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UNITED KINGDOM, December 2, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — After a pause due to everyone being confined to their homes due to the coronavirus, the war of the fly-posted stickers is hotting up. In Edinburgh, someone has posted stickers on street furniture saying, “Seahorses ARE horses. Hotdogs ARE dogs. There is no debate. #WarOnWomen.” Another says, “I [heart] JK Rowling.” Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series of children’s books, has been attacked for not supporting the trans agenda.

I have seen similar stickers in the streets of Oxford. What the reports tend not to say is that this is a conflict of two sides. Certainly in Oxford, stickers asserting the existence of women (“Woman: noun. Adult human female”) are a response to a long sticker and graffiti campaign by trans activists. Last October, I captured images in Oxford of stickers saying “Oxford [heart] our trans sisters” and spray-painted “Trans happiness is real.” Posting stickers is a form of vandalism and is illegal, as is graffiti, but although the perpetrator was boasting about it on Facebook, where full personal details could be viewed, the local police had better things to do than enforce the law in this case. When someone started posting stickers from an alternative point of view, the reaction was very different.

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Seeing lamp posts, poles carrying street signs, parking ticket machines, benches, post boxes, and so on covered in stickers, some partially torn off by irritated humans or the effects of the weather, contributes to an impression of lawlessness and neglect. Along with litter from fast food outlets blowing about the gutters and homeless people sitting in doorways, central Oxford, which is of course a World Heritage Site, can look pretty slummy. Perhaps the police really do have more pressing priorities, but it doesn’t take much imagination to anticipate the consequences of allowing one side in the most contentious cultural issue of the day to have the run of public spaces for their propaganda in a city full of students. Yes, someone is going to go into competition.

On the face of it, statements by both sides seem innocuous. Who could object to the dictionary definition of the word “woman”? But the debate is being carried on at a high level, I don’t say of subtlety, but of euphemism and implication. The fact that someone was allowed for months and months to spray-paint “Trans happiness is real” all over Oxford is itself a politically charged fact. It says this person is above the law, because this statement, whatever it means, has some totemic importance and must not be contradicted. The police must not risk being seen as contradicting it by prosecuting the perpetrator, the City Council must not contradict it by cleaning it off too quickly, and others must not implicitly contradict it by posting any statement alongside it that is not supportive of the world-view it implies.

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One of the risks of allowing the flyposting of stickers and graffiti to become normalized is that it can easily spill over into a kind of statements that are more explicitly threatening, and vandalism that causes permanent damage to property and ultimately to people. This kind of low-level vandalism creates an environment in which anti-Christian graffiti and attacks on religious statues can more easily seem justified.

What we are seeing in the U.K. is a faint echo of the revolutionary justice being meted out in the streets of the United States of America, where people are harassed as they sit in restaurants, churches are attacked, and people are injured and killed in riots. I don’t say that none of the people involved in this conflict are acting for a good cause, just that it is a bad situation when “direct action” is being chosen over other forms of debate and conflict resolution.

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What is needed, in fact, is debate — debate that is fearless and open but, while possibly emotionally upsetting, is at least physically safe. It is, sadly, currently impossible to imagine student newspapers or student debating societies tackling these issues in a calm and even-handed way, and their equivalents in the adult world are not much better. It is no surprise to read that 27% of U.K. students complain of having to censor themselves to avoid saying the unsayable, and “44 per cent believed lecturers would treat them differently if they publicly expressed views important to them.” This is not an environment well adapted to teaching and learning; it is not even one well adapted to mental health.

Certainly, there are limits to what one can say in any civilized society, but I do not think 44% of our young people are hateful bigots who need to be shamed into silence and excluded from public conversations. Something here has gone seriously wrong, and resolving it in the streets could get ugly.

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Dr Joseph Shaw has a Doctorate in Philosophy from Oxford University, where he also gained a first degree in Politics and Philosophy and a graduate Diploma in Theology. He has published on Ethics and Philosophy of Religion and is the editor of The Case for Liturgical Restoration: Una Voce Position Papers on the Extraordinary Form (Angelico Press). He is the Chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales and Secretary of Una Voce International. He teaches Philosophy in Oxford University and lives nearby with his wife and nine children.

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