Ian Ayres, the deputy dean at Yale Law School—I worked in the administration of a law school, and I must admit that I never heard of a “deputy dean”— decided to signal his virtue and lock-step wokeness as well as, presumably, that of Yale by submitting an op-ed to the Washington Post titled “Until I’m told otherwise, I prefer to call you ‘they’.” I welcome it, if only because the essay shows that it isn’t only Harvard among the Ivies that has been corrupted by “The Great Stupid.”
I realized, as I read this foolishness, that I have cited or thought about the Abe Lincoln riddle about calling a dog’s tail a leg (“If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have? Four—because calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg!”) more often in the past few years than I had done previously during my entire life. This is because Rationalization #64,Yoo’s Rationalization or “It isn’t what it is,” which easily could have been named “Orwell’s Rationalization” except that John Yoo really deserves to be remembered as the lawyer who tried to justify water-boarding on the grounds that it wasn’t torture, has become a core operating principle of the progressive moment on a dizzying number of fronts.
One of the silliest of all, and signature significance regarding how far the left end of the ideological scale has traveled mid-air over the proverbial shark, is the Woke Wonderland’s insistence that gender is just a construct, and if you want to be a different sex than what all biological and anatomical markers say you are, “Poof!”, you are! Not only that, you are now able to condemn, and some maintain even sue, anyone who doesn’t bow to your peculiar version of reality.
After announcing his decision by saying, “With the start of a new school year this fall…I am trying to initially refer to everyone as ‘they,’” Deputy Dean (I’m sorry, all I can think of is the minor Sixties TV cartoon character “Deputy Dawg” because that’s how my mind works) continues, “In the case of personal identity, I am drawn to default pronouns that don’t assume others’ gender. Instead of assuming someone’s gender identity based on how they look,dress or act, it is more appropriate to refer to them as “they” until I know better. And whenever possible, it is important to create early opportunities to learn their chosen pronouns, which has become standard practice in academic and other settings. Starting with the inclusive default “they” is less likely to cause offense than using harmful stereotypes to guess at someone’s pronouns.”
Just this small portion of the essay provides enough fodder for several critical ethics essays. Just to name the obvious one, a law school educator (Ayres is also a professor) is actually arguing that it is better to use a word that you know is wrong in all cases (they is a plural pronoun) than to use one that might be wrong in a single case. Good thinking there, counselor! In addition, his justification that engaging in such deliberately confusing terminology is reasonable because it “has become standard practice in academic and other settings’ evokes an even more ubiquitous rationalization than #64: Numero Uno, “Everybody Does It.” (To be fair to DD, enforced conformity with the mob is accepted cant in places like Yale) And, of course, Ayres mouths the nauseating progressive commandment that avoiding offense, no matter how contrived or absurd, is the prime directive.
For further well-earned defenestration of Ayres’ pandering, let me turn over the floor to criminal defense attorney and erudite blogger Scott Greenfield, who writes in part in his superb critique on Simple Justice,
“Society has created default rules as a matter of course and necessity. One of those is that when we knowingly speak of individuals, we addressed them in the singular because if we use the plural, it’s confusing, adding an additional burden to communication that takes an already squishy means of conveying thoughts and making them even less clear. Sure, middle English used a different protocol, when the “singular they” was acceptable. So were leeches. We’ve progressed since then…The reason norms exist is that we can assume them, since we can neither inquire of, nor remember, every individual’s preference, particularly since that preference can change from day to day, if not minute to minute. Norms exist for the majority, and based upon the majority, so that way, when we make an assumption, we are more likely to be right than wrong. And if you’re going to create a default, then it should be a default that serves to work for the most people rather than the fewest. Would Ayres, when he doesn’t know students’ names, call them all “John”? The only thing he would know for sure is that he will be wrong for the vast majority of his students, although there may be a John or two in the room. But what’s wrong about this pandering to childish indulgences by the deputy dean of Yale Law School, aside from inculcating in his students the belief that they are entitled to attend an elite law school, one historically likely to produce senators, presidents and Supreme Court justices, while being treated like infants? …When rules are crafted for general application in law, they should be directed to the needs of the many rather than the few. There are always going to be outliers, but if our jurisprudence obsesses with the odd at the expense of the usual, our doctrines not only fail to serve their purpose, but harm more people than they help….”
Bingo. Ayres’ pandering isn’t just nauseating and cowardly, it is incompetent legal reasoning. This is how we get bad lawyers. But in the dark days of the Great Stupid, even that doesn’t matter at a progressive law school.