Jordan Peterson, hero of the anti-PC crowd, just keeps winning

NationalPost.com – Canada/Politics
June 2, 2017.   CHRIS SELLEY

It wasn’t long ago that University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson’s future seemed somewhat in doubt. He rose to prominence — many would say notoriety — last autumn with his public refusal to use transgender and non-binary students’ pronouns of choice: “xe,” “zir” and “they,” for example. It was part of a multi-pronged YouTube campaign against political correctness and “compelled speech,” and against federal legislation that would make gender expression and gender identity prohibited grounds for discrimination.

At times he seemed to question trans students’ very existence: “I don’t know what the options are if you’re not a man or a woman,” he said. “It’s not obvious to me how you can be both because those are by definition binary categories.” The reaction was what you would expect.

Protesters at U of T demanded his ouster. Professors at McMaster University backed out of a debate with him — in one case citing security concerns, in other cases citing nothing at all. Protesters shouted and air-horned down his attempt to hold a talk at McMaster instead, and speakers at a rally in support of him at U of T were confronted by a white noise machine. A petition demanded Peterson be uninvited from an event at the National Gallery of Canada titled “Exploring the Psychology of Creativity,” even as it admitted he had “years of expertise” studying precisely that.

Back at U of T, two members of the administration sent Peterson an ominous letterurging him to revise his pronoun stance and suggesting he might unwittingly be responsible for threats against trans students.

“We trust that these impacts on students and others were not your intention,” it read. “However, in view of these impacts, as well as the requirements of the Ontario Human Rights Code, we urge you to stop repeating these statements.”

Peterson hasn’t stopped repeating the statements. He’s still a professor at U of T. And the efforts to silence or censure him seem to have accomplished little other than boosting his profile, making him a hero to opponents of political correctness and fattening his wallet.

On Sept. 1 last year, Peterson had 161 supporters on the crowdfunding site Patreon, contributing US$1,058 a month; as of this week, he had 3,609 supporters contributing an astonishing US$39,084 a month. That’s about three-and-a-half times his salary from the university. When Peterson was denied a research grant to study the link between personality and political beliefs, including belief in political correctness, Ezra Levant’s Rebel Media framed it as a left-wing conspiracy and launched a crowdfunding campaign on his behalf. It currently sits at 266 per cent of its goal: $195,230.

“It’s unbelievable. But all of it is unbelievable,” says Peterson, referring both to the money and to the last eight months in general.

Naturally, this outcome does not sit perfectly well with Peterson’s detractors on campus. “It does seem to me rather tacky that he has been posing as a victim of PC prejudice and representing himself as at risk of jail or dismissal from his job,” says Ronald de Sousa, an emeritus professor of philosophy at U of T. Lawyers’ opinions have convinced de Sousa that Peterson has nothing legitimate to fear from the law, and nothing except a “tut-tutting letter” — which he calls a “regrettable decision” — to fear from the university administration.

Physics professor A.W. Peet is rather more blunt: “He has been dehumanizing trans and gender-diverse people … for fun and profit.”

Rebel’s intervention certainly adds an edge. Peterson says he watches very little of the online news outlet’s output, which is not surprising: it is not known for its academic or journalistic rigour, or indeed for consistent sanity. At one anti-Peterson rally on the U of T campus, then-Rebel contributor Lauren Southern took the microphone as if she were an attendee, not a reporter; when organizers said they wanted to give trans people priority to speak, she lied and said she was one. Rebel contributors have included Paul Joseph Watson, a 9/11 Truther and friend of uber-conspiracist Alex Jones; Pizzagate delivery man Jack Posobiec, who was briefly Rebel’s “Washington bureau chief”; and Tommy Robinson, former leader of a gang of racist hooligans called the English Defence League. Peterson says he knows “for a fact” Levant isn’t Islamophobic, noting they were recently at a meeting with several moderate Canadian Muslims. But the network did spend the hours after the massacre at a Quebec City mosque torquing garden-variety confusion into a conspiracy theory that the killer was, in fact, Muslim.

Peterson says he would always prefer his work be associated solely with himself but that he’s “disinclined to look a gift horse in the mouth.” Peet has no qualms with crowdfunding academic research per se, but thinks there should be rules governing it — for example, when a third party like Rebel intervenes on a professor’s behalf. Such guidelines are under development at U of T, says spokesperson Althea Blackburn-Evans. But if they put any crimp in Peterson’s plans, he could easily make up the difference some other way.

If Peterson’s fundraising numbers are astounding, perhaps the astounded have underestimated the fury being inspired by modern preoccupations like white privilege and cultural appropriation, and by the marginalization, shouting down or outright cancellation of other viewpoints in polite society’s institutions. The biggest applause line at last weekend’s Conservative Party of Canada leadership convention came when winner Andrew Scheer promised to withhold federal funding from universities that “shut down debate.”

“It’s (bad) enough that the media elites find the views of many conservatives unfashionable or outré,” says one Conservative strategist, describing the mood among party supporters. “Now the trendline on university campuses seems to be to ban any expression of conservative ideas … or any questioning of liberal orthodoxy.”

Peterson is by no means appealing only to reactionaries or partisan conservatives, however. His YouTube channel, which has 290,000 subscribers, is not a source of Rebel-style rants and conspiracies. Recent videos include the first two of his ongoing 12-part lecture series, The Psychological Significance of The Biblical Stories. (Some of his crowdfunding money went toward renting the Isabel Bader Theatre at U of T for the series, but he says he made it back through ticket sales.) His Patreon account promises “lectures about profound psychological ideas.”

“History has shown that political correctness, and all that comes with it, is the first step on a very dark path,” says Philip Sibbering, a games designer in the U.K. who contributed to the Rebel-sponsored crowdfunding effort. Sibbering notes the intellectual intolerance of the Nazis, which all of society now rejects, and of the Marxists, which all of society does not. “Any research that could allow us to understand the root cause and effect that brings political correctness into being is vital.”

Stephen Kaiser-Pendergast, a film editor based in Los Angeles and another crowdfunding contributor, first discovered Peterson through his interviews with Dave Rubin and Joe Rogan, two prominent critics of political correctness. (The interviews have 185,000 and 1.9 million views on YouTube, respectively.) “Working in narrative film, I have a vested interest in any kind of remedy for politically correct thinking, which I see as among the most significant of threats to artistic expression,” he says. “However, I mostly remain on his (YouTube) channel for the academic material. I have had a lifelong interest in understanding human behaviour and I find Prof. Peterson’s channel to be a treasure-trove.”

Academic freedom does include the problem that you have to listen to people you don’t like

Peterson has big plans, and money to make them happen. He plans to curate “a series of conversations with moderate Muslims about the possibility of developing a bridge between that faith and the fundamental beliefs of the West.” It began on Thursday when he interviewed Ayaan Hirsi Ali (though she is more of a former Muslim than a moderate one).

He wants to do a series on the 100 greatest books of Western civilization. He is continuing his work in psychometric testing of job candidates, which is where he first gained some prominence, though he says he works mainly now with Founder Institute, a Silicon Valley business incubator that tries to identify and support the most promising young entrepreneurs. He is co-founder of Self Authoring, a writing program that claims remarkable success in motivating university students at risk of dropping out through personality self-analysis and envisioning their ideal futures.

And if he has the time — he says he’s going to ask U of T for a sabbatical — he would very much like to blow up the entire concept of a university, much of which he argues has become obsolete and corrupt: top-heavy with administration, weighing down recent graduates with massive debt in what should be their most creative and adventurous years, ideologically contaminated by “postmodernism” and ultimately, he believes, unsustainable. All the universities really have left is a stranglehold on accreditation, he argues, and he predicts someone will disrupt that status quo soon enough.

Tyler Anderson / National PostJordan Peterson, Canadian clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, poses for a portrait at his home in Toronto, Ontario, May 31, 2017

“I think you can make a case … that the university basically exists wherever people actually want to be educated in the higher sense,” says Peterson. “And I don’t believe that that’s the case in the universities (themselves) any more in the humanities. I think the university is gone from the university already, and I would like to begin to offer the essential elements of an education in the humanities on YouTube.”

Peterson has had some pretty barmy ideas before: when he first rose to prominence, he was promoting a game called Pokémon PC, where you would buy stickers from him and affix them to things you thought were too politically correct, and then someone would build an app and then somehow society would be improved. But that was back when he had a few hundred Patreon supporters. Now he’s hauling in half a million bucks a year just for being himself — more than enough to cover what he has in mind. And it never would have happened if it weren’t for those meddling kids at U of T.

Asked if some of Peterson’s opponents had committed a tactical error, Peet, the U of T physics professor, doesn’t answer directly — but says that’s one of the reasons they didn’t call for him to be fired or censured, but rather defeated on the arguments. “We have a commitment to academic freedom, and that’s extremely important,” they say. “And that academic freedom does include the problem that you have to listen to people you don’t like, saying things at the top of their lungs that you fundamentally disagree with.”

http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/chris-selley-jordan-peterson-hero-of-the-anti-pc-crowd-just-keeps-winning

1 Comment

  1. As far as I know, Tommy Robinson left the Defence League as they were rather more extreme than he would like to be. Maybe I am wrong.

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