University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan B. Peterson served as a witness at the Canadian Senate on May 17, 2017 for the hearing on Bill C-16. Senate Canada/Youtube

Charles Lewis: Pronouns are no big deal, right? Wrong

  • December 1, 2017
I have two groups I associate with socially: One group consists mainly of secular friends, many I’ve known for decades during my career in journalism; the other group is Catholic, the people I’m involved with in various pro-life causes or RCIA or those I see each week at Mass.

Sometimes these groups spill into each other but generally there is a real demarcation line. It’s not something I planned or desired but it’s a reality nonetheless.

It is actually with my secular friends that I’m often forced to think more deeply than I am with my religious cohorts. It came up the other night with two people I have a great deal a respect for. They could not fathom why I object to those who demand non-traditional honorifics. This is the kind of issue University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson has been battling.

The argument against Peterson, and me, was this: What difference does it make to you that someone wants to be called “them” or “they” or “skylark” instead of Mr., Mrs. or Ms.? What harm does it cause you?

For a moment I was stuck. Why do I care? And then I realized my two friends were right — but only if what we’re talking about are demands for silly honorifics.

I tried to explain that on its own honorifics should be no big deal. Other than using a plural for a singular and the confusion it may momentarily cause, it is not the end of the world as we know it. This issue has not come out of the void. To me it’s part of a larger objective to steamroll all traditional views and morality into oblivion.

They didn’t buy it. Where I see trends that are worrying, they see a world no longer bound by archaic conventions. Where I see a societal collapse, they see individual choices that simply add up to the practice of human freedom.

Serious Catholics know, as do others who are orthodox in their faith, that our society is sliding into a horrible morass of nonsense and death. To use the cliché, nothing is sacred.

Life is no longer sacred. We have abortion and euthanasia. We have IVF and genetic engineering. We see governments bending over backwards to appease small minorities such as the “transgender” community or other gender outliers, but when it comes to allowing doctors to opt out of participating in euthanasia, as many Ontario doctors want, no dice. Don’t make a referral and we’ll fine you or worse.

We have seen a large number of pro-life students lose their status on a variety of university campuses. Where is the government and school administrators when that injustice occurs? The answer is nowhere. The media too, with a few notable exceptions, ignore these stories because they regard the pro-life movement as an enemy.

We see young people, children, being encouraged to explore gender identity or being brainwashed into believing that all ways of expressing sexuality are valid. Those of us who cringe are laughed at.

What we have seen is God kicked out of the public square. Try arguing that we’re made in the image of God, male and female, and expect Olympic-level eye rolling.

In all these sins of society, the same questions are raised: What does it matter to you if someone ends their life when they want to with a physician’s help? What does it matter if someone chooses to change genders?

The popular answer these days: It doesn’t matter. It’s all about individual choice. It’s no skin off your nose. People should be free. Nothing matters. It’s all good

Yet this response is destroying the moral fabric of society. If nothing is wrong then nothing is right.

As I was thinking about all this, as manna from Heaven the National Post arrived with an article I wish I’d seen before my discussion with my two friends. It was about a hearing involving a young teaching assistant, Lindsay Shepherd, at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. She dared to show a clip of a debate from the television show The Agenda. It included comments from the aforementioned Peterson defending his objection to using made-up pronouns.

Even though Shepherd didn’t take sides she was accused of creating a toxic environment on campus simply by airing Peterson’s point of view. One interrogator said by even debating pronouns Shepherd was helping to create “an unsafe learning environment for students.”

It gets worse:

Interrogator: “In legitimizing this as a valid perspective, as this is another valid perspective…

Shepherd: “In a university all perspectives are valid.”

Interrogator: “That’s not necessarily true.”

So much for pronouns being no big deal, so much for debate, so much for independent thinking and democracy. But, hey, no skin off our noses, right?

(Lewis is a Toronto writer and regular contributor to The Catholic Register.)