Or, put another way, would any sane person do so? Wrong question.
Here’s the right one: What kind of society can allow the punishment of a man who refuses to kowtow to collective madness by denying the evidence before his own eyes?
The answer is, a totalitarian society. You know, the kind ours is becoming.
It was George Orwell who first pointed out a key feature of totalitarianism: forcing people to accept madness as sanity and vice versa. Writing specifically about Italian fascists, he showed how they used that stratagem as a mechanism of power.
It was as if they were saying to the people: “What we make you do and say is ridiculous. We know it, you know it, and we know you know it. But we can make you do and say those things anyway, to impress on you who’s boss.”
If authoritarian regimes seek to run political life only, totalitarian ones strive for total control over people’s minds. That is the very essence of totalitarianism.
Everything else is just the means to that end, and these may vary within a broad range, from the unrestricted and indiscriminate Bolshevik savagery to the Nazis’ selective genocide to the Italian fascists’ limited violence.
However, most people miss the forest of totalitarianism’s ends for the trees of its means, things like murder by category, death camps, torture and so on. When these aren’t in evidence, they don’t recognise totalitarianism.
That runs the risk of letting it achieve its objectives insidiously and so gradually that the exact moment of its arrival will be impossible to pinpoint. And ultimately totalitarianism vanquishing softly will prove more enduring, for the same reason an expert seducer tends to run up a higher amatory score than a rapist.
We happen to be in the grip of precisely such a development, and if you contest this observation, consider the case of Dr David Mackereth.
Dr Mackereth was fired from his job at the Department of Work and Pensions for giving a wrong answer to the question in the title above, thereby proving his sanity in an insane world.
Throughout his work as a disability claim assessor, Dr Mackereth steadfastly resisted the requisite linguistic vandalism by sticking to the personal pronouns grammatically appropriate for the individuals in question.
A person born male was a ‘he’ to him, one born female a ‘she’, and he didn’t allow his choice of words to be affected by any confusion about the person’s self-identification.
I applaud Dr Mackereth, but his superior’s reaction was rather less sympathetic. He hit Dr Mackereth with the short uppercut of the hypothetical question above and, having received a negative answer, sacked him.
“In truth, the argument between us arose not because of any realistic concerns over the rights and sensitivities of transgender individuals,” explains Dr Mackereth, “but because of my refusal to make an abstract ideological pledge to call any six-feet tall bearded man ‘madam’ on his whim.”
He then proceeds to aggravate his guilt by insisting that: “Throughout this process I kept stressing that my objection to that misuse of pronouns was based on my Christian beliefs and conscience.”
His superiors regarded that statement as antediluvian. Our courts will doubtless soon be describing it as criminal. I, on the other hand, would merely describe it as superfluous: one shouldn’t have to swing the sledgehammer of God to crack the nut of insanity.
Other statements made by Dr Mackereth should have sufficed: “I cannot in good conscience go along with those ideas – for example by using people’s chosen pronouns, instead of those naturally pertaining to their sex. As far as I am concerned, to do so would be both dishonest and irresponsible.”
And, even better: “What I object to is being forced to do violence to language and common sense, in a ritual denial of an obvious truth, for the sake of an ideology which I disbelieve and detest. The very fact a doctor can be pulled off the shop floor for an urgent interrogation about his beliefs on gender fluidity is both absurd and very sinister.”
Those anti-totalitarian statements should have indeed sufficed, but they didn’t. In fact, an appeal to honesty and responsibility cuts no more ice today than it did when used by those Russians who refused to regard as vermin people without calloused palms, or by those Germans who doubted that some ethnic groups were subhuman.
Yet citing the Bible has even less chance of succeeding. Yes, of course Genesis puts it with sancta simplicitas: “Male and female created he them”. But then God (who everyone knows doesn’t exist anyway) lacked our modern aptitude for nuance.
Unlike that binary deity, we distinguish up to 81 different sexes by latest count, and the number is bound to go up as we become more sophisticated – nothing can stop the march of progress.
Such plenitude would have stretched God’s taxonomic agility, had he taken on the task of enumerating all the sexes. It may also present a thorny challenge for our inspiring neologians: concocting 81 different sets of pronouns is no easy task. But I trust their talent implicitly: as an earlier totalitarian, Stalin, put it, “there are no fortresses Bolsheviks can’t storm”.
Quoting the Bible against this background is like screaming “thou shalt not steal” at a mugger. It’ll only make him turn nasty.
Dr Mackereth has taken the DWP to an employment tribunal, and he plans to use religious discrimination as his line of defence. That sounds like a loser: Christianity is the only religion these days whose abuse doesn’t qualify as discrimination.
In fact, the DWP already denies that Dr Mackereth’s beliefs are protected under the Equality Act, while those who appointed him argue that he infringes on the rights of others.
“I don’t agree,” says Dr Mackereth. “We do love transgender people. That’s our duty as Christians. But to love people doesn’t mean we can accept every ideology that comes our way.”
Hear, hear. But I’m afraid no one will in our neo-totalitarian world.