Meanings – I
by Michael Brenner on 15 Apr 2021 1 Comment

Alexis de Tocqueville observed in his classic Democracy In America that the country’s citizens did not ‘discuss, they ‘debated.’ Self-affirmation took precedence over the exchange of thoughts. Prevailing in a contest of persons and ideas was more important than reaching a better understanding of the subject at issue. Those traits are more pronounced today than they were in the 1830s.


Among the factors contributing to this phenomenon is the abuse of language. The downgrading of precision in use of words and terms is at once cause and reinforced effect. Often, we literally do not know what we are talking about due to murkiness of their meanings. Let’s consider some examples.




Transgender, transgender everywhere – and not a drop of enlightenment. It’s like a pronoun with multiple antecedent nouns that nobody bothers to differentiate. This is so even as it roils universities, sets off student protest marches, embroils Olympic organizations in daunting legal battles, sparks acrimonious political fights, while stirring ethicists and commentators to take to their computer keyboards. Never have so many expended so much for so little gain in understanding. For this maelstrom has swept into our lives even though almost none of the above mentioned know what they are talking about – literally. The few that may seemingly take pains not to reveal it.


Let’s list these varied meanings:


1) Bisexual: This is the simplest – someone of distinct gender characteristics who is both heterosexual and homosexual. 


2) Asexual for physiological and/or psychological reasons – extremely rare.


3) True Transgender: Someone who has rudimentary sexual organs of both genders.


4) Hormonic Transgender: Someone whose balance of gender hormones exceeds the normal range for persons with one or the other physical traits. (This is the principal cause of contention in disputes over eligibility for participation in athletic competitions such as track & field). It is important to note that it is biologically impossible for there to be a significant discrepancy between one’s pronounced hormonic balance and one’s physical attributes). 


5) Incongruence (Gender Dysphoria): Someone who’s physical and psychological identities diverge. The former may be well defined, yet the person ‘feels’ as being of the other gender identity. The causes or confirming evidence of this rare phenomenon are obscure; are they environmental (treatment as infants) or due to some sort of ‘mix-up’ in brain chemistry/ circuitry? This type of ‘incongruence’ has come into vogue in recent years as a fancy explanation for homosexuality or bi-sexuality. More disturbingly, it provides a justification for encouraging youngsters to think of ‘sexual preference’ as a choice – the socially uninhibited expression of free will. 



6) Sex Change: It has become fairly common (actual numbers unknown) for people - even young children – to undergo drastic ‘cosmetic surgery’ to substitute one set of sex organs for another (artificial) set. It is combined with hormone therapy that influences secondary sexual characteristics. The latter alone also can be administered to some persons who fit into the above categories.


Sex change surgery often is treated in the literature in a rather casual fashion. It is a gruesome, radical procedure. Today, unknown thousands of young children are diagnosed – first by their parents and then by their physicians – as being in this condition. They then begin a multi-year process of “gender identity affirmation.” They are given large doses of ‘counter’ hormones, socialized as the ‘preferred’ sex, and at the age of about 9 are administered medications – ‘puberty blockers’, that ‘pause’ their biological development toward puberty.


The last step is drastic surgery. Frankly, I personally see very little differences between these procedures and clitoral circumcision which is denounced and banned in the West and much of the rest of the world. Indeed, they are a far more dramatic assault on the body and on the psyche. Inflicting this painful ordeal that mutilates for life and can leave the person an emotional wreck forever strikes me as a crime. Should it not be strictly limited to persons over 18 who are of sound mind? Under present cultural and legal circumstances, any 5-year boy who tries on his mother’s shoes is vulnerable to this peril. 


It seems a matter of common sense and respect for an individual’s human identity to stipulate and enforce such a restriction.


I find it quite amazing that these radical practices should be widely celebrated as a milestone on the road toward liberalization of all that is associated with LGBTQ. Yet, oddly, the hard issues of an ethical, medical and legal nature it raises receive minimal attention. Neither editors, academics nor politicos seem moved by it. Probably, the only way it would earn a place in the national spotlight were if some celebrity protest loudly that the access to these procedures for people of color was markedly lower than for whites – i.e. Archie might be denied the same right of gender selection as his cousins.  




The differentials outlined here are essential for the serious study of ‘transgender’ in its various forms, for medical decisions and for an array of policy decisions. Consider two of the latter. Currently, there is an acrimonious dispute that has been taken to the courts on the issue of whether a person with male physical attributes would be allowed to compete in officially sanctioned track (running) events for women.


Some collegiate authorities have allowed this on the grounds that the person in question has self-identified as a woman, dresses and ‘behaves’ as a woman. This is ludicrous. The structure of a man’s body will ensure a decisive advantage – even if the person is undergoing some degree of hormone therapy (not sure in this case). How far are we prepared to carry this “illogic?” If an athletic adult “feels” like a 12-year old, dresses in ‘tweener’ garb, does s/he have a Constitution-given or God-given right to enter the municipal 5K race for children?  This is not twisted thinking; it is nihilistic non-thinking.


Then there is the pitched battle over the demand for ‘transgender’ bathrooms in public buildings. This, too, is absurd since there exists an obvious and simple solution. A person so characterized should use whichever facility matches the clothing they’re wearing. Nobody is going to scrutinize them. If the person nonetheless feels ‘unsettled’ by the experience, that’s its problem. There is no good reason why the world should turn itself inside-out for the sake of its comfort.




To be a male, or to be a female?

To love Ophelia as the man I am or the woman that I could be?                                                                  

Or both

That is the question!

Do I love her as another or the self-same?


Indeed, if Truth be told I love her as she or me,

For I love myself – in all my genders


Need I suffer the slings and arrows of Misbegotten gender

Or, by confounding them, end the heart-ache, 

and the thousand unnatural shocks of binary tyranny

That psyche is heir to, - ‘tis a consolation

Devoutly to be wished.

To mix and match; ay, there’s the rub;

For what dreams may S/he have

Must give me pause*




Crisis management is defined as the process by which an institution deals with a disruptive and unexpected event that threatens to harm the organization or its stakeholders. High stakes make it vital. Time pressure makes it urgent. The term is used promiscuously: “President ‘X’ is confronted with his sternest test yet faced in managing the crisis created by ‘z;” or, ”the Pentagon moves into crisis management mode as third warship is taken off line by COVID-10 outbreak; ‘Y’s experience with crisis management as chief of ‘J’ makes him the best suited to take charge as the administration’s ‘Q’ Czar now that….”  What follows verbally or in writing typically leaves obscure just what ‘management’ means as well the reasoning that leads to the judgement that the situation in question qualifies as crisis.


Some of this ambivalence is intrinsic to all large enterprises, especially ones that operate in the public daylight. For they are at once functional organizations with stipulated tasks/ responsibilities and political entities. Moreover, the latter encompasses both external constituencies and internal ones (e.g. the rival or faction that is looking for an opportunity to take over). Therefore, ‘acceptability’ of measures designed to manage the crisis can be as important (if not more important) than their effectiveness. The resulting dilemma of striking the right balance, in also recognizing the uncertainties associated with each, inclines the ‘managers’ toward delay and equivocation.


That is why the first action usually is consulting with the public relations advisers who help the leadership to issue some sort of anodyne statement. Its main purpose is less to clarify the issues than to buy time while reassuring the relevant audiences that the leadership is alert to the problem and on top of things. The trick is to achieve those ends by coming up with words that say next to nothing, and commit you to nothing. That has become an art form. Anodyne, but with a varnish of gravitas. 


Foreign relations pose a greater challenge. For the audiences include external parties as well as domestic ones. Anything you say at home will register abroad. That requires a higher level of skill and finesse. If you have little idea of the direction you will be moving, then buying time is the imperative. Terse remarks are in order. Also, steps must be taken to ensure that members of our government avoid sprouting off. Silence is better than a rumbling of discordant voices. Any official who finds the impulse to blab irresistible should be reassigned immediately to a location with lousy Wi-FI service.


Remember: at all times, treat talk and action as identical; to think of them as distinctly different is to court danger! Words are your shield and your sword. 


There are 4 basic types of strategies from which to select a follow-on exercise in crisis management. The first is the Commission route. One announces with great fanfare that a ‘blue ribbon’ Commission, panel, Taskforce or Board of Inquiry will be set up to examine the subject and to make recommendations. Orchestrated leaks as to whom its chairman and members might be should follow immediately. That diverts attention from the substantive issues to the gossip about persons so beloved by the political class. In the U.S. these days, it is de rigueur to include a couple of ‘diversity’ candidates so that the talk show blabbers can engage in animated chatter about the possibility that history could be made by the appointment of the first transgender Aleutian Islander to head a Presidential Commission.


The second strategic option is to pass the dossier and responsibility onto your Vice-President or whomever is the Number 2 in your organization. This has the bonus of luring the chattering commentators into arguing that doing so confirms the pledge that VP ‘X’ will be the most influential in history (as was her predecessor and each preceding VP going back to Teddy Roosevelt).


The third is to contract with a consulting agency to do the job. This choice is very ‘with it.’ After all, we inhabit an age where our perceptions have been shaped by the denigration of government, by the exhalation of the private sector, by the flight from accountability, and the absence of any sense of shame. Just a few weeks ago, President Macron of France was revealed to have clandestinely agreed to pay McKinsey Assoc. 11 million Euros to devise a plan for the acquisition, distribution and administration of COVID-19 vaccines.


That decision, in effect, expresses a preference for placing the authority for managing an unprecedented public health crisis in the hands of a bunch of (young) amateurs rather than the rigorously trained, finely tuned haut fonctionnaires who used to be a matter of French pride. In this case, it seems that it is neither ‘acceptability’ nor ‘effectiveness’ that has dictated the choice but rather the doctrinal biases of Rothchild’s man in the Élysée. Is that statement hyperbolic exaggeration? Perhaps. 


However, let’s consider the response to the COVID-19 crisis – not just in the United States but in Britain as well. It’s an appalling record of incompetence and incoherence. Nor is all of it attributable to the fecklessness of Trump’s White House. The FDA and CDC, too, get failing grades. The state governments, for their part in mishandling the ‘rollout’ of the vaccines, exemplify disorder and irresponsibility. Despite 9 months of advance notice as to the challenging task that lay ahead of them, almost nothing was done in the way of serious planning – with the exception of two states: the odd couple of New Mexico and West Virginia.


The British government of Boris Johnson took the same path in an even more reckless strategy for squandering public funds and enriching friends/donors. They paid Deloitte and a subcontractor SERCO the munificent sum of $38 billion to create and implement a comprehensive Test & Trace system. It proved a sump of corruption and waste that didn’t come close to achieving any of its goals, with a Parliamentary oversight committee officially stating that it made no significant contribution to the fight against COVID whatsoever.


The harsh reality is that the cottage industry that has grown up in recent years in think tanks, universities and consultancies on ’crisis management’ leaves barely a trace on the conduct of real-world officials and institutions – except for the juicy deals they strike with consulting firms.


Final option, the chief receives a cogent briefing from a competent aide, then calls his trusted subordinate and says something like: “Jack – the situation is urgent. Get hold of Beverly and Franck and meet me in 30 minutes in the conference room to see how we’re going to deal with this.” Then comes the consultation, task assignment, decision and coordinated implementation. This last, of course, is pure fantasy – a quaintly charming borrowing from a vintage movie. This conceivably may be the way that Putin or Xi operate on occasion; clearly, no leader in the West does. The same can be said of ‘leaders’ in other large organizations. Most university heads, for example, would go into comatose shock at the mere suggestion of acting so incisively.


(To be concluded…)

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