Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Relative Morality: The Trolley Problem and Seven Scenarios thatDemonstrate Morality is Relative and Dependent on our Prior Knowledge

Many hold to the belief that there is an objective or absolute moral standard that exists externally from us, and that we have a kind of moral sense that sniffs out this underlying moral code, or they believe their religion or their God provides a moral basis for all our moral actions and judgments.

All of these assumptions seem to be falsified by one simple thought experiment. You may have heard of it. It’s called The Trolley problem.

Here I am merely going to consider seven alternate scenarios of the trolley problem and change the conditions of each version of the events in the thought experiment and then discuss the moral consequences of each.

If I’m correct, I think you’ll find that when the conditions change our moral inclination changes as well. When the prior knowledge we have available changes our moral judgement shifts too. This will prove that morality is relative and dependent upon conditional restraints, including but not limited to our level of understanding regarding the conditions themselves.

The first thing we will need to do is set up the Trolley problem.

The Trolley Problem
There are three people tied to a stretch of track. Up ahead is a train baring down on them fast. All three will surely perish if nothing is done.

Now, let’s consider various scenarios and see how changing the conditions changes our moral perspective.

Scenario A
Suddenly we realize we are in proximity of a lever that will switch the tracks and divert the speeding train onto a different path thereby saving all three hapless victims.

 Question: Do you pull the lever?

Unless you’re a sociopath, the answer is most assuredly yes. People, whether it is because of some evolutionary altruistic sense or simply a humanistic desire not to see harm come to innocent people, will always choose to pull the lever and save those people. Nobody who contains such moral feelings ever says, in all seriousness, no to saving the people. At least, I haven’t run across any. Additionally, there is no logical reason not to.

One might object: but wait a minute! What if those people tied to the tracks are escaped criminals and convicts? Well, then we’ve changed the conditions of the thought experiment. Which we are going to do to show, just as this objection shows, that people’s moral views change depending upon the conditions which also change – thus showing that human morality is relative.

Scenario B
It’s the same problem. The train is barreling down the tracks and the three people are surely doomed. This time we happen to be standing on a bridge which crosses directly over the tracks. We look down, but to our dread discover that there is no switch track. Standing to our right, however, we suddenly notice an extremely obese man. He is so large, in fact, that if we pushed him off the bridge and onto the tracks then he’d surely stop the train thereby saving all three lives.

 Question: Do you push the fat man onto the tracks, thereby murdering him, in order to save three hapless lives?

Here is where things start to get tricky. Most people will say no, even though the statistical outcome varies very slightly from the original. Three people’s lives still hang in the balance. If you act quickly you can save all three. It does, however, require you to deliberately push someone onto the train tracks thereby killing them to save three others. But if you do nothing, those three people will surely become roadkill.

Standing by and doing nothing while you watch others suffer while they endure a horrible event is often called the *bystander effect. Most people will make justifications for why they shouldn’t involve themselves. Watching a bar fight, they might say, well, I’ll let those two settle matters. It’s between them. Watching a husband abuse a spouse they might say the same. It’s between them, none of my business. There have been real world examples of public rape in India where nobody interrupted the violent rape of a woman on a bus because it simply wasn’t any of their business.

Other times it appears people are genuinely fearful. If they get involved there is a real risk that they will be harmed as well. This deters people from doing what they feel is the right thing and allowing what they see as the lesser evil (at least from their point of view) to unfold instead of making it into a travesty by involving themselves and putting themselves into harm’s way.

Needless to say, most people are not comfortable taking a life to save three innocent lives. In fact, most would rather (willfully) allow three people to perish rather than (willfully) have to kill someone against their will.

Some have objected that there are other possible ways to grapple with this scenario. For example, you could jump onto the tracks yourself and try stopping the train in a noble act of self-sacrifice. But, unlike the fat man, there is no guarantee it will work. After all, you aren’t sufficiently large enough to halt the oncoming train. It’s a gamble and the odds are not in your favor.

What’s more, knowing that you’ll in all likelihood die, you are technically only committing suicide which, when you think about it, is only adding insult to injury of the three who will surely die regardless of your sacrifice.


The above scenarios A and B are the basis of the classic Trolley problem.

They show us that our moral sense goes into panic when we are faced with a more precarious situation, such as scenario B.

We often hesitate since our minds are desperately trying to figure out a right answer when there isn’t likely one. The truth is, in such a situation we simply don’t know what to do. Which is why in real life we have examples of both great heroics and people idly standing by and doing nothing.

Meanwhile, we know that willfully killing the person would be wrong, so we don’t want to do it. But we also are uncomfortable with the idea that three innocent people will die for no reason – or worse, because we chose to do nothing when we could have, in fact, easily prevented their deaths.

This discomfort expresses the success of the Trolley problem as a thought experiment, because if there were an easy answer, a recognizable objective or absolute moral standard, the answer would always be clear to us. But it’s not. Instead of moral clarity we have moral confusion.

On top of this, the Trolley problem also demonstrates that our moral sense relies on the conditions and prior knowledge and thus is rendered relative to the events unfolding around us and in relation to us.

How do we know this? Well, believe it or not, we can actually confuse our moral senses even more!

Consider the following example.

Scenario C
The same problem as scenario B. The train is rushing at breakneck pace toward three people trapped on the tracks. We are standing on a bridge when, low and behold, we discover there is a fat man standing next to us on the bridge. He is large enough to stop the train if, and only if, we push him off the bridge and onto the tracks.
 As we saw with scenario B, this is where most people grow extremely uncomfortable. But let’s make this scenario slightly more imperative than version B.
 This time we *do know the people tied to the tracks. The people are 1) your mother, 2) your doctor, and 3) your best friend.

 Question: Do you push the fat man onto the track and stop the train thereby saving your mother, your doctor, and your best friend?

When this scenario is given many people (not all, but quite a surprising number) will immediately reverse their choice from scenario B, where they held it was wrong to push the fat man onto the tracks, and will suddenly – and without hesitating – shove the fat man off the bridge thereby saving their important loved ones.

Scenario C is used to express the fact that we place greater moral value in those who are close to us, whether it is our family, our tribe, our neighbors, our fellow countrymen.

But nothing has statistically changed in this example. The only thing that has changes is our foreknowledge. This time we know exactly who are tied on the tracks before we have to face making any moral judgement.

But we’re not finished yet! There is yet another couple scenarios that will demonstrate the greater good is not always necessarily dependent upon a moral judgement and a moral judgement, made in good faith, doesn’t necessarily guarantee the greater good.

Allow me to explain.

Scenario D
This is the same as scenario C, but this time, instead of your doctor the person wedged between your best friend and your mother is Adolf Hitler. Now, Hitler is a real bad dude. You know this. Everyone knows this. The question is…

Question: Do you push the fat man off the bridge and save three innocent lives knowing that, perhaps, one of them is the greatest mass murdering psychotic dictator in all of history?

In such a situation many become even more morally confused. They want to save their mom and their friend but they know that if they let Hitler live he will probably kill millions of innocent people. Once they realize this, they find themselves asking whether or not the value of their friend’s life and their mother’s life is worth millions of other lives, including the life of the fat man which they’d have to push in order to save the three on the tracks.

The things is, if we throw an evil person like Adolf Hitler into the mix most people are back to refusing to push the fat man.

But what if there was no fat man?

Scenario E
This scenario is exactly like scenario A, where there is a switch track and a lever we can pull to divert the train. And like scenario D, it’s your best friend, mother, and Adolf Hitler.

Question: Do you pull the lever?

Many find it harder to do. Some will and some won’t, depending on how much they value their loved ones and how much they despise the evil person on the tracks.

Scenario F
We’re not out of the woods yet. Just like scenarios C, D, and E we know who are on the tracks. But this time, two of the three are evil. This time you see your best friend is next to Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson!

Question: Do you pull the lever?

In this scenario more people are inclined to sacrifice their best friend, because they don’t want two evil people running a muck and harming countless others.

But what has changed here? Notice that now they will sacrifice their best friend when earlier they wouldn’t even sacrifice a perfect stranger to save three people and in scenario C their very own beloved family members and friends!

Scenario G
Same as the above but this time all three persons tied to the tracks are evil sons of bitches. We have Adolf Hitler, Charles Manson, and Stalin.

Question: Do you pull the lever?

There is a G-2.0 scenario which says the evildoers are on the clear tracks, safe but still tied up. It asks if you'd switch the lever to deliberately put them in harms way knowing how evil they truly are. In one fell swoop you could take out Hitler, Manson, and Stalin.

Would you do it? 

Some might do it out of a sense that killing these three evil men leads to a greater good than not killing them. At the same time, however, we realize that murdering three people is not moral, and that to seek the greater good, in this case, we'd have to commit an immoral act.

How then is morality not relative?


The Trolley problem frustrates many because there is clearly no straight, clean-cut answer. Many who expect there to be an objective or even absolute morality often become frustrated by the thought experiment's limitations and begin creating wild hypotheticals to try and avoid having to make a moral judgement themselves. Maybe it’s God’s will for these people to die? Who are we to question God? Maybe God is testing us and wants us to learn that we cannot save everyone? Maybe Superman swoops down at the last minute and rescues everyone?

No, I’m afraid these rationalizations do not solve for the initial conditions as set by the problem. Really, the Trolley problem shows that our moral judgments do not abide by an objective or absolute standard. Instead, they frequently shift and change as our perspective shifts and changes and appear to be dependent on the conditions of the events which are unfolding, dependent upon our prior knowledge, and frequently change when the conditions and information changes.

Really, you’ve gotta love the Trolley problem.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Why are Certain People More Religious than Others? Answering a Reader's Question

I have a regular reader who emails me questions that he is currently wrestling with as someone who has recently lost faith. I am always glad to lend my opinion and share my own experiences, even though at the end of the day that's all it amounts to--me just yapping my mouth. But if it adds some sort of consolation or comfort to someone else, then I'm more than happy to oblige.

My reader wrote me asking the following (I trimmed it a bit due to length, but I left the gist of it):

Hi Tristan,
I've got one question for you. I cannot understand one thing. Why are some people, like you or me, (more) susceptible to religion than others?
For example, in my family everyone goes by as Christian on paper, except my father and sister. But the thing is none of these relatives of mine even have a Bible in their homes, let alone go to church. It was only me who got interested in Jesus Christ beyond what is considered ordinary Christian life in my country...
Is it a religious gene?... It seems to me that the whole religious business along with the Bible, Church, and the story of God is just the (an) invention... That is my impression. But the thing is and what I have been asking myself is: why one earth was I trying to believe in the first place?
I am not a Christian any more, do not believe in a personal God, and all those years spent believing seem foolishly wasted. It is really foolish to believe so why was I so foolish? This puzzles me.

My response was as follows:


Sorry for the late response. Things have been hectic. I'm burning the candle from both ends, as the late Christopher Hitchens used to say.

Regarding your question about a "religious gene", the idea you propose about certain people being more religious due to genetics has been a line of inquiry I've wondered about ever since I heard Richard Dawkins mention it as a possibility.

Although, I don't know how much our propensity to believe is genetics per se, as it's outside my knowledge base, I only know a few studies that investigate the question very thoroughly. It seems the research I've read suggests it is a real possibility, but as always, more research needs to be done.

Personally, I am inclined to think that it is probably more environmental than genetic.

In fact, our environments influence our genetics more than anything, so even if there is a genetic trait that makes people more or less religious, I would bet this influence is still mainly governed by our surrounding environments.

Jared Diamond's wonderful book Guns, Germs, and Steel shows how certain key inventions and cultural innovations changed the entire course of human history.

Diamond mentions that:

“History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples' environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves.”

What's great about his book is that he examines the sociological component, that is to say the human aspect, of each of these main historical and cultural movements--and he shows that many of these changes occurred because the environments of humans changed.

New technologies made it easier to mine and refine steel, trade routes improved, better steel led to the ability to build larger buildings which could contain more people and cities grew bigger. Larger populations with more people traveling on new steel railroads and boats caused the rapid spread of germs to other cultures and countries, which in turn sparked the need for better medicine.

This, in turn, generated more medical research and helped improve medicine, which made it safer and easier to travel and to live in densely populated cities, etc. and etc.

In another one of Diamond's works, Why is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality, he has this to say:

“Perhaps our greatest distinction as a species is our capacity, unique among animals, to make counter-evolutionary choices.”

I think religion is much the same way.

There may be social reasons humans grouped together in close-knit societies, and a byproduct of this change may have been religion, which at it most basic seems to be a kind of tribalism which aims at maintaining strict allegiance to the group and being distrustful of outsiders.

At the same time, all the harm religion seems to cause can, in my mind, be equated to our capacity to make, as Diamond so astutely observes, counter-evolutionary choices.

Now a days, with the Internet, global communication, smart phones, easy, affordable, and expedient International travel, tribal borders has all but shrunk away to nothing. We are truly becoming a global society. And time marches on.

In this context, of ever shrinking borders, where cultures and ideas rub up against one another, and sometimes clash, it seems that certain religious ideas never had the ability to leave their local region until widespread communication and travel allowed these ideas to spread all across the globe.

Some have likened the harmful aspect of these tribal religious beliefs to a virus. But I think it's probably more nuanced than that.

Many of the ideas have a universal appeal, which is why they hang on. Many people can relate to them, because at their most basic they are still "tribal" stories in nature. Stories about moral values, upholding the values of the group, and keeping your faith safe from those things which would seek to dismantle the harmony of your particular group. This exclusivism often breeds an overzealous conservative streak in those who fear liberalism as a "dangerous" change that will erode and destroy their traditions way of life and as an affront to their conservative beliefs.  Yet the world continues to become more multicultural, and it seems to me liberalism is the only way to engage other cultures and people's without causing unnecessary friction by placing the 'other' into opposition with oneself or one's group.

I only mention all this because, in my experience, when I was in a secluded yet highly religious environment, conservative values were always championed and liberal values always demonized. There was no thought about inclusiveness, it was all about the community, the pride we had as a group, as a church, as a town, as a Republican, as conservative safeguarding our traditional values, as if they were sacred cows that should never be challenged or revised, lest they be tainted by the evils of the outside world.

It was in this sphere is where my religious beliefs and values were instilled.

And to a small degree, I would say when the environment changes the conditions of what we are exposed to changes, and we will change. We are all the product of our environments, after all.

And this is what religion tries to vehemently avoid. Religion doesn't want to be accommodationalist to the outside world and to other worldviews. It wants the outside world and all other worldviews to be accommodating to it and, often times, its archaic, outmoded, even dangerous rituals, practices, and beliefs.

Now, I know not all religions are created equal and not all religion is entirely bad. But it is in this sphere, this circle of conservatism, where religion operates and it uses this political element as a wedge to separate the heretical views of the world outside and creates for itself opposition. This is why religion always seems to butt heads with other ideologies, whether social, political, or moral.

I know, I'm going on at length about this, but bare with me. My point is coming.

I know that i was extremely religious from about 12 years old until I turned 18 and entered into college / university. The reason, I think (looking back now), is that I still hadn't developed enough critical thinking skills to evaluate ideas on my own, and I simply didn't have exposure to other ideas. In my small community, which was highly religious (a church on every street corner for a community of less than 2,000 people) I had a selection of about 20 different churches to attend in my community. The only other thing there was 20 of in my town was bars and pubs.

To put this in perspective, my entire town had one only two grocery stores. But approximately a dozen bars and a dozen churches. So until I turned 21, drinking at all the bars was out of the question. But religion, there was plenty of that to go around.

Now, my parents came out of religious homes, but they were more along the liens of "cultural Christians." That is, they were Christian in name mainly but didn't attend church or practice any of the ritualistic elements. Well, my mother did for a long time, but then sort of stopped. I think she goes to church again now that she has remarried a devout religious man. But she's happy, so that's good.

My parents prayed sometimes, and would go to church on the main days like Easter and Christmas Eve, and if someone they knew died or got married, but that was about it for church services.

But not for me though. Not even by a long shot.

When I turned 14 I made the personal choice to devote my life to Christ.


Because my church had a robust youth ministry. We called it Youth-Group or Kids for Christ. It was sponsored by the church, which organized fun activities for the local youth, and it was always accompanied by bible studies and mini-sermons by either our pastor or youth pastor.

Namely, it was something to do. It kept me out of trouble, so it wasn't all bad. But, in hindsight, it really did amount to basically a brainwashing camp. Because, when you think about it, what else were we learning?

I attended church and church related activities three times a week, and that was about the same amount of times I had math class per week at school. So, basically, I was learning about the Holy Bible just as intensely as I was any of my other studies at school. And, of course, school has distractions, like sports, and girls and what not. Not so much at church.

You see, when I was at church, I focused on church. I was focused on improving my relationship with God. I was focused on faith.

I read my Bible thoroughly. I read it before bed. I read it three times a week at Bible study. I read it on the weekends. Those were the stories I knew, and at school, mainly I was just getting watered down, general overviews of subjects. Nothing too in depth. I mean, we never really got into any subject in any detail unless it was an elective class and the teacher made sure we knew our stuff. My mythology class was one of the better classes I had in terms of content. My Shakespeare class was another one. It was the same teacher, and she really pushed us to read the material and learn it.

But at the same time, my general knowledge of history and science was pretty lacking. Math was a pain in the ass. School life was fine, but outside of that, all there was to do was sports or video games, and hang out with friends. Pretty much what every teenager these days does anyway. But there was no YouTube. I couldn't just go on and listen to religious people debate atheists. There were no outside ideas streaming into my home. This stuff simply didn't exist.

So I spent my free time in other ways.

Religion filled that niche for me.

So I grew more and more religious. And by the time I was 16 -- Jesus and the saving grace of God was about all I could talk about. I was on fire for Christ, as we used to say. In the 90s, we called ourselves "Jesus Freaks." A fitting name, because that's exactly what we were.

At that time I started doing youth ministries, started traveling the U.S. to visit other Evangelical churches like my own, getting to know other Christians. And within this little sub-cultural of the greater Christian culture that saturates America, I had a lot of fun. Made a lot of friends.

And then, my religioisity started to get really extreme.

My friends and I began to burn all our music albums that weren't Christian. We stopped watching movies that were rater R or even PG-13. We vowed not to let our girlfriends or the thought of sex distract us from our mission to be more Christlike.

I even got a summer job as a camp counselor at one of the better known Christian bible camps in my state, and they ran that thing exactly like a cult. We literally used emotional blackmail and fear tactics to scare young children into emotionally breaking down and accepting Christ. We called it "Witnessing."

In retrospect, being a part of that Christian bible camp is one of my life's greatest regrets. But at the time, I didn't know what I was doing was a kind of sick and twisted psychological manipulation of young children's minds.

I honestly thought I was doing God's work, spreading the "good news" and sharing my faith while helping others to walk a righteous path with the Christian Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It was about fellowship and making lasting bonds with my fellow Christians.

And we rejoiced in this.

Perhaps the most ironic thing is, thought, that I am no longer in touch with any of the Christian friends I once had back then. Not really. Not since I left the faith. The only people I still talk to from my Bible camp days are those who, like me, left the faith.

But those that stayed true to their faith, every time I've reached out to them, although polite, they haven't shown me the time of day. I can only think back to that religious tendency of wanting to shelter itself from those dangerous outside views that challenge it and which sometimes outright defy it. I know I bring a lot of that to the table in terms of my activism, and so I can't blame my old religious friends for shying away from the Advocatus Atheist. I guess, in this respect, my zeal for the religious subject matter never truly dissipated. But instead of wasting precious hours of my day devoted to atheist, humanist, and secular activism, I have settled to just blog about these issues instead. ;)

So, okay, I've rambled on for far too long.

But my point is, once I left that religiously super-charge environment where there was no other stimuli, when I went out into the world and began thinking for myself, when I found other interests besides religion -- because I learned there was other subjects in the world than religion -- my mind expanded greatly.

College helped open my mind up even more, by challenging my limited knowledge and my views. My move to Japan tore my mind wide open to other possibilities and different worldviews. And somewhere along the way my religion fell out.

When you have an open mind, it's really hard just to hold on to one thing. When you have many interests, you want to learn them all. When you gain new experiences, you can no longer pretend that you've experienced all you need to. When you obtain new knowledge, you cannot pretend you know all there is to know.

Between becoming better educated, learning to critically evaluate my beliefs, and having more experiences I realized that my religiosity was just a small part of who I was.

But it was a big part of who I was when I didn't know anything else.

Finally, I will share one last quote from Jared Diamond's book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.

“Two types of choices seem to me to have been crucial in tipping the outcomes [of the various societies' histories] towards success or failure: long-term planning and willingness to reconsider core values. On reflection we can also recognize the crucial role of these same two choices for the outcomes of our individual lives.”

At any rate, I apologize for going on at length. I really don't know the answer to the genetic aspect of being more or less religious, so I think I failed to answer your question, but it is fascinating to think about none-the-less. Hopefully I gave you something to chew on, if its any consolation.


Tristan Vick aka The Advocatus Atheist



My loyal reader responded with a nice compliment!

Thanks for the reply. Better late than never.

As for the length of your response I can only say that your emails have been so far of the highest quality possible despite their quantity. Your responses have always been informative and I have learned much from them....
Once again, thanks for sharing your experience.
All the best.


What a nice compliment! I was afraid I had bored them to death with my ramble. Anyway, I must say thanks for the compliment! I always enjoy hearing that my words are beneficial to someone and I'm not just wasting my breath.


Saturday, June 6, 2015

Is Caitlyn Jenner a Hero?

I thought I was done talking about this topic, but obviously not. There are too many dense heads and unsympathetic people who'd rather sling nasty hate than try for one second to exercise a modicum of empathy.

So, without further ado... 

Some people are saying what Caitlyn Jenner did is not brave or heroic. 

Lots of memes of Caitlyn Jenner juxtaposed against other athletes and war veterans carry the insensitive captions hero, hero, hero, Caitlyn Jenner: not a hero.

A lot of this hullabaloo comes hot off the heels of the announcement that Caitlyn Jenner is going to receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

So, the question is:

Is Caitlyn Jenner a Hero? Is she courageous? Brave?

Most Likely. Yes.

Those who still may not think Caitlyn Jenner is doing something heroic, let me just say that I can guess with fair certainty that you are not a transgender person hiding in the closet for fear of walking down the street to get groceries or pick up your kids from school only to be beaten to death in the street for no reason but for the fact that you were different. 

I am sure Jenner's actions seem heroic to those people who have endured such hardships, who live in constant fear and intimidation, and who might have even experienced the trauma of physical abuse first hand and the ostracizing by family and friends as well as their communities.

People's inability to sympathize with the LGBT community is the problem, not the fact that Caitlyn Jenner is a high profile celebrity. Jenner is in a key position to be a spokesperson for the LGBT community and can aid in bringing greater cultural awareness and tolerance for LGBT people. 

So, the question is, should you care? Yes. I think so. I think it is a necessary conversation.

Jenner doesn't need to be my personal hero to be a hero and an inspiration to others. What I find heroic isn't the issue here.

My beef isn't with what people personally find heroic. My beef is that society as a whole cannot accept that Caitlyn Jenner is a hero to LGBT people, simply because they feel confused, or "icky" inside thinking about it. 

Well, if it bothers you that much then don't think about it, but by the same token, don't try to dictate what people can and cannot find heroic because it doesn't fit with your views of heroism. There are many different kinds of heroes for all walks of life.

The problem I have is when people who don't care to even begin to try and understand the LGBT community decide to bad mouth them, sling insults and hurtful comments, and occasionally intact senseless violence against them instead and then wonder why the they want heroes. 

When you can't muster up enough empathy to say anything supportive of Caitlyn Jenner or any of the rest of the LGBT community but feel more than within your right to share hurtful or damaging memes / words about them, then all you are is an asshole. So what does your opinion matter anyway?

The bottom line...

Society needs to grow the fuck up.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Why I won't Misgender Caitlyn Jenner or any other transgender-person

Let me get up on my soapbox here for a minute.

Recently I posted this meme on my personal Facebook timeline.

It instantly sparked a long debate in the comments section of the post, but not for the reasons you'd think. Nobody was talking about the incestuous scumbag Josh Duggard and how he raped his 4 year old sister until she was 12 or about how his parents helped conceal the terrible truth of it and cover up years of molestation within the family.

Rather, to my dismay, it seemed people were more morally outraged by a person changing their gender identity.

First, never mind the fact that a person having a sex change or who changes their gender has nothing to do with you and is completely a personal matter. What's more, it isn't hurting anyone, but people still want to misgender Caitlyn Jenner and say that because she hasn't had a full genital reconstruction she isn't technically a woman yet and so stubbornly dismiss her coming out and continue to pedantically refer to her as a "him" even after being corrected.

This dismissiveness isn't just rude and insensitive, which it totally is, but in this case it is dehumanizing and immoral. Allow me to explain why.

Within human society, both Western and Eastern, sex and sexuality have been separate for a long time. Gender identity is tied up with sexuality where as the biology of sex isn't. 

I think people get confused about pronouns because traditionally speaking it's hard to change our thinking about solid forms, like biological sex. Don't even think about trying it with the more nebulous concepts of self-identity and individuality which come with them their own unique philosophical challenges.

The way I often try to explain it is that anatomy (having the parts) is merely aesthetic. Structural. But that the identity, the mind, the soul, the person as they feel themselves to be doesn't change because they have a certain anatomy.

Gay men are not women even though they like (i.e., are sexually attracted to) the same sex. Thus, it's obvious to me, gender is separate from biological sex.

It seems this is an easy concept for most to grasp without problem even though many have lots of trouble accepting that trans-people, whether transgender or transsexual, often end up choosing one gender identity over another. Even though this is not always the case, and even though gender identities vary and can blend.

When I first came to Japan I was shocked by how many trans-people were on national television and talk shows. After a while I fell madly in love with Haruna Ai, one of Japan's most famous women. I didn't care that she used to be something else. I had only ever known her as a woman, and that's what she wanted to be, and she's beautiful and funny... and her light bubbly television personality won me over instantly.

I think the best thing to do is to try and get comfortable with the notion that there are more than just two genders, even as there seems to only be two sets of biological sex (or more accurately three since transsexual is technically a third biological sex, strictly speaking). And it's probably not a good idea to gender stereotype people into just two categories--which is a very black and white way of seeing the issue.

Society compounds the problem when we assign rigid gender roles to one gender and not another and don't allow for any crossover or variance or any leeway in who we see carrying out these preselected gender roles. When someone tries to crossover, or there is variance, people's first reactions seem to be to gender stereotype. I think we have to be mindful that this can be damaging, not only to the person who it tries to crush into a single form they don't identify with but it also insolently dismisses that which they do identify with. It's worth noting that such prejudice has never benefited humanity and only seeks to hold us back, as has racism, homophobia, and xenophobia. Now we can add transphobia to this notorious list of myopic and callous thinking that seems to retard society as a whole. 

I'm sure that many of you may all well know all this, but I am explaining it here for the benefit of others who may still be confused about why using an outmoded pronoun for a trans-person might be insensitive and rude.

Additionally, medical science has been well aware of the blurred lines where biology and gender identity come into play for a long time.

I am reminded of an episode of the medical drama House, M.D. called "Skin Deep" where the female super model turned out to have a very rare condition called *complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, and even though she had all the biological parts of a female, she was technically male.

See here for more on complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (http://en.wikipedia.org/…/Complete_androgen_insensitivity_s…)

Society doesn't seem equipped to even talk about such things since people are so frequently poorly informed. Which is why I felt this little rant was worth having.

I think the pedantic nature of people using certain pronouns to misidentify or misgender someone is terribly insensitive.

I think if people started calling me a "she" even though I think of myself as a "he" it would seem rather insensitive, especially after I was patient enough to point it out to them that I don't think of myself as that particular thing.

My body parts never really come into play. It's not a question of what gear I am packing. It's a question about how I see myself and how I feel on the inside. The true me. The real me. Knowing this, I can empathize with Caitlyn Jenner and those who face such obstinacy from society at large.

Let's think of it another way. Misgendering someone would be a lot like calling a gay person straight just because you don't want to accept other sexual preferences than your own, and it comes off as being rather condescending and rude, not to mention completely dismissive of the person's feelings and who they are as a person separate from their basic anatomy--which, again, has nothing to say on gender.

In this case, gender stereotypes are outmoded, and I am perfectly fine accepting people for who they are.

We have to respect people as they see themselves and learn to love them for who they are lest we devolve into complete bigotry due to our inflexibility to adjust our views and update them accordingly. As Bob Dylan sang, the times are a changing.

I don't think we should misgender people because we judge them according to the inflexible standards of society, a society which is not well informed on the topic and which holds to definitions from a bygone era when nobody knew the difference anyway. 

It seems that if you want to update your knowledge, you have to put the pseudoscience aside. If you want new cutting edge medicine, you have to put away the crackpot alternative medicine and get with the program. I would say the same about gender, sexuality, and sex. If you want to understand these things as they truly are, you can't hold to an outmoded rule book that doesn't care to see these things in any terms other than black and white.

That's why holding to the "he" or "him" pronouns for Caitlyn Jenner is insensitive and wrong. It becomes offensive when people are corrected on it but continue to misgender the person anyway.

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist