When you blow the dog whistles, the dogs will eventually come. Or, so tenured University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson will hopefully learn.
In doing the homework for this piece I scratched my head with around 40 windows open, most of which were articles uncritically framing the issue we’re about to explore as being a fundamental case of freedom of speech vs. censorship, because that’s the debate Dr. Peterson claims he wants to have. In every single one of these articles, a mob of anti “political correctness” commentators floods the article with anything ranging from blatantly incorrect statements as to how free speech works to openly advocating for violence against the protesters criticizing Dr. Peterson. One of the articles even predicted this effect weeks before it would swamp other websites. Al Donato over on the torontist wrote with seeming clairvoyance “Let’s be real. Writing this is a trap. There’s no winning when critiquing U of T professor Dr. Jordan Peterson plays into what he wants: proof that “political correctness” is something insidious and the “social justice warriors” are out to get him.”
So since Peterson’s many proponents seem to think that any criticism of his argument constitutes a “mischaracterization,” and since we have about 4 week’s worth of evidence that you will swarm any article critical of him, I’ll start by getting one thing out of the way: My comments policy. Specifically:
So what gets you filtered?
- Making a point refuted in the post you just opened.
Remember this when you’re railing against The Gods in the deplorables trash bin.
September 29 — PZ Myers Notices Jordan Peterson
FTB’s illustrious pseudo-not-really-boss PZ Myers posts about Dr. Peterson during an interview in which he stated he would refuse to respect the use of they and their as a gender neutral, singular pronoun. In the interview in question, Jordan Peterson bursts out of the starting gate with this incredible feat of convincing rhetoric:
Grammar lesson time: Peterson begins that last sentence in his response with “I don’t recognize another person’s right” meaning the subject of his argument is now the right (or not) of a single person to do something. The apostrophe in this instance is possessive, referring to the pronoun that singular person possesses. He then proceeds to use the singular gender neutral pronoun no less than five times, in a rant about how how the gender neutral singular “they” is a construct of a “small coterie of ideologically motivated people.”
You’re going to need some comic relief to get through Jordan’s fractally wrong nonsense so I’ve taken the liberty of locating a .gif to dramatize the start of Peterson’s argument here.
I wasn’t the only one who noticed this particular faux pas of grandstanding for logic. Will from SkepChick noted the same thing, although he doesn’t have a plucky penguin to soothe the migraine ensuing.
Peterson has also issued a challenge to the press to “go through [his] videos line by line and find one word I’ve said that was bigoted or hateful,” and so we shall. Line by fucking line, as tedious as this exercise is.
That’s right. I don’t recognize that. I don’t recognize another person’s right to decide what words I’m going to use,
First of all, nobody has any such right in Canada as Peterson claims. When a trans person asks you to use a certain pronoun, it’s a request and not a right. We have a right to issue a request but you have the right to refuse it. Put away the panic button and stop with the hand-wringing.
Sections 318 and 319 of the Canadian Criminal Code are not named by Dr. Peterson but perhaps he should look them up as he is implicitly referring to them. In order for Dr. Peterson’s words to qualify as hate speech in the legal sense, he must either: 1) Advocate for genocide; or 2) Publicly incite hatred. And while it’s debatable, Dr. Peterson, that you aware of your alt-right cyberterrorist fan boys doxxing your critics and issuing a deluge of death threats to them, it is certain you are not advocating for genocide by refusing to respect a student’s pronouns.
Dr. Peterson seems to be operating from the assumption that deliberately using the incorrect titles or pronouns to refer to a person would constitute hate speech as per the Criminal Code. Given that the closest he’s getting to a Criminal Code violation is egging on his rabid fanboys, I doubt he would have any criminal penalties for his choice to disrespect the use of they and their at a student’s request.
Just social penalties. You know, the ones associated with being an obstinately ignorant asshole.
Back to Dr. Asshole:
especially when the words they want me to use, first of all, are non-standard elements of the English language
Just a reminder that in the same rant against the use of the singular gender neutral pronoun that Peterson does indeed use the singular gender neutral pronoun. Really, it would help my blood pressure problems immensely to just stop there, since Peterson was kind enough to illustrate for us why he’s wrong. Thanks.
Alas, Dr. Peterson’s cocktail of cluelessness and arrogance throughout this ordeal compels me to action.
So the next point we tackle is whether or not singular they is a “non-standard” element. Given that he used it in a sentence and it is in no way an incorrect sentence, I would consider the question settled.
But, even if we were to accept the premise that singular they is “non-standard,” why the fuck would that even matter? Linguists, especially the ones that write dictionaries, are descriptivist, not prescriptivist. There’s no traction on which to lecture about the way English is ‘supposed’ to be because its only constant is that it changes. Behold, a dictionary that acknowledges the word “genderqueer.”
So Dr. Peterson, is there any reason Merriam-Webster should “not count” towards making a word “standard” or not? Oxford added the word “selfie” to its lexicon–is selfie still non-standard enough by your arbitrary expectations? Are all our borrowed words from other languages English enough for you?
Back to Peterson:
and they are constructs of a small coterie of ideologically motivated people.
I have to ask, Peterson, do you consider linguistic prescriptivism to be an ideology? Because you’re using it to motivate your argument.
This is also one of the dog whistles I’m referring to–the alt-right seems to be under the impression that ideology is only something “leftists” do. “My opponent is ideologically motivated” is a completely meaningless statement, a deepity, and the pool noodle of rhetorical attacks. If both of us weren’t ideologically motivated we wouldn’t be in disagreement!
They might have a point
You don’t say
but I’m not going to say their words for them
As is your choice, but earlier you were asking us to comb through your work line by line. Here you practically admit you have no traction for your position, but you’re going to stomp your foot and pout with your lower-lip just “because”–and you don’t want to be called a bigot for it.
Between September 29 and Now
Jordan Peterson’s protracted doubling down (by now I’m sure it would qualify as “power to 16”) has produced a number of consequences, the first of which is a fury of anti-political correctness conservative writers who want to install their own version of political correctness in which being a dick to trans people is politically correct.
(Content Notice: All of these websites are right-wing crank)
spiked-online: “I Won’t Play the PC Game”
The Stream: “Pushing Back Against the PC Madness”
And a petition titled “Support Dr. Peterson against totalitarian political correctness“
Again I have to point out that “political correctness” is another meaningless deepity, because if these reactionaries have their way, it will be politically correct to deny the body of medical evidence to suggest gender identity exists. You really should just be honest in these headlines: “We don’t like being told that we’re assholes for disrespecting trans people.”
Rebel Media picked it up, too, with videos edited to demonize protesters selectively. Its editor, Ezra Levant, is the sort of angel who routinely finds himself in court over libelous, defamatory, and hateful speech (as he is not shy about proposing final solutions). They will not be linked, but if you have the stomach, you can Google them to find their works. They’re the type of Canadians who think the fascistic orange howler monkey is a good candidate for POTUS.
All of it combines to having caught the attention of the alt right. Regardless of the fact that Dr. Peterson has largely been spinning his wheels in place, the typical suspects seem to find him persuasive: 4chan and Reddit. According to Vice’s interview with one of the trans protesters criticizing Dr. Peterson:
Information about some trans students, including their names, locations, and families, has been shared on forums like 4Chan and far-right subreddits, according to Qaiser Ali, who said he was attacked by a protester at a free speech rally last week, where Peterson was invited as a speaker.
“We can’t make that information go away,” they said.
At the rally, Ali said, trans students were “subjected to unending transphobic slurs and hate speech,” and that members of the Black Liberation Collective had to shield trans students from “what had essentially become an angry mob.”
“The ‘free speech’ there was, ‘You should be like Michael Brown! There should be a hundred more Michael Browns!’ I was physically assaulted by a known right-wing radical who attacked me from behind, and another person was choked by him as well,” Ali said.
Ali said the crowd included white supremacists and neo-Nazis. As they were entering a building, a protester charged from behind them and slammed the door onto their body, they said.
“He attacked at least one other person,” Ali alleged.
The Varsity also describes the protest:
Qaiser Ali, one of the organizers of last week’s teach-in and rally who was present, told The Varsity that “the goal with the noise disruption, which is a tactic that has been used before, is not to suppress anyone’s free speech but rather not to take some speech lying down. These people were yelling homophobic slurs, transphobic slurs, referring to us as ‘things’ and ‘its’ — we were hoping to make that a little harder to hear.”
There were a number of incidents of assault at the rally. One man, who asked to only be identified as Bryan, told The Varsity, “A guy came up to me and tried to grab my binder, but I wouldn’t let it go, so he pushed me. He then put his hands around my neck until Campus Police came and separated us.”
Prior to this escalating protest, the trans protesters tried a more collaborative approach with a “teach-in,” but it too was disrupted by Rebel Media’s reporter, Lauren Southern. (emphasis mine)
Williams told The Varsity that she “wants the university to uphold its commitment to ensuring that we have learning environments in the university that are free from discrimination and harassment.”Ali believes that the teach-in was a success and that the goal of spreading trans and non-binary experiences was met. They told The Varsity that they aimed to “create a space for people to be able to air their stories with one another, with cisgendered people, and potentially even with some of our opponents, and in doing so make a personal impression.”
The event was interrupted by Lauren Southern from The Rebel, a right-wing online media outlet. Southern, pretending to be transgender, took to the microphone to defend Peterson and was quickly shut down, having not identified herself as a media correspondent. Her comments were met with chants of “shame” from the crowd. The Varsity reached out to the The Rebel for comment on Southern’s actions and received a satirical response from the media outlet’s founder Ezra Levant.
Southern engaged in multiple acts of deception and acted in bad faith to derail the milder protest, during which Dr. Jordan Peterson (who by now must be on ^64 regarding his doubling down) promptly listened to exactly zero arguments from trans protesters trying to get through his thick skull. And Southern has the temerity to suggest efforts to limit her publisher’s ethically bankrupt practices are somehow unjustified.
And now, the final irony of Dr. Peterson’s lapdogs: You are defending his freedom of speech (which as I discussed earlier is hardly under siege) by silencing the speech of the protesters through the use of threats of violence. You can’t have it both ways. Either you support free speech AND the right of the protesters to criticize Dr. Peterson OR you admit you’re an autocratic dickhead who wants to institutionalize one correct–you could say, politically correct–opinion in law that isn’t even substantiated by medical evidence.
In all this mess one thing has remained constant: Dr. Peterson has not heard a single fucking criticism leveled at him. He has accessed absolutely no evidence based argument, no attempt to humanize the issue, and offered up no ethical justification for why he singles out non-binary people for his dickishness. He wants to stand for freeze peach but doesn’t want to be called a bigot. And like YouTube’s assweasel atheists, he wants to throw up his hands and deny culpability every time his doxxsquad targets another person. In his stubborn arrogance he spews forth a constant stream of suspicion and denigration over academically established concepts and cloaks his refusal to actually engage with the material that was presented to him in good faith as being a “free speech” issue.
I have news for you Dr. Peterson. No one is infringing on your free speech.
We just think you’re a fucking duncecap.
NOTE ON UPDATES: This article was originally published on October 22, 2016. As the situation is developing even many weeks after Dr. Peterson first started his tantrum, I may be appending new material to the end of this post or material I missed when I began collecting information.
Update October 22, 2016: Torontoist has also published an opinion piece by SW Underwood & Ben Vincent criticizing Dr. Peterson.
The best clue we have for Peterson’s anti-trans views can be located in his own words: “the continual careless pushing of people by left wing radicals is dangerously waking up the right wing. So you can consider this a prophecy from me if you want. Inside the collective is a beast and the beast uses its fists. If you wake up the beast then violence emerges. I’m afraid that this continual pushing by radical left wingers is going to wake up the beast.”
And there it is. Make no mistake. We are not witnessing a valid debate about the science of gender. At best, we see the same pattern we always have: pushback from someone who perceives encroachment on his sense of how the world should be ordered. This is typical, but it is also very dangerous.
In a world disproportionately violent to transgender people, it is our collective duty to loudly reject incitement of violence—both physical and psychological—especially against our transgender student population at the University of Toronto.
Peterson, we too have a prophecy: gender plurality is here to stay.
Althea Blackburn-Evans, Director of Media Relations at U of T, told The Varsity that two incidents of alleged assault at the rally are currently under investigation by Campus Police. Constable Craig Brister of the Toronto Police Services told The Varsity that they were not handling any charges related to the rally.
Video footage taken by The Rebel Media and other rally attendees became viral through social media and online message boards.
Some view the presence of Williams’ participation in the white noise campaign as inappropriate, given her role in the UTSU. An online petition is being circulated for her impeachment from the UTSU executive, which as of midday Saturday had over 360 entries.
“Hateful comments should never be tolerated, especially not from someone who is considered to be an educator. No student should have to endure a two-hour lecture where their gender identity, existence, and realities are being debated and refused. Ultimately, Peterson’s comments erode the safe campus learning environment to which the University states a commitment,” reads part of the concluding statement of the letter.
UTSU President Jasmine Wong Denike explained to The Varsity that the union is seeking “an investigation into how Campus Police responds to situations in which students — especially marginalized students — need protection. We’re especially concerned by how Campus Police interacted with trans students. Just standing there isn’t helpful and frankly, it is unacceptable. The university has a responsibility to ensure that students are free to express themselves and their identities. They can’t do that when violence is tolerated. There’s an issue of Campus Police taking less of an interest in the safety of marginalized students.”The UTSU claims that the Campus Police “refused to intervene when they knew of and saw trans folks being assaulted.”