Why Jordan Peterson’s new book should have difficulty finding a publisher


Nathan Robinson cuts right to the bone here on why it’s perfectly legitimate for employees of Penguin Random House to protest any contract with Jordan Peterson.

It’s not reasonable to claim that employees who object to publishing Peterson are “censorious”. A publisher is not a Kinkos. Penguin Random House rejects far more books than it accepts, and it does not treat all points of view equally. It does not publish works of Holocaust denial or phrenology. It has standards, and it’s reasonable for employees to argue that Peterson does not meet those standards. After all, he has suggested that gay marriage might be a plot by cultural Marxists, that women wearing makeup in the workplace is “sexually provocative”, that trans women aren’t women because they’re not “capable of having babies”, that women cannot handle truth, and that transgender activists are comparable to mass-murdering Maoists. He peddles debunked scientific theories and dangerously dodgy diets. I have gone through his work myself and shown that he is a crackpot, whose writing is devoid of basic reasoning and full of wild unsubstantiated claims. When Pankaj Mishra wrote a critical review of Peterson’s work in the New York Review of Books, Peterson called Mishra a “prick” and said he’d “slap [Mishra] happily”. The things he says are often false, prejudiced and dangerous. What possible obligation does a publisher have to publish the ravings of bigots?

Unfortunately, there’s also a reason Peterson’s new book should have publishers lining up to take it on: there is a legion of gullible fans willing to pay good money for it.

That is a short-term excuse, though. In the long run, you’d think a publisher would want to be able to maintain some level of prestige and some quality control over the books released under its imprint. I think the employees of Penguin Random House are seeing an imminent degradation of the value of their work, while management just has dollar signs in their eyes.

Jordan Peterson really is just one step toward Holocaust denial and phrenology; a publisher shouldn’t aspire to be Quillette, either.

Comments

  1. says

    “Unfortunately, there’s also a reason Peterson’s new book should have publishers lining up to take it on: there is a legion of gullible fans willing to pay good money for it.

    As long as JP’s books make money he will never want for a publisher. Even people who hate the man are still buying his books. It’s astounding how profitable woo-science and racism is in America.

  2. Michael says

    Yes, a publisher is not a Kinkos, but if they have a contract to publish a writer’s book, and the editors/upper management have approved publishing, then the employees don’t get to refuse to publish it if they want to remain employed. A publisher is a business, and if books by Trump, Kellyanne Conway, Ann Coulter, etc. can get published, then why not Jordan Peterson? The appropriate response for bad ideas is to criticize them publicly with good ideas.

    Would this be acceptable behaviour in any other industry? Imagine car assemblers refusing to build a car they don’t like, even though the design was approved by management, and it passed all the safety requirements? Or if construction workers refused to build a building because they didn’t like the politics of the architect?

  3. naturalistguy says

    As dodgy as Peterson’s book may be, it’s even dodgier to only publish books that meet with the approval of your employees because they’re not the arbiter of the truth. I remember an author who had trouble finding a publisher of a book that was deemed critical of communism back in the day. You might remember him.

    “Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” – George Orwell

  4. says

    Michael

    A publisher is a business, and if books by Trump, Kellyanne Conway, Ann Coulter, etc. can get published, then why not Jordan Peterson?

    Well, they shouldn’t, it’s as easy as that. If you put your profit margin over the actual lives of people, then you’re complicit in the effects.

    The appropriate response for bad ideas is to criticize them publicly with good ideas.

    Gods, can we retire that bullshit argument, please? There is no such thing as a free “marketplace of ideas”. that’s the same libertarian Utopia as Galt’s Gulch or whatever. All views are not treated equally since people like Peterson had and have incredible advantages. And seriously, the Holocaust didn’t happen because German Jews didn’t have any good arguments as to why they should be allowed to live. It happened because a murderous ideology gained track, and while Peterson’s drivel isn’t “Mein Kampf”, it’s part of a movement that wants to dial back the clock to the good old times when women could be beaten, blacks weren’t allowed to vote and LGBT people were prosecuted by the law.

    Imagine car assemblers refusing to build a car they don’t like, even though the design was approved by management, and it passed all the safety requirements?

    See how you’re sneaking in that last bit? If this analogy was to be valid, then it’s the last point: safety requirements. If people working in car assembly knew there was a serious fault with the car that made it dangerous, but the management went “lalala, I can’t hear you”, what would be the ethical thing to do?

  5. PaulBC says

    Tangential, but:

    that women wearing makeup in the workplace is “sexually provocative”

    Most of Peterson’s views strike me as a tortured pseudo-intellectual justification for conventional behavior (ok, maybe not the all beef and vodka diet).

    Since many women do wear makeup to the office, and have done so for a long time, I’m surprised he’d be against it. I’m curious what his ideal office would look like. Maybe all employees need to wear baggy form-hiding jumpsuits? I suspect he doesn’t want that either. I just found it odd he’d take a position against makeup.

    To be clear, it’s a purely personal choice and none of my business. Some women I work with wear makeup. Some don’t, or maybe it’s subtle and I don’t notice.

  6. raven says

    When Pankaj Mishra wrote a critical review of Peterson’s work in the New York Review of Books, Peterson called Mishra a “prick” and said he’d “slap [Mishra] happily”.

    Jordan Peterson is an advocate for violence and calls for violence often.

    He describes debate as “combat” on the “battleground” of ideas and hints at physical violence, too. “If you’re talking to a man who wouldn’t fight with you under any circumstances whatsoever, then you’re talking to someone for whom you have absolutely no respect,” he told Paglia last year, adding that it is harder to deal with “crazy women” because he cannot hit them.
    and
    Interview in Reason Magazine
    “It’s very helpful for people to hear that they should make themselves competent and dangerous and take their proper place in the world.”

    Stossel scoffs, “Competent and dangerous? Why dangerous?”

    “There’s nothing to you otherwise,” Peterson replies. “If you’re not a formidable force, there’s no morality in your self-control. If you’re incapable of violence, not being violent isn’t a virtue. People who teach martial arts know this full well. If you learn martial arts, you learn to be dangerous, but simultaneously you learn to control it … Life is a very difficult process and you’re not prepared for it unless you have the capacity to be dangerous.”

    Peterson comes close to flat out calling for violence.
    He is also a merchant of hate, hate for women, atheists, Muslims, trans, nonwhites, the educated, Progressives.
    Add them up.
    This is most of our society.

  7. raven says

    Peterson’s frequent calls for violence is a common tactic and has a name.
    Stochastic terrorism.
    His fanboys are often violent and sometimes killers.

    Peterson being cuckoo: “It’s very helpful for people to hear that they should make themselves competent and dangerous and take their proper place in the world.”

    That leaves Peterson out. In the last year, he has become seriously addicted to benzodiazapines, fled to Russia, ended up in an induced coma with double pneumonia on a ventilator, fled to Serbia, caught Covid-19, and he might still be a drug addict. He’s almost died three times.
    Peterson isn’t competent and dangerous. He is incompetent and can’t even keep himself sane and alive.

    I’m not the least bit afraid of Jordan Peterson. Fuck you Peterson.
    I am afraid of his male incel, low IQ, low education but heavily armed followers though.
    For good reasons.

  8. says

    Since many women do wear makeup to the office, and have done so for a long time, I’m surprised he’d be against it. I’m curious what his ideal office would look like. Maybe all employees need to wear baggy form-hiding jumpsuits? I suspect he doesn’t want that either. I just found it odd he’d take a position against makeup.

    Pretty sure his ideal workplace is one where they’re are no women at all.

  9. raven says

    As dodgy as Peterson’s book may be, it’s even dodgier to only publish books..

    This is dumb.
    Comparing Peterson with Orwell isn’t an apples to oranges comparison.
    It’s an apples to sewage sludge comparison.

    Peterson is the exact type of person Orwell was warning us about.
    An authoritarian demagogue reflecting right wingnut hate back to them for whatever power and money he can con out of his followers.

  10. PaulBC says

    I think it’s telling (note I did not say “ironic”) that a guy who publishes “an antidote to chaos” has plummeted into personal chaos. I think a lot of self-help books are written by people desperately facing their own demons and certain that whatever workarounds they’ve cobbled together are universally applicable.

    I wouldn’t have even heard of Peterson except for blogs. A glance at the “12 rules” seems like enough to conclude he’s a charlatan. First off, they are pretty arbitrary. Second, some are really offensive like: “Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them”.

    I would argue that you have more control over how you feel about your kids than what they actually do. I’m not arguing against showing good guidance as a parent. I am against the implicit message of control. Sometimes you may reasonably conclude that you “dislike” your kids for a pretty stupid reason and it’s better for you to get over it than stamp out the allegedly offensive behavior. Other times, you may indulge behavior that you like, but annoys other people. In either case, your children have free will and there is a limit to what you can stop them from doing.

    That “rule” alone is enough for me to reject nearly everything else Peterson may have to say. Also, I’m not that afraid of “chaos” either. I want to be resilient, and I want my kids to be resilient. The chaos is going to be there sometimes and you need to be able to face it.

  11. KG says

    As dodgy as Peterson’s book may be, it’s even dodgier to only publish books that meet with the approval of your employees because they’re not the arbiter of the truth.- naturalistguy@4

    So why is it OK only to publish books that meet with the approval of a publishing firm’s owners or senior management?

    Imagine car assemblers refusing to build a car they don’t like, even though the design was approved by management, and it passed all the safety requirements? Or if construction workers refused to build a building because they didn’t like the politics of the architect?

    Seems fine to me. Why should a small number of rich people make all the decisions?

  12. says

    And seriously, the Holocaust didn’t happen because German Jews didn’t have any good arguments as to why they should be allowed to live.

    #5 FTW!

    It’s certainly true that “AN appropriate response for bad ideas is to criticize them publicly with good ideas.” But in the real world, too often that means decent people get badgered to repeatedly refute the same bad ideas, over and over, every time some a$$h0le wants to repeat them. And it’s not like such refutations can be trusted to get the a$$h0le to change his tune. All such public refutations do is give bigots, a$$h0les and con-artists ever more opportunities to hijack conversations, hog attention, and impede progress by requiring others to keep on going over the same old ground again and again.

    Publicly refuting bad ideas like Peterson’s is a good thing to do. But it’s not the job of his intended victims to vigilantly respond to him on demand — after the fiftieth or five-hundredth time, it’s just a burden they neither need nor deserve.

    Once a bad idea has been conclusively refuted for the umpteenth time, the best response then is to treat it as a “settled question,” stop giving it oxygen or attention, and just move on.

  13. PaulBC says

    Can’t a contract be broken with a monetary payment? I don’t see how anyone is under any obligation to publish a new work by any author. (There might be some specific legal situations that apply in some cases, but I don’t see how they do in this one.)

  14. naturalistguy says

    “Peterson is the exact type of person Orwell was warning us about.”

    That isn’t what Orwell was speaking to. This is from Orwell’s unpublished forward for his novel Animal Farm:

    I am well acquainted with all the arguments against freedom of thought and speech — the arguments which claim that it cannot exist, and the arguments which claim that it ought not to. I answer simply that they don’t convince me and that our civilisation over a period of four hundred years has been founded on the opposite notice. For quite a decade past I have believed that the existing Russian régime is a mainly evil thing, and I claim the right to say so, in spite of the fact that we are allies with the USSR in a war which I want to see won. If I had to choose a text to justify myself, I should choose the line from Milton:

    By the known rules of ancient liberty.

    The word ancient emphasises the fact that intellectual freedom is a deep-rooted tradition without which our characteristic western culture could only doubtfully exist. From that tradition many of our intellectuals arc visibly turning away. They have accepted the principle that a book should be published or suppressed, praised or damned, not on its merits but according to political expediency. And others who do not actually hold this view assent to it from sheer cowardice. An example of this is the failure of the numerous and vocal English pacifists to raise their voices against the prevalent worship of Russian militarism. According to those pacifists, all violence is evil, and they have urged us at every stage of the war to give in or at least to make a compromise peace. But how many of them have ever suggested that war is also evil when it is waged by the Red Army? Apparently the Russians have a right to defend themselves, whereas for us to do [so] is a deadly sin. One can only explain this contradiction in one way: that is, by a cowardly desire to keep in with the bulk of the intelligentsia, whose patriotism is directed towards the USSR rather than towards Britain. I know that the English intelligentsia have plenty of reason for their timidity and dishonesty, indeed I know by heart the arguments by which they justify themselves. But at least let us have no more nonsense about defending liberty against Fascism. If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. The common people still vaguely subscribe to that doctrine and act on it. In our country — it is not the same in all countries: it was not so in republican France, and it is not so in the USA today — it is the liberals who fear liberty and the intellectuals who want to do dirt on the intellect: it is to draw attention to that fact that I have written this preface.

    The entire essay can be found here:

    The Freedom of the Press

  15. says

    … it’s even dodgier to only publish books that meet with the approval of your employees because they’re not the arbiter of the truth.

    They don’t HAVE to be “the arbiter of the truth,” and no one is claiming they are. They are, however, supposed to accept a certain degree of responsibility for the consequences of their publishing decisions; and make reasonable judgments as to what sort of content goes out from their presses with their names on it.

    ALL reputable publishers have to make decisions like this every day. And they routinely weed out material that’s vile, obscene, pornographic, exposed as nonsense or fraud long ago, potentially libelous or defamatory, or needlessly insulting or hateful toward other people (including potential paying customers).

  16. naturalistguy says

    “So why is it OK only to publish books that meet with the approval of a publishing firm’s owners or senior management?”

    As if the owners (or stockholders) of a publisher approve of every book they publish. A friend of mine owns an independent bookstore and carries books he himself dislikes intensely. He doesn’t think his tastes should be imposed on his customers though.

  17. naturalistguy says

    “They don’t HAVE to be “the arbiter of the truth,” and no one is claiming they are. They are, however, supposed to accept a certain degree of responsibility for the consequences of their publishing decisions; and make reasonable judgments as to what sort of content goes out from their presses with their names on it.”

    If they’re not the author, they’re not responsible for what’s written. Why should they be?

  18. hemidactylus says

    Considering his multiple brushes with death and his many harmatias (Jungian shadows?) there is something archetypically tragic hero with Jordan, which might resonate with his fan base.

  19. PaulBC says

    hemidactylus@20 I’d rather have Amy Winehouse as a tragic hero, or any other troubled individual who at least produced something great. I am missing the “hero” part with JP.

  20. raven says

    Dumb troll:
    The entire essay can be found here:

    The Freedom of the Press

    You’ve outed yourself once too often.
    You are a stupid troll.

    We’ve refuted this fallacy a zillions times as Raging Bee just explained in exhaustive detail.
    This has nothing to do with freedom of the press!!!
    What you are doing here is what stupid trolls do, murdering a poor defenseless strawperson.

    Peterson has every right to babble like a loon. He has every right to publish his books whenever he wants.
    He has no right to demand that Penguin Random House publish his books though.

    The issue isn’t freedom of the press, it is the freedom of Penguin Random House to reject pointless and destructive right wingnut garbage by a conperson.
    There are countless places and ways to publish his books. These days a lot of people self publish and that works out well for them. Peterson could simply upload it to a blog on the internet and reach a potential audience of billions.

  21. naturalistguy says

    So Peterson can go to another publisher. Oops, their employees object too. He can self-publish on Medium though, right? Oops, Google objects too. Then he can upload it to a blog? Oops, WordPress objects as well.

    I think you’re missing the point Orwell was making about freedom of the press and liberty, raven.

  22. raven says

    I think you’re missing the point Orwell was making about freedom of the press and liberty, raven.

    No I didn’t.

    Every creep who has been kicked off a platform such as newspapers, magazines, TV, websites like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, any blog, etc.. inevitably screams Free Speech!!! and Freedom of the Press!!!. It’s all they have when their ideas are so destructive, cuckoo, and just plain wrong. We’ve seen it over and over again for decades now. It’s not new.

    BTW, troll you are lying here.
    There is a whole giant ecosystem of right wingnut media. Newspapers like the Washington Moonie Times, TV shows like Fox NoNews, OANN, Newsmax, and websites like Parler, Infowars, and countless others.
    They would love to have Jordan Peterson since he is one of them, the Rush Limpbrain of Toronto, Canada.

    BTW, troll you really are genuinely stupid. The first rule of holes is that when you find yourself in a hole, to stop digging. You didn’t do that. You just doubled down on your lies.
    Get lost troll. You’ve wasted 10 minutes of my life and that is enough.

  23. lotharloo says

    IMO, the big problem is that this kind of opposition is what these people want. People like Milo or Dave Rubin have been somewhat explicit about this. Poor Dave even named his book “Don’t burn this book”, hoping some actually would do it. TBH, I think they should just publish his books. He’s gotten way more publicity through this.

  24. lotharloo says

    So Peterson can go to another publisher. Oops, their employees object too. He can self-publish on Medium though, right? Oops, Google objects too. Then he can upload it to a blog? Oops, WordPress objects as well.

    But that’s how it is supposed to work. If you have good reputation, say a Noble prize or two in your pocket, or a draft of high quality, you will an easy time finding publishers. If you are a serial killer with 0 talent in writing trying to publish your guide to moral philosophy, then likely nobody will want to publish your shit. And then there’s the spectrum in between. What is the problem? Freedom of speech only applies to what government can do not what private citizens/companies should do.

  25. KG says

    naturalistguy@16
    No-one is denying Peterson the right to repeat his garbage – there will be plenty of other publishers salivating to publish it, and if there weren’t, he could self-publish – somethnng much easier to do now than in Orwell’s day.

    I note that Orwell, in 1949, was prepared to compile a list of British and American writers and others he suspected of being Soviet sympathisers – including remarks about whether they were Jews, gays, or in the case of Paul Robeson “very anti-white” – and send it to the British Government’s “Information Research Department”, the point being to exclude them from being asked to write for this department (which was a Cold War propaganda outfit). Of course that doesn’t mean that Orwell was wrong in what he wrote in your quote, but it does cast doubt on whether he can be recruited to the cause of the right to be published wherever you choose.

    By the way, this:

    I answer simply that they don’t convince me and that our civilisation over a period of four hundred years has been founded on the opposite notice.

    is complete tosh, historically speaking. Four hundred years back from the 1940s takes us to the 1540s. There really weren’t a lot of people campaigning for free speech in the 1540s.

  26. naturalistguy says

    The point Orwell is making in his essay isn’t that one is free to get published elsewhere, or that government censorship is the issue. Rather, the issue is how the press voluntarily censors itself for political reasons. Basically, that’s what’s happening to Peterson and his publisher, as some employees of the publisher object to Peterson’s politics. I mentioned my friend the bookstore owner earlier and how he didn’t seek to impose his tastes on others. If I and some other customers of his objected to his carrying a certain book, should he therefore not stock it? After all, someone else could carry it, right? Personally, I don’t think it’s any of my business what books he sells, as I’m free to buy it or not.

  27. says

    sez naturalistguy @23: “So Peterson can go to another publisher. Oops, their employees object too. He can self-publish on Medium though, right? Oops, Google objects too. Then he can upload it to a blog? Oops, WordPress objects as well.”

    I’m curious: Can you name any person who actually has been serially denied all venues for disseminating their views?

  28. naturalistguy says

    cubist, the point is that one need not be totally silenced to be effectively silenced.

  29. naturalistguy says

    “Four hundred years back from the 1940s takes us to the 1540s. There really weren’t a lot of people campaigning for free speech in the 1540s.”

    Galileo tried to tell the Church what it didn’t want to hear. That’s the intellectual freedom Orwell was noting.

  30. says

    But that’s the marketplace of ideas. If you can’t convince someone your book is worthwhile, then you can’t get someone else to publish it… and, again as was said above, that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

    But let’s just play your idea out. My views are those of a political minority and while popular enough to find a market (I know from having published numerous essays + a small number of short stories & poems), they would still be odious to at least 20% of the US population, if not more.

    There is a very real risk that someone might deny my writing not for reasons of grammar or style but for finding the ideas I advance (or the mechanisms by which I advance them) to be politically unpopular or even personally offensive.

    Given this, how much money is Penguin required to advance me for my book & how many copies are they required to produce in the first printing?

  31. says

    sez naturalist guy @30: “…the point is that one need not be totally silenced to be effectively silenced.”

    Okay, so you are either unable, or unwilling, to name any person who actually has been serially denied all venues for disseminating their views. Groovy.

    Can you name any person who has been “effectively silenced” by serial denial of all venues for disseminating their views?

  32. PaulBC says

    naturalistguy@23 And Colin Kaepernick can be blacklisted by the NFL too. The day he has any legal recourse is the day I will devote even a second to Peterson’s woes. I would add that your scenario is purely hypothetical. Peterson is very likely to find some publisher for his drivel, whereas Kaepernick lost his best quarterbacking* years and will never get them back.

    *Note that I’m happy that Kaepernick’s brain was kept intact as an unintended benefit of blacklisting him from a physically damaging career. It still doesn’t justify the process.

  33. says

    Galileo tried to tell the Church what it didn’t want to hear. That’s the intellectual freedom Orwell was noting.

    And that freedom did not exist 400 years ago, thus the house arrest. That’s the erroneous assertion of fact that we are noting.

    Orwell was wrong. Neither British civilization, nor colonial civilization, nor Florence’s civilization were founded on principles of free expression 400 years before Orwell was writing. Nor were they even founded on principles of free expression 300 years before Orwell’s writing, which is when Galileo was experiencing his troubles.

    So if you’re correct that he was referring to l’Affaire Galilei, then you’ve identified another mistake of Orwell: he was off by a century with his calculations.

  34. wobbly says

    Wait, so Orwell was supposedly advocating for the entitlement of certain individuals to have access to their ideas being disseminated beyond the abilities afforded the average citizen through state protections such as freedom of speech? Im no Orwell scholar but this is news to me.

  35. KG says

    So Peterson can go to another publisher. Oops, their employees object too. – naturalistguy@23

    So let’s be clear, are you OK with the owners of the publisher objecting? Is it just the dirty proles who shouldn’t have a say? Or are you saying a publisher should just publish anything anyone sends them?

  36. naturalistguy says

    “And that freedom did not exist 400 years ago, thus the house arrest. That’s the erroneous assertion of fact that we are noting.”

    ‘And yet it moves’, according to Galileo. I think Orwell’s point stands regarding intellectual freedom.

  37. KG says

    naturalistguy@31,

    Galileo thought he should be able to write what he liked (and in fact got into trouble more because he was rude about the Pope – formerly a friend and patron – than because the Church didn’t like heliocentrism). He never campaigned for freedom of speech in general – the very idea wouldn’t have made any sense to him.

  38. says

    Rather, the issue is how the press voluntarily censors itself for political reasons.

    Even if refusing to publish one book is “voluntarily self-censorship” (which it really isn’t — just like getting a rejection slip isn’t “censorship”), in this case “the press” (just one corporation, really), is “censoring itself” for reasons not having much to do with politics. Refusing to publish a stupid or badly written book full of stupid and wrong ideas is not in itself, a “political” decision, any more than, say, refusing to hire an obnoxious drunk overt racist in a customer-facing job; or refusing to publish a flat-Earther book or the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

  39. KG says

    ‘And yet it moves’, according to Galileo.- naturalistguy@39

    Apocryphal. If you’re going to use Galileo as your exemplar, you might at least take the trouble to read a little beyond the popular mythology of the episode.

  40. naturalistguy says

    KG, I think this passage from the Orwell essay I linked to above answers your question:

    Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news — things which on their own merits would get the big headlines-being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact. So far as the daily newspapers go, this is easy to understand. The British press is extremely centralised, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.

  41. naturalistguy says

    Apocryphal.

    Possibly. So what? Galileo’s example of holding to the truth still resonates to this day.

  42. says

    One more time…

    sez naturalist guy @30: “…the point is that one need not be totally silenced to be effectively silenced.”

    Okay, so you are either unable, or unwilling, to name any person who actually has been serially denied all venues for disseminating their views. Groovy.

    Can you name any person who has been “effectively silenced” by serial denial of all venues for disseminating their views?

    And what, exactly, do you mean by the phrase “effectively silenced”? I mean, if Petersen can’t publish with his first choice for publisher, has he thus been “effectively silenced”?

  43. PaulBC says

    Orwell:

    I answer simply that they don’t convince me and that our civilisation over a period of four hundred years has been founded on the opposite notice.

    I’m inclined to think there’s a lot of Western chauvinism wrapped up in this view (though I don’t have the historical knowledge to make a compelling case). Also

    The word ancient emphasises the fact that intellectual freedom is a deep-rooted tradition without which our characteristic western culture could only doubtfully exist.

    This makes the point even more clearly. His view is wrapped up in myths that are indeed “ancient” and many of us in the West picked up when very young: the Greeks were “free” and the Persians were practically an army of slaves (at least if you believe the Greek accounts), or stereotypes of Chinese civilization being focused on rote learning (in fact, there was a tremendous amount of innovation in China).

    While I do think there was something novel and great about the political theory of the Enlightenment, I don’t think that on balance the issue is a deep division between “Western” civilization and the rest of the world. I also think a lot of it is a hoax.

    There have been free individuals and conforming individuals throughout history. The real question is how individual rights interact with the coercive force of government, which remains coercive even in societies with robust democratic traditions. There is always the possibility that something you want to do is prohibited. Even if not intrinsically worthy of opprobrium, if conflicts with someone else’s rights (driving on the “wrong” side of the road for instance). Eventually someone is authorized to use violence if necessary to stop you from doing it.

    Anyway, I don’t mean to second-guess George Orwell, who was a great writer and thinker. But it’s also clear that he’s coming from a very Western-centric view, and unapologetically so. I just don’t buy it. I don’t think any one society is especially “free” and I am not even sure if it there is a meaningful definition of freedom in a political context.

  44. says

    Galileo’s example of holding to the truth still resonates to this day.

    And the employees of Penguin are holding to the truth that Peterson is a jerk with crap ideas which don’t deserve publication & will harm those employees in various ways (perhaps through occupational reputation) should it be known that they served a role in giving Peterson’s book a printing it does not deserve.

    Therefore you rightly support the Penguin employees in this case, yes?

    If not, then you must admit your arguments are crap. You can’t argue from general principles that this specific publisher can be (much less ought to be) required to publish Peterson. Therefore the only form of argument remaining to the critics of the Penguin employees who, like Galileo, are nobly standing for what they believe to be true, is that those employees are wrong on the facts and that Peterson is actually a great guy with great ideas which deserve to be printed and distributed to bookstores.

    Yet I note that you never try to make the case that Peterson’s work is worthwhile. You seem stuck unable to admit that no company can be forced to publish a book and therefore unable to move on to the only productive avenue you have left: arguing the case on Peterson’s merits.

    Let me know when you grow up enough to relinquish your unproductive fascism of vague assertions that editors have no editorial freedom and decide to have a worthwhile conversation.

  45. naturalistguy says

    PaulBC, Orwell recognized how his culture had shaped him and didn’t shy away from that fact in his work. But Orwell was no Colonel Blimp. Orwell was a policeman in Burma and his famous essay “Shooting An Elephant” was quite clear-eyed about British imperialism. Orwell was under no illusions about the true nature of British Empire. It certainly informed his decision to be a socialist.

  46. PaulBC says

    Continuing on @48 To add an obvious but neglected point about the last 400 years of Western civilization, it was just over a century and a half ago that chattel slavery was still the law in parts of the US. While I respect Orwell, I think this puts the lie to any claim that the West has a special claim to “freedom.” At best it is a problematic ideal, and I don’t think it was invented during the Enlightenment or even in ancient Greece. All of human history has been a struggle between individual freedom and survival as a social species.

  47. Pierce R. Butler says

    naturalistguy @ # 31: “Four hundred years back from the 1940s takes us to the 1540s. There really weren’t a lot of people campaigning for free speech in the 1540s.”

    Galileo tried to tell the Church what it didn’t want to hear.

    Pretty good trick for somebody born in 1564.

    KG @ # 41: Galileo … in fact got into trouble more because he was rude about the Pope …

    At least some biographers consider that Galileo’s “Simplicio” strawman was intended as a caricature of a lesser intellectual (or of several of them), but that circa 1616 Cardinal Inquisitor Roberto Bellarmino managed to persuade Pope Paul V to take it personally.

  48. wobbly says

    So I just want to echo what other here have pointed out and say that I find it really weird that this whole, finger-wagging, “Orwell wouldn’t like this” thought experiment inherently asks us to deny the voices and rights of the working class to express their views and control their labor.

  49. says

    @naturalistguy — You’re missing the point. Peterson is free to think and say whatever he wishes. Nobody is stopping him. He is NOT entitled to be published on a private platform (Penguin, Medium, WordPress, YouTube, etc.).

  50. tacitus says

    I see nobody’s made the obvious point that when Orwell couldn’t find a publisher for Animal Farm, a book that satirizes Stalinism, Britain had been in a fight to the death with Germany for years, and Stalin was a critical ally at the time in their existential fight with the Nazi regime.

    Freedom of the press wasn’t exactly the top priority during a war where Britain was just struggling to survive, and the publishers were extremely wary of publishing a word that was so nakedly critical of Stalin at a time they needed him most.

    So, not even remotely the same as Peterson’s situation, and Orwell did eventually find a publisher right at the very end of the war after Hitler’s defeat was no longer in doubt.

  51. naturalistguy says

    wobbly, if one of the employees of the bookstore my friend owns came to him and told him he should take a book off the shelf because it offended them and they shouldn’t have to sell it to some one as a condition of their employment, he’d explain to them that freedom of the press also applies to books we don’t like and that once you start down the path of picking and choosing to publish and sell only books that you like, pretty soon someone else will be picking and choosing books for you that they don’t like for you in turn. Freedom of the press is precisely about what you don’t want to hear. Here’s Orwell again from that essay:

    But now to come back to this book of mine. The reaction towards it of most English intellectuals will be quite simple: ‘It oughtn’t to have been published.’ Naturally, those reviewers who understand the art of denigration will not attack it on political grounds but on literary ones. They will say that it is a dull, silly book and a disgraceful waste of paper. This may well be true, but it is obviously not the whole of the story. One does not say that a book ‘ought not to have been published’ merely because it is a bad book. After all, acres of rubbish are printed daily and no one bothers. The English intelligentsia, or most of them, will object to this book because it traduces their Leader and (as they see it) does harm to the cause of progress. If it did the opposite they would have nothing to say against it, even if its literary faults were ten times as glaring as they are. The success of, for instance, the Left Book Club over a period of four or five years shows how willing they are to tolerate both scurrility and slipshod writing, provided that it tells them what they want to hear.

  52. beholder says

    I’ll state up front that I think Jordan Peterson is a dishonest sack of shit who doesn’t care about the harm he does to others.

    With that said, I don’t see what a publisher has to lose by associating with him and publishing his books. Maybe it’s because I don’t see a publisher’s approval as carrying any weight as a recommendation — I read books based on personal recommendations from my family, friends, and others whom I trust. Sometimes the front cover is interesting, but I have never started reading a book because of the publisher logo on the spine. Publishers run a racket; they pretend to have advance knowledge of what will be an enduring classic when they’re no better than their contemporary readership at predicting what that will be. Publishers don’t share my class interests. Certainly when it comes to science and journalism (and especially science journalism), they would rather bombard me with flashy PR than the news I actually need to read. Jordan Peterson isn’t keeping these pustules financially afloat, and they would have chosen some other self-help hack if it wasn’t him.

    One publisher standing up to him isn’t going to hurt him one bit and it won’t do the publisher any favors with readers unless it opposes hate by cultivating a diverse, class-conscious pool of writers from their formative years, which is a long-term effort a capitalist publisher would have no interest in.

  53. wobbly says

    naturalistguy, first of all, I see you playing your rhetorical game wherein you try to frame the scenario as only “one worker” objecting, as opposed to the real world scenario we are actually discussing wherein multiple employees raised their voices. Secondarily, if your proposed book store owner explained what you have described to the objecting laborer, they would be woefully wrong. Freedom of press is about state intervention, not what private businesses decided to do at the behest of their various influences. And your Orwell quote is deeply misused. Orwell is objecting to those using technical pretenses as an excuse to discard objectionable content. No one here is doing that. They are arguing that Peterson deserves to be ignored precisely because of his content.

  54. says

    Galileo’s example of holding to the truth still resonates to this day.

    Yeah, but Peterson isn’t holding to truth, so your references to Galileo are irrelevant.

    Yes, “the establishment” silenced Galileo. But “they” also routinely silence (or just ignore) hacks and idiots who spout insulting lies and/or irrational nonsense — or who just write useless tedious crap — so decent grownups can talk sensibly about grownup stuff without being badgered or distracted.

  55. John Morales says

    naturalistguy:

    … he’d explain to them that freedom of the press also applies to books we don’t like and that once you start down the path of picking and choosing to publish and sell only books that you like, pretty soon someone else will be picking and choosing books for you that they don’t like for you in turn.

    Obviously Peterson is a fatuous crank, but then, so is this little anecdote of the hypothetical variety. And it got “published”, here.

    In passing, I wonder whether the employee of the friend would have got the response “so what?” in that hypothetical anecdote.

    I mean, under that scenario, the only non-sellable books are those to which every single seller objects, since otherwise there will remain at least one seller.
    In short, this objection is only applicable to works which are universally reviled.

    It seems perverse, to me, to argue on the basis that the most reviled work should also get a special dispensation that other works don’t need.

    (You’re sure you’ve thought out all the implications of your stance?)

  56. Ishikiri says

    A couple of general points:

    1) I think it would be just dandy for Penguin Random House’s employees to have control over what they publish. I say they get rid of their management and shareholders.

    2) If you don’t have the strength of conviction to say that Peterson is wrong and that his ideas shouldn’t be propagated, then you’re betraying that you’re on his side. All of the rhetoric about freedom of speech/press can’t help you.

  57. consciousness razor says

    Okay, so you are either unable, or unwilling, to name any person who actually has been serially denied all venues for disseminating their views.

    Clearly, Peterson’s not an example, nor are any of the other high-profile asshats that people have good reasons to complain about (because they know about them in the first place, because they’re published, obviously).

    But how does this argument work? If a person has literally zero ways to express their views to the public, then for that very reason the public (which includes us) will not know them by name. So you’re saying that we’re unable to give some names that we wouldn’t know? That’s just ignorance, which isn’t evidence of anything.

    It’s also odd to think that the situation has to be so completely dire, before you would find it objectionable that people aren’t free to express their ideas. It’s as if the discussion were about how to address poverty and inequality, but your only concern is for those who have exactly nothing whatsoever: zero dollars. If it’s anything more, then for some reason that’s no big deal, because you can just wave your hands at it.

  58. John Morales says

    Ishikiri,

    I think it would be just dandy for Penguin Random House’s employees to have control over what they publish.

    Unless some AI is running the business, someone(s) already have that control. Someone(s) employed by the corporate entity, presumably.

  59. PaulBC says

    Just to put this in context, does anyone have realistic expectations that Jordan Peterson (and not some hypothetical author) will actually be blacklisted rather than (possibly) have some book deal rescinded by a single publisher?

    For the record: yes, I am against the hypothetical blacklist scenario with perfectly collusion between all entities public and private that completely silences an author, who should at least have the option of “self-publishing” available if their writing evinces no interest from any reader.

    I would add: even when this fanciful scenario is applied to Jordan Peterson. However, it’s definitely not my job to make things easier for him, and I suspect that he will continue publishing drivel as long as his health permits (which seems a more likely confounding factor than censorship).

  60. consciousness razor says

    Unless some AI is running the business, someone(s) already have that control. Someone(s) employed by the corporate entity, presumably.

    Owners and shareholders also have some control, if not total control, because employees (very typically) answer to them. Of course they don’t need to “approve of every book they publish” as naturalistguy put it. It can be as simple as telling employees to avoid losses and pursue profits, leaving it to them to figure out the implementation in detail. (Because that would require a bit of work, and owning isn’t working. That’s what workers are supposed to be for.)

  61. John Morales says

    Owners and shareholders also have some control

    The owners are the shareholders.

    Of interest, cf. http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2018/01/dude-you-broke-the-future.html

    Here’s the thing about corporations: they’re clearly artificial, but legally they’re people. They have goals, and operate in pursuit of these goals. And they have a natural life cycle. In the 1950s, a typical US corporation on the S&P 500 index had a lifespan of 60 years, but today it’s down to less than 20 years.

    Corporations are cannibals; they consume one another. They are also hive superorganisms, like bees or ants. For their first century and a half they relied entirely on human employees for their internal operation, although they are automating their business processes increasingly rapidly this century. Each human is only retained so long as they can perform their assigned tasks, and can be replaced with another human, much as the cells in our own bodies are functionally interchangeable (and a group of cells can, in extremis, often be replaced by a prosthesis). To some extent corporations can be trained to service the personal desires of their chief executives, but even CEOs can be dispensed with if their activities damage the corporation, as Harvey Weinstein found out a couple of months ago.

    Finally, our legal environment today has been tailored for the convenience of corporate persons, rather than human persons, to the point where our governments now mimic corporations in many of their internal structures.

  62. Ishikiri says

    @John Morales, #65:

    Unless some AI is running the business, someone(s) already have that control. Someone(s) employed by the corporate entity, presumably.

    Employees have a limited amount of discretion within their job descriptions, but they don’t have executive authority. I responding to the assertion that the employees should fall in behind the senior management and ownership if they want to keep their employment, which is wrong and is an example of the kind of hierarchical thinking that JBP engages in.

  63. says

    @consciousness razor

    What’s your goal and / or position here?

    Is it that you support this specific book being published? Is it that you think that employees who feel corporate decisions are bad for them as people shouldn’t speak up?

    You seem to be jumping in on the side of people who think the thing with Peterson is bad or wrong or dangerous, but you’re not specific enough with whatever your argument is for anyone to follow you.

  64. consciousness razor says

    The owners are the shareholders.

    They sure are. Some may use all sorts of different titles for themselves, but I meant to leave it open to anybody who fits that general description, which isn’t exclusive to those “employed by the corporate entity.”

    But we could be talking about a sole proprietor who publishes their own work, with no employees. There’s no corporate entity to speak of, just a single natural person. That’s a “publisher” too.

  65. consciousness razor says

    CD: I thought we weren’t talking, but okay.

    I agree that a company should (within some reasonable limits) be able to decide what it’s going to produce (book publishers are obviously just one example). Of course ordinary workers shouldn’t be left out of that decision making, so that owners, executives and their ilk are the only ones who have a real say in what that. I’m not about to defend capitalism or our current version of it, so I fully agree with Nathan Robinson and many others on those points, although I think it’s important to stress that they ought to apply much more generally.

    You seem to be jumping in on the side of people who think the thing with Peterson is bad or wrong or dangerous, but you’re not specific enough with whatever your argument is for anyone to follow you.

    Anyone? I doubt that. My comment #64 was just criticizing what I think is one bad argument, which isn’t jumping in on a side. But since you seem to care, I jumped in on a side above.

  66. says

    @CR

    CD: I thought we weren’t talking, but okay.

    I had said I didn’t want you to comment on my blog until after the election & that I would not engage with you until after the election. I was serious about that. I followed through on that. But I don’t hate you or anything. I found those conversations not merely unproductive (which would be bad enough) but stressful. They generated bad emotions for me. I opted out of talking about politics with you.

    This is after the election and this is not politics. I hold no grudge. Thus I was willing to chat.

    Anyone? I doubt that.

    Yeah, I thought I should change that to just me, but I didn’t have that second thought until after I posted the comment, so whatevs.

    My comment #64 was just criticizing what I think is one bad argument, which isn’t jumping in on a side.

    Which is why I said that you “seem to be” jumping in on a side, rather than that you did jump in on a side. I’ve criticized bad argumentation my own self, so I know it doesn’t always imply that one is opposed to someone’s conclusion merely because you criticized one of their arguments.

    That said, you owe me nothing, but if you want to talk about this, my take on the argument you’re criticizing is that the point is (or should be, when used by a thoughtful person) to expose that the original argument to silencing is ridiculous. When someone tells us they’re being silenced, they obviously aren’t silenced. When someone is silenced, they obviously can’t tell us about it.

    Therefore if we’re going to talk about some chilling effect on free speech created by the actions of private persons or corporations, I think it’s incumbent on the person who wants to make that argument to say exactly what constitutes problematic silencing or chilling or speech, and to define it in such a way that it is not logically impossible to identify & study.

    The people who wax testerical about cancel culture have never done this in conversation with me or in threads where I’m reading along. Not once. So I find the original assertion that we’re facing a crisis of silencing to be ill-defined & ultimately counterproductive.

    I’d be happy to discuss what actions we might take as a society to limit the ability of certain corporations or industries to make editorial decisions limiting user-produced content the corporation may not like, but that requires someone to make an argument not merely that “silencing” is bad, but that particular forms of silencing are bad in particular contexts, and then make the case that how “bad” this form of silencing is merits government or other collective action, and that they have a valid idea of what collective or government action would be productive in combating this form of silencing, and, finally, that such action would create a world obviously more just than the world before that action. After all, government intervention doesn’t always produce justice.

    Until someone advances such a complete idea of what silencing is, why it’s relevant, why we should care, and at least one not completely irrational idea of what we might do in response, I actually feel it’s perfectly reasonable to make the arguments critiqued in your #64. Yes, they depend on absurdities, but the absurdities were already present in the original, half-formed position. The argumentum ad absurdum is a long effective and perfectly respectable debating strategy.

    Pushing for people to show evidence “silencing” is a problem using their own ill-considered language is probably the most effective way to get the anti-cancel culture types to show just how uninformed and inchoate their positions really are.

  67. DanDare says

    I just would like to add that it is not that the employees find Jordan’s work “distasteful”. It is a part of an existential threat against the employees and those they care for. It is propoganda to rile up hate against them and their loved ones.
    This is not an esoteric discussion about taste.

  68. PaulBC says

    marner@75 My bad. I should have known that. He will still (most likely) never get his career back, and the NFL has still been shitty about the whole thing: E.g. https://slate.com/culture/2019/11/colin-kaepernick-bizarre-nfl-tryout.html (But financially speaking, he’s doing fine and he spared himself the risk of head injury, which is great. It is still probably not the most personally satisfying outcome.)

    Regardless, I will still probably not find myself devoting much time to Peterson’s woes. And in fact, I expect him to have a lot more success finding a publisher no matter what happens.

  69. chrislawson says

    naturalistguy–

    You didn’t even read your own quote properly. The key sentence: “They have accepted the principle that a book should be published or suppressed, praised or damned, not on its merits but according to political expediency.”

    Note the very important qualification “not on its merits”. Opponents of Peterson’s publishing career are not political expedients…they are not refusing to criticise Russian propaganda because they are leftists (the actual targets in Orwell’s essay there). Peterson’s opponents are talking about how his work on its merits does not deserve the imprint of a reputable publisher. By your moral system, Random House should be obliged to publish arguments for genocide, flat earther manuals, anti-vaxx lies and so on.

    You clearly do not understand that Orwell was specifically criticising his Stalinist opponents for wanting to suppress his work while disseminating pro-Stalin trash in their own publishing houses. You seem to be attached like a barnacle to a hull to the idea that freedom of speech is the same thing as having no editorial standards. It makes you blind to the arguments in the very essays you quote.

  70. says

    me: Okay, so you are either unable, or unwilling, to name any person who actually has been serially denied all venues for disseminating their views.

    consciousness razor: Clearly, Peterson’s not an example, nor are any of the other high-profile asshats that people have good reasons to complain about (because they know about them in the first place, because they’re published, obviously).
    But how does this argument work? If a person has literally zero ways to express their views to the public, then for that very reason the public (which includes us) will not know them by name.

    So you acknowledge that anyone who raises the specter of someone who has been “silenced”, or “essentially silenced”, by serial denial of venues, is not doing so on the basis of evidence. On what basis, therefore, does anyone assert that some person is being “silenced” or “essentially silenced” by serial denial of venues?

  71. says

    sez crip dyke @73:

    Pushing for people to show evidence “silencing” is a problem using their own ill-considered language is probably the most effective way to get the anti-cancel culture types to show just how uninformed and inchoate their positions really are.

    Bingo! It’s rather telling that naturalistguy hasn’t even made a disingenuous pretense at a response to my question—and they’ve absolutely had sufficient time to do so, if they actually wanted to.

  72. Anton Mates says

    Can I also point out that none of Penguin’s employees have “refused to publish” Peterson’s book, whatever that would mean? They haven’t even raised the possibility of a strike or boycott, so far as I can see from the news articles. The only thing they did was come to a company meeting, which was convened in order to solicit employee opinions, and verbally argue against publishing the thing.

    I mean, I’d support them if they did take collective action, but this is literally the mildest, politest way conceivable that a labor force could express a difference with management. And yet Michael and naturalistguy are acting like they’re reenacting the Cultural Revolution or something. I wonder why?

  73. consciousness razor says

    CD and cubist: my first criticism in #64 was followed by a second one that you’ve both ignored.

    Why should it bother us, only if a person has no ability whatsoever to communicate with the public? How could it be okay when their freedom of expression is only very severely restricted (thus it’s still merely possible for us to be aware of it), so that the most you can say is that it hasn’t been utterly eliminated? If that’s not the type of standard you’re actually willing to claim is reasonable and fair, then what is?

    Because that’s bizarre to me, much like the common arguments that the first amendment (not even relevant outside the US) restricts only government action, so it must be just peachy when powerful individuals/corporations use their notional authority to do the same shit to people. Again, why would we only care about one extremely limited set of circumstances and be okay with literally everything else? Or is that a bullshit distraction, because the people saying such things don’t mean it and just want to “win” an argument?

    Pushing for people to show evidence “silencing” is a problem using their own ill-considered language is probably the most effective way to get the anti-cancel culture types to show just how uninformed and inchoate their positions really are.

    It’s a bit like “defund the police,” no? Of course “silencing” isn’t exactly a slogan, just an ordinary word. But you do have the option of interpreting it charitably, after having actually listened some more to the people using it, or it could just be dismissed as “ill-considered language” (that you presumably weren’t willing to give much consideration in any case).

  74. says

    sez consciousness razor @82:

    Why should it bother us, only if a person has no ability whatsoever to communicate with the public?

    Whoever said that is the only time it bothers anyone?

    Look: No publisher, no venue for dissemination of views, has infinite bandwidth. Therefore, to demand that any publisher/venue must publish anything at all which comes their way is, not to mince words, bullshit. You, like naturalistguy, are putting forth arguments which implicitly depend on the proposition that any exercise of editorial standards is a violation of freedom of speech… and that proposition is also bullshit.

    Because that’s bizarre to me, much like the common arguments that the first amendment (not even relevant outside the US) restricts only government action…

    You may find those 1st Amendment arguments “bizarre”, but they have the virtue of being… what’s that word… oh, yeah! The virtue of being true.

    Of course “silencing” isn’t exactly a slogan, just an ordinary word. But you do have the option of interpreting it charitably, after having actually listened some more to the people using it…

    Dude. The only person making noise about “silencing” here did so in the specific context of a discussion about Jordan Peterson’s putative “right” to any publishing venue he chooses, and said person completely blew off any mention of the content of Peterson’s views. Exactly how much “charity” do you imagine that person to be due?

  75. consciousness razor says

    Whoever said that is the only time it bothers anyone?

    Wasn’t that the implication? I’ll quote you, from #33:

    sez naturalist guy @30: “…the point is that one need not be totally silenced to be effectively silenced.”

    Okay, so you are either unable, or unwilling, to name any person who actually has been serially denied all venues for disseminating their views. Groovy.

    Can you name any person who has been “effectively silenced” by serial denial of all venues for disseminating their views?

    It didn’t seem to matter to you that “total silence” was rather explicitly not the issue for naturalistguy, because you nonetheless immediately made it the issue yourself. But if that’s not your position, as I figured was probably the case, you shouldn’t be arguing as if it were.

    (And there was a copy of that in #47 too, which I won’t bother to quote again. I’ll also note that it was your emphasis on “all” in the originals. A good sign that you probably meant it, but course you don’t have to stick with that now, if you’re persuaded that it’s ridiculous.)

    If in fact something short of that would still bother you, and you did understand the import of the word “effectively” well enough but haven’t wanted to acknowledge that since, then what were you arguing for exactly? It just stuck out to me as a pretty strange way to respond.

  76. consciousness razor says

    You may find those 1st Amendment arguments “bizarre”, but they have the virtue of being… what’s that word… oh, yeah! The virtue of being true.

    You mean it’s the commonly accepted interpretation of a particular law, in a specific jurisdiction, which tells us very little about the truth broadly speaking. You can’t have missed the point that this interpretation doesn’t mean everything outside the scope of that should be considered acceptable. So I assume you don’t have the time or the inclination to engage with that point.

  77. KG says

    naturalist@45

    KG, I think this passage from the Orwell essay I linked to above answers your question

    No, it doesn’t, so I’ll repeat it and give you another chance to answer it:

    So let’s be clear, are you OK with the owners of the publisher objecting? Is it just the dirty proles who shouldn’t have a say? Or are you saying a publisher should just publish anything anyone sends them?

    naturalist@46

    Galileo’s example of holding to the truth still resonates to this day.

    Two things wrong here, both becxause yoiu can’t be bothered to actually read beyond the popular mythology:
    1) Galileo very wisely shut up about heliocentrism after being sentenced to lifelong house arrest. Nothing I’ve said, of course, justifies the actions of the Catholic hierarchy against him.
    2) He held to his theory, which turned out to be broadly correct; but the evidence at the time was by no means conclusive. Galileo didn’t know that the earth moves around the sun in an elliptical, not circular orbit, so he still had to use similar fudge factors as the geocentrists to get the figures to come out right; and there were other possibilities, such as that the sun and moon revolved around the earth, and the “other” planets (the sun and moon were counted as planets) around the sun.

    Pierce R. Butler@53,
    Thanks, you’re right. I should have said: “was thought to have been rude about the Pope”.

  78. says

    my first criticism in #64 was followed by a second one that you’ve both ignored.

    I ignored it because it was vague & didn’t answer any of the questions I needed clarified. I did ask specific questions — I can even reprint them:

    Is it that you support this specific book being published? Is it that you think that employees who feel corporate decisions are bad for them as people shouldn’t speak up?

    and you did not answer those questions. You seem to be of the opinion that “we should care” about freedom of speech issues not addressed by laws that restrain governments from punishing certain speech.

    My response is, “Well, duh.”

    But that position is fucking useless because it doesn’t say what Penguin (potentially) not publishing Peterson has to do with that. Is this an appropriate use of editorial discretion?
    An inappropriate use best left for mechanisms inside Penguin to correct?
    An inappropriate use best addressed by individual action?
    An inappropriate use best addressed by collective action?
    An inappropriate use best addressed by government regulatory oversight?
    An inappropriate use best addressed by by criminal prosecution?

    So far you don’t appear to have taken any position besides, “We should care about the opportunities people have to speak.”

    I mean… okay, but that’s an 8 year old’s position on freedom of speech. I’d like to think we’re a little beyond 3rd-grade level discussion here. If you have no higher aspiration, then I can simply dismiss your comments as irrelevant to any productive conversation because we all got to your point long before you showed up to participate in the conversation.

    There might be someone out there who literally believes we should never care about the opportunities humans have to communicate, though. You should find them & explain to them your very important insights.

    Or, you know, you could participate in this thread by saying something useful to the people participating in this thread. Your choice.

    How could it be okay when their freedom of expression is only very severely restricted (thus it’s still merely possible for us to be aware of it), so that the most you can say is that it hasn’t been utterly eliminated?

    It could be okay in the situation that the person under consideration is a 3 year old who is screaming about wanting a cookie while their parent is on the phone, so the parent has the toddler’s older sibling whisk them away to the other end of the room or into a bedroom or outside.

    The toddler’s opportunities to communicate what they want to say are effectively silenced, but not completely silenced. They are not allowed to even attempt to make their case for a cookie to anyone with the power to actually give them a cookie. This is exactly what you say you are worried about.

    And yet, I don’t give a flying fuck & don’t think such “effective silencing” is worth a moment’s public concern despite the fact that this is a deliberate, conscious effort to limit free expression.

    The point is that we all agree that some deliberate, conscious efforts to limit free expression are actually fine.

    Given that we all agree that some deliberate, conscious efforts to limit someone else’s opportunities to communicate are perfectly fine with any rational person, including, presumably, both you & naturalistguy, the fact that “effective silencing” exists in the world is not, on its own, any issue of concern. There has been effective silencing. There is effective silencing. There will be effective silencing. And the world is better off ensuring that effective silencing remains extant to some extent.

    The real question, then, is to what extent and in what circumstances is effective silencing legitimately used by a particular person, group, or other entity?

    You and naturalistguy are both very concerned that effective silencing exists, but we know that & we’re fine with that. We are also perfectly fine with some types of effective silencing being outlawed – for instance in most places around the world one cannot be fired for discussing the formation of a union with one’s coworkers. Most of the world agrees that even though losing one’s job doesn’t mean you can’t speak, if the issue under discussion is, “Should the workers of company X form a union?” that topic is effectively silenced if all people who speak to the issue are suddenly no longer workers of company X. Most of the world agrees that is a problem and that the proper response to that is government regulatory action. I concur with that vague outline (without addressing the specifics of any jurisdiction’s statutes, regulations, or actions). You would probably concur with that general outline.

    So now we have (presumed) agreement that some forms of “effective silencing” are good (silencing a toddler’s screaming requests for cookies at a parent who is on the phone) and some that are bad (silencing workers talking to other workers about unionizing).

    Okay, so how does what happened to Peterson fit into this? Is this good silencing or bad silencing? Why? Is you definition of “effective silencing” even specific enough so that we can tell whether or not it happened in this case? If we can tell, and if it did happen, how do we know whether this is good effective silencing or bad effective silencing?

    Neither you nor naturalistguy has provided any insight at all into how to answer these questions that must be answered before we give a shit about what happened to Peterson.

    Pushing for examples of “effective silencing” is a reasonable tactic when seeking to clarify just what the fuck it the boundaries are around what you and/or naturlistguy think is bad silencing, which is a necessary first step before figuring out whether the “effective silencing” (if it occurred) of Peterson by Penguin is a problem in this specific case.

    Given that you haven’t addressed step one — making an argument about when we should care — I think it’s reasonable to ask, as I did, what the fuck is your point here?

    …and I’m still wondering exactly that.

  79. Saad says

    Michael,

    Would this be acceptable behaviour in any other industry? Imagine car assemblers refusing to build a car they don’t like, even though the design was approved by management, and it passed all the safety requirements? Or if construction workers refused to build a building because they didn’t like the politics of the architect?

    Are you sure you’ve chosen your analogies carefully?

  80. says

    Naturalistguy

    … he’d explain to them that freedom of the press also applies to books we don’t like and that once you start down the path of picking and choosing to publish and sell only books that you like, pretty soon someone else will be picking and choosing books for you that they don’t like for you in turn.

    Tell me, does your friend stock all the books that get published? And does he promote all the books equally?
    It’s a safe bet to say he doesn’t, which means that your friend already picks and chooses which books people can buy. I guess that his rationale is “which books are likely to sell”, and this has absolutely nothing to do with “freedom of speech” or “freedom of the press”. It’s also amazing how you know what exactly this person would say in that moment.

  81. Ridana says

    There’s more going on here than just the question of “Should Penguin/RH publish Peterson or not?” or freedom of the press or equal access for all ideas. If they choose to publish him, it’s not just a matter of “giving him a platform” or putting his words on paper and selling them. If they publish him, they promote his ideas, because they want to make money from them. They write a nice blurb on the back cover, they provide pleasing cover art or the most dynamic photo of him they can shop together, they choose eye-catching fonts for the cover, they solicit famous people to say nice things about him and his book, they quote favorable reviews, they advertise the book’s release, they use their clout to make sure it gets a good spot on store book displays, provide sellers with marketing materials like posters, and do all the other things a high-powered publisher can do to make a book sell.

    So to me the question is, does Peterson have a right to all this, and do P/RH employees have to participate in making sure his work is distributed as widely as possible? I think not.

  82. says

    CR @84: Nothing to say about the obvious fact that Bandwidth Is Not Infinite, and the consequences thereof? Hmph. You still appear to be operating under the bullshit impression that Editorial Standards Are Always A Violation Of Free Speech.

    You also appear to have missed the fact that my use of “effectively” was merely parroting naturalistguy’s term back at him, since “effectively silenced” could mean pretty much anything, really, and I was kinda hoping that n-guy might clarify their position.

    Ha-ha! Naturalistguy, clarify their position? It is to laugh!

    Yes, 1st Amendment arguments are only true within a specific jurisdiction… that jurisdiction being The Entire Friggin’ United States Of America (see also: US<?I> Constitution). What’s your point, if any?

    Just gonna slide right by my pointing out that n-guy’s position is just slightly disingenuous (with the unspoken consequence that offering them charity is falling right into the trap of the Paradox of Tolerance)? Cool story, bro.

    Somebody wake me up when CR gets around to ‘splainin’ exactly how (if at all) their position differs from Editorial Standards Are Always A Violation Of Free Speech…

  83. says

    In re: cubist speaking to consciousness razor:

    You also appear to have missed the fact that my use of “effectively” was merely parroting naturalistguy’s term back at him, since “effectively silenced” could mean pretty much anything, really, and I was kinda hoping that n-guy might clarify their position.

    Why look! I was exactly right that cubist was trying to force a clarification of a stupidly vague position rather than actively advocating that we should never care about human’s opportunities to speak outside of a First Amendment / expressive person vs. government context.

    Funny how I was able to understand that just fine but naturalistguy & cr were not.

    Now it could be that I’m a Wile E. Coyote-level supergenius whose 1-in-10-billion intelligence allows her to decipher hidden meanings where no one could reasonably expect the same from naturalistguy & cr. But I don’t believe that. I think cubist wasn’t at all hiding their effort to force a clarification from naturalist guy.

  84. hemidactylus says

    That we should emulate lobsters is the greatest truth ever to be told. That Cultural Marxists want to prevent more of the same is the greatest tragedy.

  85. consciousness razor says

    Or, you know, you could participate in this thread by saying something useful to the people participating in this thread. Your choice.

    For fuck’s sake, did Robinson have to explain “why it’s perfectly legitimate for employees of Penguin Random House to protest any contract with Jordan Peterson”? I certainly didn’t need to hear it. What a useless wanker. And then why did PZ make a blog post about it? I suppose we should all act indignant about that too and call him a child.

    I’m not wasting my time on the rest. Honestly, I didn’t even think writing my first reply was worth the effort .I have nothing to do with Penguin Random House (or Peterson or any of it), and employees there do not need to ask for my fucking permission. But I’m sure you already knew that.

  86. says

    So, I point out that you haven’t actually contributed anything of substance and invite you to change that by addressing any one of numerous substantive arguments made by me or others, and your response is to feel hurt that I said you hadn’t contributed anything of substance and then righteously declare that you refuse to address any of the actual substance.

    That’s mighty heroic of you, CR. Much brave. So information.

    Glad you stopped by.

  87. PaulBC says

    Can someone summarize the claims made in this thread? There seem to be at least three different arguments going on. (a) Does Penguin have a right to refuse to publish Peterson? (b) Should Penguin’s employees have any say in the matter? (c) Would it be right to blacklist Peterson from ever expressing himself again?

    (a) I think it’s obvious Penguin can refuse a book for publication. Even if they have a contractual agreement, that can be broken with appropriate penalties if necessary. (I suppose a lawyer could make up a counterexample, but is anyone going to disagree in this case?)

    (b) I think it’s also obvious that employees have a say in the operations of the company they work for. I’m a little shocked at the level of capitalist orthodoxy expressed in some of the comments. We’re all moral agents with an ethical obligation to take a stand on the consequences of what we do. It doesn’t mean, for instance, that your company can’t try to fire you in retaliation or anything else (unless there are specific whistleblower protections; again IANAL), but you obviously have a right and sometimes an obligation to take a stand even if it goes against the interest of shareholders. Capitalism has rules the way chess and football have rules, but they don’t justify anything.

    (c) The complete silencing of Peterson (turning to him into an “unperson” to continue the Orwell theme) is obviously unethical, and cannot be justified even if his views are abhorrent and directly harmful. But it is so far from reality that it’s an absurd example to build a case about. If Peterson has potential readers, he’ll find a way to get his views to them. (This isn’t true for everyone, but Peterson has already built his “brand.”) The day this looks like a serious concern, I may take an interest in discussing it.

    In short, (a) and (b) are easily resolved. They are not a slippery slope to (c).

  88. raven says

    Well, this thread has turned into a slaughterhouse.
    The number of poor, defenseless strawpeople murdered by serial killers is immense.

    One of entirely imaginary issues is stated by Paul as

    …(c) Would it be right to blacklist Peterson from ever expressing himself again?

    No, but that is irrelevant.

    It would simply be impossible to blacklist or silence Jordan Peterson.
    He is in the same league with the same hate based politics as Rush Limpbrain, Ann Coulter, Donald Trump, Alex Jones, and Fox NoNews among many others.

    .1. These are the groups that ran out government for 4 years. I was sick of hearing from them 4 years ago and yet they are still on most of the media day in and day out.

    .2. The central point which everyone ignored is that there is a vast right wingnut media ecosystem of newspapers, magazines, TV shows, websites, thinktanks, and yes, publishing houses.
    Jordan Peterson is right in the middle of the right wingnut information bubble and one of their heroes.
    He would have zero, zip, nada trouble finding a well funded book publisher to publish his hate based identity politics.

  89. raven says

    A few seconds with Google and the term “conservative book publishers” came up with quite a few well funded, well known publishers of “conservative books”. It seems even the largest mainstream book publishers have set up their own subsidiaries to publish right wingnut drivel.
    It’s all driven by…money of course.

    City-Journal.org

    The Future of Conservative Books
    As mainstream publishers’ flirtation with the Right cools, smaller houses are stepping in.
    Harry Stein
    Summer 2008 Politics and lawArts and CultureThe Social Order

    Roger Kimball, publisher of right-leaning Encounter Books, which had one of its best years in 2007.
    PHOTOGRAPH BY HARVEY WANG
    Roger Kimball, publisher of right-leaning Encounter Books, which had one of its best years in 2007

    In 2003, something unthinkable happened in the tradition-bound—and unapologetically liberal—world of book publishing: two of the largest and best-known conglomerates, Penguin and Random House, set up imprints, Sentinel and Crown Forum, dedicated to producing conservative books. Two years later, Simon and Schuster added its own right-leaning imprint, Threshold.

    Behind this development lay the stark commercial fact that since the mid-nineties, conservative titles had been showing up in profusion on the nation’s bestseller lists. For a while, industry veterans found this phenomenon fairly easy to discount.

    There are many others.
    A few others.
    Regnery Books
    Liberty Hill Publishing
    If the Nazis can get their books published, so can Jordan Peterson.

    The Hate Store: Amazon’s Self-Publishing Arm Is a Haven for …www.propublica.org › article › the-hate-store-amazons-…

    Apr 7, 2020 — The company gives extremists and neo-Nazis banned from other platforms unprecedented access to a mainstream audience — and even …

  90. PaulBC says

    raven@98 I hope it was clear that that was my point. Yes, (c) is a strawman but it was stated in naturalistguy@23

    Given the length of this thread, there should be something hard to figure out, right? But I’m not sure what. The scariest thing to me is the suggestion that employees are under some obligation to perform labor against their own ethics if their employer happens to be a publisher. Employees are moral agents, not robots.

  91. raven says

    The scariest thing to me is the suggestion that employees are under some obligation to perform labor against their own ethics if their employer happens to be a publisher.

    Yeah, Paul, I know that wasn’t your position but a statement of the issue.

    In general employers should and usually do try to treat their workers well.
    Because then, they will work harder and productivity will be higher.
    It’s moral and altruistic behavior driven by…money.

    Mistreating your family, pets, livestock,. friends, employees, or wheat fields is all just counterproductive.

    I’ve seen High Tech companies collapse because the suits got control, couldn’t figure out what all those scientists and techs in athletic shoes and T shirts were for, and why they got paid more than minimum wage. So they started laying them off, moving them around, cutting stock options, cutting that huge research budget, not promoting anyone and otherwise ignoring them.
    A few years of that and they were close to bankruptcy and either sold out or filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

  92. says

    Companies are still parts of the society they collect tokens from. It is a good thing that it’s possible to use politics to force companies to contribute to that society and avoid harming society. It should happen more often with issues like global warming because companies don’t have a survival instinct. I want my political issues to be things they pay attention to or it affects their token intake.
    Tokens aren’t people and I don’t respect parts of culture that act as if tokens and symbols were more important than tokens.

  93. Kagehi says

    Seriously.. This conversation has gone on for 87 posts and, as near as I can tell, the “idea” being defended as “free press”, by the troll amount to, “It might be bad to yell fire in a crowded theater, but if you pay someone to draw a sign for you, and tell them it needs to say the exact same thing, they are obligated to do so, even if they know damn well your next stop is a theater.”, or something to that effect. We allow a bloody hell of a lot of latitude with respect to the kind of dangerous, stupid, potentially harmful, insane, bullshit that people can and do say, post on the internet, and, yep, even self publish, or find some insane group of nuts, who are willing to create a publishing house of their own, and get it published that way (pretty much everything put out by the “press” from creationists and/or right wing religious nuts, who don’t seem to have any problem finding someone willing to publish their utter crap). But.. nope, telling someone, “No, I won’t do it.”, or, “Our employees refuse to be involved in such a thing.”, that, is some sort of problem? How the F is this any different than the correct, if aggravating, decision that assholes can choose to refuse to make a cake someone paid for, after they discovered it was for a gay couple? When the F-ing hell did, “We don’t want to serve you.”, become a freaking problem if it is printed text, but OK if its anything else? What is with this insane obsession that merely asking, or worse, demanding, that someone give you a platform overrides the right of free speech of the people that demand is being made of (which includes, literally or figuratively, wiping their ass with the manuscript, before expressing the entirely free speech ideal of saying, “This is all we find your garbage worth. Go someplace else!” Why does the writing, in this case, get to be the only one with an expressed opinion, or right to state their case, or otherwise make a statement about the contents of the book? Why is, “We refuse to publish this.”, also not a “free expression of ideas”, aka, “free speech”? What freaking bullshit rule strips everyone of the right to say, “Not on my property, with my property, through my property, on my website, on my station, etc.”, merely because some person, random or otherwise, shows up and “demands” that someone help them repeat their bullshit?

    There is a basic principle – your rights end at my nose. Mr. Troll and all the clowns like him seems to want the rule to be, “My rights extent to shoving things up your nose!” They don’t even freaking comprehend that they are demanding everyone to allow them to not just cross that basic line, but to erase it. Its kind of like religion – you can’t have freedom of religion, without also having the right to not participate at all (i.e., be free “from” it). By the say token, you can’t have freedom of the press and also demand that said press participate in every bullshit thing you bring to them (i.e., denying them to right to not involve themselves in your project). There has to be both the right to participate, as well as refuse to participate, otherwise.. its not “freedom”.

  94. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    Wow, naturalistguy, really… really great of you to take the socialist Orwell and imagine that he would be in favor of private industry stanning for hate speech.

    First of all, Orwell was narrowly talking about some degree of pro-Stalinist support that was actually weirdly in vogue among liberal and even conservative types at some points in the UK (like how Truman once thought that Stalin was actually a stand-up guy). But more broadly, as Chomsky noted, he was talking more about the intellectual presupposition that some things are just not to be said… as in, left-wing things. By the kind of reasoning you’ve shown here, it would be equally appropriate in the Soviet Union to focus both on the free speech rights of those touting the regime and those who weren’t. Hijacking his concern about the way that authoritarian notions can be allowed to stand because it wouldn’t be good to make a fuss in order to prevent us making a fuss about an authoritarian isn’t just ironic, it’s fucking evil.

    Second, Orwell did not believe every idea had equal merit. Notice how he had a whole fucking appendix about Newspeak? Orwell clearly did not think that you should engage with someone saying “double plus ungood” and “War is peace” as being as honest or worthy of consideration as someone speaking without those distortions. The sins of the pigs in Animal Farm are not that they stifle too much debate and don’t let everyone have a little town hall about resistance to them; their ultimate sin is that they end up breaking bread with the humans. The capitalists. Get it?

    Seriously, you may notice Orwell spent a lot of time talking about colonialism and socialism and such and not so much defending the free speech rights of Nazis. The very point of his essay is that you can have intellectual control without overt censorship. You don’t need it. (Which is, as we will get to, why Peterson isn’t in any real danger here). It’s the kind of system of control that keeps dissident voices out. Peterson is not a dissident voice. He was published in a conventional marketing house, he has a big platform, PragerU will platform him, he gets interviews on mainstream media outlets. Chomsky can barely appear on PBS. People like you conflate controversy with dissidence. There are debates that are allowed and ones that aren’t. Missing Orwell’s point here is such a staggering failure of historical understanding that it is really telling, and makes me question your sincerity, because I don’t believe you are this dull. I doubt you seriously believe that “Pick up your room” and “Trans people are cultural Marxists” are in fact against “the prevailing orthodoxy”.

    And while Orwell was appropriately quite strong on the importance of freedom of speech, you cannot find any place where he says that publishers have a duty to publish hideous ideas that they disagree with. He discusses censorship and the importance of letting ideas be heard.

    Which brings me to why your point is so fucking disingenuous.

    We heard Peterson.

    This is what every person like you dishonestly blurs the line on. Peterson had and has a platform. His ideas got heard out. We found them wanting. Why does he get another one of his infinite cracks at it, another step onto the podium? Do you realize how many intellectuals work in obscurity and could say something far more novel and challenging? But they’re not popular.

    You clearly don’t realize you’re doing this, but what you are defending is actually platforming-by-popularity-contest. No one is denying that Peterson has a right to his own blog on his own server. Go to town. What we are saying is that his ideas should no more be published by anyone else than someone who can’t write coherently, or spell properly, or stop talking about time cubes. He’s a crank. He has the right to be a crank. The rest of us not only have a right, but a duty, to do something about it.

    So let’s quote Orwell, shall we?

    “Since pacifists have more freedom of action in countries where traces of democracy survive, pacifism can act more effectively against democracy than for it. Objectively the pacifist is pro-Nazi.”

    And: “Capitalism leads to dole queues, the scramble for markets, and war. Collectivism leads to concentration camps, leader worship, and war. There is no way out of this unless a planned economy can somehow be combined with the freedom of the intellect, which can only happen if the concept of right and wrong is restored to politics.”

    Orwell never said that we have a duty to blithely entertain every idea like it’s our first day on Earth. We actually have a duty to dispense with a ton of bad ideas. Because we already know they’re bad. Idiots still have a right to talk, but we have to not listen.

    This isn’t that hard to understand. But hey, if you’re consistent, I hope you will go to bat for every single person here to have exactly the same publishing deal Peterson would get, no matter what they write.

  95. logicalcat says

    @Naturalistguy

    Forcing a private publisher to publish a book it didn’t want to publish for any reason is itself a violation of freedom of the press by your very own inherently hypocritical logic. The very same philosophy that your pretend bookstore owning friend used to ensure books that the customer doesn’t like is on the shelf also allows her to pull it off of they decide to agree with the offended customer. Clearly you have a very surface level understanding of the concept of freedom of the press and should think about it more deeply.

  96. says

    Why is, “We refuse to publish this.”, also not a “free expression of ideas”, aka, “free speech”?

    Because by now their idea of “Freedom of Speech” is that the most horrible people aren’t just entitled to all the platforms, but also that everybody has to listen to them, and that nobody is allowed to say anything against those people, lest you become the love child of Stalin, Hitler and Satan.
    Seriously, remember how Rebecca Watson was attacked for saying that she would no longer buy or recommend Dawkins’ books? And how people are currently basically oppressing poor hapless billionaire JK Rowling by not spending the money they earned on minimum wage to buy her books?

  97. Louis says

    I tell you, that poor Jordan Peterson bloke is so effectively silenced I’ve never heard of any of his ideas, never found a single book of his (because he obviously cannot publish them anywhere) in any bookshop, never seen him on TV, never seen him be interviewed by prominent interviewers, never heard comedians laud/mock him/his ideas, never read an article about him or his ideas in print or online, never read a comments thread about him or his ideas, never heard from anyone about him or his ideas, never been able to subscribe to any form of newsletter about him or his ideas, never heard a podcast about him or his ideas, never seen anyone with a tattoo of his face or ideas on them, never seen him hold down an academic position where he can teach his ideas to anyone, and absolutely, positively never seen anything about him or his ideas if I type his name into google or other prominent search engines.

    It must be incredibly tough for this person I have never heard anything about to be so effectively silenced. Frankly, it’s bloody Orwellian how effectively silenced he is. I wish someone would remove him from Room 101 where he is obviously being silenced by oppressive, omnipotent SJW publishing workers (who obviously control everything including his ability to be published in any medium anywhere for all time because an enormous, global publishing industry that has outlets which serve every conceivable ideology or whim doesn’t exist). It’s like he’s screaming into a void and no noise is coming out, he’s an unperson, a phantasm, who even knows what he thinks?

    Louis

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