I remember the old days of the internet, when some dork would throw a hissy fit and demand that we skeptics immediately remove all our mean statements about their devoutly held beliefs, and threaten us with legal action. And we’d all laugh at such absurdity, because once it’s on the internet, it’s being spread widely and isn’t going to go away, no matter how fiercely you stamp your foot or how loudly you scream.
I’ve personally experienced their ire: Pivar, Shermer, Carrier, to name just a few. Their efforts are futile. The facts do not disappear when they make you uncomfortable. Yet they still don’t get it.
The only difference today is that now it’s the so-called rationalists who are making willy-nilly threats of lawsuits to silence their critics, all while simultaneously genuflecting before the altar of free speech. It’s freakin’ weird, man. You’d think their heads would explode, or that at least their followers would notice the hypocrisy and turn their backs on them. But they don’t.
Latest in the litigious free-speechers who want to shut people up: Jordan Peterson. He’s suing someone who criticized his book.
In June, he threatened to sue Down Girl author and Cornell University assistant professor Kate Manne for defamation, after she criticized his book, 12 Rules For Life, and more generally called his work misogynistic in an interview with Vox. (Peterson previously filed a lawsuit against a university whose faculty members, in a closed-door meeting, argued that showing his videos in a classroom created an unsafe environment for students.) In letters to Manne, Cornell, and Vox, Peterson’s lawyer, Howard Levitt, demanded that all three parties “immediately retract all of Professor Manne’s defamatory statements, have them immediately removed from the internet, and issue an apology in the same forum to Mr. Peterson. Otherwise, our client will take all steps necessary to protect his professional reputation, including but not limited to initiating legal proceedings against all of you for damages.” (You can read the full letter below).
Among the statements Levitt objected to: Manne’s contention that Peterson’s book included “some really eyebrow-raising, authoritarian-sounding, and even cruel things,” as well as her observation that “it doesn’t seem accidental that [Peterson’s] skepticism about objective facts arises when it’s conveniently anti-feminist.” The lawyer and his client were equally unhappy with this line: “I also suspect that for many of Peterson’s readers, the sexism on display above is one tool among many to make forceful, domineering moves that are typical of misogyny.”
You don’t do this. You don’t bluster and threaten to sue critics of your book, no matter how savage their reviews. You especially don’t sue them when they can quote you and support all of their contentions, when your whole schtick is making broad-brush characterizations of people as archetypes and stereotypes.
I don’t get it. I get abused far worse, over a longer period of time, by various people who despise me, and they aren’t shy about doing it publicly (although, admittedly, they often do it behind the veil of anonymity), and I’ve never once thought about suing someone far it. These free-speech paladins, on the other hand, do it all the time.
Reminder: we’re still fundraising to defend ourselves from one SLAPP suit by one of these asshats. Not one of the usual freeze-peach suspects has spoken out against that suit — they’re inviting him to speak at their conferences, instead.