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Opinion: Chidiac's praise for Peterson unjustified

When Peterson’s work has been challenged, his supporters have engaged in attacks and harassment against critics
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Jordan Peterson.

Re: Gerry Chidiac, “Cancel culture’s latest era as cruel as ever."

This piece displayed a headshot of Jordan Peterson and emphasized the quote: “It turns out that Jordan Peterson is not a right-wing extremist nor a hatemonger. He is an intellectual who values free speech and honest dialogue”.

The facts tell a different story.

Peterson's pseudo-scientific theories have inspired the alt-right and may promote hatred against vulnerable groups. Dismissing challenges to harmful views or acts as “cancel culture” has the potential to undermine vulnerable groups and inhibit a free exchange of ideas.

As Peterson’s former University of Toronto colleague and friend, Bernard Schiff, noted in a 2018 Toronto Star Article, Peterson would present conjecture to his students as statement of fact.  Peterson purports to speak from the authority of science (often referring to his observations as a clinical psychologist) despite the fact many of his theories are pseudo-science, which has the veneer of science but doesn’t stand up to scientific rigour. As Karl Popper (Austrian philosopher of science) identified, pseudo-science seeks confirmations while science seeks falsifications. Peterson “confirms” his theories with academic sources, anecdotal observations, myths, religious stories, and popular culture. However, his theories often don’t meet the “falsification” test. Peterson appears to be unreceptive to criticism or challenge, as a true scientist would. Instead he treats his theories as part of a zero-sum game for survival of the human species.

One example is Peterson’s central claim that a battle between “order” and “chaos” is inherent to human existence. “Order” represents as masculine and “chaos” as feminine. This theory seems completely false but isn’t falsifiable, thus not one a responsible scientist should make. Peterson has made statements suggesting he believes male control is a natural scientific fact: “the idea that women were oppressed throughout history is an appalling theory”; feminists “unconsciously long for masculine dominance”; and has lamented that men can’t “control crazy women” because they can’t use physical violence against them.

When Peterson’s work has been challenged, his supporters have engaged in attacks and harassment against critics. Schiff reports that women writers and academics are hesitant to attach their names to opinions or data critical of Peterson. He has also lashed out against critics himself, in one such case, he responded to an article by Pankaj Mishra in the New York Review, with a tweet expressing a desire to slap him and called him a “sanctimonious prick” and an “arrogant, racist son of a bitch”.

Peterson also shuts down legitimate criticism by claiming those who speak out against systemic discrimination are buying into “neo-Marxist” propaganda. As reported by Dorian Lynskey in a 2018 article in the Guardian, Peterson has said: Islamophobia is “a word created by fascists and used by cowards to manipulate morons”; white privilege is “a Marxist lie”; believing that gender identity is subjective is “as bad as claiming that the world is flat”. It is unsurprising that Peterson’s views have strong adherents in the Alt-Right, who see a close alignment with their views that “white identity” is under attack by multicultural forces using “cancel culture” and “social justice” to undermine white people and Western civilization.

In writing this, I reviewed several of Chidiac’s other opinions, which suggest he doesn’t align with all of Peterson’s views. For example, he acknowledges systemic racism exists and should be challenged.

The percieved threat of “cancel culture”, fits Peterson’s fearmongering over a societal decline into a “post-modern”, “neo-marxist” dystopia where good people are imprisoned for improper pronoun use and mobs of “crazy feminists” and “social justice warriors” are upending the proper order of the universe. This perceived threat is echoed by Chidiac when he cites “historical examples” of “cancelling” (ie. witch hunts, the French Revolution, and the Cold War) which don’t fit his chosen dictionary definition of “cancel culture”, “expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure”. During those events people were violently killed or persecuted, in some cases for no plausible reason, and not for the kind of behaviour typically associated with “cancel culture”.

That said, “cancel culture” is an evolving term which means different things to different people, making meaningful definition difficult. Some have suggested “accountability culture” is a better term as, in some cases, celebrities who have used their privilege of fame and power to commit abuses or perpetuate harm, have effectively had that privilege removed. I acknowledge, certain speech or actions undertaken with the intention of having someone lose their public status or job because of a perceived wrongdoing may be unjust, but each case must be assessed individually on its facts. Mass generalizations of “cancel culture” are of little use. Using the term “cancel culture” pejoratively to undermine speech of vulnerable groups opposing systemic discrimination, may work against free speech rather than promoting it.

Jeremy Bryant

Vancouver