Most “Free speech” advocacy is demanding the right to preach hatred, contempt, or fear-mongering about vulnerable groups, but harassing trans people should no more be protected speech than shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. Continue reading
Morgane Oger, a trans woman, was attacked and vilified by the Christian transphobe Bill Whatcott when she stood for the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. He called her deceitful simply because she is trans, and distributed flyers saying that anyone who supported her would go to Hell, “The lake that burns with fire and sulfur”. So she sued him in the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, supported by the West Coast Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF).
LEAF supported her as a woman, drawing the tribunal’s attention to the experience of politically active women across the world, which can include being targeted for gender‐based harassment, as well as threats and acts of violence. The aim of such attacks is to “discourage women from being politically active and exercising their human rights and to influence, restrict or prevent the political participation of individual women and women as a group”. Their support warms me. Whatcott would not have attacked Ms Oger simply as a woman, but women come out in solidarity with her.
The judge writing the decision, Devyn Cousineau, quoted Whatcott in a particular way: “I definitely didn’t want [her] to get elected and I do want to see [her] disinvested of all political power and would rather [she] do something else with [her] time.” That is, she took Whatcott’s voice from him, by silencing his malice. Why should Whatcott’s use of male pronouns be used in a public legal judgment? Whatcott was unmanned. In summing up, he argued that his right to “Life, liberty and security of the person” under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was violated. It was too late to introduce such arguments, the judges ruled, but anyway the argument had no merit. They did not accept there was a “serious state-imposed psychological stress”.
Also showing the obsession of the transphobes was Kari Simpson, previously Whatcott’s assistant representative. She was sacked, but went to the public gallery, and asked to intervene in the case on the last day of the hearing, to attack Ms Oger’s “tactics to silence voices” and give evidence. The role of intervenors is to assist with legal issues, and she too was silenced. She shows the transphobes’ self-righteousness and arrogance, and their desperation when their hate is named and resisted.
Whatcott’s argument was remarkable in that he did not mention the Supreme Court case where he lost a similar argument about gay people. The tribunal’s time was wasted by his repeating arguments that had lost before in that case, and also by repeating claims on which the tribunal had adjudicated, such as what evidence was admissible.
At the tribunal, he wore a t-shirt with a pre-transition photo of Ms Oger on it. The tribunal told him this was improper, because the tribunal should be a safe space to air issues of discrimination, and he replied, “I see this Tribunal as an affront to freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and is a completely inappropriate process”.
The purpose of the law is to “create a climate of understanding and mutual respect”. The tribunal repeatedly required Whatcott to use Ms Oger’s name and pronouns, and he refused. He would not even call her “The Complainant”. The tribunal found this deliberately disrespectful. He complained about the judges’ use of female pronouns, claiming it showed bias against him, and that it was as ridiculous as if they had ordered him to call Ms Oger “a tomato, a dog, or a cat”. The tribunal said,
For trans and gender non‐conforming people, being properly ‘gendered’ by the service providers they are required to interact with is a critical part of their ability to participate with dignity in the economic, social, political and cultural life of the province. The tribunal process should honour the dignity of the people who come before it.
How did Whatcott feel when Ms Oger called him a “Christian Jihadist”? For the purposes of the Tribunal, I was devastated and crying. For the purposes of me, I found it to be entertaining. So he showed his contempt. Possibly he does not believe the feelings of those he attacks are hurt- he cannot empathise, though his actions show the distress of the privileged when they are called out.
The tribunal recognised the claimant’s bravery: Most people would not have been able to withstand the level of discrimination that Ms. Oger faced during the Tribunal’s hearing. They should not have to. To her immense credit, Ms. Oger comported herself with grace and dignity in the face of the persistent efforts to insult, undermine, and humiliate her.
Whatcott compared her to a trans woman who was a sex offender. The judge found that associating her with serious criminality in this way is hate speech.
In his blog and social media, Whatcott attacked the judge, the tribunal, Ms Oger’s counsel as a “lesbian lawyer” which he believes to be derogatory, and Ms Oger. That might deter less resilient claimants than Ms Oger from pursuing her claim. The tribunal ruled that they should tolerate “public, forceful, and uncomfortable criticism” and that attacks on the tribunal and judges did not affect the integrity of the process, but the attacks on Ms Oger and her counsel prejudiced their participation in the complaint, and therefore awarded costs against him of $20,000, in addition to the damages of $35,000. Costs in these cases are a punishment for bad conduct.
The Canadian Association for Free Expression intervention was “unhelpful” said the judge- “inflammatory, derogatory, disrespectful and inappropriate”. It argued Ms Oger was a man, and called her a transvestite. Its written submission, submitted late, was “65 pages of dense, disorganized and barely intelligible text”.
The judge discusses how free speech should be restricted by rules on hate speech and discrimination, and I will return to this. The decision in full is here.
-Part of you is dreadfully sad. You have this deep well of sadness in you. When you are motivated to do something that succeeds, you notice and hold that achievement. I am wondering what happens when you don’t, whether you judge yourself or care for yourself and feel the disappointment.
Of course I would like only success, and failure, sooner or later, makes me withdraw. “We tried that once and it didn’t work”- I have noticed people not trying something a second time when trying again seemed worthwhile to me, and I notice that I stop trying too. I could not bear yet another failure, so I stopped. Trying was too painful, but I needed to be screaming before I acknowledged the pain, and by then I could not try again.
-We can see the positives, achievement and celebration and success and doing is very much our culture, but not so good about seeing the other side of things, or fearing trying again, failing again. Fail better, said Beckett’s Krapp, showing the difficulty of it. I dwelt on this until we met again two weeks later. What stops me feeling the sadness, or the pain, is my anger. My anger is directed inwards, at me. What do I have to be sad about? I demand, disdainfully, contemptuously. It is like my other internal conflicts- the anger pushes down, the sadness pushes against it, I exhaust myself but do not move.
Richard Rohr wrote Your life is not about you– the ego at the centre of the Universe. It is about God. It is about a willing participation in a larger mystery. At this time, we do this by not rejecting or running from what is happening but by accepting our current situation and asking God to be with us in it. I thought, The spiritual lesson is learning the opposite of what you believed- I was worthless, not the centre of the Universe at all. Learning the different aspects of truth- my value as a unique being, my ordinariness as one among billions- I need a different corrective to the one Rohr administers.
What does the anger say? I sympathise more with the anger (as it is righteous, with something soft and weak). I am proud of it, so I bring it into consciousness and accept it. It seems appropriate. My anger tries to be stoic, accepting trouble and keeping on (except that it fails at that). I admire stoicism: Marcus Aurelius was seeking the Good Life, was the moral philosopher whether talking of getting out of bed or facing death. And my anger denies the sadness- go away and stop bothering me. It blocks the sadness from consciousness. Stop whining! it commands, and the whining becomes quieter though no less effective as a block to action.
The anger is inside me now, the anger is me, though it may be learned from the culture or the family, from voices outside. I don’t remember it, particularly, as an outside voice, condemning me- perhaps I learned it from others’ example.
Then I find the sadness, and I want to process it. I have the idea that if I could simply feel the sadness it would have told me all it needed to tell me, I would have learned from it all I needed to learn- not Don’t do that! but Take care doing that. And I have the idea that I am simply coaxing the sad part of me- I will listen to it for a time then say, that’s enough time now, come on- wheedling- coaxing- now take action. At which the sadness or the sad part digs its heels in again. It’s too painful right now. Rest a while more.
The anger is me. The sadness is me. Consciously I am more in the anger because it feels right, and it feels effective. Kicking my own backside was my way of motivation. Get on with it. It did actually work, for a while, it got me out of the house, going to work, achieving some things. Now if it works, if I get out of bed because I kick myself, I am wearied by it, it is heavy, an effort, it gives no joy. Anger and sadness are in stalemate.
-Where is your agency? she asks. Where’s the rest of you? I see your appreciation of culture and awe and beauty and there is something in you which wants to go and appreciate these things.
Well, that was my social training. My Dad showed me that culture required effort. We listened to Bartok string quartets expecting not to enjoy them- for them to be so alien, so complex, that my first feeling would be distressed boredom. Then with concentration and repeated listening the drama of the work, its progression and feeling, would reveal itself. I had this experience aged about 14 with The Silmarillion. I struggled through it, and found it weird, and the third time I read it I enjoyed it. Now I have The Mirror and the Light. It has huge sales, and I imagine more people will buy it than read it because they do not appreciate the effort it requires; but it will reward that effort. I am re-reading Bring Up the Bodies, knowing the characters better than I did. Its sequel is a 900 page novel which will be worth savouring.
In the same way I walked up the stairs in the National Gallery with a stool, because standing still too long is uncomfortable for me, turned right into the first gallery, turned left to the first painting and sat in front of it. That Veronese is fabulously beautiful. I retain it in my mind, and think of the legend of St Helena. And it is an effort. I need to concentrate, and I need to go and seek it out.
The anger is conscious, the sadness comes to consciousness. Partly it is an intellectual exercise, working out what might be there, partly it is trust in you as the expert who sees sadness in me, and partly it is inklings of feeling, peeking out from the woods, or surfacing briefly from the depths.
The anger is directed inwards, against myself, because I am weak and without status. If my anger is expressed outwards I will be squished. I got this from my family, and perhaps from their experience as human beings in the pecking order. I am at the bottom of the pecking order. Well, when I am sucking up to this admin worker, Oh, you lost a stone! How strong willed you are, how determined! What an achievement! Rather than about time, you’ll ruin your knees otherwise you fat slattern.
I have value only for what I can achieve, rather than in myself. So I need the opposite of Rohr’s lesson. I don’t blame my parents, it’s sins of the fathers, just the situation being passed on, like a mother rabbit bending to lick her kits, and the rabbit parasites march down her nose and onto them. It’s just what happens.
-Where is your agency? she asks again.
I have desire without action. I passionately want to be seen. And I want not to be seen, to hide away at home. My friend said it was as if I wanted to blend into the background in the most eyecatching way possible, which he might have wanted for himself. One of the best ways of hiding in plain sight is the steady achievement of the quiet efficient worker, who does what is expected.
-When do you feel these things rather than intellectualise about them?
When you talked about my sadness I felt irritation. Feeling the sadness- it’s too much to bear in consciousness, and I need to intellectually accept that, it’s part of the process of unearthing it.
-That does not feel real. It feels like an intellectual exercise.
Well, yes. I am acting. I can only say that within several sets of quotation marks, and you can hear the quotation marks in my voice- but I am acting myself. That is what I want to say to you, perfectly sincerely, and I can only say it as an act.
-What stops you being as opposed to acting?
Lack of practice. Uselessness and inadequacy. A deep lack of trust, in myself and in the world. Those are the things that come to mind immediately.
-Is the better self totally intellectual?
No. But the feeling self, anger and sadness, is tied in such knots I can barely perceive it. Or there are feelings flooding through me, and I cannot speak them. I might type or write them.
-Does this practice, of seeking art, music and literature out, and working on them, apply to anything else?
It applies to ideas. I read the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Implicit Bias in order to understand implicit bias better. I found it a struggle. I want to understand. I’d like to walk down the street buying stuff, but I can’t see how to get to there from here. I want to meet people and get to know them, and I do, sometimes, talking to people with different experiences to see through their eyes. People learn what is fun by convention, then do that for fun because they don’t know any better, but by exploration we might find something rewarding.
Another day, another transphobe, a nonentity saying what she is paid to say- but this one could be dangerous. The Mail on Sunday reported in its print edition, though not on line, that she had said in the House of Lords,
“Those seeking to rely on the protections and exemptions contained in the Equality Act 2020 [sic] must be able to do so with confidence and clarity. The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s statutory codes of practice on the Equality Act 2010 explain the provisions of the Act and the EHRC is responsible for updating these codes as necessary.
“This Government has been clear that we must take the right steps to protect safe single-sex spaces for women and girls; their access should not be jeopardised. Some women’s organisations have expressed concern that predatory men may abuse the gender recognition system, intended to support transgender adults. We have heard these concerns and are considering carefully our next steps.”
This was in answer to a question by Ralph Palmer, a noted transphobe. He asked, “To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the Equality and Human Rights Commission about amendments to its guidance on the Equality Act 2010 to help providers of services understand how to handle requests for access to services and facilities from transgender people.”
How to handle requests? Grant them. If there is a clear reason not to serve trans women with non-trans women- not just someone finds trans icky, but a clear, statable reason- explain it, and find another way to support the woman. Instead, Berridge quoted myths from WPUK, and “considering carefully our next steps” means “We are going to find the best way to make trans people, and particularly trans women, a culture war target”.
The Mail apparently asked her for further comment, and summarised her response- the law is clear that such places [single sex spaces] should be for biological women only. When they quoted her directly, it was more circumspect: ‘Transgender people can be excluded from singlesex facilities if service providers have a legitimate reason for doing so and if exclusion is the least discriminatory way to proceed.’ That is mostly unobjectionable, though I would put it the other way round- trans women should be admitted unless there is a legitimate reason to exclude.
Berridge is the kind of nonentity to be appointed a Tory “working peer”. She was Executive Director of the Conservative Christian Fellowship: I found this page asking for “prayers” about the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, now deleted from their own site: Berridge would like to call gay men “Sodomites” but is too frightened to. So, meanly, she attacks trans people instead.
In February, she was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System at the Department for Education and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Women) at the Department for International Trade. These posts are so junior within government that no-one bothered to update her wikipedia entry for weeks after. But she is a person, with a name, unlike the “unnamed source” which was reported in the Times in February, saying While we believe adults should be able to live their lives, and trans rights should be respected and protected, the government also has a role to play in protecting children (nudge nudge, wink wink)- protecting children, they mean, from medical treatment facilitating transition. The Times began, Ministers are expected to drop plans to make it easier for people to change their gender amid concerns about the impact on children, but the sources they named were neutral or supportive of trans rights.
My house is much cleaner than normal. I tidied away a lot of papers and stuff a couple of weeks ago, and have gone on a cleaning jag today, vacuuming crannies and crevices for dust. If a tiny particle can make a sufferer cough, irritating the airways further, I do not want my house as dusty as it was.
Eight percent of people over fifty coming down with Covid 19 need hospital treatment. My fear is that if I can phone and describe symptoms I will not be deemed sufficiently sick for transport or treatment, and if I can’t then I won’t be helped. And what that means for poorer areas without a fair hospital system horrifies me.
Oh I would like to talk face to face! I last had a friend over on Monday 16th. I like video calls, and now can attend Quaker meeting twice a week or even more- so I am having more conversation!- but I like hugs. Ministry is mostly guardedly positive- things are bad but we will be OK, quotes from 17th century Quakers- with occasional reminders of people who are particularly vulnerable.
And I think of people I know- people with MS, people over ninety, people who need oxygen to breathe even without 19. I fear for friends, I fear for people, I fear for myself. I am likely to suffer only minor discomfort, little more than any cold, but the worst possibilities are unthinkable. It is likely that someone I know will die of this thing.
The restaurants were told to close on Thursday 19th, and we were told to go into lockdown- only essential workers to go out to work, others can work from home if they can, stay at home but for one session of exercise daily and one shop weekly. Not having a freezer, and not always finding what I wanted, I shop more often. There are no rules yet on wearing masks. I don’t know the differences between masks, but with NHS staff angry about their lack of PPE, and the ENT consultant Amged El-Hawrani dying- he will not be the last- should I have a mask at all?
On Saturday I went to Asda, and was taken aback to find the front door locked. There was only one door in, round the back by the car park, and people were queuing quietly to be allowed in, one in one out, by the guards on the door. The aisles had arrows on the floor marking a one-way system, so we could keep 2m apart, and while I heard gallows humour a week before now it was silent. Again I could not get tinned tomatoes, but cooked with fresh tomatoes instead. I could not get basmati rice, but got brown instead, so that now I have got basmati rice I have 1kg of brown rice to use. Boil uncovered for 20-30 minutes, in six measures of water for each measure of rice, then drain, put back in the pot and cover to steam for ten minutes. It’s alright. This seemed to bulk out quite suddenly after 22 minutes.
I like worship on the net. I place the laptop on a table slightly to my left, and sit below my window, composed. Today, I sat in the sun for twenty minutes paying attention to my fear. Paradoxically, the desire for a crisis in which the British can show our mettle is the desire for a more ordered world: a world where priorities become clear, action becomes defined or predetermined, our feelings fit the needs of the moment. Actually, the crisis increases mess: we still have the same old problems in the same messy lives, but unaccustomed new ones- using kitchen roll as toilet paper, perhaps, or not knowing how to care for parents suddenly under such great threat.
There are horrors, on the net, such as video of overworked doctors and patients on ventilators. The New York Times quoted a website advising doctors on how to broach difficult topics with relatives- your beloved granddad is getting no better, so we need to take him off the ventilator so we can save someone else. So here is a sweet article by George Monbiot on people being creative and generous. I have The Mirror and the Light to savour, but at the moment I am rereading Bring up the Bodies. Here is Cromwell: in those huge hands Holbein places a legal writ, but that crease down the middle of it makes it look like a dagger.
I was moved to parody TS Eliot.
Johnson the Etonian, a fortnight dead,
had forsaken spaffing for bouts of coughing.
Those are pearls that were his lies.
We do not wish anything to happen.
Seven days we have lived quietly,
Zooming, and queuing at the supermarket,
Living, and partly living.
Let us not go, you and I
where society now sleeps upon the world
like a patient etherised upon a table
Let us not go through half-deserted streets.
In the room the women stay
With Covid, there is naught to say.
Is this the world changing, or the world’s strangeness revealing itself?
LGB All Liars, the campaign group against trans rights, has applied for charitable status, which would entitle them to apply for grants. I went digging. What is a charity? How can trans people oppose the claim of a hate group to be a “charity”? Continue reading
How can I cope as a trans activist with all the hostility to trans people, especially in lockdown with all the uncertainty?
Someone shared an Etty Hillesum quote: Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world. In Occupied Amsterdam under the Nuremberg Laws, she put that into practice.
Someone wrote, And to claim peace, we must excavate our shadows, make the unconscious conscious, reclaim and accept all parts of self.
Contrast Hilary Mantel’s description of Stephen Gardiner: Master Stephen resents everything about his own situation. He resents that he’s the king’s unacknowledged cousin. He resents that he was put into the church, though the church has done well by him. He resents the fact that someone else has late-night talks with the cardinal, to whom he is confidential secretary. He resents the fact that he’s one of those tall men who are hollow-chested, not much weight behind him; he resents his knowledge that if they met on a dark night, Master Thos. Cromwell would be the one who walked away dusting off his hands and smiling. I know resentment. I know threat and conflict, even fleeing down unknown streets at night. Resentment is curdled anger. Anger may do something about a situation, resentment cannot. Resentment focuses on the “things we cannot change”, but the “wisdom to know the difference” is hard practice, especially if there are few things we can change.
I read that rights for trans women are rights for sex offenders. I object, and read that the statement is unobjectionable, even though I feel anxiety in the supermarket, partly feeling fear, unjustified at the moment, that I might be abused as a trans woman. Etty Hillesum bought toothpaste in a pharmacy, and a public spirited citizen challenged her: as a Jew, was she entitled to buy that? She replied she was. And there are public spirited men wanting to stand up for the rights of women against perverts, by which they mean me, and so far I only meet them on line.
I sat in the Quaker meeting, on Zoom, in my exercise. It is possible to challenge an ASA ruling: can I do that? I want the people who pay to tell everyone that I am dangerous, or might be so that no-one should take the risk, rebuked. And I can’t face doing the reading or the writing to make that happen. The answer comes: I can do it, if I can let go of attachment to outcomes. Taking advantage of a video call where I can mute the microphone, I repeat that to myself aloud. “You want to cling to it, and you stop further messages,” my friend said. Perhaps; and I want to accept it, take it into myself, and act on it, because surrendering the need for a particular outcome is difficult. I have seen that with benefits appeals: if people could accept the loss, and make the appeal because it was the thing they could do at that time, they would be far less stressed; and some of them won their appeals! But that is easy for me to say, and instead, often, they resented. I have seen that expressed as a Law of Change: The individuals and the group may have goals, but they may not have cherished outcomes. It is a hard lesson.
So I wrote my challenge, and sent it off, and now see that it would have been better had I spent more time on it, and read it over and revised it before sending. But I hated it too much to do that. I hated the advert and my hate extended to the work I did against it. I would rather not have to do that work. Or I hate my work because I anticipate it will be inadequate, it will not achieve the goal I desire. I will not work well if I hate what I do, only if I can pour love into it. I read that there is an infinite fountain of Love, which I can bathe in, draw strength from, send to wherever I see needs Love. For example, Etty: I should be quite unable to do the work were I not able to draw each day on that great reservoir of peace and maturity. I read that, but I am not sure I trust it or have learned how to do it yet.
Etty Hillesum is of course my teacher and not my comparator. On 15 July 1942 she was given a job with the Jewish Council, and wrote, Tomorrow I must betake myself to hell, and if I am to do the work properly, I shall have to get in a good night’s sleep… Despite the deadly fear I saw in all those faces. All those faces, my God, those faces! And later, They are merciless, totally without pity. And we must be all the more merciful ourselves. I love her ironic prayer: “Have You any other plans for me, O God?”
A last Géricault. Though this woman is in a room, her desolation is hardly less than the shipwrecked man’s.
The Advertising Standards Authority finds nothing objectionable in a full page using lies to foment hate and fear against trans women. The full decision is below. The adverts went before their Council. What can be done now? Continue reading
The weather is beautiful. Living in the country, I can go cycling, and afterwards I sat in the back yard and had lunch. I met my new neighbour and his daughter, who is four, as they played together with bouncy-balls. He is an essential worker.
I sat in the sun yesterday as well. My upstairs neighbour, whom I have not met yet, occasionally kicked tiny stones off the flat roof. None landed on me, some landed near, and I wondered about going up and telling him off. I don’t know if he knew I was there. Especially after my friend was burgled for food– 4fuxache! Burgled for food!- this led me to paranoid thoughts appearing reasonable. It is the covid 19 lockdown, I thought, people will be angry and will be looking for a cat to kick, and the first resource will be us queers. Thank God simply being queer is no longer an excuse as it was in the nineties, but they will imagine excuses for hostility easily.
After the isolation was announced- only essential workers can go out to work, others can work from home if they can, I can go out for one period of exercise a day, and once for essential shopping as infrequently as possible, and as far as I am concerned my common yard is staying at home- I thought, well, actually, I feel quite good. There are rules, which give a false feeling of certainty. My comfort is old male Doctor Who. It’s not that I have anything against Jodie Whittaker, but I find Chris Chibnall mean and repulsive- I like mild threat and horror, but his situations are horrid rather than horrific. Spoiler for the latest episode: Time Lord cybermen in the wreck of the citadel are the last straw.
I want to talk to people. My friend proposed a video chat this morning then could not, as she had crises to deal with, and I was disappointed. So I went cycling, and paid attention to the beauty of grass, trees, sunshine- the sun sparkling on what I will call a brook by the road, though some might call it a drainage ditch. The rapid change of experience on these back roads, as they go up and down over the downs, among trees then open farmland. I paid attention to my momentary experience rather than fearful projections of what might happen. There was the effort of climbing hills and exhileration of descents.
Added: next day I went to the supermarket and got spaghetti, rice, fresh meat and fruit, bread and milk. I felt anxious, queuing up at the checkout. One of my anxieties was being picked on as trans. I stood and noticed the anxiety, and consciously accepted it, and then it bothered me less.
I took a lot of photos at that camp in 2012, and one of them has resurfaced. At the time, it might have been thought unflattering or uninteresting, but now it contains just the right level of seriousness.
And now, here’s today’s little drop of sunshine from Théodore Géricault.
What is a dinosaur?
A child could answer that question. It’s a huge animal that died out millions of years ago. As a child I could have named brontosaurus, triceratops, stegasaurus and, of course, Tyrannosaurus Rex, just as I could name nine planets in order. I would have included pteranodon. Then I read the “very basic concept” that “pterosaurs are not dinosaurs”, but birds are, so decided to look up a more scientific answer. Much of this comes from Wikipedia, which I will call Wrong.
I did not understand the first sentence, Dinosaurs are a diverse group of reptiles of the clade Dinosauria, because I did not know what a “clade” was. A clade is a common ancestor and all its descendants. The ancestor can be an individual, a population, a species, a genus, etc, as recent as you like: mammals, placental mammals, primates and great apes are all clades.
Because dinosaurs, properly and scientifically speaking, are a clade, birds are dinosaurs. To me as a child, the idea that a chirpy little thrush was a dinosaur would have made no sense at all, and as I write now I am wondering whether to still assert that common sense notion. (“Common sense” is what everyone knows, or almost everyone, even if it is wrong.) It makes sense to me to imagine a group of organisms sharing a set of characteristics, and one of those characteristics was Died Out at the end of the Cretaceous period or Mesozoic era. As a child I would have known the names of a few periods or eras, but not like my autistic friend the names of all eras and periods in order. And not the Hadean: the usage was only coined in 1972, and even now the International Commission on Stratigraphy calls it “informal”.
Still, the end of the dinosaurs, definitely the end of the Cretaceous, was the end of Interesting prehuman life for me, when I was a child. Eohippus, or even a sabre-toothed tiger, was not a patch on Tyrannosaurus Rex. I am unsure how widespread such a feeling is. I am interested in everything, but some things more than others. You can easily buy model tyrannosaurs for wee bairns to play with, and the bairns play enthusiastically, going
as loudly as they can. (“Easily buy”- I meant, in shops! How old-fashioned my thinking is!) I only recently learned that Stegosaurs were long extinct before Tyrannosaurs arose, as that fact would not have interested me. As a child they were both creatures of fantasy, and that fantasy continues in adulthood though it is less important to most adults than to children.
When I was a child the theory that the Chicxulub impact had ended the dinosaurs (even excluding birds) had not become widely accepted, and now I understand it is scientific consensus with some sceptics still challenging the evidence and the reasoning. That too, an asteroid almost destroying life on Earth, is a powerful image, widely known outside the scientific community as it speaks to people, a dreadful horror beyond all others.
Are Pterosaurs dinosaurs? If I had had a rubber toy pterosaur it would have flown in my hand over the tyrannosaur attacking the stegosaur, and I would have conceived of them as one class of animal- big, extinct. Pterosaurs were an order existing from 228-66mya. (Million years ago, but you knew that.) Dinosaurs were named by Richard Owen in 1842, after evolution, the changing of species through strata, had been observed, but before Darwin had published the theory explaining evolution by natural selection. I don’t know if Owen was aware of pterosaurs, or whether he would have called them dinosaurs, but now dinosaurs are Ornithischia and Saurischia, not including Ichthyosaurs either.
So, I use the word “dinosaur” much as I would in my childhood, from a vague understanding of time, ending 66mya, starting, I dunno, maybe 200mya. Scientists are researching the exact origin now, of the clade. Clades are clearly more important to them than to me. I find the idea of a “Kingdom” useful: plants, animals and fungi are Kingdoms. There is another Kingdom, Protists, being eukaryotes not fitting in the other three, and Wikipedia tells me Some recent classifications based on modern cladistics have explicitly abandoned the term “kingdom”. I wrongly but belligerently include ichthyosaurs and pterosaurs as dinosaurs, and find “Protist” a useful new word even if it does not describe a clade. I might even (shock!) treat “pterosaur” and “pteranodon” as interchangeable.
Classifications change as people find out more, and the research continues. If Richard Owen returned to life now, I imagine he might support the cladistic definition of dinosaur, to include birds not pterosaurs, after it had been explained to him. Common sense goes from imprecise understandings and old ideas which are now discounted. I am happy with the idea of a dinosaur as a potent myth of a terrible lizard, because I do not systematically follow the latest research. I am delighted with occasional striking ideas, such as scientists examining fossils under the microscope and postulating what colours dinosaurs were.
I take a middle position between common sense and “modern cladistics”, myth and imagery and precise classification. Both are useful at different times. A tomato is a fruit and a vegetable. I see the point of asserting that birds are dinosaurs, but I will stick with the common idea of dinosaurs as Jurassic or Cretaceous reptiles, including pterosaurs, for most purposes.
I am writing about this partly because people were worried when I did not post for four days. I had not posted because I felt a bit down: less interested in posting, and not wanting to write too many “Oh god life is awful” posts like my recent My Life, and Trans Politics, posts seemed to me. I am interested in it. I have now formed a view, that a precise scientific understanding and an imprecise general misunderstanding of the concept “dinosaur” both have value.
I wanted a cheerful Gericault to contrast with yesterday’s picture, but see Gericault was not the most cheerful painter. I notice the wikimedia file looks much better when the screen is too bright for my eyes, so I have brightened it.