Jordan Peterson – a liberal hero for our times

Jordan Peterson – a liberal hero for our times

by Murdo Fraser
article from Friday 26, January, 2018

TWO WEEKS AGO, there were probably very few people in this country who had even heard of the Canadian academic Jordan Peterson. He has become well known across the pond as a free-thinking public intellectual, prepared to stand up to post-modernist thinking, what he regarded as neo-Marxism in academic circles, and to be a champion of liberal values.

The publication of his recent book: “Twelve Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos” (already topping the best-seller lists in several countries) led to a sell-out lecture tour in the UK, with halls packed with young people hanging on his every word. In a nutshell, his book is a self-help manual, urging readers to take responsibility for their own lives, and delving into issues such as suffering, raising children, and morality.

What really took this Canadian clinical psychologist to public attention was his remarkable interview last week on Channel 4 News with Cathy Newman. Thirty minutes long, this has already become an internet sensation, with more than three and a half million views on YouTube alone.

Having watched it (and I would urge you to do so), I do not understand some of the criticism that has been levied at Newman. As an interviewer she is certainly persistent, and robust, occasionally playing devil’s advocate, but no more or less than politicians have come to expect.

But she is no match for Peterson. Patient, considered, entirely unruffled, and careful with his language, he sets out his case, and deals with hostile questions quite superbly. It is a master class in interview technique.

Over and over again Newman tries to put words in Peterson’s mouth, attempting to attribute to him views that he did not hold, and he constantly stands his ground, fearlessly setting out his case.

The most telling exchange comes on the conflict, a central one for our age, between the right to free speech, and the right not to be offended. This is something that Peterson has come up against himself quite directly, with his insistence that, on the University of Toronto campus on which he teaches, he will not adhere to rules to call trans students by the pronoun that they choose.

“Why should your freedom of speech trump a trans person’s right not to be offended?” Newman asks. Peterson replies: “Because in order to be able to think, we have to risk being offensive. I mean, look at the conversation we are having right now. You are certainly willing to risk offending me in the pursuit of truth. Why should you have the right to do that. It has been rather uncomfortable”.

Newman, despite all her experience, was left speechless. The case that Peterson had made was unanswerable. If we all are not allowed to speak for fear of causing offence, then in the end none of us will be allowed to express any opinion at all.

All of us will be aware of the debate raging on universities, as much in this country as in North America, about the creation of “safe spaces”, where students feel they need to be protected from views which might cause them offence. And yet, if we do not hear contrary views, how will we ever learn anything, or develop our own lines of argument? Now of course, any views expressed should be done with respect and courtesy, but that is a world of difference between that and seeking to exclude opinions which some regard to be unacceptable.

The trend against free speech is coupled with the development of identity politics, so beloved of the Left, and of which Jordan Peterson is such a determined opponent. This is the route that the UK Labour Party has gone down, and already the inherent problems of such an approach are becoming evident.

A huge row has blown up within Labour as to who is allowed to apply to be on all-women shortlists for parliamentary selections. Trans activists argue men who self-identify as women should be allowed to join such shortlists. Many feminists within Labour ranks are vigorously opposed to such a move, believing that only life-long biological women, those who in the words of the Left have never had ‘the privilege of being a man’, should be entitled to apply. It is an irreconcilable difference, which one side or the other has to lose, and is the perfect illustration of the confusion that identity politics leads to.

Thankfully, Conservatives have never gone down this route. We have always seen people as individuals, not predominantly as members of groups – whether women, ethnic minorities, LGBTQ, young, old, or even Scottish. It is foolish to assume that all within these groups will have similar issues to contend with, and parallel outlooks.

No one in our time seems better able to articulate these arguments than Jordan Peterson. He is a true hero of the hour, a voice for tolerance, openness, and true liberalism. If we are to defend free speech, then he has empowered us with the arguments that we all need.

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