or alter, let alone an aberration or sin; rather, some people are just “born gay.” Their homosexuality is an inexorable fact of nature, pre-determined and encoded in their DNA – unlike, say, the male or female genitalia. Consider, then, a gay man (as a liberal would consider him), and remember that his preference for members of the male sex is biologically pre-ordained, whereas his male member is customary, optional, a mere “social construct.” Suppose, then, that he “chooses” (as is his universal human right) to become a woman. Still instinct with an immutable homosexual nature, would he thereafter be attracted to women (“a transgendered lesbian”) or would he continue to like boys (“a transgendered heterosexual”)? Just asking. What a complicated world we live in.
The self-deconstructing absurdity of progressive arguments about social constructs only adds to the growing suspicion that liberals are adept at junk science. Junk science, of course, has the virtue of being eternally self-regenerating, like recycled garbage. If you can adduce the unusually frigid winters of late as evidence for global warming, then how difficult should it be to volatilize into cultural constructs the x and y chromosomes, or, conversely, pretend to find another for homosexuality, as yet undiscovered and lurking in some genetic black hole?
In general, modern junk sociology is the off-gassing of liberal hatred of normalcy. As Chesterton noted, it is the mark of the modern to everywhere and always subordinate the normative to the non-normative. But the new-fangled arbitrariness with which same-sex “marriage” and fungible gender have been declared as natural and normative tells us that they, in fact, are the flimsiest of social constructs. By contrast, the antiquity, perdurance, and practical ubiquity of the institution of heterosexual marriage (not to mention the brute biological fact of male and female) should be proof enough that they are not.
Since Adam and Eve first hid their nakedness, everyone in the civilized world has agreed that marriage between a man and a woman, as an inference from the disposition of the race into two genders, is natural and normative – until a few years ago, that is, when Canada’s federal Liberals enacted legislation to recognize same-sex unions, and Canada’s provincial Liberals invited little Johnny (in Kathleen Wynne’s sexual education curriculum) to question whether he is really a Jennifer trapped in a male body. A year after the former, our soi-disant Conservative Prime Minister declared the matter “settled,” because, as he said, opinion polls showed that a majority of Canadians had made their peace with gay marriage. If Stephen Harper’s opinion polls are accurate (though I suspect we are still in the realm of junk science here), this is a perfect example of what Daniel Patrick Moynihan described as “dumbing deviancy down”: the reflex of a bourgeois majority, whenever a non-normative behaviour reaches a certain threshold, to tranquilize its anxieties by declaring that behaviour “normal.”
But neither legislation nor majority approval can “settle” the matter. Were they elected to the governing council of the PGA, an overwhelming majority of my golfing buddies would immediately enact a law to make the winner in golf the person with the highest score. And that is why neither laws nor majorities tell us very much about justice or truth.
Popular opinion has always been less than Solomonic, and should hardly be the arbiter of such fundamental matters of human morality as marriage, gender, or abortion. This is a truism that the entire civilized world used to recognize – until, that is, it succumbed to our modern fetishistic reverence for electoral democracy. As Seneca observed, when moral questions are under consideration, it is no use to say, “‘This side seems to be in a majority.’ For that is just the reason it is the worst side.” Cicero was no less doubtful of popular legal innovations, which he disdained as enactments of “the crowd’s definition of law.” The morality and justice of written laws, according to Cicero, can only be judged by an eternal and immutable Law that is “rooted in Nature,” and “which had its origin ages before any written law existed or any State had been established.” Legislators can pass laws that are “heedless of Nature” if they choose, “but such a law can no more make justice out of injustice than it can make good out of bad.”
Canada’s ruling parties have legislated the fiction of same-sex “marriage”, and will soon be merchandising the progressive fantasy of made-to-measure gender to our children; but they can’t make them realities, not even if a majority of voters agrees.
Harley Price has taught courses in religion, philosophy, literature and history at the University of Toronto, U of T’s School of Continuing Studies, and Tyndale University College. He blogs at Priceton.org.