Emotionalist-Consequentialism: Thoughts On Thaddeus Russell vs. Joe Rogan

In Episode 952 of The Joe Rogan Experience, Joe Rogan talked to historian Thaddeus Russell. The conversation took a puzzling turn when the subjects of gender and race came up. Thaddeus Russell went into an unfocused, sentiment-driven moral evaluation of gender distinctions which directly mirrors the  common social science discourse of major universities--despite the fact that Russell made pains, throughout the course of the conversation, to distinguish himself as a renegade who was not welcome in the tenured world of academia on account of his unpopular ideas. His claim, ultimately, is that gender and race are not biological distinctions but social constructs.

   Now, it never seizes to amaze me just how many people seem to think that, because something is a social construct, it then follows that the construct should not only be torn down, but that no category is in fact the best category, and that any claims to the contrary are siren songs for the coming of a 21st century holocaust.

     The professor's view of Portland Oregon plummeted into the realm of comedy. The professor said that diversity is a big problem in Portland, in that they hardly have any Mexicans or black people. The inaccuracy of this statement was only augmented by the professor's contention that in the main part of town, you only see white people. Does this statement even communicate anything aside from the fact that the area where the white professor is inclined to go happens to be the white part of town? Even if I were to coddle his naivety and grant that the main part of town was somehow designed specifically for white people, what would be his solution? Professor Renegade, like most preachers of diversity, expects diversity to fall into his lap. Perhaps the professor should have enlightened us as to how people in a city should be herded? Plenty of people seem to want metropolitan sheep dogs; they themselves just don't want to be the ones to nip heels.

   When gender came up, the professor asked Joe to provide him with examples of features which constitute the category 'man.' Joe posited that only a man can have a child with a woman, to which Russell countered that not all men can have children with women and that not all women can have children with men. At one point, Joe suggested that most men are naturally attracted to women. Russell then pulled out a statistic, according to which 30 percent of men had had a sexual encounter with another man or had been driven to orgasm by another man or had fantisized sexually about another man. Joe's reasonable aplomb was met with a heinously banal sleight of hand in which the professor suggested, rather aggressively, that the statistic was only ridiculous to Joe because 'man' was an arbitrary category which Joe foisted upon the men of the said statistic. Joe, understandably, grew more agitated. No matter what questions Joe raised--each one a logical, reasonable, rational curiosity--Russell always came back to his main point: that the assertion that there are distinct genders never ends with a few particular traits but many, and that horrible things are always done at the expense of recognizing these traits; his ultimate emotionalist-consequentialist conclusion to which he stubbornly returned time and time again. As they were not, in my mind, arguing about the moral utility of the categories in question but their ontological reality (at least this is how it was framed though Russell kept moving the goalpost), Joe backed Russell into a corner out of which he could not escape save by pulling on Joe's and the listener's heartstrings regarding nonspecific potentialities of imaginary violence.

   This was also how he discussed the issue of race. Even when Joe made pains to create specific examples-- Chinese people typically don't look like black Africans, pigmies don't look like western Europeans--in each and every case, Russell either refused to recognize the plain physical distinction or moved radically in the other direction to say that all people are, in fact, different and should not be put into 'arbitrary categories.'

   It's one thing to claim that gender and race are social constructs but quite another to say that that they're arbitrary categories. One could even make the argument that any one person anywhere self identifying as a specific gender or race for any reason beyond mere whimsy would cancel the claim of arbitrariness.

   But Russell's obduracy didn't end there, nor did any designation escape his thirst for epistemological bulldozery. He went on to say that it was stupid to identify as an Italian; his wholly peculiar reason being that Italy, earlier in history, was not a nation state. Furthermore, he thought it was stupid to identify with any nationality at all.

   Russell continually resorted to condescension and snickering whenever his circular babble failed to satisfy Joe's not unreasonable curiosity. As they began to discuss a baffling conversation between Jordan B. Peterson and Sam Harris on the latter's podcast concerning the nature of truth, Joe then went on to say that truth claims start out simple in that fire burns, etcetera. To this, Russell groaned in consternation and told Joe, 'Joe! Stop it! You're going to get me started all over again.' 'We just went over this,' was another pet phrase he was inclined to squawk repeatedly, you know, the way one might if one actually got someone else to understand their argument in the first place; a task at which Professor Renegade didn't seem to think he'd failed. Assertions were made and remade again and again. Any time race was mentioned, it was always seen as a power dynamic between white people and others, but never in the context of races identifying as that race non-coercively. It's an old argument and a poor argument: race only exists because white people marginalize other people; thus implying that white people are the only ones who have signifying agency.

   I found it curious how often Russell's argument returned to the domain of social and moral utility in his claim that people who identify race and gender always take it too far. The exact same can be said for people who don't want anyone to recognize race and gender at all, which is the same reason Jordan B. Peterson is having the trouble he's having in Canada.

   In Episode 979 of The Joe Rogan Experience, I felt Sargon of Akkad discussed this same subject with far greater coherence. In his mind, sex is a bilogical distinction, whereas gender is a social construct. However this still begs the question as to what degree something universally recognized across all cultures could be dismissed as an arbitrary social construct.

   To grant that social construction figures into the teleology of gender, it would be more accurate to say that the traits which various cultures identify with femininity and masculinity are social constructs, if not the genders themselves. But even conceding to the nature of constructs, what is the purpose of identifying someone as a woman or a man in the first place? Well, it is no small factor in determining whom and whom not one could breed with. Anything belonging to a breeding category which cannot breed would have to be seen as a non-breeding version of that category. Any category not constructed for the distinction of breeding would have to enter the conversation through another door. This is, fundamentally, what gender is founded on. It makes no sense to deny the breeding categories on account of those who can't breed. Even in such an event, those who can't breed would simply come up with another term that had the same ontological weight as male and female to distinguish those who couldn't breed with those who could, at which point you'd be back at the beginning. When playing chess, one can call the king a pawn, and though all may concede to this designation, it certainly doesn't mitigate the need for a king to play the game.

   Asserting this in no way suggests that people who socially construct new non-breeding genders for themselves are not deserving of respect, just as it doesn't follow that if respect is something to be granted to these ideas, the state should then implement laws to see something so tenuous as 'respect' positively reinforced. This is basically what all ideology does to one's political sense. Time and time again, in this way, the professor was wholly incapable of distinguishing between designations which describe functions and designations which describe emotional projections. It's easy for one to claim something has no meaning when one has simply robbed it of meaning and denied everyone else the agency to designate.

   My immediate suspicion is that Russell is not taken seriously by the establishment, not because of his radical ideas, but because he is, radically, the worst representative of their ideas. He is in the same position to the establishment Left that Richard Spencer is to the establishment Right, which is to say,  an embarrassment. There is a difference in that Richard Spencer has the self awareness to revel in and encourage this divide. Russell, however, seeks respect for the certificates he wants to trade in exchange for his renegade wisdom.

   Russell doesn't even allow himself the wherewithal to disguise the true motive of his ideas or perhaps this is his motive after all? to extract from them only their emotive force, thinking that this is the ultimate hook; that about which it is easy to proselytize, when in fact, it represents the essential nature of these ideas. When he praises postmodernism, he does so at the expense of 'essence' and in the name of 'freedom,' not once questioning whether or not these are, in fact, exclusive. 'Fluidity,' as much as it acts in his rhetoric as a remedy for essentialist gendering, is a wonderful companion to the passions, whose very fluidity would seem to have no regard for that which incited them.

   But what incites the motion of this fluidity to begin with? Should we look to nature, from which this metaphor was conjured, to generate a deeper look? Oh, but nature is such an unruly beast of a metaphor in the realm of the anti-essentialists! A true anti-essentialist knows that all nature metaphors are only for poetic effect and not for any kind of approximated clarity. The metaphor of fluidity, if taken to its final conclusion, would only hurt that which it wants to mean when applied to self description. How perfectly consistent is fluidity? Though endlessly shapable, ever willing to counter and compliment whatever is around it, it slowly erodes and defeats all, as Lao Tzu put it. It surreptitiously instills a sense of placidity on the surface, a simultaneous interruption and sense of balance, and all the while, it waits to be poured into brooks and ravines which might offer it escape, just as it keeps its ugly foundation ever hidden. Could it be then that the most constant mechanism of fluidity, which would appear contingent, does in fact have an essence?

   One would do oneself a great disservice to express surprise at the way Russell then tells Joe, 'For a while, I really thought you were with me on all of this'; a sure indication that when one has no argument to make, one always does best to resort to the crudest tribalism; something post-modernists are almost always certain to misdiagnose at precisely the moment when the scale retracts to the domain where it can be most rigorously tested with the sharpest efficiency: that of their personal conversations. Though it may certainly be the case in this or that instance that nationalist sentimentalism is wholly herdish and stupid, Russell fails to take note of those sentiments in his own views which would more than qualify his inclusion into a self-created group of like minds--a nation yet uncontained by borders but a nation no less. Even regarding postmodernity, Russell is defensive in precisely the same tribal manner, unable to contend with Jordan B. Peterson's definition of it though he says that just hearing him talk about it makes him 'want to throw chairs.' One expects to hear Professor Renegade bring choice examples of Peterson's thought to our attention in order to directly combat them. What we get, instead, is a flavorless and uncharismatic endorsement of those very same features of postmodernity which Peterson vilified. If the professor were to offer us a succinct critique of Peterson's foundational reasoning for vilifying these ideas, or if he were to find his way into our hearts by painting a picture of his own creation no matter how bombastic or untenable, it would have been easier to swallow. What he gave us instead was the essence of essencelessness; the freedom from conservative tradition and the patriarchal tyranny of social norms via Derrida and Foucault. The old joke goes that there is nothing good the French don't think that they invented, and the same would seem to go for such a turbid notion as freedom, and the ultimate symbol of French freedom is the guillotine. The outcome of Derrida's intellectual puzzles and the professors who worshipped him were little different; they only gave nihilism a stilted, metropolitan sheen. But for all its sheen, Russell, just like the social justice warriors he looks down his nose at, has only dogma, dogma and more dogma concerning the perimeters of this all-neutralizing nihilism. He lays it all out on the alter in such a pathologically revealing way that one can't help but suspect that his intellectual endeavors, if not dreadfully unserious, operate on an almost esoteric level of bad faith; to which the establishment offers the proper exotericism on which to base it. His is a pill, not unlike a bit of pain medication, which doesn't eliminate the problem but most certainly relieves one of concern for the problem's existence; a philosophy absolutely incredulous to the mere suggestion that its very precepts may be based more on the kinds of cheap, sustenanceless, unchallenging affirmational needs one would do better to look for in books on racks at airports. It would be enough if it were only a self-affirmative bias met by the demands of a market. However, the reach of these prejudices extend to such a degree that one can no longer look at the world around us and rightly  differentiate between those who are truly free in their thought and those who, on a fundamental level, believe that they will only be granted the freedom to think at the expense of others.

   In the 21st century, this ideology belongs almost wholly to the establishment and is yet able to instill the idea that its purest form remains elsewhere, beyond borders, beyond distinctions, beyond words, beyond categories, beyond groupings, beyond locations, beyond identities, beyond self, beyond matter, beyond value, beyond meaning, beyond essence, beyond lines of any kind...

   This is the position toward which society as whole descends. Society itself has gone renegade. The new renegade position, from here, would be to simply draw a line.