Against the American Conservative, The Sun and The Daily Mail on David Mackereth

A refutation of:

The articles above assume that the DWP’s decision to deny David Mackereth employment was unjust and constitutes an unacceptable restriction of speech. I’m not so sure.

Some restrictions on speech are acceptable. Let’s say a hard right white nationalist who refuses to refer to black people by any other word than n***** applies to a government job that requires interacting with citizens. Few of us would have a problem with them being rejected on the grounds that civil servants must refer to people in a respectful manner. The principle at work here is that while the government should not deny a person a job on the basis of their beliefs, it can and should deny employment to people who are unable to do a job, regardless of whether their inability is down to their beliefs or some other reason. Just as denying a pacifist a position in a frontline military unit is acceptable, so the white nationalists inability to respectfully interact with black people makes them unable to do the job, justifying the decision to not employ them. It is a restriction of speech, but one that is justified as the intent is not to silence but to hire the best person for the job.

Moving to the case of David Mackereth, the first question is whether his inability to use a persons chosen gender pronouns renders him unable to do his job. This boils down to whether we expect government employees to use people’s preferred gender pronouns. That boils down to where we draw the line of what constitutes disrespect. That line is devilishly tricky to draw because it is heavily based on cultural norms as opposed to universal, rational moral principles. Act’s which may constitute an offence grave enough for murder in one culture mean nothing in another. That’s why I’m not going to try and directly argue whether or not using someone’s chosen pronoun is a reasonable expectation or requirement for respect. I don’t think that argument is necessarily possible to make, it may well be a matter of axiomatic intuitions, or can be made in a reasonable amount of time. Instead, I’ll try and present another case. How you feel about it should tell you a lot about how you should feel about the case of Dr Mackereth.

Lets say there’s transgender hard left activist who, believing that gender is an oppressive construct which should be destroyed, refuses to use people’s given pronouns and instead refers to everyone as “ze”. They apply for the same position in the DWP and are rejected because they refuse to refer to people by their chosen gender. Would this also constitute an unacceptable restriction on free speech? There are three positions you can take

  1. Civil servants should refer to anyone however they want (Both Dr Mackereth and the activist can get a job)
  2. Civil servants should be required to refer to people by their chosen pronoun (Neither Dr Mackereth nor the activist can get a job)
  3. Civil servants should refer to strigh/cisgender people by their chosen pronoun, but have no obligation to refer to non-cisgender people by their chosen pronoun. (Dr Mackereth can get a job, the activist cannot)

If you believe 1 or 2, your beliefs are consistent and, while I may disagree with them, they are not in my eyes immoral.  If you believe 3, which I assume is the position these publications would take, I think there’s a burden you have to meet to justify the double standard. I don’t think these articles, nor any other I’ve seen, have attempted to do so.

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