Controversy is about more than pronouns

Gender politics vs. free speech. Professor Jordan Peterson attached over refusal to use politically correct pronouns.

Professor Jordan Peterson attached over refusal to use politically correct pronouns.

University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson regularly releases YouTube videos without causing a stir, but those days are a thing of the past. In early October he released two videos that challenged politically correct orthodoxy and Canada’s human rights regime, calling them threats to freedom of speech. He said that the federal government’s proposed Bill C-16 amending the Criminal Code and human rights laws to include gender identity and gender expression (undefined terms that refer to transgender and transsexual) is a threat to freedom of speech: “All it will do is produce a huge tangle in the legal system and a lot of ill will, and I think most of that will eventually be directed against people who are visibly different.” He also said the University of Toronto’s human resources department mandating its staff to attend a six-part diversity training program was offensive as it presumes the employees are racist and sexist or otherwise biased. He called out university women’s studies departments for pushing an ideology based on victimhood and labeling the entire field of sociology as “corrupted.” He said the modern academy promotes victimhood and resentment while teaching “the political correctness game” as “an alternative to thought.”

Although only a short part of his video addressed the use of non-binary or gender-neutral pronouns – which he refuses to employ because they are “made up words” being foisted upon society for “ideological” reasons – Peterson was immediately labeled a “transphobe” with a media storm denouncing his insensitivity to those who self-identify as transgender. He has explained repeatedly that there is not enough scientific evidence “to make the case that gender identity and biological sexuality are independently varying constructs,” adding “in fact, all the evidence suggests that they’re not independently varying constructs.”

The National Post and The Varsity (a campus paper) quoted physics professor A.W. Peet, who said, “it doesn’t really matter whether he thinks we exist or not because we do. I just wanted to say, ‘Excuse me, I exist. I’m non-binary and I’m also a full professor with the University of Toronto with tenure.” It didn’t matter so much that Peet offered to meet with Peterson over a coffee to discuss the issue. Ronald de Sousa released his own YouTube video condemning Peterson, accusing him of “ignorance of the vast literature attesting to the reality and the diversity of non-standard forms of sex, gender, and sexual expression and orientation.”

Professor Jordan Peterson pushes back against the intolerance of political correctness.

Professor Jordan Peterson pushes back against the intolerance of political correctness.

At a rally on campus in support of Peterson at U of T on Oct. 13, the professor said the brouhaha was not about gender politics but freedom of speech and freedom of expression. He said that while there are limits on freedom of speech – the classic “you can’t scream fire in a crowded theatre” – Peterson warned that C-16 and the PC environment on campus were forcing specific words into the mouths of the populace. He called this is the “road to totalitarianism” saying it was an attempt to force people to think a certain way. Peterson told Carol Off of CBC’s “As It Happens,” he does not “recognize another person’s right to decide what words I’m going to use, especially when the words they want me to use, first of all, are non-standard elements of the English language and they are constructs of a small coterie of ideologically motivated people. They might have a point but I’m not going to say their words for them.”

The Oct. 13 rally was interrupted by both transsexual activists and Black Lives Matter, who sabotaged the speaker system, disrupted his speech with white noise and a megaphone, and chants that he and another speaker were “racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic.”

Peterson defended the principle of freedom of speech, insisting it is necessary to self-government. He said that reasoned debate is how “we settle things in a democracy.” He said the opposite of freedom of speech is not censorship, but violence, which a society risks when it attempts to limit what can be discussed

Discussion at the rally was impossible with one side using the heckler’s veto: Peterson and Rebel Media’s Laura Southern had to cut short their remarks because they couldn’t be heard over the protests against them.

On Oct. 18, U of T’s Faculty of Arts and Science Dean David Cameron, and Vice-Provost, Faculty & Academic Life Sioban Nelson, sent a letter to Peterson warning him that his refusal to use a student’s preferred pronoun is “contrary to the rights of those persons to equal treatment without discrimination based on their ‘gender identity’ and ‘gender expression.” The letter also says there have been complaints from students, employees, and others calling Peterson’s comments “unacceptable, emotionally disturbing and painful.” Cameron and Nelson reiterated an earlier message from the administration that Peterson is expected to abide the Ontario Human Rights Act and the University’ policies.

Peterson refuses to be intimidated. He said he isn’t going to change. He is granting interviews to anyone who will talk to him. He has amped up his activity on Twitter and produced more YouTube videos explaining his position and pushing back against the language police. He said that he could be arrested and he is willing to risk jail rather than be silenced.

Peterson said he has seen an incredible outpouring of support, but whether he is alone or with an army of supporters, he vows he will not back down from speaking out against the totalitarian ideology of the politically correct and defending freedom of speech.

This is not a mere academic point – a fact of life at university that has any bearing on the so-called “real world.” Peterson noted in one of his YouTube videos that “social justice warrior-type activists” are “overrepresented” in government. He wrote in the U.S. paper The Hill that New York City has a new law similar to C-16 against “misgendering” which is punishable by up to a $250,000 fine. He says it could be impossible for the average person to keep up with the myriad of pronouns for the constantly growing categories – New York officially recognizes 31 genders, which is 27 fewer than Facebook offers users. “How are [we] supposed to keep track of who’s who” and “who is going to distinguish between mistakes and criminal action or intent?”

A civilized society would discuss these things, but any attempt to question gender politics results in cries of various isms designed to shut down debate … as Jordan Peterson’s ordeal has amply demonstrated.