This week on High Noon with Inez Stepman, Libby Emmons joins the pod. Emmons is editor-in-chief of The Post Millennial and, prior to that, a canceled playwright. Stepman and Emmons have a wide-ranging conversation that includes everything from the defense of humanity against both transgenderism and transhumanism that got her exiled from her feminist theater company, to the complicated relationship between morality and art.

High Noon is an intellectual download featuring conversations that make possible a free society. The podcast features interesting thinkers from all parts of the political spectrum to discuss the most controversial subjects of the day in a way that hopes to advance our common American future. Hosted by Inez Stepman of Independent Women’s Forum.


TRANSCRIPT

Inez Stepman:

Welcome to High Noon, where we talk about controversial subjects with interesting people. My guest this week is Editor-in-chief of The Post Millennial, Libby Emmons. You may have read her work in The Federalist, in the New York Post, Quillette, or many other places where she publishes on a whole variety of subjects. She was also once a working and successful playwright. That was the first half of her career and her life, and we’ll get to that in a moment before she decided to turn her writing skills towards the political. So, welcome Libby to High Noon. It’s great to have you.

Libby Emmons:

Thanks Inez. Glad to be here.

Inez Stepman:

So I’m sure you’re getting bored of telling this story at some point, but you were a rare thing, a working playwright, right? And that was kind of your life. And then you wrote about… You wrote an article in Quillette, and about a subject that was interesting to you, but a subject that your friends had known that you had some heterodox views on, at least for your milieu, and that was the subject of transgenderism, but in the context of transhumanism. So you wrote this piece and you were as in the parlance today, you were canceled, right?

So could you tell us a little bit about why you wrote that piece and then how that was received in the theater community, that up till then you had spent your entire professional and personal life being a part of.

Libby Emmons:

Sure. Yeah. I was involved in theater. I don’t think my mother would say that I was a successful playwright at all. I produced a lot of my own work and it was produced in small theater companies, both in the US and in the UK. I think I had a piece up in New Zealand one time, which was really exciting for me. There was another time I think there was something translated in Columbia, but some… I was never on Broadway or anything like that, but it was my life. My life revolved around making theater, writing plays, going to plays, being part of that whole world, primarily in the Indie theater scene in downtown New York City, which is what I always wanted to do. That’s what I always wanted to do from when I was a kid, essentially was make art. I like to make small batch theater, things like that.

So, yeah, that’s what I was doing. I got my graduate degree in playwriting and I started to get interested in transhumanism because I started being interested in transgender ideology, which was emerging in the arts community for sure as the next, like the next cause célèbre, right? So there was gay rights, gay marriage. I’m cool with those things personally, and then transgender ideology and transgender identifiers were the next big thing that needed to be overcome and included and brought into the arts community. Just immediately trans people were considered women as well. Trans people who are male, who identify as women, which is not really a thing that you can do, I believe. So. I started to get frustrated by this, by the equation of men in dresses equals female. I thought that’s exactly the opposite of what feminism has been teaching us this whole time.

And I was very annoyed by it. So I didn’t like it at all. And we were producing… My theater company was producing work by trans-identified playwrights because we like to produce good work. And if the work is good, we would produce it. So it had no impact on anything other than I didn’t think that men are women. Perfectly happy to produce your plays if they’re good. I didn’t care about that. So, yeah, I had started writing a little bit about that in the Federalist about 2015, talking about how trans ideology is actually a reinforcement of gender stereotypes, as opposed to breaking them down. And I believe fully that that’s true. This wasn’t really an issue in my theater work or in my career at all because no one in indie downtown New York theater reads the Federalist. They just didn’t.

So it was totally irrelevant, right? That I was doing this writing. As I started to do a little more research, I started listening to podcasts about transhumanism, which I kind of like stumbled upon after listening to an interview with Jordan Peterson on a podcast called Future Thinkers. So from there, I started listening to these other transhumanist podcasts and I got very intrigued by these ideas, and I’d started to realize… And when I say intrigued, I mean fascinated, right? Like this is amazing. I was attracted to the ideas of transhumanism, which is why I found them so compelling, and also I found them troubling.

So I started doing a lot of research into transhumanism and I started to realize, that there are elements of transhumanism in Western culture that perhaps we’re not even aware of. So I started working on an article about that. The three elements were AI, human integration, like Elon Musk’s Neuralink concept. Body hacking, which is where you can add perhaps an RFID chip to your hand to open your garage door. Something like that.

Or, for example, remove your legs and add bouncing legs, if you prefer those. These are all elements of body hacking, where you integrate technology into your otherwise healthy body in order to give it more potentiality or functionality. And also transgender ideology, which because each of these things, what they do, is they answer the Cartesian question about the mind-body split, and they say, yes. There is a distinct mind-body split. What affects the mind does not affect the body and vice versa. Right?

So that was a stunning realization to me. I pitched it to Quillette. They were interested. We went through a bunch of drafts to really solidify the idea and make sure that it was clear. Then we published it in June 2018. I reached out to the women that I was working with in my theater project. We were working on… What are we doing? We were doing… Well, we were doing avant-garde theater. That’s what we were making. So I reached out to them. I let them know the piece was going to be published, and they were all very supportive. They knew my views. I think pretty much all of the women that I was working with also believed that women and men were, that biological sex is an innate condition and that women and men are not interchangeable simply because they wish it.

I’m pretty sure they all think that, because we talked about it and I made jokes about it constantly. So, yeah, so the piece was published. There was a little bit of pushback against the piece. It was suggested to me that I should better educate myself, which seemed silly. I went to entirely elitist, liberal institutions of learning from 11th grade through graduate school. There’s not much more education I could possibly do on these topics. So that was suggested. And then it just kind of blew over. It wasn’t a big deal, but it came back six months later. I think there were a couple of people who just really didn’t want to let it die. And then once it came back, it became clear to me that this was going to be an issue. The issue was kind of, I’ve thought about it over the years. This was 2018.

And I think the issue had… It was interesting because the women I was working with were upset by not necessarily the piece, but the reaction to it. I’ve gone over this through the years and wanted to be a lot more compassionate to them. I don’t think they were upset by the piece. I think they were upset by the reaction. I think they were upset by my unwavering steadfastness and defending the piece. I refused to apologize for it. But the biggest issue I believe and what was the end of my arts career was that because I had written this piece and because it was publicly in the community that we were involved in, publicly denounced, as all the bad phobic words. We would not have had an audience going forward. And I think that was the issue.

No one would’ve ever come to see the work that we were doing because I was associated with it, and I was all of these phobic words, according to non-binary lesbians, essentially, in the downtown indie theater community. So, yeah, so that’s what happened. I no longer had any welcome in that community, either among my friends or my associates or colleagues. And over a period of months after that, I received messages from people who had been slated to produce my work, who then said that they didn’t want to produce it anymore, or people who I’d been potentially going to be working with, we don’t need to work with you anymore, and things like that. That’s how it went down.

Inez Stepman:

I’ve heard you tell this story both personally and publicly over the years. And it’s just, I just want to say, I think it’s really impressive that you’ve really have, tried to tell it in the most charitable way to people who… people who really were not just your colleagues, but were your friends, and turned away from you because you had an opinion that is actually shared by the vast majority of Americans. But within that milieu was considered totally unacceptable. And until that point, as you’ve said many times, the theater was your life and not just your professional life, but your personal life.

And you went overnight from having all of these connections and this was your life, and then all of a sudden, it all disappeared over the course of a few months because you stuck to your guns about this. Well, let me ask you this, do you think it would’ve helped if you would apologize? Do you think that that would have, like somehow you could have continued with that life if you had been willing to recant and apologize?

Libby Emmons:

No. No. I don’t think it would’ve made any difference at all. Looking back on it, I’ve often thought like, should I have apologized? I don’t think I should have, because I think an apology would’ve simply been an admission of guilt and I think that the result would have been the same. I would have then continued showing up at events. I would not have been asked to do work. It just would’ve been an admission of guilt. And then I would’ve been identified as that person who is all the phobic things and then tried to walk it back, right? That doesn’t go well in our society and it certainly really didn’t go well in 2018 and 2019. There was absolutely no road to redemption if you had screwed up in a heretical sense, right? There’s more of a road to redemption if you have committed adultery than there is if you have betrayed the leftist ideology that you were supposedly subscribed to.

So I don’t think that that would’ve made a difference. I have thought to myself like, if I knew how things would go down, would I have written the piece? Maybe I would not have published the piece. Is that something perhaps that I would consider if there it was like June 2018 and I’m pitching the piece to Quillette. It felt dangerous at the time. I believe I knew what I was getting in for to a certain extent, but I don’t think I believed that my theater career would come to an end or that I would end up completely on the opposite side of things or that I would lose so many of the people who I considered my good friends.

So that’s sort of a thing. But no, I don’t think apologizing would have made even a scant bit of difference in how things turned out. And there’s also the issue of why should you apologize for work that you’ve done, that you believe in. The women I was working with asked me to apologize. They suggested that there might be a road back if I apologized. And I said something like, I think you know me well enough to know that I can’t possibly apologize for work that I’ve done, that I believe in and stand for. So, yeah. So, I don’t think so.

Inez Stepman:

I’ve been wondering for quite some time. We had Andrew Klavan on the pod and I asked him about this as well, whether art suffers for this, right? For this kind of environment. Whether it’s possible to really create the caliber of art that we should be creating when it’s impossible. It seems like not just that talented people like you are being excised from the art world, but also then within it. It seems to me that art is exactly one of those places where you really have to have… you really do have to have a lot of room for error, like trial and error. You have to be able to explore ideas, new forms, new ways of presenting things, new like in the… And I’m not an artist. So, take this all with a grain of salt.

But it seems to me that this isn’t one of those realms that truly deeply requires the ability to push the boundaries and then sometimes fail on the other side of that boundary and then retreat and try again in a different way. That quality seems to be so necessary to the creation of anything new, right? In the art world, what do you think, how do you think that, for example, the scene that you were a part of is affected by not being able to have somebody like you, who at that… especially at that time, like your views were solidly non-controversial to a large part of the country in terms of people believing it.

How does art survive when it is essentially self-selecting down into a more and more niche group of people who perhaps then can’t create anything that appeals outside of that circle, right? When I think of the greatest works of art, there’s always something universal about it. There’s something about the human conditions, something true, right? That people of wildly different backgrounds and wildly different life experiences can recognize as true as something that resonates because we’re all human, and I wonder if we’re losing any of that unconditional or universality in art.

Libby Emmons:

I do think so. And I think that it has a lot of other causes than just this ideological cancellation issue, which we have seen across artistic disciplines from theater to filmmaking, to literature, poetry, all of these areas. I don’t know that we’ve seen it as much in visual art for some reason. I think probably because visual art has such a… Visual art is a capitalist commodity at this point. So I think it is treated a little differently when you can make millions and millions of dollars off of a single painting. So that might have something to do with it. But I do think, yeah, that there is an issue in the arts. The ideological cancellation issue leads to a situation where a lot of the art that we see is essentially propagandist. It’s almost like advertisements for ideology, as opposed to art that is based in curiosity and exploration, a drive toward making something beautiful.

So, yeah, I think that art suffers because of that. And I think that if you look at the art that we see coming out of Hollywood, in a lot of cases, you will see exactly what we’re talking about. That it is a piece of work designed intentionally to uphold a given perspective. There’s no question going into it, for example, that a given ideology, a leftist ideology will be the one that is perpetrated through that work. In theater, in workshops, in writing workshops and other areas, there would be a lot… When I was doing it, there would be a lot of talk about making sure that you were representing things in the appropriate way. So if you had, for example, a woman who is driven to give up her career, because she wants to have children and be married and fall in love, this would be considered not appropriately representative of women.

This would be considered regressive, and perhaps that that should not be produced. If you have a man who is, and this actually happened in a workshop. If you have a man who is speaking badly about a woman, criticizing her looks and whatever else; dumb blonde or whatever, something like that, that would be considered inappropriate because you are then representing that viewpoint as in some way legitimate, even if, let’s say, the character is a bad guy, right? You’re giving voice to this view and it should not be platformed. Anytime you’re dealing with concepts like platforming, giving voice to, make space for, any of that stuff, you’re talking about essentially creating a propagandist piece of work. But there were additional problems in the arts prior to that. And I think some of it also goes back to the Me Too era, for example.

If you look at our most famed artists, many of whom, like historically, many of whom are being historically cut off at the knees. Brecht, for example, was a womanizer, all of this kind of stuff. Shakespeare was probably evil at heart, whatever it is. We look at that. I think actually Gauguin is now… Paul Gauguin, the painter, is actually being criticized for his portraits of Tahitian women because he objectified them, right? What did he really do? Probably he thought they were hot. Sure. But also he was seeking out beauty and representing beauty. And I think he did that in a lot of ways. Maybe he wasn’t a great guy.

So now we have a situation where if you’re not a great guy, then your art has to be considered bad as well. You can’t have your art out there either. So this happened also before the whole Me Too thing. And also our conception, I think, of what an artist is has changed over time. So we used to have this idea; actors, performers, theater people were considered really disgusting, really horrible, like scourge of the earth people. You don’t want an actor at your table anymore than you want a carny at your table. Like nobody wanted actors around, if they were considered horrible.

So we used to have this idea of artists as being, to a certain extent, filthy, belligerent messes of human beings, who whether despite of, or because of, were able to tap into this broader, beautiful realm and present it. Sometimes even at the expense of their own selves. We had this idea of what art took to create. Sometimes it took the destruction of an individual through drink or drugs or terrible lifestyles. Look at Rimbaud or Celine, or what’s his name? The guy; post office guy, Bukowski. Any of these guys.

Inez Stepman:

That was before [crosstalk 00:21:36] started listing cancellation potential. The first person I thought of was Bukowski.

Libby Emmons:

Right. Right. [crosstalk 00:21:43].

Inez Stepman:

[crosstalk 00:21:43] favorite of all angry teenagers everywhere.

Libby Emmons:

Right. I think one of his best quotes though was in the morning. It was morning and I was still alive. I still really quite like that. Yeah. So we had this idea. And then gradually one by one, all of these things, these… I got these new AirPods, just side note, and they are literally too big for my ears. I don’t know why they’re not shaped like the old ones.

Inez Stepman:

I always have that problem with all of those [crosstalk 00:22:15]. That’s why I wear over the ear headphones.

Libby Emmons:

That’s why you have the giant ones.

Inez Stepman:

Yep.

Libby Emmons:

That’s fair.

Inez Stepman:

Sidebar.

Libby Emmons:

Yeah, sidebar. Apologies. They’re falling out of my ears. Yeah. So we used to have this idea that artists were allowed to be dirty, horrible people because they created such beautiful things. That changed in the theater community, for sure, whether rightly or wrongly. Right. I’m not making a judgment call on that. So that was part of it. Then we had situations where men were getting… So suddenly if you show up drunk to rehearsal, that’s an issue. That wasn’t an issue for John Barrymore. Wasn’t an issue for Marlon Brando. Wasn’t an issue for any of those guys. But it certainly became an issue in the contemporary realm of art that I was creating.

You also then started to have issues about the casting couch, which is notorious directors, who… Producers, who would entice young women to go to bed with them in hopes of getting parts or an exchange for. You had Weinstein. Right. That became a big issue. I’m not crazy about this casting couch idea, but we did then start to have an issue where it wasn’t just the men who would perpetrate that kind of exchange, if you will. The left is supposed to be pro-sex work, but a casting couch is a bridge too far. So, okay. Anyway. So then you had this issue where a man who perhaps had an affair should not be permitted to have a career anymore because Harvey Weinstein couldn’t have a career anymore. Harvey Weinstein, whatever it was that he did, that concept was suddenly brought to like you’re like a random literary figure.

And I’m thinking of people that I interviewed actually for an article in The Federalist; Steven Elliot, who’s a novelist. Brilliant novelist. Who was accused of some horrible things anonymously and is now suing for defamation for this. He lost his whole career. And others as well. None that I know this has happened to. So then it’s like increasingly an artist is required to not only conform in their ideological views, but in their lifestyle as well to be a very specific entity who is allowed to create art and have that art consumed, whether you agree with the actions of these men who lost their careers, or whether you agree with the actions. Someone like me who spoke out and lost their career because of it. I think the point stands that it is bad for art, no matter what. So, yeah, that’s definitely a distinct thing.

Inez Stepman:

In some sense, there’s a deeper question here about morality and art. Right. We’re talking about it almost in the easiest case, even though it’s the most politically relevant for our times, right. This cancellation for totally ridiculous stuff, right? Like stuff that’s outside of… First of all, that’s not in any way immoral, and second of all, things that are not really connected to the art itself, right. It’s always been a harder question for me though, when the art and something that’s deeply immoral is intertwined together. I think it’s a much more interesting question. And [crosstalk 00:25:51].

Libby Emmons:

Like what?

Inez Stepman:

Because I first thought about this. I’m 98% sure it was Andrew Wyeth. Wyeth, Wyeth. But I went to an exhibit and so there’s a cache of his paintings that actually he never even published, or he never put out into the world that are all of this girl, and I think she’s 14, 15, right? And he was much, much, much older. And they are beautiful paintings, but they’re representative of a likely affair that he had, or at least this museum presented it that way. I went back and looked and apparently not everyone agrees that this was actually an affair. But in any case, it was presented as, okay, this was like his girlfriend, basically. His affair that he was having with a very, very young girl.

And in that case, it’s inextricable, right? He painted her in these beautiful ways because he was in love with her. And yet we would think that’s an immoral act, right, to sleep with somebody who’s essentially just out of early teens. Certainly wasn’t always considered that way going back in time. But even by the time this happened, I think it was already not common. But there’s this question where if the art itself is produced out of, or is glamorizing something that could be evil, right? And that’s not to say that I’m in favor of censorship, for example. That we should pull down these paintings, but it is a more complicated question to me. Like where do we… because I’ve always critiqued some European societies in this, that I think they almost like say that being an artist is an excuse.

You can do anything no matter how immoral, as long as you call it art and as long as you play the art card or the artist card, and society has enormous tolerance. Like for example in France, for the immorality of artists, even when it’s not connected and how these two things are wrapped up together, it’s always been an interesting question to me, because it’s not clear to me that art is totally detached from questions of morality.

Libby Emmons:

I don’t think art has ever been totally detached from questions of morality. And I know the Wyeth paintings, they are absolutely beautiful. They’re gorgeous paintings. It makes sense that the French would be more willing to divide morality and art and say that a beautiful piece of art justifies whatever that artist went through to create it. And as a result, the French have some really spectacular artworks in painting of course, in literature. Really fascinating work. Really filthy work. Really filthy work in France, and it’s spectacularly brilliant. It’s beautiful stuff. So, is there an excuse for immorality if the art is worthwhile? Perhaps not.

But is that particularly for society to judge, or is it up to society to accept the work that’s given? I’m not sure. It’s a tough question. But it is a particularly American question because we are based in this puritanical view. And it makes sense that in Europe, they don’t have that kind of issue. And I respect that. I respect not having that kind of issue. We do struggle with it. I think that, would I say that good art makes any act that it took to create it worthwhile? No, not necessarily. I used to know a painter who painted with his own blood on occasion and he would injure himself in order to access the blood that he would then use in his work. I am not crazy about that.

I don’t think that’s a great idea. He did though, and it was his work and the work is exemplary work. So, yeah, I’m not sure. I don’t think though that I would, and I certainly have not taken an artist and said I would not view their work simply because of whatever it is that their background was. I love Woody Allen’s work. I’m always going to love it. I defended Michael Jackson rather extensively, actually on an Irish radio broadcast that was then not aired because the station determined that what I had said was a bridge too far. I think I was really just defending fans of Michael Jackson’s who continued to enjoy his work. So no, I don’t think that the act is justified in an artist who commits immoral acts in order to make beautiful art. Is the act justifiable? No, but the work does stand alone. I believe that fully.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. Actually Manhattan’s the second example I always use besides Andrew Wyeth, because Manhattan is so clearly… and I like a lot of Woody Allen movies. I don’t like Manhattan and not only because-

Libby Emmons:

Oh, I love Manhattan, with Meryl Hemingway and of course… yeah.

Inez Stepman:

I love the first 10 minutes of Manhattan and the second Woody Allen’s voice comes in, I’m like, I’m done. No, I don’t find his sexual anxieties as fascinating as he seems to find them. But I think he was… there’s a few movies of his that I really love. I think he is a great director and a great artist but it’s a good example of what I’m talking about, where you have the work itself intertwined. I think it’s much easier when it’s like, oh, he produced this great art, but then also did these immoral things in his life that really weren’t in any particular way. It wasn’t in order to produce the art. That’s the difficult question, right?

Libby Emmons:

Well, but how can you then decide? How can you even tell, like if somebody behaves immorally and also produces great art, you don’t know what the connection is necessarily between those two things.

Inez Stepman:

That’s true. That’s a good point. And there is… everybody, their life feeds into what they produce. But to me, it’s a harder question if that connection is really tight and clear, right? If the art, the work itself is demonstrative or glamorizing in some way of the immoral act, right? If somebody was to put on a performance art by shooting someone on fifth avenue to use the Trump example.

Libby Emmons:

Right. But that’s also [crosstalk 00:32:52].

Inez Stepman:

[crosstalk 00:32:52] the work and the immorality are literally one and the same versus the experiences that we all have in life. Some of them moral, some of them immoral, some more immoral than others. Right? Feeding into your larger perspective that creates art. That’s something that’s much easier for me to swallow than a direct, but it’s not an easily… it’s not a question that has a single answer. And I do think there has to be a balance somewhere because certainly [crosstalk 00:33:19] for like-

Libby Emmons:

And it also depends on no, go ahead.

Inez Stepman:

No, no. Just to try to remove art from the public because this has no end. And I think it leads to what you said before, which is essentially the destruction of most things that are worthwhile and artistic and beautiful.

Libby Emmons:

There’s also this weird thing that just occurred to me, which is you have from the progressive left, two very distinct things that are in conflict. You have a moral superiority with, for example, Me Too or the ideological [heresies 00:34:01], but you also have a relativist view where all morality is essentially equivalent based on the cultural perspectives of the person who holds that moral view. Those two things don’t seem like they can be in concert necessarily. And yet here we are, we have a situation where some immoral acts are accepted by the progressive left because they are of a specific culture, for example, and you have others that are not acceptable because they are from the dominant culture. So it’s like immoralities is exempted on relativist terms so long as it’s not the dominant culture, in which case it is a defilement of everything else. It’s interesting.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. There’s definitely a tension there. But increasingly, I think that tension is fading in the direction of, I do think that new left is doggedly moralistic, right?

Libby Emmons:

Yeah, I think so too.

Inez Stepman:

As much, but I think they’re leaving behind a lot of the postmodern waffling around, whether or not the truth exists, whether there’s anything other than perspectives. I think increasingly that part of the left is just fading into the background. And perhaps, there’s some interesting questions to be asked there. Just whether or not that’s inevitable, whether or not both person and society does eventually assert a vision of the good, even if they assert that the good doesn’t exist. They always, like we as humans keep coming back to needing that to be able to assert something normative. But it certainly seems like that’s fading to me. It certainly seems like it’s not just a contradiction anymore. One side is winning. I feel like 10 years ago, it was more push-pull, and now it’s like, no, nobody feels bad on the left about being doggedly moralistic about certain propositions.

Libby Emmons:

But there’s no basis for the morality of the left. There’s no value system other than the value of power is bad. Being oppressed is good. Being victimized is like a net, good. Right? And that value system actually leaves out any room for a differentiation between objective right and wrong, because it doesn’t matter what the action is. It only matters what your position in society is when you commit the action.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. I think that’s a really good observation and just to transition subjects a little bit, although I think it’s quite related to what we are talking about, these questions of grappling through metaphysical questions or ethical questions. Obviously we’re not the first to go through this but it does seem to connect the [inaudible 00:37:20] to the subject for which you were canceled not just in the transgender context, but in the larger context. It seems like we need a reason these days to defend being human, right? Not just human frailty, which is a large part of your basis for any kind of forgiveness, and something that the dogmas of the left seem to be conspicuously lacking is way back, any forgiveness.

But, what is it about, because you said you were attracted to the ideas of transhumanism, like they excited you in a way, they seemed… there were aspects of it that you found very appealing. But ultimately you seem to have come down on this side that says we’re going to lose something essential about our humanity if we, for example, think about ourselves as floating brains separate from our physical reality, and then through increasingly good technical means can manipulate our physical reality to match the mental landscape that we would prefer. What’s your normative assertive reason for staying human, if those kinds of fantastic additions or manipulations to the body become possible, what’s the argument for staying naturally human?

Libby Emmons:

I think, well, what attracted me to transhumanism was the idea of immortality, which was one of the early tenets of transhumanism was that you could intentionally evolve human beings with the help of technology toward much longer lifespans, for example, immortality. The transhumanist movement such as it is, has backed away from that claim that immortality is possible, although they do still seek longevity, which is understandable. Human life is relatively short given the time span. So I thought that that was interesting. I would very much like to live forever. I have this conversation with my 12 year old all the time. And he says to me that the downside of living forever is that you would have to see all the people that you love and care about die, to which I reply probably rather callously that there’s always new people to love and care about.

There’s always more great people in the world and he’s like, mom, no. So yeah, and the reason I’m attracted to immortality is because we’re telling this amazing human story, all of us collectively, and I’d really like to see how it turns out, that’s of interest to me, but staying human. I think that we underestimate how amazing the human body is and how amazing the human experience is. We underestimate the value of experience, of touch, right? We underestimate camraderie and real connection. And these are things that I think are so integral to being human, our physical experiences, just with one another, just in the world, just being part of what’s going on around us and our environment. There’s also something to be said about having a soul, which I know is something nobody really thinks of anymore.

Now we believe that our gender is somehow innate and holy to us, whereas the soul is just this fabrication that doesn’t exist. And I think there’s something to, though, the idea of a human soul that whether it’s energy that lives on after you, or some aspect of yourself that lives on after you. I think there’s something marvelous about that connection to any eternal. I was teaching catechism for a while at my church. And there were always, every year, there would be a few atheists whose parents had forced them to go, 12, 13 year old, 14 year old atheists who were, well 13, whose parents had forced them to go. And they would say that they didn’t believe in an afterlife. And I would say, okay, well, what about energy? Energy can neither be destroyed nor created, we know that. So what happens to your energy when you die? Where does it go?

And this always, at least, led to not answers, but an opening of imagination, which I think is another aspect of being human that I would not want to lose. Also, I think that when we think about losing our humanity, we think about what we’re giving up and we assume that we know what we would be getting in return for giving up that humanity. And I don’t think that we do, I don’t think that we do know what we’re giving up. We’re seeing now people who have undergone gender transition medically, who are realizing later in life that perhaps they have not become what they thought they would become when they underwent the transition. And that in fact, there was no way to become what they thought they would become. So they made a trade in order to get something that they thought was real only to find that this that they sought was not something that they could be.

It was not something that was even a tenable proposition. So that’s something to consider as well. When we think about change, when we think about becoming something else, we get very hopeful, assuming that we can do the thing, that we can be the thing. And maybe we think about what we’re losing, but we don’t always think about the problem that what we seek does not exist. So when we consider the project of transhumanism, of the intentional evolution of human beings with the help of technology, what we are considering giving up humanity for is in fact, a fantasy that we have no reason to believe is actually tenable in reality. So that’s part of it as well. Imagine cutting off your arms because you think that you’re going to get way better arms, and then having them just constantly hurt at the connection point.

And now your life is just constant pain with a very functional fake arm. My dad once told me the story. His uncle had problems with his teeth, teeth were terrible, and this was in the ‘50s apparently or something like that. And so his uncle decided to pull all his teeth and get these great new teeth. He was going to get fake teeth and they were going to replace the old teeth. And then he wasn’t going to have to worry about having bad teeth anymore. Well, it turned out that the fake teeth were way worse than just having bad teeth. They were falling out and he could never quite get them right. And so my dad told me about this, that his uncle said never pull out all your teeth. And yeah, I think with transhumanism, we have to be careful lest we pull out all our teeth and the dentures do not actually fit and we still can’t eat apples. Then what?

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. It seems like especially young women seem, and as much as I remember being 13, 14, 15, 16, I think they are especially vulnerable to that transformative thinking where they think that if they just change something about themselves, that their worlds, their lives are going to be much happier, much easier. You see it with a lot of folks who have lost a lot of weight, they’ll tell you, it’s great that I lost all this weight and, I’m healthier and there are advantages. I’m probably more attractive to most people. It’s not that there are no advantages, but I really somehow subconsciously thought this would solve my deeper problems, and my discomfort in the world, and it doesn’t, right? You’re just a skinny version of yourself. You’re stuck with yourself. Right? And Americans, I think, have maybe more tendency than others also in this because it’s a wonderful thing about this country that we think everything is possible, right?

Libby Emmons:

Right. And we think that we [crosstalk 00:46:03]-

Inez Stepman:

Yeah.

Libby Emmons:

Yeah.

Inez Stepman:

I think Americans have this very optimistic mindset about the future, about maybe changing a little bit now, but about the future, about the possibilities, other countries and other people have said, this thing is impossible and America has managed to do it many, many times. Right? So we have this sense that we can just go on defying the odds of the impossible over and over and over again. But when that optimism is directed at something like changing your sex, which is impossible, it’s not a possible thing, not just in my view, not just with technological problems or you end up having a ton of medical problems, the equivalent of your arm hurting example, right? But more fundamentally you can’t actually change your sex because your sex is a reality in the world, and is not subject to your manipulations. All you can do is create a facsimile of it. And maybe our facsimile will get closer and closer over time, but [crosstalk 00:47:08].

Yeah, you’re missing the essence of the thing, which maybe some people would disagree with, that you have identical copies if you can have good enough surgery to pass as a woman, if you’re transitioning from being a man. Maybe for some people that is an identity rather than a similarity, but to me it fundamentally seems not. And do you think that we have had… the question I’m thinking about now is why has this ideology, this transgender ideology, and then also I think things like transhumanism, why has it been so popular here in America and increasingly even European countries that were on many issues are to our left, right, complaining about the woke influence of American thought. Especially on topics like transgenderism into European countries.

And certainly around the world, there are plenty of people who have made this identity now between what it is to be American and essentially this extreme form of wokeness, because that’s how they experienced those ideas coming into their country. So, why do you think we have been particularly susceptible to this dream of rearranging ourselves?

Libby Emmons:

That’s a really interesting question. I think that it does have something to do with our ethos of always looking for the next new thing of always being open to a new possibility. For sure, I think that’s part of it. I also think, however, that the bigger the US got in terms of being a global superpower, the more we started to question ourselves and to start questioning the validity of our own influence, whether or not as a nation, we deserved to have as much power as we certainly have had. If you think about the gaining of that power, it came with a lot of pride and joy and patriotism and all of that stuff. And then when we started to see ourselves fail, for example, with Vietnam and then with September 11th and all of these failures, I think we started to really question ourselves to a point where almost the common view of America is that we are a flawed and struggling nation, as opposed to a great and successful nation that is working to overcome any difficulties that we may have.

I think there’s a deep-seated… I think Americans are self-hating, and I think the American nation to a certain extent is self-hating. Even if you look at our leadership recently, they’re constantly talking about the scourges that need to be rooted out at the very basis of our society. You have universities throwing money at anyone they can think of in order to try and distance themselves from their original sin of having had people enslaved on their campuses way back when. This constant thing, this constant pressure of trying to seek out and destroy your own unconscious bias. I think that has something to do with it, but as to why, this is a question that I think really needs to be figured out almost so that we can overturn it.

It’s almost like the new sin is that we just hate ourselves and we’re never going to succeed as a nation to fulfill the goals that we pretty much all agree and have agreed are essential goals if we keep hating ourselves. It’s terrifying to watch. It’s terrifying to watch it in education and in art to see. We joke about this at Post Millennial frequently, we say like, oh, it’s another day watching civilization crumble. Why is this what has to go on? As soon as we have an achievement, we start to deride it. A great example is fossil fuels. What did we have before fossil fuels? We had coal, we had wood, we had whales, right? The only reason we could save the whales is because we stopped needing them to light our lamps.

We stopped needing them for energy. If we had still needed whales, there’d be no saving the whales, so it would’ve been a totally bogus proposition. We have fossil fuel and we hate ourselves for having fossil fuel. We don’t look at the fact that fossil fuel brought so much of the global population out of poverty. That’s a huge achievement and we discount it. We just complain that now fossil fuel is killing the whales that we used to kill for energy ourselves. But yeah, I would love to know why we’re susceptible to this. Some of it may have to do with our Puritanical roots, which I think go far deeper than anyone really wants to imagine at this point. We began with this insane undercurrent of shame and feeling like we’re not good enough for God and all of that stuff.

And I think to a certain extent that has been pervasive. Also, we don’t forgive ourselves. To a certain extent, even those who complain about this concept, all Americans are extremely exceptionalist toward America because we think that no matter what we’re doing, we should be doing it better. We should always be jumping higher. Why aren’t you jumping higher? We should always have more equality. Why is there one person starving in Milwaukee tonight? That means we have failed as a nation. Everything that we do, we look at it and we say, that’s not good enough. It’s like the entire nation is my critical grandma, may she rest in peace. But we never think that what we do is good enough. We always think that we should be doing better. And at this point, instead of using that robust, healthy sense of criticism to spur us onto greater achievement, we’re using it to beat ourselves about the face. It’s our hair shirt. Slavery is our hair shirt. We whip ourselves with our sins, with our crimes. We don’t seek to change them. It’s like the entire nation is in some sort of lamentation for our own sins.

And there’s no one to forgive us, the rest of the world isn’t going to forgive us. They’re going to keep saying, give us more stuff, give us more weapons, give us more vaccines. Give us more stuff and America’s going to keep giving it until there isn’t anything. Let more of us in, give us your prosperity. And I think to a certain extent, that’s fine and America should always be trying to do better as the garbage saying goes. But are we ever going to forgive ourselves? Are we ever going to say we’ve done some difficult things as a nation, we wish we hadn’t done them? We’re not doing them anymore. We’re going to go forth with pride in our realization that we can continue to achieve despite these flaws.

Are we ever going to do that? I don’t know that other nations go through the same perhaps teen angst that we are going through now. I know that Germany had quite a reckoning, even Germans that I know now who are in their 20s, they don’t like when you joke about the Holocaust. Like, look what you guys did. No one likes that. No one likes it.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah, I think the question ultimately is that America’s going to have to grapple with is whether this standard we’re judging ourselves by is perfection and utopia or whether… and I’ve said before on this podcast, I do think this is the fundamental line between conservatives and everyone, right and left. More broadly is, whether you’re looking down from utopia or up from the morass of human history where life has been nasty, brutish and short. Right?

Libby Emmons:

And I think we are doing the former. I think we are holding ourselves to a standard that has never been achieved by anyone ever. We’re holding ourselves to the standard of our ideals, which is, just because we have not achieved our ideals doesn’t mean they’re not worth having, but also just because we haven’t achieved our ideals doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with us. Each of us all the time is trying to be a better version of ourselves. Every day we fail. and then the next day we fail again, sometimes we succeed. It’s like the Sam Beckett line, try again, fail again, try again, fail better. Something like that. I think America needs to realize that we are failing better all the time. And so do little girls. Let’s tell little girls that growing up to be a woman is a great thing to be. Growing up to be a woman who can have children or who can dance pirouettes, whatever it is that you choose, grow up, find a good place for yourself.

That’s acceptable. Let’s tell kids that being a grownup is a good thing to be. Let’s stop dissing on adulting all the time. One thing I talk to my son about is you’re going to grow up to be a big tall man who can take care of himself and his family, who is up to the challenge of new responsibilities. And you’re going to excel at this. You’re going to find joy in this. And that’s all that is to the good. Let’s tell children that responsibility is not a bad thing. It’s actually a good thing. Didn’t we see recently, some actress, was it Jamila Jameel, who is great on The Good Place. And even though I disagree with everything she says, I still watch that show and I like it. She was talking about how we need to tell men that abortion is good for them otherwise they have to face the responsibility of fatherhood. Let’s tell young men that the responsibility of fatherhood is what it is, which is a really great thing. It brings a lot of joy to your life.

We should tell kids this, that it’s good to be a grown up. You remember when you were a kid? I don’t know, when I was a kid, everyone wanted to be a grown up. Everyone was like, oh, I can’t wait till I’m grown up and I can eat as much candy as I want. Now no one wants to be a grown up. I talk to these kids and they’re like, no, no, I don’t want to grow up. Why? And you get to eat as much candy as you want. You really do get to eat as much candy as you want.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. I’ve never, even when I was a kid, I wanted to be a grown up. And then once I was a grown up, I never wanted to be a child again. But it does seem like being an adult, and with all the responsibilities that come with it, including not eating just candy, it seems like more and more, it’s conceived only as a burden, you’re right, as opposed to a source of joy and meaning, and something good alongside having responsibilities. But Libby Emmons thank you so much for joining High Noon. It was a fascinating conversation to have with you. And first, you can find more of Libby’s work, you can go to the Post-Millennial where she is the Editor-in-chief. You can go to Twitter and find her there. She’s a frequent guest on Tim Pool. So you have heard her there. But Libby, is there anywhere else that you’d like people to go to find your work?

Libby Emmons:

Sure. I’m on Twitter @libbyemmons. I have a new Instagram that’s public. It’s not just pictures of me and my kid, like the other one. And it’s libby.emmons. If you want to see pictures of me eating ice cream, I’m pretty sure that’s where you could see that.

Inez Stepman:

Advantage of being an adult by eating ice cream.

Libby Emmons:

Eating all the ice cream I want.

Inez Stepman:

Thanks so much for coming on, Libby.

Libby Emmons:

Thanks Inez.

Inez Stepman:

And thank you to our listeners. High Noon with Inez Stepman is a production of the Independent Women’s Forum. As always, you can send comments and questions to [email protected] Please help us out by hitting the subscribe button and leaving us a comment or review on Apple podcast, Acast, Google Play, YouTube, or iwf.org. Be brave, and we will see you next time on High Noon.