I began this inquiry two days ago, intending to complete it forthwith, but then a sick, broken, psychopathic teen in Texas murdered his grandmother, children and teachers with an AR-15 with the predictable Ethics Train Wreck gathering steam once again. Let’s finish up before something else goes wrong.
Ann Althouse is at fault: she flagged Roxane Gay’s New York Times advice column “Work Friend,” focusing on this question from the ubiquitous “Anonymous”:
In the past six months, my organization approved the optional inclusion of pronouns in email signatures. I learned that one of my team members uses nonbinary pronouns. In my written communication and conversation about that team member, I now use those pronouns, but I notice that no one else has made the adjustment. As the supervisor of this team, how can I fix this situation?I feel like the longer I wait to address it, the more disrespectful and complicit I’m being. I can’t police people’s language, but I would call someone out for other kinds of behavior I interpreted as disrespectful. (For what it’s worth, I don’t suspect anyone of being intentionally disrespectful by not using their colleague’s preferred pronouns.) The nonbinary colleague has not said anything to me about this being a problem, but I have to assume it feels dismissive. I feel I owe them an apology, but what I really owe them is better leadership. What would you do?
The advice columnist whose record of often obnoxious woke certitude ended up eating the issue sufficiently to require two parts to the intended post, responded,
“Thank you for asking this question. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and part of that is using people’s correct pronouns.”
“Correct pronouns?” Doesn’t correct mean “factual and true”? The requirement that individuals and groups get to demand and enforce what is correct is, I think, one more manifestation of the Left’s slide into a totalitarian mindset, and the tendency of the easily subjugated, weenies and the “oh. well, if they care so much, why fight it?” crowd to let societal freedom die a death of a thousand cuts. Ann quoted one of Gay’s commenters, who wrote,
I am really curious about this pronoun business in business communication. Who decided that the new law of the land is that everybody gets to pick their pronouns however misaligned they may be to their publicly visibly persona, and everybody else needs to learn this and memorize? Who has time for this?
Of course, it is not a matter of time, but a matter of ethics. It is an ethics conflict, in fact, one that involves a clash of manners, consideration, principles, respect, fairness, responsibility, and the abuse of power. It is ethical—fair, respectful, caring—to agree to call a friend, colleague or acquaintance by whatever name they wish to be called, within reason. Not all names are appropriate in all settings, however: a boss that asked to be called “Love Bug” or “Sex Machine” in the workplace is engaging in sexual harassment. Unethical. Would one have to call someone by her “correct” name if she insisted on the title, “Your Majesty”? That’s getting closer to the issue here. Such demands (a request is a demand if one will encounter negative consequences for rejecting it) are a power play; one relevant ethics question is whether the conduct is justifiable. I object to jumping through hoops on command: Ethics Alarms will capitalize the “b” in Black when the stars turn cold, just as I rejected the abomination “of color” the first time it raised its colorful head.
Writing about the pronouns issue a year ago, Althouse, who has raised the question a lot, ended one post, “Personally, I feel that anyone who feels the need to announce their pronouns is childish and rude, and I treat them as such.” That discussion covered whether requiring/demanding/requesting that someone adopt one’s counter-factual, eccentric or debatable choice of pronouns is forcing others to adopt an ideology they do not share.
Of course it is. That’s the whole point. Continue reading