A recent article in Cherwell argued that Dr Jordan Peterson should not be allowed to speak at the Union. Rather confusingly, the author is “in favour of inviting individuals who I disagree with to speak at the Union”. However, what follows is an unapologetic character assassination of Peterson, claiming he is a liar, someone who has “nothing of worth to say and actively harms debate”. The criticism goes on to misunderstand a great deal of Peterson’s points about ideology and meaning, and even claims that his best-seller 12 Rules for Life “helps no-one”. Such articles supporting no-platforming and promoting censorship have become far too common in recent times for my liking.
Ignoring for a moment the gross oversimplification of Peterson’s points and views by recent critics, let’s address the hypocrisy found at the centre of similarly poorly-conceived articles which advocate no-platforming. Most glaring is the idea that many of Dr Peterson’s opponents apparently support free speech. They claim to welcome differing opinions to be heard in open forum, yet simultaneously argues that Professor Peterson, a clinical psychologist with over a decade of experience and a best-selling author, should not be allowed to speak. Clearly these critics hold numerous personal grievances with Dr Peterson’s opinions that they will not admit – ironic considering their endless accusations branding Peterson as a liar and a charlatan.
Peterson’s encouragement of personal responsibility has been a powerful motivator for many.
A great many arguments also include drivel on Dr Peterson’s apparent use of ad hominem attacks by taking quotes completely out of context. Within the same breath one recent article hurls insult after insult – “charlatan”, “liar” and sarcastically labelling the Professor an ‘academic’ despite his PhD and tenured position at the University of Toronto.
Worse than these accusations in my opinion is the proposal of this same article that Peterson’s work “helps no one”. In an era where the leading cause of death amongst young men is suicide, and mental illness is rife, Peterson’s encouragement of personal responsibility, personal improvement and order over chaos has been a powerful motivator for many. On a number of occasions Dr. Peterson has been seen to weep when recounting the testimony of his audience regarding how his work has helped them turn their lives around. No matter what you think of the man’s politics, you cannot dare suggest that his work “helps no-one”.
Labelling hypocrisy and extolling the virtues of Dr Peterson’s work has a point, aside from embarrassing inexperienced journalists. It highlights the lack of thought which goes into arguments supporting no-platforming. It prevents not only the broadening of people’s minds but the open criticism of bad ideas. I would suggest instead that we should let people speak, see what they have to say and reflect, rather than shut them down, especially if you disagree with them.
It would be unhelpful and disingenuous to claim Professor Jordan Peterson should not stand and address the Oxford Union on the basis that he is a misogynist, a conspiracy theorist or a borderline racist. Peterson is not the alt-right. The real threat that such pseudo-intellectualism poses can be found in the fan base of the Canadian professor of 27 years. The same fan base which was ordered by Peterson to lay down their arms after they relentlessly attacked C4 reporter Cathy Newman in January, for what was an admittedly poor interview on the parts of both Newman and Peterson. Peterson, since his public criticisms of the Canadian C-16 Bill in 2016, an amendment to crack down on discrimination based on gender identity and to strengthen laws preventing hate propaganda and incitement to genocide, has seized the hearts and (most damagingly) the minds of the moderate and far right alike. He is now a common name, and a polarising one at that.
Perhaps Professor Peterson would be entitled to, if not owed, a platform at the union if he were acting in his capacity as an academic. However, we must now learn to make the distinction between Professor Jordan Peterson and the cult-like figure who, with the backing of ‘marginalised’ white men, has begun a crusade against Marxist universities, social-justice warriors and those he believes to perpetuate their own perceived victimhood.
Peterson has seized the hearts and the minds of the moderate and far-right alike.
Peterson’s fan base is misogynistic, threatening and dangerous. The same sort of group we see emerging in modern America – men who feel that the awarding of rights to others detracts from not only their standing in a society but their very humanity.
It is easy, when you use platitudes, an extensive vocabulary and raw sentiment, to make a convincing point about slaying your own “inner dragons” or thinking yourself happy. Peterson, in these ways, has cultivated both a persona for himself and a fanbase of those critical of academia, book-learning and concepts of institutionalised prejudice, which he attributes to rampant neo-Marxism in higher-education. This, he sees as compensation for the left-wing’s persecution of 20th century fascism at the expense of self-reflection and atonement for the crimes of communism.
It is also true that when you speak with authority, backed by a credited PhD, you command a certain level of respect and trust, perhaps deservedly. All I would say to Peterson’s followers is that defending his often laughably poor views by virtue of his position as an intellectual only works when you acknowledge the credentials of his critics and detractors.
Peterson is a simply a symptom of the distrust and fear broiling in a social group who have had everything their way for centuries, but the promotion of his views and ‘philosophies’ are not to be tolerated.
If he wants a platform I suggest he forgoes dense metaphor and aggressive allegory in favour of well-reasoned, critical argument. I would love nothing more than to hear Professor Jordan Peterson speak at the Oxford Union, but I fear if I did hear the man speak, it would be Jordan Peterson the poster boy for fragile masculinity and intolerance of change, equality and justice – not the intellectual.