You cannot separate the brain from the culture

The Times has a long flattering piece on celebrity archaeologist and “trans ally” Alice Roberts. There’s an interesting moment where…

She says she chooses her words carefully, and it is not long before she is doing so again. We have been talking about men’s and women’s brains and whether there are fundamental intellectual differences between them. Ten years ago, she made a Horizon documentary with Michael Mosley called Is Your Brain Male or Female?. “And the answer is very simply, no. You cannot separate the brain from the culture that it is immersed in from the moment the baby is born, and even before. Your brain is going to develop in a way that is responding to that culture.”

I am not trying to propel Roberts back to a 2019 skirmish in the trans wars in which she tweeted that “biology is, quite simply, messier and more wonderful than some people like to believe” and advised doubters to “ask a clownfish” — a clownfish being a fish that starts life as male but becomes female. It does, however, strike me that if human female and male brains are the same, how can it ever be said that a baby possessing male genitalia was born into the wrong body.

There is quite a pause.

“I think that’s a very difficult philosophical question. It’s very difficult to pin it down, isn’t it? And we’ve had decades of feminism where we’ve been trying to get away from women being reduced to their genitalia. My own feeling is that you approach everybody as an individual.”

So respect an individual’s right to present as they wish?

“I think you would do that in normal society, wouldn’t you?”

First, the short one. Yes of course “you approach everybody as an individual” but that doesn’t require agnosticism on what sex the individual is. In fact in general agnosticism is not possible: we know what sex people are because we have our whole lives of knowing what sex people are to provide the clues. We may have been little agnostics as toddlers, but by the time we’re old enough to chat to the Times we can’t help knowing who is what sex.

Next, the longer one. Would you “do that in normal society”? That’s a general rule is it? So everyone is a blank slate and we all have to start from zero on every encounter? “Is this a human or a frog? Is this a living being or a rock? Is this a woman or a man?” Life is like that is it?

Give me a break.

And scientifically?

“Science can offer solutions to some questions and not to others. Science doesn’t necessarily tell us how to treat each other. We have to be very cautious if people are trying to use science in that way. I think there are big moral and ethical questions that exist almost separate to science.”

But that wasn’t the question. The question wasn’t “how should we treat each other?” but “how can it ever be said that a baby possessing male genitalia was born into the wrong body?”

Andrew Billen of The Times however finds her non-responsive response just the ticket.

I feel she has conceded exactly the ground necessary to foster a civilised truce in this particular culture battle. 


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