By Nicholas Ross
‘Love endures by a bond which men, being scoundrels, may break whenever it serves their advantage to do so; but fear is supported by the dread of pain, which is ever present.’
An optimist may hope Niccolo Machiavelli’s book The Prince to provide only an obsolete commentary on the prevailing influence of fear in society. But a recent decision by a Bath Spa University ethics committee demonstrates the accuracy of Machiavelli’s claims to an unprecedented extent.
A psychotherapist who began a Master’s degree at the university recently had his research project proposal on transgender reversal procedures vetoed. This was the result of fears that social media forums might criticise the institution as a sanctuary for politically-incorrect students.
As FDR said, ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ In the past, there have been left-wing submissions to threats such as armed attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a homicidal fatwa extending to Salman Rushdie’s cohort, due to which many refused to publicly defend the satirical magazine and novelist. The latent dangers of Twitter and Mumsnet presently grind the academic faculties of a university to a halt.
James Caspian noticed a lack of research on transgender people who regret their transitions and seek either to reverse the effect of their surgeries or simply identify as the genders assigned to them at birth. Since Caspian had encountered people who told him about traumatising and isolated experiences of de-transitioning, he was further motivated to conduct the research.
However, alongside a subordinate ethics committee, Professor Kate Reynolds—Executive Dean of the Institute for Education at Bath Spa University—was evidently under the impression that preventing research might keep secure the university’s reputation. Scholarship apparently has no place there. Interestingly, the university website states that ‘Kate has a continuing interest in gender and education’.
The event has a complex background and inconspicuous consequences. In the last few years, debates surrounding gender dysphoria have become a part of quotidian politics. Liberals argue that gender is a choice and sex alone is determined by chromosomes. People ought to have the freedom to identify in whichever way they please since doing so causes no harm to anyone else. Social Conservatives argue that self-labelling is relativist nonsense capriciously entertained with indifference to alarming statistics of associated depression and suicide. Regardless of political stance on the issue, Bath Spa made the wrong decision.
An activist for the transgender community has appeared in most coverage of the ‘Bath Spa v Caspian 2017’ story. Riki Wilchins criticises de-transition studies which may have a ‘political undercurrent’. She told BBC Radio 4 that they ‘undercut transgender people’s access to surgery’.
Unfortunately, Wilchins and Reynolds form an alliance of quasi-liberal facade. Wilchins is hostile to research like that proposed by Caspian, since it may reveal supporting gender transition without caution and confidence of lifelong commitment is a dangerous moral fallacy. The Bath Spa decision-makers have succumbed to apprehensions that they may be lampooned for in the future, due to their deviation from the de rigueur left-wing positions on gender.
Any true egalitarian would protect innocent, vulnerable minorities such as those who de-transition. Instead, Wilchins and Reynolds have contributed to a stigma that not only hinders intellectual inquiry on the sensitive subject of de-transitioning, but ostracises people who do. Preventing important research to appear politically fashionable is, needless to say, not progressive.
Featured image: Bath Spa University