The New Nonsense

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After Windsor or Obergefell, I cannot remember which, it occurred to me that our best strategy, if only it would not cause scandal or offend truth, might be to extend the reasoning of those decisions and advocate for the most outrageous rights to show the absurdities to which the logic, or illogic, of those decisions leads. Let us take up the cause of the man who would marry his horse, or place ourselves on the side of those who would marry themselves—after all, we are told, they are merely being true to themselves, and if man is free to marry whomever he likes let him marry whatever he likes. If he is free to ignore Nature let him change Nature; let him do as he likes and be as he likes. Perhaps then, when all sorts of nonsense ensues, the Common Man will at last shake off his slumber and stop this madness.

But even if we were allowed to dissimulate and do evil that good may come, perhaps it would no longer avail us. Only the other day I read of a “sologamist” who “married” herself—or, as she put it on her “wedding” invitation, her “higher self”—in a fairly well-attended ceremony protested only, it seems, by her longsuffering Catholic parents. If she is not insane, her wickedness may exceed even that of the man who marries an animal or an armchair. At least this man’s choices allow him to go outside of himself to find himself, whereas our poor young solipsist goes no further than herself.

If this woman has carried the New Nonsense to its extreme in marriage, Emile Ratelband, the Dutch “positivity trainer,” leads a vanguard into new territory. In an effort to date more women and avoid “discrimination,” Ratelband argued in court that, although he is sixty-nine, his legal age should be reduced by twenty years because doctors have told him he has the body of a man in his forties. The astonishing fact is that, thus far, he has lost his case. Astonishing, not because his argument should prevail, or gain a hearing in a sane world, but because, on our insane world’s insane principles, he clearly should have won. If he had argued, instead, that he should be allowed to change his gender because doctors have told him he is really a woman, few would have gainsaid him. I cannot perceive a meaningful difference between the two cases; nor, it seems, could Mr. Ratelband, who argued: “We live in a time when you can change your name and change your gender. Why can’t I decide my own age?” He is correct—if the principles on which the New Nonsense are based are to have any consistent application.

Yet in rejecting his arguments, the court was in one respect consistent with those principles, or at least with a foundational principle. That principle is that there is nothing given in Nature that cannot be, and should not be, changed by man. Remaining true to this “first principle,” the court did not reject Ratelband’s arguments by holding that—whatever he might want based on however he might feel—his relief could not be granted: such as, absent an impetration by Joshua, the sun cannot be arrested, much less reversed, in its course. In other words, the court did not decide that Ratelband’s age could not be changed because it is an impossibility. If the court had done so, the whole towering, tottering edifice of the New Nonsense would have toppled. For just as surely one’s sexual organs are given by Nature and may not be ignored or altered by man; they can only be mutilated.

 

In any event, the court avoided this misstep but, in doing so, exposed the illogicality of the New Nonsense nonetheless. In tongue-in-cheek language, the court reasoned that “Mr. Ratelband is at liberty to feel 20 years younger than his real age and to act accordingly,” but legally changing his age would result in “undesirable legal and societal implications.” Now, I feel quite confident that we who have opposed same-sex “marriage” or gender ideology have argued that recognizing the former and fostering the latter would have “undesirable legal and societal implications,” but our claim was brushed aside with contempt or condescension. Apparently, then, some such implications are worth bothering about and some are not.

I suspect that, if we look for a basis to distinguish between which implications are desirable and which are undesirable, we will find not a principle but power. And since the New Nonsense is made possible by man believing he has complete mastery over Nature, I find C.S. Lewis’s words apt: “What we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.”

Evidently Ratelband was not powerful enough to win, but given time he or his successors may. After all, one of the grounds the court gave for rejecting his claim was that not enough people are asking for similar relief yet. Well then, Ratelband has his solution. He needs to gather enough votaries, or at least like-minded people, and he will be able to pick up more chicks soon enough. As for the “all kinds of legal problems” troubling the court—such as what to do about driver’s licenses or marriage licenses—these will be solved by technology or creativity or fiat. Or they need not be solved at all—as Ratelband suggested when he observed that he is free to change his name.

And what if the courts retreat to the castle keep, and admit at last that perhaps man cannot really overmaster the sun? Ratelband should argue that using the sun as a reference is merely the result of millennia of prejudice, and specifically of religious prejudice (remember his audience), beginning perhaps with the worship of Ra. And if that fails, he should just reiterate that he feels younger than he is, and remind the court that his feelings are not idiosyncratic but grounded in medical science; after all, there are doctors who would agree. Ultimately, Ratelband should not worry, for, by the time he is before the court again reason will not matter, as it did not several years ago in our own country.

I should not be so flippant, for even if there had been more solid ground given by the court but overlooked by the media, there is still a deeper concern and a deeper power at work here. What I have labeled pejoratively as the New Nonsense perhaps could be better called the New Paganism. While Belloc had something different in mind when he used the phrase, his observation still applies with equal force: “the New Paganism, foolishly expecting satisfaction, will fall, before it knows where it is, into Satanism.” For the New Nonsense, or the New Paganism, has at least three marks that seem to be hallmarks of our Ancient Foe: hatred for life, and especially for the bringing forth of new life; aversion for any suffering, unless inflicted by its adherents; and pride.

The first two marks I have touched on elsewhere in Crisis, and so will not do so here. But the last is on display in Ratelband’s argument and in the spirit and foundation of the philosophy that made it possible for him to be taken seriously. When man believes he has not dominion but domination over Nature, when he thinks he may do as he likes with Nature regardless of its immutable laws and its unalterable facts, and when he thinks creation is manipulable at his will, then does he say in deeds what his unseen master said in words: I will ascend into heaven… I will be like the most High. It turns out, then, that a fundamental tenet of the New Nonsense is nothing new at all. It is simply the creature once again proclaiming himself the Creator.

But let us have done and not fret overmuch. The Common Man might not have abandoned reason entirely; the cases, even the case of the sologamist, given in this essay should not lead us to hasty generalizations. And even if the Common Man’s common virtue is gone, or is smoldering without a saint to rekindle it, such that we can no longer share Chesterton’s uncommon faith in the man-in-the-street, still we should be at peace. Because of their embrace of contraception, the proponents of the New Nonsense are as sterile as their philosophy, and in a generation or two they, and their thinking, will be gone.

In the meantime, fear for them, and, in the short-term, for our civilization. But also take a long view and do not fear for the future. Ratelband may prevail someday, but his victory will last but a day. In the epochs of history it will seem short, like his life, whether that life is measured in solar or “Ratelband” years.

Editor’s note: Pictured above, Emile Ratelband, 69, answers journalists’ questions on December 3, 2018 in Amsterdam, following the court’s ruling regarding his legal bid to slash 20 years off his age. (Photo credit ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Justin Bradford Smith

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Justin Bradford Smith practices law in Texas, focusing on criminal and civil appeals. He is a graduate of Baylor University School of Law. Smith and his wife have three children.

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