Contemplating nature as a gift. Photo: fo.ol/Flickr
The leaders of two of the four political parties now forming a coalition in the Netherlands have signed a “rainbow voting agreement”. This agreement calls among other things for a law that authorizes multiple parents, a constitutional change which clarifies that LGBTQ discrimination is forbidden, and for the registration of gender to be abolished wherever possible. At the same time, many parties have given voice to environmental concerns, and the conservation of nature is a widely held value. Can the idea of nature conservation, especially that of human nature, and gender ideology really coexist?
The “rainbow voting agreement” was signed on March 7 this year, before the general elections, by eight of the most important political parties in the Netherlands, while five refused; three of the refusing parties have Christian roots. Currently, negotiations to form a new government are ongoing between four parties (VVD, D66, CDA, and ChristenUnie) of which the first two did, and the second two did not sign the agreement. The issues in the agreement are on the negotiation table though, and it remains to be seen what will become of them.
It should be noted that Article 1 of the Dutch Constitution currently reads: “Discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race or any other grounds whatsoever shall not be permitted.” The proposal would add “disability” and “sexual orientation” to the enumeration. It would also allow multiple registered parents of a child, and would stop the registration of gender as much as possible. These are steps towards a society where the natural gender difference between people is no longer recognized or found important.
Freedom and the exploitation of nature
Gender ideology says there is no natural difference between the genders, they are purely cultural. This finds its philosophical roots in Hegel, a well-known idealist philosopher. In his thought, freedom became so predominant that one could say he reversed the Gospel maxim, “the Truth will make you free”, making it “freedom will make you truthful”. In other words: you can be whatever you want to be. In gender ideology this primacy of freedom means we are whatever gender we want to be.
The primacy of will has been around in western thought for a while now, and has been applied to other issues too. It means, for instance, that we can make the world around us into whatever we want it to be. Over the recent years, there has been an increasing resistance against this type of thinking. Using the environment for whatever we want has come to be seen as exploitation, and the ecological movement has pushed for the recognition of the inherent value of nature, and its protection. We should not exploit our environment, but rather protect it, they say.
But doesn’t gender ideology, giving the same primacy to the will, also lead to the exploitation of human nature? And if so, what can we do to protect it?
Discrimination is already forbidden
The narrative of gender ideologists typically revolves around the fight against discrimination. They say that people with different sexual orientations, or who do not identify with either the male or female gender, should not be discriminated against. In the Netherlands, they now go to the extreme of wanting the ban on this specific type of discrimination to be entered explicitly into the Constitution. They also call for avoiding the registration of gender wherever possible.
Now, there is no need to argue that treating one another respectfully, and giving people equal opportunity is an important value in our Dutch society, and that in this sense discrimination is undesirable and should be forbidden. The thing is, though, that in Dutch law it already is forbidden. So why push for explicit mention of LGTBQ discrimination in the constitution? There are some downsides to this recognition.
In a video clip recently launched by the Dutch non-profit SIRE, boys are presented as learning in other ways than girls. Boys like to go out and experiment, and in that way they learn best. The clip starts by saying “boys and girls are equal, but they’re not the same”. It points to education as one area in which treating them as if they were the same is actually harmful. We are then working against human nature. Can’t we do better?
The human person as a gift
A healthier approach to the problem of gender and human nature can arise if we come to see the human person as a gift. The notion of the human person as a gift was developed in great depth by the Spanish philosopher Leonardo Polo. A gift is freely received, and we can freely decide on a use for the gift, even though we know it will yield most fruit when used in accordance with its nature. If we receive teabags, we will probably enjoy the gift most when using them to make tea, instead of decorating our walls with them.
Seeing a human person as a gift is a “healthy” approach because it does, in fact, promote good health. Take the problem of overweight and obesity. Preventing overweight means that we need to learn to accept our bodies, and learn to use them well. As Zac Alstin writes in his booklet on the topic, we need to learn that we can experience fake hunger and real hunger. Once that is accepted, we need to teach ourselves to act primarily on real hunger. This will, at least in Zac’s case, and in several other cases I have known, go a good way towards resolving the issue of being overweight. This example illustrates that accepting ourselves as we are and learning to act accordingly is a healthy approach.
Learning to accept the sexuality that is given to us is not always easy. We need to recognize that there are medical conditions relating to DNA, hormones, or otherwise, that make this process especially complex. This is why people who suffer such difficulties warrant our support, respect, and consideration, and should not be discriminated against. But supporting these persons does not mean that the rest of us should forget about the sexuality of the body that was given to us.
Accepting the differences that are given
Gender ideology, the idea that we “are what we want to be” in the area of our sexuality cannot be combined with a healthy respect and acceptance of the differences between people. Neither can the ideologically-inspired proposals to legalize multiple parents, include gender discrimination in the constitution, and to stop registering gender.
These are signs of a mentality that leads us to the exploitation of nature in the form of our own bodies. But why deny the differences in the first place? Why not rather accept given differences, protect them, and put them to good use, by serving one another with our strengths? That is the sign of a healthy society.
Daan van Schalkwijk writes from the Netherlands. He teaches biology at a university in Amsterdam and is the director of Leidenhoven College, a collegiate hall of residence. Visit his blog, Science and Beyond.