In politics there are few more damning adjectives than “self-pitying”. And for good reason.
President Trump’s bluster about impeachment is consistently described as self-pitying. It’s a taunt which evokes the toxic vices of arrogance, self-deceit, victimhood and belligerence.
It’s a key for unlocking the dark psychology behind international politics. The military aggression of Putin’s Russia is often attributed to self-pity. Poor Russia, the victim of NATO…. Poor Russia, the victim of American globalism… Poor Russia, the victim of Western lies … Hence Georgia, Crimea and Ukraine.
Similarly perhaps, self-pity could explain why the transgender lobby has almost become synonymous with aggression. A lot of aggression … deplatforming, twitterstorms, and even physical violence. “The must-have accessory for the feminist who speaks her own mind: a bodyguard,” commented The Australian recently about Canadian transgender critic Meghan Murphy.
Nonetheless transgender rhetoric is always camouflaged with pleas for compassion, fairness, and tolerance. Transgenders are warm and loving people who just want to live their own lives.
Nobody illustrates this better than Deirdre McCloskey, who just wrote a long reflection in the on-line magazine Quillette about her journey from male to female. McCloskey may not be a household name, but she is highly esteemed for her work as an apologist for liberal capitalism. A cross-dresser from boyhood, he married, had two children, and had an extremely successful career as an academic economist. But at the age of 53, he took the plunge and had sex-reassignment surgery.
That happened in 1995. Today she claims to be deeply satisfied with life as a woman. “Becoming Deirdre has evoked not the slightest passing instant of regret. Not once. Nada.”
Without the change I would have become by now a quite horribly miserable old man, enviously watching Oprah’s gender shows (Deirdre appeared on one in 2000) and the sweet and profound movie TransAmerica (2005) and Caitlin Jenner coming out in all her refreshed glory.
Seventy-seven now, serene, loving, Christian (an Episcopalian convert), she seems to be living the transgender dream.
The fly in the ointment is being spurned by her former wife, her son and daughter, sundry relatives, and neighbours. And you know what? It’s their fault. “So strange are people,” she writes, “that if they do you damage, they remain angry. . . at you”.
It’s hard to know the truth about Deirdre’s past. We only have her side of the story in the Quillette article. But beneath the placid waters of unctuous, effeminate, self-justifying words, you can detect bubbling currents of rage. Her theme is (in my words): They had no right to reject me, me! such an affectionate, clever woman – and I am a woman — with so much love to give. The self-pity is breath-taking.
Take his unnamed wife. She lived for decades with his cross-dressing but his decision to have a sex-change must have come as a shock. She had committed her whole life to a man who would be her husband and the father of her children. He walked out, leaving to the woman to whom he had married for 30 years the job of telling his children. Instead of regretting that decision, she mocks it:
If you are one of the angry folk you will say, “Serves you right. You did a terrible, selfish thing to your wife. And your two grown children have righteously taken her side. Good for them.” A handful of people have said such things to me, and a few more probably feel so. I guess my marriage family feels it still, two decades on. But I don’t know what is meant by “selfish” here. I guess the angry folk believe I changed for pleasure rather than happiness.
How many people have sacrificed their “happiness” to care for aged parents or sick children? Quite a number. Perhaps you know some. But Deirdre McCloskey is not of their number.
Changing one’s sex is a kind of betrayal – of one’s parents, of one’s spouse, of one’s children. Not to speak of relatives, friends and colleagues. Deirdre was given a vocation in life to be a father and husband. She sold out for a higher ideal – her own happiness. Amazingly, she mocks reminders of these commitments as intolerance and spite.
It’s a pity that Deirdre’s two children failed to find some sort of accommodation with their father. After all, the children of some spies visit their fathers in prison. But there it is. Saints are rare birds. You cannot demand that people love you. And how hard it must be for children to love the person who repudiated his fatherhood.
But Deirdre demands anyway. And is rejected. And feels bitter and self-pitying. She once wrote a letter to her daughter and helped her financially. The young woman responded: “Thanks for the money. I still don’t want you in my life.” Deirdre whines:
Why, my beloved, why, why? My love for your mother over a third of a century had nothing false in it. My love for you was unconditional. Still is. Why throw away love with both hands?
Did her daughter fail to climb the Everest of compassion? Maybe. But what right had Deirdre to demand her love?
His son was even crueller, or so Deirdre says. He still refuses to speak to the woman who was once his father and has even poisoned the minds of his own friends against her. Her son’s father-in-law was a possible contact, but he refused to act as an intermediary for fear of losing his daughter. “To what?” asks Deirdre sarcastically. “Not to love or to tolerance of human change. Hmm.”
In her mind, Deirdre has done nothing offensive. Not once. Nada. It’s all the fault of the people she loves unconditionally. She is martyr to their transphobia (which thankfully, is not a word that she uses in the essay):
What worries me most—with the decades, the stab wound hurts less—is the loss to my children and then their children. I would have been a good father, an aunt, whatever you want to say, and anyway a grandparent, nearby and visiting out of state. Youngsters benefit from having more people in their lives, more models of how to live and to love.
Deirdre McCloskey is a model of urbane, good-humoured intelligence. But of self-understanding? Of loyalty? Of love? What she knows about the self-sacrificing love of a married couple would fill a thimble.
If America’s best-known transgender is so filled with suppressed anger, it’s no surprise that her comrades on Twitter whine about loving tolerance and yet boil with rage. That’s what self-pity does to you.
The handbook of Alcoholics Anonymous has a few words about its corrosive effects.
“Selfishness, self-centeredness! That … is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt. So our troubles … are basically of our own making.”
Wise advice for Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Deirdre McCloskey alike – to say nothing of thuggish transgender activists on Twitter and on the streets.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet