“Were we asleep? The answer is yeah!” Jordan Peterson, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, said in an interview with The Epoch Times. “You fall asleep when things are too good for too long. It’s time to wake up, man.”
To Jordan Peterson, identity politics and hostility toward Judeo-Christian ethics in the humanities signify a fundamental subversion of Western Civilization and a rebranding of out-of-vogue communist doctrines in college classrooms. Modern progressive activism threatens the well-being of the developed world, as far as Peterson is concerned, given communism’s disastrous track record for community organization during the 20th century.
“For all its faults, which are manifold, the West has served as a shining beacon of hope to those destined to inhabit places too chaotic or too rigid for the human spirit to tolerate,” Peterson said in a video from Dec. 2016, desperately espousing pieces from his lectures on Jungian archetypes and gradually succumbing to tears. “But the West is in grave danger of losing its way. The negative consequences of this can hardly be overstated.”
Since he released his initial charges against Canadian Bill C-16 in November 2016, Peterson’s fanbase has grown to 300,000 Twitter followers and half a million YouTube subscribers who provide him with approximately $60,000 a month. The higher education community is divided between student and professor activists who accuse him of demagoguery and dog-whistling to the alt-right and libertarian student groups requesting his presence to speak on campus.
For the latter group, he has become something of a free speech martyr. On Nov. 17, a Global News published leaked recording of a conversation between graduate student Lindsay Shepherd and her faculty superiors at Wilfred Laurier University. The recording plays back a meeting where the university faculty try to discourage Shepherd from demonstrating Peterson’s argument against Bill C-16 as well as accuse him of affiliation with the alt-right.
As fringe members of society and political discourse, self-avowed alt-right members like Jared Taylor and Richard Spencer are easy to condemn. Neither left-wingers nor right-wingers, nor Peterson himself, hesitate to disregard their worldviews and protest their speaking events. But other than that, their worldviews are difficult to reconcile. Where the threshold of acceptable politics and speech begins is vastly different for these two political groups.
For conservatives, acceptable speech begins at the championing of enlightenment, traditional and entrepreneurial values, characterized by the writings of Edmund Burke, Adam Smith and Thomas Hobbes, the same views held by Peterson’s self-claimed “classical English liberalism.” In conservatism’s heyday of the 1950s and McCarthyism, subversion of these values was not tolerated in universities.
But these values, when propagated by their most vocal adherents, approach hate speech for progressives, since traditional ethics dictate that there are indeed only two genders and the United States is a free enough where your placement on the socio-economic ladder roughly reflects your hard work.
Acceptable speech for modern progressives begins with the reformation of an intrinsically oppressive society, where human values are subjugated to market interests and Western capitalism and colonialism are inescapable.
But in Jordan Peterson’s free speech crusade, freedom to say unpopular things is superior to a state-sanctioned suppression of free expression.
The moral landscapes occupied by conservatives and progressives are as real and trenchant as physical landscapes. If you believe your prosperous civilization is in decline, you are going to act differently than if you believe it is fundamentally a white supremacist heteropatriarchal neo-colonial quasi-fascist state. Likewise, your beliefs portray the opposing group, whether disciples of Peterson or Noam Chomsky, as existential threats.
This cultural paradigm becomes even more irrevocable when agent provocateurs from each side make a career of trolling their adversaries rather than, in good faith, engage them in a rational forum. And when it comes time for voting day, you’re going to cast your ballot for the politician promising to be the savior of your crusade, the pretext for each of history’s most grizzly tyrants and terminations of democracy.
In the 14 months since Jordan Peterson published his video series “Professor against political correctness,” the outspoken critic of the “radical, neo-Marxist vanguard” looks tired. He knows he’s losing face in the dominant progressive campus climate. But he is right; it’s time for us to wake up, and engage in a civil debate in search of truth and a more just society, but hopefully with a clearer head than Peterson, and his ad hominem detractors, can muster at this moment.