In an article on a blog I have never encountered, but somehow still popped up on my phone went I went to Google, Mr. E Gulliver-Needham (a student at Oxford) argues that Dr Jordan Peterson should not be allowed to speak at the Oxford Union, an institution known for hosting controversial debates and speakers. I believe he is wrong (you can read the blog I am referring to here).
He argues that Dr Peterson ‘actively harms debate’. What he means by ‘harms debate’ is not clear. Would it not be more harmful to debate if one were to attempt to shut it down?
Mr Gulliver-Needham discusses Dr Peterson’s rise to fame as a result of his opposition to Bill C-16, an amendment to the Ontario Human Rights Code. He claims it would make not using a ‘transgender’ (this including the infinite variety of gender identities and their imagined pronouns) person’s preferred pronoun a hate crime punishable by law. He then writes that ‘Anyone who bothers to Google “C-16 makes misgendering illegal”’ will find this claim to be false. I did as suggested and found a mixture of articles from varying media outlets and blogs that come to different conclusions. However, since I kept up with this debate as it was happening, I believe I have quite a solid grasp of the issue. The University of Toronto, in their original warning to Peterson, stated that “in view of these impacts, as well as the requirements of the Ontario Human Rights Code, we urge you to stop repeating these statements”. You would think that if the law were coherent, the university would have no trouble in interpreting it? (If you wish to see the letter sent by the Dean of Arts and Sciences, see this link; see also here for the University of Toronto student newspaper coverage of the controversy). D. Jared Brown, a practising litigator working in commercial and employment disputes who testified with Peterson in front of the Senate hearing, came to a similar conclusion as Peterson (see the transcript of the senate hearing here). I could discuss the lack of research done by Mr Gulliver-Needham on the various objections Dr Peterson has to the bill, including the fact that it writes a ‘social constructivist’ view of gender into the law – social constructivism, when so total, is extremely dangerous as most biologists will tell you. As an experienced clinical psychologist, Dr Peterson is all too familiar the relationship between biology and psychological well-being or lack thereof.
Mr Gulliver-Needham then proceeds to make claims about Dr Peterson’s move away from socialism following his reading of Orwell’s classic The Road to Wigan Pier – claiming that Peterson did not understand Orwell since Orwell was advocating for Socialism. What Mr Gulliver-Needham forgets is the criticism that Orwell makes of English socialists, which Peterson himself mentions:
‘As I have pointed out already, many people who are not repelled by Socialism are repelled by Socialists. Socialism, as now presented, is unattractive largely because it appears, at any rate from the outside, to be the plaything of cranks, doctrinaires, parlour Bolsheviks and so forth.’ (The Road to Wigan Pier, p. 204)
Orwell railed against ‘bourgeois-baiters who are bourgeois themselves’ with a ‘boneless attitude’ towards imperialism. Peterson himself said that his dislike of Socialism arose because he saw many of these people for what they are – they do not care about the poor, they simply hate the rich. It is not simply a defence of socialism – it is constructive critique. Peterson took from it what he found useful in explaining his own personal predicament.
As for what has now made Dr Peterson more famous than anything else in my opinion – his most recent bestseller, 12 Rules for Life – An Antidote for Chaos (a signed copy of which I am lucky enough to possess, as well as the experience of being sat in the front row for his London talk). Mr Gulliver-Needham accuses Dr Peterson of ‘overcomplicating statements’ in order to ‘sound profound’. He quotes the following passage:
“What shall I do to strengthen my spirit? Do not tell lies or do what you despise. What shall I do to ennoble my body? Use it only in the service of my soul. What shall I do with the most difficult of questions? Consider them the gateway to the path of life. What shall I do with the poor man’s plight? Strive through right example to lift his broken heart. What shall I do with when the great crowd beckons? Stand tall and utter my broken truths.”
The above section is from the closing of Peterson’s second book (as Mr. Gulliver-Needham forgets to mention his other book Maps of Meaning – perhaps another sign of poor research?). It is a summary of the 12 Rules. Here are some of them:
‘Stand up straight with your shoulders back’
‘Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping’
‘Assume the person you are listening to might know something you don’t’
These are hardly overcomplicated statements (for some perhaps they are) and they are certainly less ambiguous and meaningless than the waffle disguised as intellectual thought produced by Derrida. As far as one can tell, Mr Gulliver-Needham appears to simply dislike Dr Peterson’s writing style – hardly a sufficient reason to refuse a scholar an invitation to the Oxford Union.
Mr G-N does point out one factual error Peterson makes when discussing gender disparities in employment – he stated that there are more female physicians than male. While this untrue based on the statistics, Peterson’s point still stands when referring to teachers and nurses, as well as those accepted to university. Not to mention the disparities in mental health (men making up most suicides), combat death and injury (mostly men), workplace death and injury (again, mostly men) and violent crime (again, mostly men are victims). One factual error, I believe, can be forgiven.
I could cover the entire piece, however, that would likely go on to prove a point I believe I have already proven sufficiently. I would like to conclude with one final criticism.
Mr Gulliver-Needham says that Dr Peterson is a ‘name caller’ and a ‘liar’. So far, we have established that the ‘liar’ accusation does not stand up to even cursory examination (his only lie seems to be more of an error, given that a lie is when one knows something to be false but says it anyway). And as for ‘name caller’, all one can say is ‘boo hoo’. Has his labelling of admitted postmodernists and neo-Marxists caused offence? Oh dear, I feel I might faint from such accurate characterizations. Clearly, referring to radical feminists as ‘harpies’ is so offensive that Peterson does not deserve to be on a platform that has hosted such upstanding men as Tariq Ramadan (apologist for radical Islam recently accused of multiple sexual assaults). As for name-calling, perhaps Mr Gulliver-Needham ought to exercise some self-reflection. He calls Dr Peterson a variety of names; ‘liar’, ‘name-caller’, ‘charlatan’ and a bigot. As far as one can tell, these are all apt descriptions of Mr Gulliver-Needham. Bigotry is, after all, defined as intolerance of opposing opinions. Perhaps, if these are grounds for a ban from the Oxford Union, Mr Gulliver-Needham should reconsider his position?