On Cherished Categories and Critique

One recurring pattern I see in contemporary political and social rhetoric is this (quite intentional, I think) collapse of the disease into the patient.

When you diagnose a disease, you presumably want to kill the disease so that the patient might live. It’s true that sometimes the patient is so diseased that a cure is impossible, absolutely.

Importantly, the patient is not their disease.

Yet when you seek to diagnose some cherished conceptual category (masculinity and femininity, inerrancy, capitalism, the nuclear family, etc) the very first thing the gatekeepers of that category do is exactly that: confuse the patient and the disease.

If you say “toxic masculinity”, the gatekeepers of this cherished category without fail misinterpret this (again, I think, quite intentionally) as “all masculinity is toxic”. Yet somehow they can still understand that “rotten apples” doesn’t mean “all apples are rotten”.

Why? Because these cherished categories are, for them, beyond critique. Any critique is an attack. And because their category is cherished and essential, any attack on the category is an attack on them, their community, their way of life, and so forth.

This seems to me a religious response. If your cherished category must not be critiqued, if you view it as essential, foundational, and axiomatic, we’re dealing with doctrine.

For a Christian, this is idolatry, pure and simple. Not only that, you have only to look at the history of Christianity, Second Temple Judaism, through to ancient Israel, to disprove this kind of blind essentialism. If this category exists at all (capitalism obviously doesn’t, for instance), our modern understanding and practice of it would be absolutely unrecognizable. History is, as always, pluralizing.

The problem is that collapsing the patient into its disease prevents diagnosis. Preventing diagnosis prevent curative action. And preventing that action often means the patient simply dies.

That’s the way in which the gatekeepers of a cherished category actually hasten its demise.

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