Re: Jordan B. Peterson @ Queen’s

Benjamin Swan
Mar 5, 2018 · 3 min read

Since reading about Jordan B Peterson’s visit to Western University, where he was received enthusiastically probably a year ago, I knew a visit to my alma mater would be inevitable. And I’d like to add my voice to those opposed to him, because it’s not the pro-Peterson types who are systemically denied a platform. When NYT columnists such as David Brooks cast Peterson as one of the foremost active western intellectuals, I highly doubt that’s the case.

Fans of Peterson’s work tend to argue that his controversial ideas are benign, and that his work broadly addresses the experiences of disaffected young men. They’ll tell you to engage with him directly, to point out where exactly he veers into dangerous territory and why they shouldn’t take direction from him. I get the impulse, but I don’t necessarily think to rationally oppose Peterson one must pick apart his ideas. Peterson emerged by latching onto the resurgent anti-PC movement; he refused to use certain pronouns in the classroom and was outspoken against Bill C-16. His reputation was burnished when a Wilfrid Laurier TA got in shit for showing his youtube videos in a first-year comms class. Whatever else he offers, his respected status as a professor and the context in which he emerged give cover and legitimacy to the nascent bigoted views you see upvoted on reddit and promoted by the Alt-right.

It’s easy enough to dismiss Peterson for his use of pronouns or some of his more peculiar views on society (for instance, his response to the #MeToomovement was “we are going to soon remember why sex was traditionally enshrined in marriage,” which, to start, assumes marital rape doesn’t exist). But rather than cherry pick from his tweets or videos, I want to briefly focus on the reality that Peterson has demonstrable appeal to alienated young men (and apparently Queen’s law students disillusioned by perceived excesses in the views of their progressive counterparts). Peterson profits by speaking to people’s basic impulses in a heteronormative, Western-centric society and, crucially, doing so as a tenured professor with some command of intellectual ideas such as post-modernism and Marxism. He can advocate a return to outdated, traditional roles of women in the workforce and reject the concept of white privilege because his ideas seemingly square with the lived experiences of folks in his audience. Of course, decades of scholarship have lent nuance to how established power structures can propagate gender-based and racial discrimination, but Peterson conveniently refuses to critically engage with concepts that threaten the worldview he’s built his six figure Patreon on.

One of Peterson’s main mantras is “personal responsibility,” and I’d encourage him and his acolytes to take their own advice in interpreting the world– to question their predispositions and appreciate the world’s complexity and incongruities. It’s easy to want to act as a bulwark against “cultural Marxism,” against an authoritarianism stemming from feminism and English lit. or gender studies departments run amok, but it shouldn’t be satisfying.

Many others have been much more successful in expressing their opposition to JBP. See the following articles:

Important insight into the perspective of a transwoman: https://www.vice.com/…/for-trans-folks-free-speech-can-be-s…

A rigorous critique of Peterson’s sociology: https://thebaffler.com/latest/peterson-ganz-klein

The Guardian on how conspiracy factors into Peterson’s views: https://www.theguardian.com/…/how-dangerous-is-jordan-b-pet…

I graduated almost two years ago and moved out of Kingston. If you took the time to read this and are in the area tomorrow, I’d encourage you to silently protest in or outside the venue. He may be permitted to speak on campus, but it’s important to let it be known that some of us see through his bullshit. Thanks.