Professor Jordan B. Peterson has made headlines all over Canada for the past couple months. He is in a dogfight for freedom of speech against what he calls the unreasonable demands of “radical left ideologues” at the University of Toronto (U of T) where he teaches and across Canada where gay activists exert an excessive and ultimately harmful influence over elite institutions and the political class.
Peterson is uniquely qualified to take on the gender police at his university and in the provincial legislature and national parliament. At U of T, Peterson is a distinguished and widely published clinical psychologist and a tenured professor of psychology who has been teaching there since 1998. He has done extensive research in the psychology of political ideology and the psychology of religion. Unlike a great many professors in our highly secularized universities, Peterson is very much aware of the devastating consequences that follow from the eradication of religion. Indeed, his research and work as a clinician has made him acutely aware of the destructive ramifications caused by the abolition of religion, not only on society at large but also at the individual and personal level. This is something that is largely misunderstood and trivialized by the so-called new atheists. Many of his insights are quite valuable in understanding the multifaceted challenges we face. His longstanding interest in politics has led to detail studies on how totalitarian regimes and political ideologies destroy civilized life. Thus, one should not be surprised to find Canada’s boldest professor in the thick of controversy, a political firestorm that has raised his public profile because so few have the courage to challenge the political fashions of elite culture.
Canada has one of the most liberal stances on LGBTQ “rights” in the world. In 1969, homosexual acts were finally decriminalized due to legislation first introduced in 1967 by Pierre Trudeau, then justice minister and attorney general (who would become the fifteenth prime minister of Canada and father of the current prime minister, Justin Trudeau). Pierre Trudeau infamously said at the time: “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” On July 20, 2005, same-sex “marriage” was legalized at the federal level. Efforts to add gender identity and expression to the hate crime provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada moved closer to reality on October 18, 2016 when Bill C-16 passed on second reading in Parliament. Bill C-16 would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to include gender identity and expression as prohibited grounds for discrimination. Critics of Bill C-16 argue that the law can be used as a weapon against unfashionable political speech.
Concerns over Bill C-16
The first thing to note is that the legislation was not passed by conventional democratic means since sponsors of the bill did not allow public hearings. The second point is that the bill has nothing to do with discrimination and everything to do with the suppression of political speech. In response to Bill C-16, Peterson has posted three lectures explaining the various problems with this legislation (they can be found here: 1, 2 and 3). In the first video, he explains that he fears being brought in front of The Human Rights Commission for the things he is saying and teaching, which could be deemed as “hate speech” because of a carelessly and sloppily worded bill. Hate is a notoriously difficult word to define. It is hopelessly vague and could lead to the prosecution of innocent people. Peterson notes that both provincial and federal legislation already cover gender identity and gender expression (see Ontario Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Department of Justice).
He emphasizes that there is an overrepresentation of “social justice warrior” activists within the Ontario government including the premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, an outspoken lesbian and supporter of the LGBTQ community, who may be part of “a sophisticated radical leftist fringe” responsible for this hate crime legislation and the expansion of gender identities increasingly mandated by law. We can see her hand in recent Ontario legislation with Bill 28 expanding the definition of parents beyond “mother” and “father.”
If we just take a look at, for example, how gender identity is defined, we can discern a host of problems. “Gender identity is each person’s internal and individual experience of gender. It is their sense of being a woman, a man, both, neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum.” Peterson states in his video that such an elastic definition of gender has not only been poorly written into legislation but also poorly thought out, which should be a major cause for worry. What is meant by “neither”? How can a human person be neither a man nor a woman? Could this be a reference to otherkins—persons that are not humans? Nonetheless, the denial of male or female is invalid in light of binary biological sex. Where is the evidence for this? Is this a denial of biological sex? Is this in reference to intersex individuals? It is not clear at all. What is meant by both? It seems to be demonstrably incoherent as currently expressed in legislation and vague language makes for very poor law. Peterson states that the separation of gender from one’s biological sex is a proposition and not a fact, one that has next to zero scientific support. The main fear is that bad legislation like this may hinder further scientific discussions on such issues, if not outright prohibit them as “hate speech.”
More than a month has passed since Peterson’s videos on political correctness. U of T has sent him two letters “urging” him to comply with university policies that require faculty to address transgendered students by the pronoun they prefer. Two demonstrations have transpired at the U of T campus where “social justice warriors” assaulted a journalist then lied about the assault. There were also serious attempts to silence Peterson. Peterson had a panel debate on a famous Canadian television show that tackles political issues: The Agenda. A couple of weeks ago Peterson had a debate with two other professors, on the subject of free speech and Bill C-16. The debate resembled more of a witch trial than a legitimate academic debate since Peterson was outnumbered and even the moderator sided against him on several occasions. Unlike his opponents, Peterson presented well-reasoned arguments to defend his position.
In an essay published in the London Catholic Herald, titled “My fight for free speech in Trudeau’s Canada,” Peterson warns our American friends that this is not only endemic to Canada:
Universities in the US are now even organising thought police, in the form of “Bias Response Teams,” which will report on and conduct “impact assessments” when a “bias incident” (which can be “intentional or unintentional”) occurs.
This has gone too far. It must be stopped, before it can’t be.
The upshot is that Peterson refuses to utter gender-neutral pronouns such as ‘thon,’ ‘hiz’ and ‘hizer’, ‘ne’ and ‘nir’, ‘ze’ and ‘zir’, and ‘xe’ and ‘xyr’ as substitutions to standard gender pronouns such as his and hers, him and her, he and she, or even they to refer to individual students: “I won’t mouth the words of ideologues, because when you do that you become a puppet for their ideology,” comparing the changes of the bill to “totalitarian and authoritarian political states.” What is also troubling about legislating people to refer to transgender individuals through gender-neutral pronouns is that there are by some estimations at least 63 differing genders, this would be an impossible feat. Perhaps one designation such as ‘they’ could be a concession but 63? One potential way of simplifying this whole ordeal is to only refer to someone by name, until you know someone’s name perhaps it is best not to assign them a pronoun? But again, this goes against standard societal conventions of how we interact daily with one another, we have evolved certain mechanisms that allow us to recognize when we are interacting with a male or female. At times, this distinction may be vague but for the most part it is quite accurate. Peterson explains, in an article for the Toronto Sun, the unreasonableness behind the law demanding we use such pronouns:
It is simply not reasonable for a stranger—say, a student in one of my classes—to request that I learn, speak and remember a whole set of personal descriptors as a precondition for our interactions. It is certainly not reasonable to demand that I do so—and it is absolutely unreasonable for that demand to have been given the force of law. You don’t get to exercise control over my speech.
The demand for use of preferred pronouns is not an issue of equality, inclusion or respect for others. It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s a purposeful assault on the structure of language. It’s a dangerous incursion into the domain of free speech. It’s narcissistic self-centeredness. It’s part and parcel of the PC madness that threatens to engulf our culture.
The problem is not solely endemic to Canada; indeed, that persecution has already begun in the U.S. as well, for instance the case of Tony Esolen at Providence College, for writing a couple of essays on related issues for Crisis. Michael Rectenwald was asked to go on leave for a misunderstood twitter experiment at NYU and Edward Schlosser (writing under a pseudonym) exemplifies the fear mongering prevalent at the universities with his article: “I’m a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me.” These are just three examples. An important lecture by Gad Saad at the University of Ottawa explains the ever expanding reach of the politically correct thought police across North American university campuses and how this is limiting the free exchange of ideas. Already in New York City, one can be fined for not referring to someone by their preferred pronoun, which was instantiated by the New York City Human Rights Law.
How Can One Respond?
All people of good will want to defend human rights and dignity. Those arguing in favor of Bill C-16 have attempted to argue that this is solely an issue of human rights and that recognizing all peoples’ gender identity and expression will guarantee a respect for their human dignity. However, their demands go beyond questions of human dignity. The bill will most definitely create more disunity than unity. It will most likely have a more alienating effect on transgender people, marginalizing them further than before. Moreover, it also plays into a wrongheaded culture of not only political correctness but of victimology and entitlement. Indeed, many students these days like to play the victim card and have a great sense of entitlement. Moreover, the use of a pronoun is not what truly demonstrates human dignity. It is something demonstrated through love and authentic understanding, something that cannot be legislated. The mere fact this is being legislated is a form of coercion and control, which has no merit when it comes to providing someone with basic human dignity. It simply cannot be forced.
Nevertheless, on another level, it is extremely difficult to see how totalitarian ideologues can seriously be understood as defenders of human freedom and dignity. On what basis? The scientific-materialist presuppositions that they base their worldview on do not guarantee human worth and dignity. Reliance on one’s own autonomy is self-defeating and ultimately dehumanizing since we are no greater than matter in motion. It is ironic to see “social justice warriors” want to defend human rights while simultaneously deprive others of their own fundamental rights. On the other hand, the Judeo-Christian belief system can provide a consistent and coherent basis for human rights and dignity because God is the equalizer and guarantor for all people (whether they believe in God or not) because he created all humanity in his own image.
Unfortunately, often enough, the radical leftists lack philosophical depth and erudition. This is why they are forcing their ideology through fiat as opposed to well-reasoned and tempered argumentation. This is also why debate and discourse are being stifled. Consequently, violence has ensued and uncivilized methods used to silence their critics. This is pure barbarism. We cannot allow this to happen, especially at our institutions of higher learning. Yet, it is precisely university administrators who have kowtowed to the demands of a radical minority. They sacrifice freedom of speech in favor of the faux right to never be offended.
Without acknowledging the existence of truth there can be no debate that leads to genuine human flourishing. Our self-worth does not come from a confused psychological identity crisis but is based on our common dignity, an inalienable value that transcends all socio-cultural impositions. Thus, we all need to act as champions of truth. We must stand against such tyranny at all levels of society regardless of our religious commitments. All who value freedom of speech as a means of resolving disagreement and discovering truth must stand against tyranny by supporting Peterson; you can go here to do so. Peterson in an interview segment on The Rubin Report, eloquently explains through the story of Pinocchio how we can all get involved and be authentic witnesses to truth. Peterson represents a flickering light in an increasingly dark time. If we unify we can turn that flicker into a blazing bright flame for all.
Editor’s note: Canadian readers who would like to sign a petition opposing Bill C-16, which is currently being considered in the senate, may go here. (Photo credit: Steven Leethe / Varsity)