Even though I attended conservative Christian Grove City College for four years, I have done my best since graduating in 2018 to avoid most things conservative, most things Christian, and all things Grove City College. Likewise, although I have written blog posts criticizing the detestable views of the champion of bigotry Matt Walsh in the past, I’ve since decided that responding to him any further was below me and a waste of time. I’m giving this rule an exception today. The presence of Matt Walsh at Grove City College this past Thursday, giving his usual presentation on “The War on Reality: Why the Left Has Set Out to Redefine Life, Gender, and Marriage,” taunted me to the point that I couldn’t help but watch.
If you wish to follow along with his presentation, you can do so at this link. If in the future the link is broken or the video is gone, Google “Matt Walsh War on Reality” and you should be able to find another video of the same lecture.
There are two interesting things to note about his lecture before discussing its specific contents. Firstly, he takes an unusual position of defending the conservative view without utilizing Christian reasoning. I appreciated this, mostly because it shows that the two “sides” of this debate, as I have said before, are not atheists versus Christians but those who fight for equality versus those who fight against it.
This sentiment never showed in the Grove City community more clearly than in 2017 when students and locals peacefully protested in the town against the college hosting Mike Pence as the graduation speaker. Many students and alumni were outraged by this, as they were again this week at the presence of Matt Walsh. Just because someone is an accomplished white man does not mean he deserves anyone’s respect.
The second thing that I found interesting—but not surprising—about the lecture was that it had thick misogynistic undertones. These themes are shown in Walsh’s hypothetical opponent always taking male pronouns (even when that opponent is arguing for abortion rights and would make more sense to be a woman), when he always refers to gay relationships as “two gay men,” and when he only ever gives the example of men transitioning into women, and never acknowledges the existence of transgender men. He may not have even noticed that he did this, which arguably makes it worse.
With those notes in mind, let’s jump into what he had to say! The “War on Reality” lecture consists of three sections: life, marriage, and gender. If you’re watching along, I invite you to play Fallacy Bingo with me! Some more notable fallacies in his lecture include:
- the Gish Gallop (listing off points so quickly that your audience doesn’t even have time to consider whether they are valid)
- the Strawman fallacy (painting your opponent’s argument as something that it is not and refuting that instead)
- Ad hominem attacks (denouncing an argument by attacking a characteristic of the person posing that argument and not the argument itself)
and blatantly contradicting his own points. Fun!
1. The War on Women’s Rights
Matt Walsh says that the abortion argument is a simple one: it’s the argument that it is always wrong to kill innocent and defenseless human beings. After making this claim, he spends the rest of this section trying to refute the objections posed to “pro-lifers” by those whom he calls “pro-abortionists.” I wouldn’t go so far as to say that his entire argument in this section is a strawman, but he certainly is attacking some of the pro-choice arguments that I have heard the least. The “pro-abortionist” in Walsh’s mind is attempting to “dehumanize” a fetus to the point of it being only a potential person so that they can justify killing it.
Since Walsh believes that science is on his side here, then I’m surprised he is using the word “fetus” at all and not embryo, blastocyst, or even zygote, which is the stage where this “person” is no more than a fertilized ovum.
The argument that it is immoral to “kill” the cells that lead potentially to personhood is so absurd that I usually avoid it. This egg cell and this sperm cell, before they came together, were they potential people? Surely they were. Walsh argues that from the moment you were conceived, you were just as much a person as you are now and have been for your whole life. Why not go even further? Those cells existed before one fertilized the other.
There are billions of “potential people” who Walsh believe are equally as valuable as full-grown adults, inside the reproductive organs of almost everyone alive. Is it immoral to let any of these cells go to waste and not create exponentially more people? Is this why people are fervently against contraception? Do they believe it is murder? Is this why the bible warns against a man spilling his seed? Is it murder to not have sex as many times as possible when a woman is ovulating? Where does the madness end!?
Walsh acknowledges that more often than the argument of “personhood”, one hears about women’s autonomy. He brings up the famous argument by Judith Jarvis Thompson (which you would do better to just read in its entirety) which can be summed up as:
You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. . . . He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own.. . . . ‘To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it’s only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.’ Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation?Judith Jarvis Thompson, A Defense of Abortion
Thompson argues that it is not. The full paper goes into several hypotheticals, and the first one Walsh addresses is that for this situation to be parallel to pregnancy, it would have to be pregnancy by rape, as the protagonist is innocent and did nothing to purposely become bound up with this violinist. Thompson urges readers who would fall into Walsh’s camp of abortion always being murder and always being inexcusable that according to them, all fetuses have the same right to life no matter how they were conceived. One single time, at 15:22 in the video, Walsh acknowledges that one can fall pregnant by rape, but he never hints at whether he believes abortion would then be permissible.
In response to Thompson’s case, Walsh decides that for it to be analogous to pregnancy, you would be “hooked up to your own child who is sick because of something you did to him, and you don’t want to be hassled by it, so you put a pillow over his face and smother him to death.” He clearly did not read the rest of Thompson’s paper, as all of these points are granted and refuted before they even see the light of day. Ah, but that would require Walsh to devote his attention to a lowly woman for a time, and that might damage his fragile masculinity. Understandable.
Finally, Walsh thinks he is logically superior here because many of his points are reached once he has already granted his opponent their last point, and said that “even if we concede X, you are still wrong because of Y.” Well, even if Walsh demonstrated that without a doubt abortion is morally wrong, and I literally granted him every last point from A to Z, this is less important than demonstrating how to actually reduce abortions. The truth is that abortion rates—especially unsafe abortions—skyrocket when abortion is illegal and contraception is not widely available. If you want to reduce abortions, making it illegal is not the answer.
2. The War on Marriage Equality
Of the three sections of this lecture, Walsh’s argument against gay marriage is by far his weakest, which is saying a lot. His argument boils down to how he does not recognize gay marriage as legitimate marriage because there is no way to conceive children. The rebuttal to this idea is obvious. If a marriage is only legitimate if it can and does produce children, then is a straight but infertile married couple valid? What about a couple who marries after the woman has reached menopause? What about those who wish to adopt, or those who simply don’t want to have kids at all?
Unlike a lot of the points in the abortion section, Walsh doesn’t “grant” this point at all or even mention it. Luckily, a girl asks him about it in the Q&A section. Walsh gives essentially a non-answer, saying that heterosexual relationships can “in principle” bear children, so I suppose those of us who are straight and married with no desire to procreate are just included in the “legal marriage” group by luck. He also manages to insult and dehumanize dysmelia patients, or anyone who was not born with the typical two arms and two legs; he says that just as straight couples can procreate “in principle”, so do humans have two arms “in principle”. He says that if you happen to have fewer than two arms, you are still a human, but, I quote, “something went wrong there.”
Walsh wonders why people would get married if not to have kids. Apparently, people want to get married when they “love each other.” It’s not clear if he knows what this means. He allows the point that two men can love each other, but you can tell from his language that he denies the reality that homosexuality is a valid sexual orientation at all. (And he never once mentions bisexuality, pansexuality, asexuality, or anything else.)
Without granting homosexual couples the validity of being actual romantic couples, he says that sure, they can live together! But why would they need to be married? If two men (he never acknowledges the existence of lesbians) can marry, then there is no limit to who can marry whom! Ah, but Matthew, if you acknowledged that homosexuality, like heterosexuality, is a distinct sexual orientation that defines who you are sexually and romantically attracted to, then you would see that this mysterious “limit” is right there.
Walsh argues for the necessity of clear-cut, precise definitions of words when he wants them, but conveniently forgets them when they don’t work for his sad excuse for an argument.
3. The War on Gender Equality
Similarly to using fuzzy words, Walsh loves to use circular reasoning when it seems to help his case, but he will be the first to point it out when he thinks someone else is using it. When he avoided acknowledging non-heterosexual orientations, he accused “the left” of circular reasoning when answering the question “What does it mean for two people to love each other?” He now sees the same pattern when defining sex and gender. He defines a woman as “an adult female person.” Since gender (woman) and sex (female) are two distinct things, this is sensible enough. Or is it?
Walsh thinks this definition is perfectly logical, but to my knowledge he doesn’t believe in a difference between sex and gender, so by his own definition it would be circular reasoning. He then accuses “the left” of that same fallacy in defining a woman as someone who identifies as a woman. Instead, he says that “No scientific explanation has ever been offered for this, from anyone. Period. It’s not as though there was some discovery that prompted this change; it was decided on ideological and philosophical grounds that a man can be a woman if he just decides that he is one.”
He completely ignores the fact that gender dysphoria is a complex, diagnosable psychological phenomenon with its own historical, biological, and psychosocial factors and that in some cases, early brain scans can show that he brains of transgender people often show more similarities with the gender that they identify with than that of their sex assigned at birth.
He also ignores the rich history of being transgender or nonbinary in Indigenous and non-Western cultures for millennia.
Both of these arguments—the scientific and the historical—lend credibility to the concept of a non-cisgender identity being valid. But the thing is, those identities would be valid even without these two points. People’s identities aren’t up for debate. Trans people aren’t predators, and they haven’t done anything to harm people like Matt Walsh except challenge his fragile male ego just by existing. Why else do you think he cares so much?
Finally, Walsh really thinks he has achieved a “Gotcha!” moment when he tries using “leftist” logic against us. He wonders why we go through the trouble of fighting for women’s rights and equality, lamenting male privilege and 250 years of male presidents, when we do not even clearly define what it means to be a woman?
This is why. Gender itself is a social construct, and that is exactly why the traditional genders of man and woman are expressed and emphasized within society. The patriarchal structure was created by cis to oppress women (and anyone who is not cis) so that (cis) men could have more power.
Regardless, here is an easy solution: how about we treat everyone equitably: men, women, and gender nonconforming people? Walsh said in his argument against gay rights that you can only treat two groups equally if they are the same, but that defeats the entire purpose of creating a level playing field for all. Also, it’s racist.
Unfortunately for Matt Walsh’s fragile, patriarchal worldview, the only way to create a free and fair society is to give everyone—everyone of all genders and all orientations—the same basic human rights. If he thinks that this belief makes me a liberal snowflake, then let it snow.
(The segment on the legitimacy of transgender identities has been updated in 2022 to reflect my greater understanding of trans liberation and to eliminate a reliance on transmedical arguments that were present in the original post. See this post and this post for more information.)