Well that escalated fast — Adventures in Philosophy

Son/Daughter of Flaw & Order

Greetings from the Couch
Oct 2 · 4 min read

I’m all for having beliefs, of thinking about life, the universe, existence and where my next cup of tea is coming from.

“Cold Tea in an Empty Cup”, a work in mixed media

Philosophy is all about the thinking and the pondering. And I feel strongly that it’s a thing that should be cherished in all its glory. It’s another of the belief systems, but at least those that use it actually consider the eternal verities, as Majikthise once pondered.

Senior lecturer, Dr. Holly Lawford-Smith is a political philosopher and paid to think this kind of thing through. In her latest article, Dr. Lawford-Smith argues that under changes to the Racial and Religious Tolerance Amendment Bill introduced by Fiona Patten, misrepresenting someones gender pronouns could lead to a $10,000AU fine or six months’ imprisonment.

Well that escalated fast.

Dr. Lawford-Smith brings these facts to bear:

  • Victoria is currently altering the Racial and Religious Tolerance Amendment Bill, to extend the current law to include gender identity and sex characteristics.
  • If someone is found to have vilified an individual on the basis of their gender identity or sex characteristics, they will receive a 6 month gaol sentence or 60 penalty points, which at today’s prices is around $10,000AU.

But what would you have to do to vilify on the basis of gender or sex identity? Dr. Lawford-Smith argues that UK hate crime laws were recently used to investigate an incident of alleged misgendering on Twitter and national TV.

Misgendering by the way is where you call someone “she” instead of “he” or vice versa. Dr. Lawford-Smith also brings up gender fluid pronouns such as “they” which are being used by some people across the world.

However, this incident turned out to be more complex than originally represented. Catholic journalist Caroline Farrow said this on Twitter about a parent who’d helped her transgender child:

“ What she did to her own son is illegal. She mutilated him by having him castrated and rendered sterile while he was still a child.”

Farrow went on to accuse the parent of child abuse.

As a result, the parent raised a complaint with the police, who pursued the case under the Malicious Communications Act, which makes it illegal to use a carriage service to abuse others.

However, Farrow amongst many other commentators, Dr. Lawford-Smith included, discussed the complaint in terms of misgendering. It was not an investigation into using the wrong pronouns. It was about straight-up abuse. Or, if you like, Vilification (more on this later). But thanks to these efforts, the complaint was withdrawn; the parent decided it was more important to correct the misrepresentation than pursue her rights under the law of the land.

But does Dr. Lawford-Smith’s argument still hold water? Will you cop a $10,000AU fine for calling someone He instead of She in the state of Victoria?

The Racial and Religious Tolerance Amendment Bill adds several groups to those being protected from Vilification:

“Objects of Act

In section 4(1) [c] of the Principal Act, for “race or religious belief or activity” substitute “race, religious belief or activity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics”.”

To describe “Vilification” the amended Act refers back to the prior Act, the Elimination of Vilification Act 2001:

“A person must not, on the ground of the [race, religion] of another person or class of persons, engage in conduct that incites hatred against, serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of, that other person or class of persons.”

It goes on to add:

“…conduct —

(a) may be constituted by a single occasion or by a number of occasions over a period of time; and

(b) may occur in or outside Victoria.

Note: “engage in conduct” includes use of the internet or e-mail to publish or transmit statements or other material.”

So after three hours writing and researching, I’ve personally come to these conclusions:

  • You probably won’t get a massive fine and/or thrown into Gaol for accidentally saying “he” instead of “she”.
  • There’s a good chance you’ll get a massive fine and/or thrown in Gaol for “vilification”, based on the above definition.
  • Vilification based on race or religion is no longer permitted.
  • Adding “gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics” to the law, is in my opinion, reasonable.

In addition, I’ll say this: I feel Dr Lawford-Smith has a single reasonable argument: that female identifying people should define what “female” actually is. However, its relationship to the arguments brought in her article is tentative at best.

In my opinion, the rest of the article is made up of two logical fallacies: The “slippery slope” and “argumentum ad hominem”.

The “slippery slope” is where a small act has massive consequences. In this case, the argument that misgendering someone will lead to massive fines and Gaol time.

Argumentum ad hominem” occurs where a person’s character is attacked rather than their arguments. In this case, Dr. Lawford-Smith argued that Transgender people overreact all the time, and that Transgender women are actually male.

I feel under the circumstances that these rather undermine her arguments. However, I’m not a political philosopher who lectures at Melbourne University, so what would I know?

Next Time

My religious textbook is better than your scientific textbook

Greetings from the Couch

Written by

Really not a neural network enhanced instabot from the nastiest burrows of the darknet. (also do chai reviews on @melbournechai )

Flaw & Order

Putting the “What” in “WTF”

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