Who doesn’t know Jordan Peterson? Indeed, who doesn’t?
The Canadian academic is today a global icon, having been almost “accidentally” catapulted to international stardom, during a famous episode of what some may call “political incorrectness” that caught the fascination of a lot of people. The episode is best summarized in this entry in Wikipedia:
“In 2016, Peterson released a series of YouTube videos criticizing the Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (Bill C-16), passed by the Parliament of Canada to introduce ‘gender identity and expression’ as a prohibited grounds of discrimination.”
For a lot of people, the proposed Canadian legislation was not something they would have even thought of opposing. After all, to be pro this legislation was to be seen as being friendly to the LGBTQ community, which can only be a good thing, right?
Except that in Peterson’s view, it wasn’t.
In its attempt to be LGBTQ-friendly, Peterson argued that this “appeasement” move actually infringed on the right of all Canadians to “freedom of expression.” The proposed legislation would effectively force them to use the chosen pronouns of individuals, irrespective of their gender at birth. What was anti-discriminatory for the government was, to Peterson, discriminatory to a larger class of people whose freedom of speech would now be limited by this law.
The debate on whether Peterson was right or wrong, of course, still rages on. To some quarters, he is an enemy of liberal thought and is even hailed by extreme right elements in the United States and elsewhere as their champion and spokesperson, something that Peterson himself strongly eschews. But this is not the point for my writing this piece.
The reason why I think people like Peterson have a place today is that the world can be, at times, too “woke” to a fault. Herd mentality is not, after all, the exclusive domain of the right.
The liberals and the left too can be prone to unquestioning behavior and to supporting causes and ideas that may actually be not as good as they first seem. Many have tried to be a voice of reason amid what has sometimes been the excessive “wokeness” that seems quite fashionable today, but not many have succeeded and even ended up being “cancelled.” Peterson’s success, in large part, has been due to his ability to disagree without necessarily being disagreeable and indeed without seeming to be a mouthpiece for the rabidly conservative.
Peterson is erudite, to be sure. And in the marketplace of ideas, knowing your subject matter well can only be a good thing. Spanning the fields of history, anthropology, political science and psychology, the man is perfectly at ease in explaining himself and his beliefs.
And he is also extremely articulate in propagating his thoughts and beliefs, in a way that does not attack personally those on the opposite side of the argument.
His approach is timely, in large part because we have seen so many conflicts of late explode into bigger conflagrations, as opposing sides conflate ideas with personalities. One only has to look at the rise of populist regimes around the world and their consequence on the free exchange of thought, to see what I mean.
Issues like vaccines, for example, have become less of a scientific than a personal matter. And politics, in themselves have become more identified with the politicians, and less with the ideology. One only has to look at “the party of Abraham Lincoln,” to see how ideas and personalities have merged into one confusing morass.
Not everyone may agree with Jordan Peterson’s ideas, but not many will disagree with what he thinks, based simply on his character and his personality. Their opposition will be more with his thoughts and viewpoints and not how he articulates and expresses them.
And so, if only for this reason alone, can we have more Jordan Petersons, please?