Ethics Dunce: Yale Law School Deputy Dean Ian Ayres


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.

23 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: Yale Law School Deputy Dean Ian Ayres

  1. I still marvel at the acceptance of the pronoun game, especially as it is solely designed to alter behavior in another person when you are not involved. If I’m having a conversation with Sam, here, the first person demands that if their name is not used, non-gender specific pronouns are. You, we, us. The only time gender comes into play is when I am talking to someone else ABOUT Sam, whether Sam is in the room with me or not. If he/she are, then they have the opportunity to become angry and offended. If not, then everyone gets to feel awkward as they desperately try to remember which was last appropriate. In any case, the demand to refer to me as “he” only alters your behavior when you aren’t talking to me, only as you go through the course of the rest of your day.

  2. So many questions where I used to have the answers.
    For instance
    When there are two Johns in the class, one longer than the other.
    Is it ok to call one Long John and the other Short John?
    And if in New Haven they will wear their underwear on the outside of their clothes.
    How will I call Short John if he is wearing a long John?

    [Cue here the video, What is going on ?]

  3. How about sir and mam?
    What would happen if a woman says to you, “I prefer that instead of ‘she’ you use ‘they’ when referring to me.” and you answer politely, “Yes mam.”?

      • I’m pretty sure manners at that level are considered an automatic agreession, no matter the intent or result. Having enough respect for someone else to have good manners towards them would almost automatically preclude disrespecting them enough to try and govern their thoughts, speech, and reality.

  4. If I were a female student of his, I’d wear pink & lace dresses to his classes, really girl it up w/long hair & makeup, and insist he call me “JimBob” or some equally traditionally masculine name. Same for a male student, and have that guy insist he be called “TammyLynn”. (Clearly they’d be Southern transplants to New Haven, lol.) Just to make it difficult for him while making a point.

  5. It’s interesting to try to deconstruct their rules and kind of see the trajectory this has taken.

    Because for a while, the rule of thumb was to make an assumption (and that assumption was usually right) and then if you were corrected, the kind thing to do would be to use what they prefer. The idea here, I think, was an acceptance of reality: Most people understand the binary and can navigate it just fine, and we can make exceptions for the people who don’t.

    Then, the rule of thumb became to try to normalize the display of pronouns, or to ask pronouns, this is where pronoun tags and nameplates came from. The idea here, I think, was that they started to lose the narrative, and that people who weren’t binary were saying being misgendered was a constantly reoccurring microaggression (tysrl), and so, as we’ve been told, over and over again, like a microaggression but more overtly, misgendering someone is a form of violence.

    Now, it seems like the rule of thumb is to commit that same violence: We know that most people, upwards of 99% of people in fact, fit within the gender binary and do it obviously enough that for generations over centuries, this was never really an issue. And even though we know this, we’re going to purposefully misgender those 99% of people because we *might* misgender an NB.

    “But wait, Jeff… “they” is gender neutral, we’re not misgendering you, we’re not even gendering you. Exactly. I have a gender. I’m a man, fairly obviously a man, and I don’t identify as gender neutral. You are choosing to start at a place you know is wrong. And while I don’t really give a rat’s ass what you think my gender is… Because I don’t really care what you think…. Because I don’t respect your intelligence… Because you are stupid… You are, by your own standards choosing to “violently” misgender most of humanity, and from a lobby that often accepts absurdities like noun-self pronouns, you’d think you should care.

  6. When I read “deputy dean” my mind went directly to that big white long eared southern drawling canine Deputy Dawg and his prairie dog compatriot as well.

  7. As thou art concerned that the singular be addressed singularly, wouldst thou prefer that I desist from referring to thee as “you”? Or would that be over-familiar, as in German or French (in which to do so is called “tutoyer”)?

  8. Would Ayres, when he doesn’t know students’ names, call them all “John”?

    That could work – occasionally – if he never had to deal with (besides women) any non-white students. Their grandfathers, maybe. . . .

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