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Jordan Bernt Peterson (born 1962) is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto who is the author or coauthor of 128 articles[note 1] on clinical psychology, social psychology and personality theory.
He has lately gained notoriety for his campaign to silence professors of entire academic fields that pertain to racial and sexual minorities (by proposing to boycott them), and his refusal to use his students' preferred pronouns. Unsurprisingly, he tends to frame his silencing of marginalized people as free speech (like all modern reactionaries), and many of his critics tend to frame silencing him as fighting against hate speech (like most modern progressives).
Peterson rose to popularity largely due to his public opposition to the Canadian government's Bill C-16,[note 2] which sparked a controversy that earned him significant media coverage. He says he opposes the bill because he believes it mandates compelled speech, which violates freedom of speech in his view. However, many people believe he is transphobic, citing the fact that he is opposing a bill that adds gender identity and gender expression as protected groups according to the Canadian Human Rights Act.
At the Canadian senate hearing of Bill C-16, Senator Ratna Omidvar asked Peterson how the bill's proponents could reconcile his objection to the bill and opposing gender-based discrimination. Peterson's response was,
“”I oppose discrimination against gender identity and gender expression, that's not the point. The point is the specifics of the legislation that surrounds it and the insistence that people have to use compelled speech. That's what I'm objecting to. I've dealt with all sorts of people in my life. People who don't fit in in all sorts of different ways. I'm not a discriminatory person...but I think this legislation is reprehensible and I do not believe for a moment that it will do what it intends to do.
Interestingly, some lawyers don't seem to agree with his interpretation of the bill.
Given that his objections to C-16 resonate with many people, including transphobic individuals, it is unsurprising that many of his fans are reactionaries. Such fans like and support Peterson for his opposition stance to the bill but also due to his view of IQ being a huge determiner of cognitive ability (which the "race realist" reactionaries love to cite), his views on the psychological differences between men and women (which the sexist reactionaries all love), sympathetic views towards conservative values, being hugely anti-Marxist and for defending Christianity.
This has led him to be interviewed by a whole slew of famous reactionary stars, including Sargon of Akkad, Stefan Molyneux, Joe Rogan (who called his first interview with Peterson his favorite podcast he's ever done), Dave Rubin, and Theryn Meyer, "Reasonable Trans Person".
Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Goering’s alleged statement ('When I hear talk of culture I reach for my gun') to the frequent use of such expressions as 'degenerate intellectuals,' 'eggheads,' 'effete snobs,' 'universities are a nest of reds.' The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in attacking modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values.—Umberto Eco
Peterson does not like postmodernism judging from the number of YouTube videos he has done on the subject. He treats postmodernism as a serious problem facing academia. Despite being a "free speech advocate", Peterson seems confident enough that postmodernism is a threat to propose making a website targeting "corrupted disciplines". He has also repeatedly called for these programs to be ended, "the sooner the better."
Peterson has proposed building a website that lists the names of "post-modern Marxists" in academia to discourage enrollment in "corrupted" courses he believes turn students into "social justice warriors," and which often pertain directly to marginalized people or cast doubt on Eurocentric worldviews: gender studies, ethnic studies, certain forms of sociology, and anthropology. After being told this was contrary to University of Toronto policy and the basic principle of academic freedom,[note 3] he declared that it was "on hiatus" (not dead).
It could be that Peterson is intimidated by postmodernist theories, possibly by finding them to be incomprehensible. This feeling is common among modernist intellectuals. Criticism of postmodernism tends to focus on its obscurity . Consider Umberto Eco's prosaic definition of postmodernism: "The postmodern reply to the modern consists of recognizing that the past, since it cannot really be destroyed, because its destruction leads to silence, must be revisited: but with irony, not innocently. I think of the postmodern attitude as that of a man who loves a very cultivated woman and knows that he cannot say to her ‘I love you madly’, because he knows that she knows (and that she knows he knows) that these words have already been written by Barbara Cartland. Still, there is a solution...".
Noam Chomsky writes with ostensible frustration about the French School of postmodernism, "...I'm just incapable of understanding...There are lots of things I don't understand -- say, the latest debates over whether neutrinos have mass or the way that Fermat's last theorem was...proven recently. But from 50 years in this game, I have learned two things: (1) I can ask friends who work in these areas to explain it to me at a level that I can understand, and they can do so, without particular difficulty; (2) if I'm interested, I can proceed to learn more so that I will come to understand it. Now Derrida, Lacan, Lyotard, Kristeva, etc. --- even Foucault, whom I knew and liked, and who was somewhat different from the rest --- write things that I also don't understand, but (1) and (2) don't hold: no one who says they do understand can explain it to me and I haven't a clue as to how to proceed to overcome my failures. That leaves one of two possibilities: (a) some new advance in intellectual life has been made, perhaps some sudden genetic mutation, which has created a form of "theory" that is beyond quantum theory, topology, etc., in depth and profundity; or (b) ... I won't spell it out.".
Lindsay Shepherd censure
In November 2017, a brief clip featuring Peterson's views on the use of gender-neutral pronouns during a classroom debate was used by Wilfrid Laurier University graduate student and teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd in a seminar. This led her to be censured by the university for staying neutral and not "denouncing" Peterson's ideas, acting "transphobic" and creating a "toxic climate", while Peterson himself was compared to Hitler.
The university's actions were heavily criticized. In light of this, the professor and administration both apologized for their actions. Despite the apology by the university, Peterson is still sure a vast conspiracy of universities are conspiring to act that way to push their Cultural Marxist agenda. The term "cultural Marxism" has a similar pejorative meaning as "cultural Bolshevism" which was used by all bourgeois parties in Germany until 1933, when the Nazis began to use it in their propaganda to denote the "fight against decaying alien culture". Peterson proclaims himself to be anti-fascist, yet his rants about cultural Marxism sometimes suggest mild paranoia.
- Analysis of Peterson's video ("Genders, Rights and Freedom of Speech". The Agenda with Steve Paikin.)
- Although some journalists state Peterson is not "the author of any lasting work of scholarship, the originator of any important idea, or a public intellectual of any scientific credibility or moral seriousness", since November 2017, he has 8928 citations with h-index of 50 (see Jordan B Peterson - Google Scholar Citations). To get a perspective, with a variation between different fields, it is estimated that after 20 years a "successful scientist" will have an h-index of 20, an "outstanding scientist" an h-index of 40, and a "truly unique" individual an h-index of 60, see h-index.
- This bill added gender expression and identity to the list of protected groups.
- It turns out that that term does not mean what the alt-right thinks that it means.
- Is Jordan Peterson becoming too big of a problem for Canada’s largest university to ignore?
- U Of T Profs Say That Jordan Peterson Is Building "A Climate Of Fear And Intimidation. Buzzfeed News. November 10, 2017.
- Trübner's German Dictionary. Berlin / Leipzig 1936-1943.