The transgender discussion has descended into a quagmire of absolute certainty and lost nuance. It’s causing genuine suffering on both sides. James O’Brien recently told David Dimbleby that he no longer goes near it, and I don’t blame him. Do you ever feel that you’re being played? Well I’ve got news for you. You are. We all are.
Background: divide and conquer – the modern manual
In 1997 James Dale Davidson and William Rees-Mogg, father of Jacob, wrote a book which became the bible of the Institute of Economic Affairs and the American libertarian right. The book came to the attention of US billionaire Peter Thiel who admired it so much that he wrote the forward for the 2020 reprint.
The full title of the book is The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the Transition to the Information Age. The 1997 edition was called How to survive and thrive during the Collapse of the Welfare State. But with the 2020 reprint the title was changed to focus on technology. This enhanced the book’s appeal to the super-rich in California’s Silicon Valley. With a forward by Thiel, who had made billions of dollars as the co-founder of PayPal and Palantir Technologies and as the first outside investor in Facebook, America took note.
The Sovereign Individual is a manifesto for an extreme right-wing libertarian philosophy in which nation states will fail and out of the ashes will rise ‘sovereign individuals’ who hold inordinate amounts of wealth and control of natural resources. Before this status can be achieved, society as we know it has to collapse. The collapse itself will present opportunities to accrue the enormous wealth required to survive in the new world order.
In the cold light of day, the book sounds eccentric to say the least, but it has developed cult status amongst certain think tanks with enormous power over the current government, and in the American tech community, largely thanks to Thiel’s endorsement of it.
Causing collapse by culture war
How better to ‘master the transition to the information age’ than by using media outlets to control the narrative. Thiel was the perfect conduit.
In 2000, three years after the publication of their book, Rees-Mogg senior and Davidson became founding members of the board of Newsmax, a newly established American right/far right-wing cable news and digital media company which went on to be favoured by Donald Trump over Fox News. It typically promoted culture wars and published provocative content to the extent that they are currently being sued by Dominion voting systems and Smartmatic for platforming Trump’s voter fraud and stolen election claims.
Thiel for his part began funding an alliance of Youtubers and internet personalities who call themselves the intellectual dark web (IDW). The term was coined by Eric Weinstein, one of its founding personalities, who describes himself as a mathematician. He also happens to be Thiel’s right-hand man and managing director of Thiel Capital. Between them they have a reach of tens of millions of people, chiefly spread over the English-speaking world. They host three-hour-long discussions about, amongst other things, critical race theory, grievance studies and transgender issues, bemoaning political correctness (or being ‘woke’) and cancel culture.
Under the appealing guise of intellectualism these discussions amplify what were previously relatively obscure theories rarely finding traction outside a university campus. They have propelled the very behaviour they claim to despair of to the centre of national discourse, spreading stories around the blogosphere and YouTube which then end up on radio talk shows and willing media outlets such as Newsmax.
This attention inevitably attracts a backlash and so a national debate is born, and the very phenomena which was once a minor issue on the fringes of academia and certain minority groups has nourished itself on the media attention it receives to take a disproportionate place in the national discourse.
The IDW is widely viewed on YouTube all over the Anglosphere and a similar pattern of events has happened in Britain.
Britain and transgender in 2022
British politicians from all sides are now being challenged on a regular basis to answer basic biology questions specifically designed to catch them out. It’s thought that Penny Mordaunt’s sympathies for the trans community contributed to her failure to progress in the Conservative leadership campaign and Boris Johnson was accused of being a hypocrite in his support of a Conservative MP who had come out as trans.
The Lib Dems recent election for a president was mired by a Twitter pile-on against candidate Liz Webster who suffered internet abuse and was publicly accused of being a ‘Terf’ by India Willoughby, apparently on the basis of a document written by a different Elizabeth Webster. Willoughby went on to apologise saying that she’d been “blitzed by terf tweets last night – got caught up in it”.
Meanwhile, the Green Party is being sued by three of its members who accuse the party of becoming a “deeply hostile environment for anyone who dares to question the rights of transgender people” and Labour Women’s Declaration Group was refused a stand at the party conference earlier this year.
And in the meantime, the country is in a crisis of historical proportions.
Divided we fall
The same groups fanning the flames of the transgender issue also played a crucial role in attempting to influence the outcome of the Brexit referendum. Thiel’s Palantir group has been linked to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. He is heavily involved in the Atlas Network of right-wing think tanks that skewed reality in the lead up to the 2016 referendum and which have enjoyed extraordinary influence over recent administrations. Strongly linked to this government, Palantir was awarded non-tendered contracts worth £24mn during the Covid pandemic and has now set its sights on a contract worth £240mn to ‘re-shape’ the NHS.
Despite funding influencers who on the face of it defend women’s rights to speak in clear terms about their bodies and their biology, Thiel recently supported Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters in the US mid-term elections. Masters is not only anti-abortion but anti-contraception. In addition, Thiel has been developing a period tracking app called femtech, to assist women to withdraw from the use of contraceptives altogether. He also once wrote that women getting the vote was bad for democracy.
And this is the same Thiel who hopes that by drinking the blood of the young he can reduce the effects of aging. He has also heavily invested in failed projects such as Seasteading (building a libertarian utopia in the middle of the ocean) and Prospera, a charter city in Honduras, a crypto-libertarian paradise for rich people wanting to create a tax-free paradise. In both cases his plans were thwarted by governments and the law.
Thiel studied at Stanford University, as did Rishi Sunak. Sunak has been described as the sovereign individual in Downing Street. His flagship freeports policy seen by some as charter-cities lite is likely to appeal to his old alumni.
Thiel’s place in Britain’s political story, extraordinarily influenced by the American right, is very secure for the time being.
Let’s not fall for it again
In his excellent review of The Sovereign Individual entitled ‘Sovereign Nonsense’, E Glen Weyl concludes that its many influential followers are deliberately sowing reaction and discord to accelerate the collapse of society in order to be liberated from the restraints imposed by an administrative state.
The debate now raging on Twitter and other social media outlets, whether the rest of us – including the wider transgender community – want it or not, is being foisted upon us as if it’s the most pressing matter of national importance. And once you’ve declared an opinion either way, take care! Because no matter how gently you express yourself, and whatever ‘side’ you appear to be on, you will be mercilessly attacked. Civilized discussion, it seems, is unacceptable.
Meanwhile the country burns.
This article does not attempt to place the entire history of the transgender discussion under the control of Thiel and his ilk. Instead, it brings attention to the decision of an extremely powerful elite to employ cynical tactics to influence the narrative in such a way that seeds division and distraction amongst the people of a country that is in desperate need of clarity and leadership, for their own ends.
All that’s left to say is, we need to try harder. Let’s not fall for it again.