Many ills in one sentence

No one commits a crime against progress and gets away with it.

Joshua Sutcliffe

Yet another teacher ‘misgendered’ a pupil by using a female personal pronoun rather than the male one the ‘trans’ pupil demanded. That he was sacked hardly needs saying – such punishment is practically mandatory.

However, it came with a lovely new touch: Joshua Sutcliffe was not only sacked from his Oxford school, but also prohibited from his profession indefinitely by the Teaching Regulation Authority (TRA).

The Mail covered the case dispassionately, simply reporting the facts. Yet the absence of a bias is a bias in itself. In such cases, mere neutrality betokens latent sympathy – after all, Mr Sutcliffe sinned against a whole ethos, not just an individual. Hence withdrawing self-righteous wrath is tantamount to ringing endorsement.

However, then came the sentence I promised in the title above. That too sounded like unvarnished reportage, but in fact the paper emphatically, if inadvertently, joined the ranks of Mr Sutcliffe’s executioners (only in his profession, for the time being):

“Joshua Sutcliffe, a 33-year-old who taught maths at The Cherwell School in Oxford, was found to have failed to treat the pupil ‘with dignity and respect’ by addressing them by a female pronoun when they identified as male.”

In any cultural war – and make no mistake, it’s under way – ceding the language positions is tantamount to surrender. When a single person is referred to as ‘they’ or ‘them’, I see a white flag flapping in the wind. The sight is ugly.

That aesthetics is an aspect of ethics was already known to the great Greeks. That’s why Plato described music as ‘a moral law’, and Aristotle decried musical innovation because, he thought, political subversion was bound to follow in its wake.

Ugly form points to the ugly content lurking underneath. For example, one doesn’t have to read Le Corbusier’s articles to know he was a fascist. Just looking at his buildings and plans for urban development should tell anyone everything he needs to know.

I’d argue that a finely tuned aesthetic perception often doesn’t have to rely on religion or philosophy to reach all the right conclusions. Reason can then move in to claim its slice of the epistemological pie, but its function is only to make the intuitive intelligible. Most rationalisation is in fact post-rationalisation.

Whoever wrote that offensive sentence must have had his aesthetic receptors cauterised. That is, if he doesn’t realise how unspeakably ugly that sentence is. That, however, is unlikely. Call me an idealist, but I still cling on to the notion that a professional writer can’t be so deaf to the beauty of English, his bread and butter.

Thus, he knows the sentence is ugly but still feels compelled to write it. If modernity demands unconditional surrender, he is happy to oblige.

The Greeks and Romans saw outward beauty as an unfailing indicator of virtue. Mens sana in corpore sano, wrote Juvenal – a healthy mind in a healthy body. In Western culture, the perception of beauty changed. It got to be understood as a perfect harmony between form and content, but with the content determining the form more than the other way around.

Thus a healthy body (language, in this case) may well mask an ugly content (thought) by way of subterfuge. But imposing ugly, unnatural language on society leaves no room for doubt. Our whole culture is falling victim to subversion on a universal scale.

Ugly is the new beautiful, wrong is the new right, unnatural is the new natural – such are the implicit slogans of that subversion. The few cases of genuine gender dysphoria aside, a woman insisting she is a man is ugly, unnatural and wrong. That, however, is her privilege – people have a right to be ugly, unnatural and wrong. But they have no right to demand that others concur, allowing their aesthetic compass to go haywire.

Yet that’s exactly what modernity demands. Mr Sutcliffe’s crime was refusing to go along. And he exacerbated it by rejecting the penitence demanded by the TRA. Had he agreed to scourge himself and wear a hairshirt from then on, modernity might have gone easy on him.

He recounts: “The TRA has said, you don’t feel enough remorse for not going on with the pronouns. Well, I’m sorry, but that’s the Christian position. I wasn’t going to say: ‘I’m going along with this’. I’d rather die to be honest.”

Oh yes, I should have mentioned Mr Sutcliffe is a Christian. Hence he chose to put his resistance to modern perversions into a Christian framework, which is both commendable and superfluous.

In just about any situation I can imagine offhand, a Christian can argue a case for aesthetic beauty or rational sense without invoking Christianity explicitly. He may believe that God is the origin of all beauty and reason, but these should be able to stand on their own two feet.

They are like children who grow up enough to leave the paternal home and enter life autonomously. Thus Mr Sutcliffe could have made a strong case by simply appealing to the aesthetic demands of English grammar with its pronouns and the rational diktats of genetics with its chromosomes.

In this case, as in so many others, a proposition that’s aesthetically and rationally sound also happens to be Christian. Thus Christianity may well stay in the background, acting as the implicit origin and a silent vindicator of the proposition. So inspired and validated, the idea can then fend for itself – while reinforcing by its own validity the truth of Christianity.

If I were in Mr Sutcliffe’s shoes, I’d do exactly what he did. But the impulse to do so would appear before I even thought of Christianity’s position on the issue. My initial response would be aesthetic rejection, which I would then post-rationalise with appeals to conventions of grammar and physiological realities.

Would I stand any chance of winning the argument? Don’t be silly, of course not. Sane people these days are inferior to even a bull in the ring. He isn’t encouraged to win, but at least he is encouraged to fight. We aren’t.

6 thoughts on “Many ills in one sentence”

  1. Jordan Peterson rose to fame in 2016 (has it been seven years?!) speaking out against compelled speech (bill C-16). As I understand it, Britain has no laws specifically directing pronoun use, but institutions and judges have subverted anti-discrimination laws to include this de facto if not yet de jure. Progress!

  2. Mr Boot, I join you in deprecating this nonsense and in expressing sympathy for its primary victim and all the secondary victims. Christianity does not come into it, nor does the fact that I was born a Jew. Commonsense is all that is needed.

  3. Does this not amount to persecution of Christians? Christians aren’t being killed (so far), but they’re being excluded from all the good jobs. And even atheists are persecuted if they’re the wrong kind of atheists. See the case of Kathleen Stock for instance.

    But the persecution is enshrined in law. To teach Christian morality is “hate speech”. To teach biological facts is “hate speech”. To refer to anybody by the “wrong” pronoun is “hate speech”. And this is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a “they”.

  4. Academics today face a dilemma as did those of the Scholastic period? Shunned and banned when accused of heresy constantly traveling to where ever you can find refuge and work?

    Maybe places as Taipei, Seoul, Singapore can gain in the process?

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