Some Thoughts on Gender, Free Speech and the Ethics of Public Discourse

Sean Smith
Nov 17, 2016 · 23 min read

Sean M. Smith
PhD Candidate, Department of Philosophy
University of Toronto

The following is an attempt to respond to the current controversy at the University of Toronto surrounding Professor Jordan Peterson’s remarks about gender pronouns and freedom of speech. My argument will be that the concerns raised by Professor Peterson are ill-formed, poorly argued, paranoid, and not worthy of the current level of attention they have been receiving.

1. Preliminaries

I am a cisgender white man. Thus, you might be thinking, ‘Oh great, just what we need, another cisgender white-man with an opinion on a subject that does not concern him.’ I share this concern. It is important to foreground the voices of trans people in discussions about trans people. However, there is an entrenched perception in Peterson and his followers that disagreeing with him is basically equivalent of being a radical left-wing ideologue and that trans activists are radical left-wing ideologues and that being a radical left-wing ideologue is bad.

I am not a trans person and I am pretty sure I am not a radical left-wing ideologue (though perhaps others might characterize me in this way, I don’t know). But I disagree with Peterson on many fronts. Thus, I submit that the voices of those who enjoy the same kinds of privileges as Peterson (like me, for example), articulating the depth of his intellectual failure on these matters, can be an important form of ally-ship. But whether or not this is so is not for me to decide. I leave such determinations to those in the trans community.

Additionally, I also wish to offer some specific subject-relative reasons as to why I might have something to offer in this current discussion. I am a PhD candidate in the philosophy department at the University of Toronto. My research focuses on the biological basis of subjectivity, including the conceptual foundations of affective neuroscience, philosophy of mind and cognitive science. I have also had the opportunity to work with many non-binary children over the last several years. I cannot go into more detail because I do not wish to risk their safety. The fact that this is an actual concern should cause any morally serious person to pause. Thus I take sides in this dispute as a professional intellectual in training and as a concerned citizen who has worked closely with a small part of the trans-community over the last few years.

During the recent television panel hosted by Steve Paikin on The Agenda[1], there was a brief discussion about whether or not it is ethical or even rational to engage in a debate about trans individuals being protected by our human rights laws. Let me state at the outset that I have a lot of sympathy for the view that even to have this debate is to legitimize a position that lacks coherence or an awareness of the relevant facts. My reasons for this sympathy are the following: There have been credible death-threats against members of the trans community since this controversy has gained popular media attention. The University of Toronto sent out an official warning about these threats some weeks ago. Peterson seems heedless of the fact that lives are on the line right now. Thus, I enter this discussion with some trepidation as it is not my intention to further inflame an entrenched dispute that has the potential to cause harm or cost lives.

Additionally, I also believe that there is a powerful structural analogy between this case with gender pronouns on campus and the case where one might see it as necessary or reasonable to have debates about the equality of various ethnic groups. Because I think this latter debate is absurd, I am also inclined to think the current debate is absurd. Obviously Peterson and his supporters would deny the analogy. I won’t argue for it here. The point is that thinking that Peterson should stop talking and go away does not entail that one is an enemy of free speech. It might just entail that one thinks the lives of trans people in our University and the wider world are more important than the conspiracy theories of one Professor. Nevertheless, since the matter is now in the national spotlight, the need for a sustained critique is necessary. The preoccupations of public consciousness are a matter of raw democratic consensus, and the consensus seems to be that this issue is worthy of discussion.

Here is the problem as I currently understand it: Peterson and his followers think they are being, or in the future may be, forced to say certain words by the law and that this is a violation of their free-speech. Such words include ‘they’ or ‘zhe’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’. Peterson objects to these sorts of requests on two grounds.

First, Peterson claims that he doesn’t understand what it means to occupy a gender identity if one isn’t either a man or a woman. That is, he recognizes only ‘man’ and ‘woman’ as the available options for gender identity. He has stated this position explicitly, though confusedly, in a YouTube video (quoted at length below). The second objection is that current proposed legislation on these matters constitutes a violation of freedom of speech.

I begin my critical discussion with Peterson’s remarks on gender and sex because these are where his poor argumentation is most salient (section 2). Once I have shown why I think his arguments betray an incoherent and poorly articulated view of the matter, I will move on to an assessment of the political issue of legislating on matters of gender identity and gender expression (section 3). I will then conclude with some reflections on the moral responsibility of tenured Professors to reason well in public discourse and how Peterson is, in my view, failing utterly to live up to that obligation.

2. On Gender and Sex

Bill C-16 and the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal defines gender identity and gender expression as “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”.[2] This definition is helpful because it asks us to focus on the fact that in addition to being biological organisms with a certain evolved physiology, we are psychological subjects who experience our embodied gender first-personally and project that experience outwards second-personally through communicative and otherwise social behavior.

Let’s consider Peterson’s reasons for rejecting this definition (this comes from the aforementioned video):

“I don’t know what ‘neither’ means because I don’t know what the options are if you’re not a man or a woman. It’s not obvious to me how you can be both because those are by definition binary categories. There’s an idea that there’s a gender spectrum but I don’t think that that’s a valid idea.”

It is really important that we recognize that this is not an argument. A proposition’s not being obviously true to Jordan Peterson does not entail that the proposition is false. In particular, no positive argument is offered for the view that the categories of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ (which I take him to be referring to by his usage of the word ‘those’), are ‘by definition binary categories’. Peterson needs to make such an argument because there is positive evidence suggesting that those categories are not a binary. The existence of an entire sub-population of our culture telling us, in no uncertain terms, that they exist, is prima facie, good evidence for the view that it is possible to be both a man and a woman. Verbal report is a good starting point for positive evidence and should only be disavowed if there is an argument or evidence that explicitly gives us reason to do so. Thus, if Peterson wants to claim that ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are binary categories, he needs to offer an argument to support the view that these categories constitute a mutually exclusive non-overlapping binary such that an individual cannot be a member of both categories at the same time (or neither for that matter). It is not enough to simply assert that this is the case.

Peterson does attempt to argue in favor of the view that there is no gender spectrum by arguing that there is no sexual spectrum. His attempt to argue for this view is embodied in the following remarks:

“I don’t think there’s any evidence for it [a gender spectrum]. Biological sexuality is ancient, it’s hundreds of millions of years old and it’s binary because there’s two forms of biological sex.”

Three points need to be made here. First, it is false that there are two forms of biological sex. There are intersex persons and animals. They exist. Peterson claims that they are so vanishingly rare that society cannot take them into account in passing laws. Assuming his quantitative analysis is true, it’s not clear that there being a very small number of persons entails that society cannot or should not enact laws to protect them from discrimination. Indeed, to claim that a population’s being small is reason to not legally protect its members from discrimination is moral heinousness in the extreme. What possible reasoning could animate such a sentiment? If Peterson thinks this is a good inference to make, he needs to say why.

Further, Peterson’s quantitative analysis is wrong. There are more intersex beings than you think: 1 in 1600 people are born with atypical genital configurations at birth. At the level of chromosomes, it’s more complicated because there are multiple configurations outside of the XX and XY configurations and about 1 in 1000 individuals have an atypical chromosomal configuration.[3] A further question therefore needs answering here; namely, how do we individuate beings on the basis of sex? One might say that we do so on the basis of chromosomes, others might say that we do so on the basis of cardinal traits manifest at the level of developed physiology (visually manifest gonad configuration at birth, for example). Perhaps it is some mix of the two. Regardless, the matter of individuating beings on the basis of biological sex is no easy matter and is hardly straightforward. Because of this, some people have claimed that ‘there is no such thing as biological sex’. I’m not sure what to make of this claim and so I take no position on it. Whatever one’s position is on this controversial view that there is no biological sex, it’s not necessary to endorse it if you wish to argue against someone like Peterson.What needs to be recognized is that there is in fact a sexual spectrum.

I suspect that much of the entrenchment on this issue comes from essentialist thinking that denies the reality of positions along the spectrum between its binary ends on the one hand, and from thinking that the existence of non-binary positions means that the binary is somehow an illusory, or a problematic social construction (whatever that ends up meaning), on the other.

There being a spectrum of options at the level of biological sex or at the level of gender (I will provide some analysis of what I take this distinction to amount to below), does not entail that those more defined options at each end of a spectrum are somehow fake, illusory or socially constructed. But the opposite is also true. Just because there are fewer beings who fall between the binary poles of a spectrum, and that the spectrum is in some way defined by the values at each of its ends, does not mean that those who fall between those ends do not exist or are somehow confused about who or what they are. Someone is non-binary precisely because there is a binary with respect to which their identity is not fully defined. So also, someone is a man or a woman, a male or a female because there are beings on the other end of that spectrum and at places in the middle as well. The existence of one does not problematize but rather supports the existence of the other.

Second, Peterson is correct when he asserts that biological sexuality is ancient. However, this does not prove anything about the subject matter one way or the other. The fact that humans have reproduced via bi-sexual reproduction for a long time does not mean that there are not intersex people or entail that there is no gender spectrum.[4] The issue of temporal scale is irrelevant, especially considering there is no positive claim here about how these facts bear on the question of gender. What non-arbitrary criterion could be offered to say when sufficient ancientness has been achieved to warrant admission into the canon of objective scientific reality? It seems no principled positive answer is forthcoming to this question. It is also worth noting that gender fluidity is also ancient. There are documented traditions in India, Kenya, Iran, Western Europe, various Native communities, the list goes on.

Third, even if we granted that there are only two forms of biological sex, it would not follow that there are only two genders. Gender is something that is defined primarily in terms of experience, appearance and behavior. Even if you deny that this is how we define gender, what we are talking about when we legislate on these matters is about people’s psychological capacity to experience and communicate their identity in a way that is not determined by their biology. Call it gender or whatever you want, the point is that we need to understand the phenomenon — namely, this capacity — with descriptive language that sufficiently articulates its nature, rather than deny or erase it. Whether you call it ‘gender’ or something else is not the point. The issue is that there are experiential and behavioral aspects to being a man or a woman or non-binary, that cannot be exhaustively accounted for in terms of either the organism’s chromosomal configuration or the physical features of its body.

In a recent interview on The Agenda Peterson acknowledged that he would refer to a trans-woman as ‘she’. So he has no problem using someone’s preferred or correct pronoun, even when it doesn’t coincide with the chromosomal configuration or physical features traditionally associated with it. Note, I am here assuming that insofar as someone identifies as ‘trans’ that their gender identity is somehow different from their assigned sex at birth. If Peterson is willing to make this concession, then why not refer to non-binary trans person as ‘they’? Of course, Peterson thinks he is being forced to do so by the government or that he might be in the future and so objects to the vocabulary usage on the grounds of freedom of speech (see section 3). However, outside of the political reasons that Peterson espouses, there is no scientific or biological reason to refuse to refer to someone with their preferred pronouns.

It is true that Peterson does say that he doesn’t know what it means to have a gender if it’s not a man or a woman. But then he admits that there are non-binary people (more on this below). Are they all systematically confused or ill? If Peterson thinks so, he should say so. He offers no reasoning or evidence to explain his positive position on the relationship of gender and personal identity. Perhaps he doesn’t haven’t one. For example, he claims that:

“Now of course this [read: the existence of non-binary gender identities] is predicated on the idea that your gender is somehow independent from your biological sex but that’s a proposition not a fact and even if it’s true, even if it in some manner was determined to be true, it is certainly not determined to be true to that degree now and certainly not to the degree that it should be instantiated in law [sic]”

Additionally, he also claims the following:

“And then there’s another modification which is gender expression which is something different from gender identity so I guess there’s biological sex and then on top of that there’s gender identity which is separate they’re not even correlated or they don’t bear one or any relationship to one another”

First, what does ‘independence’ mean? I suspect that Peterson means to deny that there is independent variability between gender identity and expression and biological sexuality where ‘independent variability’ means roughly that if there is a change in one variable, then there may be no change in the other and vice versa. By contrast, if x and y do not vary independently, then if there is some change in x, there will be a corresponding change in y, and vice versa.

The problem with denying the possibility of independent variation between biological sex and gender identity and expression is that Peterson thinks it excuses him from the accusation that he is denying that transgender people exist. In a short video preempting a teach-in to protest his remarks, Peterson claims that,

“I don’t disbelieve in the existence of non-binary people, okay, do you want me to say that again? [sic] Obviously people who don’t fit into standard binary categories of sexual identity [sic], however you decide to construe that. Obviously those people exist. I never said they didn’t exist. What I said instead was that biological sex, gender identity and gender expression don’t vary independently.”

Well, if ‘vary independently’ means what I think it does, then being transgender means exactly that your gender identity does vary independently of your biological sex. That is precisely because what it means to be transgender; that is, it is for your gender psychology to be somehow different from your biological sexuality.

Notice also, his pretentious and dismissive tone in suggesting that anyone who thinks that he meant something more reductive wasn’t paying enough attention. This isn’t warranted. There is a genuine question here about what he is actually trying to say. Interpreting him as denying the existence of non-binary individuals is completely reasonable given the fact that he has claimed that, ‘I don’t know what the options are if you are not a man or a woman’. When you say that there are only two options for gender identity and that non-binary people exist, either you are contradicting yourself, or you are saying that non-binary people exist, and they exist in a systematic self-deceptive error about their identity. Specifically, they are in error about what their gender identity is. It’s not clear what Peterson is actually saying here. In particular, even if some version of the ‘no independent variability thesis’ is true, we can still make a meaningful non-arbitrary distinction between an organism’s physiology on the one hand and its experience and behavior on the other. I am inclined to read Peterson as being committed to the view that non-binary folks are ill, confused, or self-deceived. My reason is that he seems to be committed to the view that there are only two viable gender identities (‘man’ and ‘woman’/’male’ and ‘female) and that non-binary people exist. Since non-binary people do not believe they are ‘men’ or ‘women’, it seems to follow that non-binary people are somehow in error about their identities.

Additionally, Peterson’s rhetoric construes the transgender position as committed to the view that gender and sex ‘don’t bear one or any relationship to one another’. It’s not clear that this is a charitable reading of the position. A more charitable and commonsensical reading would be that in many cases biological sex influences sociological conditioning, which influences gender identity. Every gendered human being is also an organism and every organism has a sexual physiology that we can analyze with the instruments of science. That’s not the point. The point is that one’s psychological sense of their own embodied gender can vary with their biological organization and that we should not be prejudiced towards these people (see section 3 for a discussion of the legal and ethical aspects of this issue).

One way to get a grip on this is to recognize that when we gender people with pronouns, we do not ask to see their genitals. We refer to people with gender pronouns on the basis of appearance, behavior, and verbal communication. Peterson might double down on his position by claiming that actually gender pronouns refer to persons primarily because of biological rather than psychological and behavior facts and that if we were to find out someone who looks like a woman has a penis, then we should call them ‘he’. Yet, Peterson seems to deny this position when he says that he would happily refer to a transwoman as ‘she’ (this happened on the Agenda). Thus, by his own lights, it seems that we are able to meaningfully refer to people with gender pronouns in the absence of what we know about their physiology. Indeed, many religious people think that God is male even though He has no physiology. Thus, according to Peterson, we should refer to a trans person who looks like they fit into the gender binary, using the pronoun that matches that appearance. This is, again, why I am inclined to read Peterson’s denial of non-binary gender options with the affirmation of the existence of non-binary people as entailing a claim that all non-binary people are confused.

If my interpretation is correct, then it needs to be stated that it is massively implausible that non-binary people are confused about something with which they are more closely acquainted than anyone else. It would be like saying someone is confused as to whether they are feeling pain. I would take such a position to be self-defeating. But, the truth of the matter, is that Peterson has been unclear about what his position is.

From what I can tell, what Peterson is concerned about is advertence to social construction and that doing so without nuance can lead to problematic nihilism. That something is socially constructed does not entail that it is illusion. It just means that what constitutes it cannot be fully defined without adverting to its embeddedness in a socio-cultural milieu. In trying to avoid the over-extension of social construction to deny the reality of some phenomena — x is socially constructed, therefore, there is no such thing as x — we must avoid biological essentialism. That is, in avoiding the kind of nihilism that can come by over-extending our concept of social construction, we must not lapse into a view that reifies scientific categories and natural kinds in ways that do not allow us to integrate and accommodate individuals who do not neatly fall into our categories. I think Peterson, in trying to avoid the first horn of the dilemma, falls victim to the second.

3. On the Law

In this section of the paper, I will explore a few related issues. The first is the scope of application of the new law Bill C-16. The second is the conspiratorial tone of Peterson’s accusation against what he calls the ‘leftist fringe’. Thirdly, I want to offer a few remarks on the relation between freedom of speech and other important aspects of human rights.

There is a dispute about what the law will actually entail. Peterson is of the view that it will be a crime for him to not use non-binary pronouns and that this is a step too far for the government to take. He makes a strong distinction between saying that certain words are not allowed to be used and that certain words have to be used. For Peterson, the former option is an acceptable limit on free speech, the latter is not. There are two ways to argue against this position. One can accept Peterson’s interpretation of the law and deny that mandating language use — in this case, gender neutral pronouns — constitutes a problematic infringing upon freedom of speech. By contrast, one might dispute his interpretation of the law. For the purposes of this paper, I am going to grant that if Peterson’s interpretation of the law is accurate, then the law will constitute a problematic violation of freedom of speech. Thus, I will argue that Peterson’s interpretation of the law is false.

The law has a very limited scope of application. The law is adding gender identity to the canon of groups already protected from people actively calling for their genocide. So, you are not allowed to call for the extermination of groups of people on the basis of sexual orientation, race, religion, and now gender. Secondly, if you are already convicted of a crime against a person and it is found that your intent was animated by a prejudicial attitude towards your victim on account of their being a member of a protected group, then your prejudicial intent would constitute an aggravating circumstance that would be relevant to the determination of your punishment. Third, if you face discrimination or harassment in the workplace on the basis of your gender identity, then you now have recourse to the human rights tribunal of Ontario. This last piece is the one with which Peterson takes issue.

During a recent panel discussion on the Agenda, the legal scholar Kyle Kirkup did a very good job of describing the scope of the law’s force of application. The important point here is that nowhere does the law state that one must use pronouns of a certain sort. It is true that pronoun usage is part of the way that gender identity is defined by the tribunal and that gender identity is something one can file a complaint about with the tribunal. But that is not the same as the claim that one must use pronouns of a certain sort to refer to an individual. The new law does not criminalize the refusal to use certain words. Peterson has had this explained to him numerous times by legal experts, but he persists in ignoring or dismissing these facts as disingenuous distortions of the more fundamental worry.[5] This is irresponsible behavior.

If one does not think ‘they’ is an appropriate way to refer to a non-binary person, then one need not use ‘they’. If someone asks you not to call them ‘he’ or ‘she’, then just refer to them by their name. It’s really not that hard. Instead of saying ‘She has requested gender-neutral pronouns and I won’t use them’ you might say ‘(First Name Last Name) has requested gender-neutral pronouns and I won’t use them.’ There is no need to call someone ‘they’. It is perfectly plausible to think of the pronoun issue in completely negative terms (similar to words like the n-word). The law doesn’t demand it of anyone that they use certain words. But if someone tells you that ‘he’ or ‘she’ do not apply to them, then you should not refer to them with those words. If that is the case, then just use their name when referring to them in the third-person singular. Personally speaking, I do not see the issue and would be happy to address someone with the pronouns they request. But for those who are not comfortable, there are practical ways around this issue. Though, given my considerations here, one might reflect on how principled their objections really are.

I think that there is a confusion in play about the difference between legal and professional consequence in Peterson’s worries. If Peterson is asked by a student of his to refer with a non-binary pronoun and he refuses and continues to call them ‘he’ or ‘she’, he will be in violation of the University’s human right’s policy. He will however, face no legal consequences whatsoever. He, of course, has every right to complain about the University’s HR policies, but that is not the same as claiming that the government is impinging upon his free-speech. Peterson may face professional discipline for his behavior, but he will not face legal consequences because these latter consequences do not fall within the scope of the law.

I suspect that the main reason that Peterson has been ignoring the claims of legal experts is that he sees proponents of this new Bill and other ‘social justice warriors’ as members of a kind of Neo-Marxist conspiracy that is poised to destroy our freedom. Indeed, Peterson has gone so far as to refer to his opponents as “a coterie of left-wing ideologues.” This kind of broad-strokes rhetorical flourish, while exciting, is hardly accurate. It construes the motivations of his opponents in an overly restrictive way that ignores the fight that trans people are engaged in to have equal access to resources in our society. Peterson’s persistent claims about his opponents being ideologically motivated in some problematic way is also based on a dubious claim that there is some kind of ultra-left conspiracy. It also functions as a problematic premise in an argument used to dismiss the expertise of legal experts and law-makers.

The following must be stated here in no uncertain terms: No arguments or evidence of any kind have yet been offered to substantiate the claim that there is a cabal of radicalized leftist political operatives who are scheming, under the guidance of Neo-Marxist principles (whatever that means, and whatever those are), to destroy our freedom. The fact that such a claim needs to be stated is ridiculous.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and Peterson has offered none. Therefore, I continue to see this kind of rhetoric as a gross non-sequitur that is absurd and inflammatory. Without decisive arguments and evidence that demonstrate the truth of such claims, I am forced to conclude that the proponent of such a view has abandoned the normal standards for providing evidence when attempting to engage rationally with an interlocutor. In the philosophical jargon, such a person has departed from the logical space of reasons. If you need further evidence of this, then watch Peterson’s first video where he suggests that part of the reason that the Neo-Marxist “cabal” has gained influence over the government’s drafting of law is because the Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, is a lesbian. The utter absurdity of such remarks should be considered very carefully when evaluating the coherence of Peterson’s position.

At this juncture, I want to briefly offer an alternative perspective on what is important in this discussion. Peterson has made it clear that for him the issue is free speech and that changes in the way we talk and refer to persons need to come at a pace that is ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ (whatever that means). Here is a reason for thinking that changing the way we use words to refer to persons is a good and natural thing to do here and now: people are dying. According to some recent stats, 43% of trans-individuals have attempted suicide.[6] I think that a good principle for trying to draft protective laws for groups of individuals would be how quickly are they dying relative to other groups in society. In the case of trans individuals, it is clear that there is a deadly crisis that is costing lives. At least part of the reason this is so is that trans persons are not recognized and on many levels are actively excluded by society.

To persistently construe this conflict exclusively in terms of free speech and to dismiss objections as radical leftist ‘sexual politics’ is morally irresponsible and self-obsessed, betraying Peterson’s thoughtless and paranoid privilege. Any familiarity with the case law regarding this matter would make that clear to anyone. No one is empowered by the law to legally reprimand anyone for not using gender neutral pronouns. Yet trans people still struggle for respect and equitable access to resources in our society. By continually construing the objections of the trans-community as motivated by a murderous political ideology, Peterson continues to erase the legitimate and urgent claims of the trans-community to have equal opportunity and access to all the resources our society has to offer. If Peterson is truly convinced of these shady political motivations, then he needs to demonstrate this is plausible with argument and evidence. That people disagree with him is not evidence of that. Peterson has a disturbing tendency to construe his opponents as enemies of free-speech. That’s just not a rational claim. There is a difference between being against free-speech and being against the uninformed views of Jordan Peterson.

4. Conclusion: On the Ethics of Public Discourse and Arguing Well

I believe that Jordan Peterson has lowered the standards of discourse at the University of Toronto. In his free-speech rally in front of Sidney Smith Hall he said that he has received many messages from his friends and colleagues saying that he has put forth poorly formulated arguments. He actually agrees with this and asserts that he should be allowed to make bad arguments because if he isn’t then this is the first-step towards totalitarianism and the destruction of freedom. This is hyperbolic and ridiculous. Of course Peterson should be ‘allowed’ to make bad arguments, insofar as the scope of that term is understood in the widest legal sense. But from the narrower scope of professional intellectual commerce, the distortions of fact and logic on which his arguments rest are absurd and beneath the dignity and privilege of Peterson’s Professorial position at the University. I am amazed at how seriously his views have been taken by anyone, especially the University’s administration.

When your colleagues tell you that you have made bad arguments, when legal experts have told you that you do not understand the law, when gender experts tell you that you have a defective understanding of gender and sex, the rational response is to re-think your position. Peterson’s response is to make more YouTube videos.

If Peterson were interested in rigour and precision, he would write a paper and listen to the feedback he gets from his colleagues. He would offer arguments and evidence for his views. He would cite sources and explain why his interpretation of those sources ought to be believed. He would listen to experts from their respective fields. That is how a responsible Professor or student carries themselves in a rigorous intellectual community like a university. Peterson has done none of these things and that is why I think he is being irresponsible and negligent.

Peterson prefers to pontificate on the internet and get himself onto every television show that will have him. For this he should be ashamed. For this the University should be embarrassed. For this, I remain disgusted. I therefore conclude that providing Peterson with an official stage is not a celebration of free speech, it is a lowering of the rightfully high standards of discourse at one of the world’s best universities.

For all that, the powers that be decided that on Saturday Nov. 19, there will be Forum discussion on the matter.[7] For all my criticisms of Peterson’s arguments, I acknowledge that he is a skilled public speaker who knows how to use the rhetoric of the moral highroad to leverage his position in public discourse. I wish Professors Bryson and Cossman all the best for that discussion, I am sure they are up for the challenge.

[1] Aired Oct. 26, 2016



[4] When I use the term ‘bi-sexual’ here, I am not referring to sexual preference but to the fact that humans and other mammals have tended to reproduce via sexual intercourse between male and female members of the species.

[5] For a succinct summary from a legal expert, see the following:




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