Author Carol Horton identifies herself as someone who leans left on political and cultural issues. Yesterday, in a piece for Quillette, she describes looking into Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson and finding him “a refreshing departure from the standard discourse.” That put her at odds with friends who warned her that Peterson was “hate-filled right-wing propaganda.” But while Horton was willing to make up her own mind about Peterson, she found doing so left her feeling isolated and uncomfortable. Horton says the social pressure was so intense that she felt scared to speak up with her opinion. She believes that pressure to conform to a narrow, approved view is a much bigger problem for the left than Jordan Peterson:
If you follow the news stream, it seems that virtually every right-thinking left-leaning (pun intended) journalist, blogger, and social media maven agrees: Peterson is an alt-right wolf in professorial sheep’s clothing, a self-serving charlatan who dresses up old-school misogyny, racism, and elitism in faux-intellectual, fascist mystical garb.
I don’t buy it. I’ve read and listened to enough Peterson to make up my own mind and that’s not how I see him at all. Rather than being forthright about this, though, I’ve tended to cower silently in my alienated corner, fearful that revealing my rejection of the stock anti-Peterson narrative will cause my progressive friends to denounce me and the social media mobs to swarm…
The hyperbolic uniformity of the leftist attack on Peterson is emblematic of the growing tendency to reduce left-of-center thought to the status of a rigidly simplistic ideology. Increasingly, what passes for progressive political thought today offers little more than a scripted set of weaponized hashtags (you must be pro- #metoo and anti-patriarchy, no further thought required). This narrowing of our public discourse is disturbing, and worrisome on multiple, mutually reinforcing levels…
The Left’s attack on Peterson is so unrelenting, so superficial, and quite frequently so vicious, that many of us who work and/or live in left-leaning social environments feel scared to speak up against it…
I realize that Peterson has at times said things that I disagree with and might even find offensive. But I’m much more concerned with—and disgusted by—the endless stream of tendentious and dishonest articles from leftists critics that grab onto such statements and blow them out of proportion, while aggressively erasing everything else the man has ever said or done from the record.
We saw this left-wing smear machine in action just a few days ago. I highlighted an example from a debate in Toronto where Michael Dyson claimed Peterson was an example of white privilege and then called him a “mean, mad, white man” when Peterson dared to object. And that was only one of several possible examples I could have pointed to from that debate.
Here’s another example. Writer Michelle Goldberg accused Peterson of saying women “shouldn’t be allowed to wear make-up” at work. When he denied that, she told the audience he’d said it in an interview with Vice and told the audience to Google it. But if you Google it, you’ll find that in the full interview Peterson says explicitly, “I’m not saying that women shouldn’t do it and I’m not saying that it should be banned.” The video below contains video of both events. Could Michelle Goldberg have looked this up on her own? Probably so. So why didn’t she do that before rolling out this attack in a debate?
Peterson doesn’t get a fair shake from the left because the goal is not to engage with him but to make him appear so toxic that no one will be willing to engage with him. The classic in this genre is the now infamous “interview” of Peterson by Cathy Newman. I’m putting the word interview in quotes because this isn’t really an investigation of ideas, it’s a series of increasingly silly attacks designed to convince viewers that Peterson is toxic and/or irrational. Here’s one of my favorite examples from the interview (as transcribed by the Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf):
Peterson: There’s this idea that hierarchical structures are a sociological construct of the Western patriarchy. And that is so untrue that it’s almost unbelievable. I use the lobster as an example: We diverged from lobsters evolutionarily history about 350 million years ago. And lobsters exist in hierarchies. They have a nervous system attuned to the hierarchy. And that nervous system runs on serotonin just like ours. The nervous system of the lobster and the human being is so similar that anti-depressants work on lobsters. And it’s part of my attempt to demonstrate that the idea of hierarchy has absolutely nothing to do with sociocultural construction, which it doesn’t.
Newman: Let me get this straight. You’re saying that we should organize our societies along the lines of the lobsters?
It’s not a coincidence that the author of a recent NY Times hit piece on Peterson used almost exactly this same line of attack, i.e. mocking his reference to lobsters without even trying to understand or explain the point of the reference.
Carol Horton is correct. The left isn’t listening to Jordan Peterson, they’re just trying to destroy him as efficiently and quickly as possible. That dynamic says a lot about the left, none of it very good. Kudos to Horton for having the courage to stand up to the mob.
There’s an underlying question here: Why are so many, so eager to destroy Peterson? The most convincing explanation of the phenomenon that I’ve seen is this one from NRO’s David French:
If Peterson were writing to a Christian audience, he’d be one voice among many. An interesting and quirky voice, to be sure, but his core message about men and women would be conventional, not revelatory. Instead, however, Peterson stands out because he is playing in the Left’s cultural sandbox. He’s disrupting an emerging secular cultural monopoly with arguments about history, tradition, and the deep truths about human nature that the cultural radicals had long thought they’d banished to the fringe.
That’s the reason for the fury. That’s the reason for the rage. When Peterson walks into a secular university or a secular television studio and addresses a secular audience by referencing ancient theological arguments, the effect is not unlike inviting a genderqueer women’s-studies professor to a Baptist Sunday-school class. Some things (in some places) are just not said.
I wish I could say I was optimistic about Peterson’s chances, but I’ve seen the left’s scorched-earth playbook in action before and it usually succeeds. Throw enough garbage at the wall and eventually, a few bits stick. Those become all the excuse a compliant media needs to silence the target. Frankly, it’s a credit to Peterson’s quick wit that he’s survived as long as he has given both the degree to which he’s willing to challenge the left’s assumptions and the firepower they are deploying against him.
Here’s the video mentioned above showing that, contrary to Michelle Goldberg’s claim, Peterson is not for outlawing make-up in the workplace.