Jordan Peterson is fucking based.
The video I’ve linked above is really the launching point for this blog post. There’s a lot of good stuff in it. I find Dr. Peterson to be incredibly articulate in his points and he seems to use a lot of what you and I might call “common sense”. I recommend you watch the video; it’s not long, only about 13 minutes. I think he makes an important distinction at the end and for those of you unwilling to watch I’ll put the quote here
There’s a difference. I’m talking about compelled speech. There’s a difference between saying that there’s something you can’t say and saying that there are things that you have to say. – Jordan Peterson
He is responding to a question he was asked about the difference between being forced to use pronouns (which he views as an attack on freedom of speech) and not being allowed to use slurs. He was asked could a professor not defend being able to use racial slurs towards students on the same basis of freedom of speech. He doesn’t answer the question because he thinks you’re comparing apples and oranges, per the quote I’ve posted above.
First, a brief background on Jordan Peterson. He is a
maplelicker Canadian professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto. He has risen in popularity recently, but he has actually been ‘active’ for quite some time. He has posted a series of (frankly, quite fascinating) lectures on YouTube and has been doing so for years. His popularity increase is due to a controversy regarding mandated pronoun use. He did a few videos on the topic but I think the video that made him known to most of us Fredomkin Americans is this video in which a series of students corner him after a rally. Or at the very least, that’s when I became aware of him because it blew up on Facebook or something. I’m actually surprised I managed to find the video again, took a while. Anyway his objection is to legislating that one must refer to another by their ‘preferred pronouns’ under penalty of law.
First, I will never use words I hate, like the trendy and artificially constructed words “zhe” and “zher.” These words are at the vanguard of a post-modern, radical leftist ideology that I detest, and which is, in my professional opinion, frighteningly similar to the Marxist doctrines that killed at least 100 million people in the 20th century. – Jordan Peterson
Kind of like what’s going on in New York (if this has been repealed, I am not aware of it).
For example, refusal to use a transgender employee’s preferred name, pronoun, or title may constitute unlawful gender-based harassment. Comments, unwanted touching, gestures, jokes, or pictures that target an individual based on gender constitute gender-based harassment. – (Source)
Jordan Peterson has opposed this kind of legislation on the grounds of freedom of speech. (Insert Newspeak joke here). He also (as a clinical psychologist) doesn’t believe that it’s a tenable solution. Which invokes the ire of every left-wing activist and their grandmother, it would seem.
Again, he’s Canadian, and I know very little about Canadian politics. I will be discussing this topic in the realm of American politics which I am far more familiar with. Now, I do think that question he was posed was actually a very good one and I would defend the professor’s right use the word ‘nigger’ and I would also defend the university’s right to fire him. But you and I both know that censorship is more of a government thing, so what if a government official used the word ‘nigger’ to refer to colleagues… oh that… that actually happened… Should they be fired? I don’t think so. But they are more than resign of their own accord.
When it comes to this debate of free speech in the United States, two cases seem to be cited. The first is R.A.V. vs. The City of St. Paul which protected a person’s right to burn a cross (a symbol of the Ku Klux Klan) in front of a black family as a message. He was prosecuted on the grounds of law stating that it’s illegal to post hate symbols (like a burning cross or swastika) on public or private property. The Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional, so you may display as many “symbols of hate” that you like. The second is Wisconsin vs. Mitchell which ruled that the extra-penalty Mitchell received due to a discriminatory basis could be upheld. They did this on the grounds that laws against “fighting words” (I think we often say “incitement to violence” instead) are not unconstitutional.
While there are no doubt a ton of cases like regarding free speech and the first amendment, I do not have the legal background to analyze all of them (or even these, I suppose) so take my interpretations with a grain of salt. Regarding the two cases I’ve cited above, I’ve only read the opinion tab. That is my basis for the following argument.
I believe the video of Jordan Peterson being cornered at a rally exposes the key problem with the left on this issue.
Inability to Converse
The tendency to not listen. In the video, Dr. Peterson points out that a speaker is just spouting rhetoric. This is an issue I find with people in general but particularly on the left in regards to abortion, health care (insurance, really), wage inequality between men and women, wealth inequality (good or bad?), and this pronoun issue. What they do is they state their conclusion and if you disagree with the conclusion, they very rarely try to convince you of why their conclusion is correct or why yours is wrong. On the abortion issue, they say “It a woman’s body, it’s their right” and if you dare to mention the unborn child they (may) just continue to repeat their prior point. “My body, my right”. So they don’t always seem terribly interested in a dialogue. They start with a conclusion and refuse to concede their conclusion or even compromise on it.
AND DO NOTE THAT I’M NOT SAYING THAT THE LEFT IS THE ONLY ONE DOING THIS. I’M JUST SAYING THAT IN MY EXPERIENCE, THE LEFT TENDS TO AVOID DIALOGUE ON THESE ISSUES. IT OCCURS ON ALL SIDES. FOR THIS PARTICULAR TOPIC, I FIND THE ISSUE ON THE LEFT.
At one point in the video, Dr. Peterson is asked if, out of respect for another individual, would he use their pronouns. He gives a few answers on the issue. First he says no, because he doesn’t want it legislated, then he says no because he doesn’t see it as a solution, and then he says “maybe, depends on how you ask”. So let’s unpack them statement by statement.
The first is answer is that he wouldn’t do it if it were legislated. This is because he views it as a violation of free speech and he also sees it as dangerous Marxism (again, Newspeak).
The second answer is that he wouldn’t do it because he doesn’t see it as a solution. I believe that he is considering the issue as a kind of mental illness similar to schizophrenia. Schizophrenics are known for seeing hallucinations. When you are treating a schizophrenic and they tell you that they see snakes on the floor, do you avoid stepping on the snakes? My guess, no. You don’t feed into the hallucinations because it’s not healthy. It doesn’t solve the problem. So (and I’m presupposing here) in Dr. Peterson’s mind, using the pronouns is like trying to avoid stepping on the snakes. It is an acceptance of delusion, which is ultimately unhealthy.
The third answer is the only answer where “respect” might be directly included in the answer. He answers “it depends on how they ask”. So if you ask nicely and Dr. Peterson is in the mood or he recognizes your cause as sufficient, then he might use your pronoun. I think respect might play a factor here, because only by respecting the individual and their reasons might Dr. Peterson use their pronouns. He maintains that you do not get to demand his respect. A point that I wholly agree with. This is why the “I identify as an apache attack helicopter” argument is actually valid under the system that these individuals support. It’s also impossible to enforce due to the sheer magnitude of people to disrespect and the way to disrespect them. Not to mention what qualifies as “disrespect” varies wildly depending on the person. Talking about women’s breasts in front of my friend makes him uncomfortable, should I be prevented under penalty of law from talking about breasts in front of my friend when I know it bothers him? I would say no. Sure, doing it might make me an asshole, but are we going to make being an asshole illegal? Good luck with that.
What gets me is the response. It is presupposed by the students surrounding him that by refusing to use their pronouns that he is contributing to a suicide epidemic among trans individuals. The logic behind is that the psychological impact of not being called your preferred pronoun could cause trans people the commit suicide. I don’t think this is incorrect, but I do think that it’s a very small part of a larger problem that cannot be solved by legislation.
To my knowledge, the suicide problem is caused by an inability to “pass” or be perceived as that which you are trying to be perceived as (among other things). Not using the pronoun reminds the trans person that they are unable to pass, which may reinforce thoughts of suicide. But let’s suppose we did require by law that we refer to all people by their preferred pronouns, what then? Well, then we need to recognize that people have other ways to signal failure to pass. This is done through body language and behavior. And this should be terribly obvious to Americans because this is literally identity-based humour which plays on stereotypes and behaviors. This type of humour would not be funny if we didn’t recognize such behavior in others. So what do we do? Do we legislate against behavior like “looking at a trans woman’s chest a little too long” which could be interpreted either positively as “Oh, I pass!” or negatively or “Oh no, they’re thinking a little too long, am I not passing?” Such an act would be a little overboard, no? What about sexual preferences? If a straight cisgendered man doesn’t want to have sex or even a relationship with a male-to-female transexual, are we going to legislate against that too? That would open the floodgates for legislating other preferences like my very own sexual preference for asians. Dr. Peterson describes this as “Tyranny, one tiny step at a time“. You give an inch and they will take a mile.
And that is only the male-female dichotomy issue. If you believe, as Bill Nye so astutely points out gender is a spectrum then if you refuse to recognize me as Unkindled-sexual then you would be in violation of such laws. Even if we ceded the male-female issue, how do we address a world in which you can feasibly make up any identity you wish and force others to recognize you as such? I believe the point that the left is missing on this issue is that even if gender were a social construct, trans-tigers have not built up the social capital to be recognized as trans-tiger immediately. Nor have they built up the social capital to demand that they be recognized as trans-tiger by law. At the end of the day, you can’t force people to accept you as something that they don’t see you as. You can’t legislate all of your problems away. You have to convince others through interaction.
LEGISLATING WHAT YOU MUST SAY OR CANNOT SAY UNDER THE PRETEXT OF “RESPECT” WILL NOT SOLVE THE PROBLEM YOU WANT IT TO SOLVE. IT ONLY CREATES AVENUES FOR TYRANNY AND ABUSE.
That said, it’s not particularly constructive to go around seeking to offend and disrespect every person you know. I don’t see Dr. Peterson as that kind of person, and he says he often receives letters of thanks from trans individuals saying that they agree with him. Can we trust Dr. Peterson or the individuals that write these letters? I don’t know, but I generally trust people until given a reason to not trust them.
A false dichotomy is a supposition that something is X xor Y. Unless by definition X and Y can have an xor operation between them you should avoid doing this. One example – 9.11 is either an integer xor a real number. This is a false dichotomy, even though 9.11 is a real number and not an integer. So what’s wrong with it? Well, what if we had said that 911 is either an integer xor a real number? 911 is both an integer and a real number, so a false dichotomy isn’t necessarily true, even if it may sometimes be true. The problem is that integers and real numbers do not have a valid xor operation between them. All integers are real numbers but not all real numbers are integers. We could say that a number is either rational xor irrational, which would be true! Because the comparison is more along the lines of a definition.
So why do I bring this up? Well, it ties into the two prior points: inability to converse and respectful speech. So while the students say that not using the pronouns contributes to trans suicide rates, which I am willing to entertain the idea of, the main thrust of their proposal is the false dichotomy. It is “Either we legislate away these perceived discriminations xor trans people will continue to be discriminated against in medicine, in housing, in employment, etc.”.
I think what’s happening here is that Dr. Peterson and these individuals are talking past each other. Dr. Peterson is saying that he, as a private citizen should not be forced to use language that he doesn’t consent to using. His opponents are arguing that it is a necessary evil towards the acceptance of trans individuals. While they disagree on quite a few points, the important point that they seem to disagree on is whether or not it is acceptable to curtail free speech in order to achieve the same goal: reduction in suicide rates of trans people.
The solution the left always seems to propose is bigger government. Minorities aren’t being hired, make it illegal to discriminate hiring based on race instead of letting social stigma and free market pressures destroy those businesses. Minorities aren’t being paid on par with their majority counterparts, make it illegal to discriminate pay based on race instead of… letting social stigma and free market pressures destroy those businesses. Minorities are getting lower SAT scores and universities aren’t accepting them. Better lower the standards to be fair to them. The climate is changing for the worse, better use the government to shut that down.
Sometimes the answer isn’t bigger government, and I don’t think the American left sees smaller government solutions or even that some things may not even be problems.
The ironic conclusion that I’ve come to based on this gender debate is that the left doesn’t believe that gender exists on a spectrum. It’s like comparing wave and particle theories of light. I truly believe that the left thinks of gender as being discretized, to the point where there’s no such thing as a boy that acts effeminately, rather a separate femboy gender that the boy conforms to. Taking such logic to its inevitable conclusion, we run up against a bunch of genders that eventually divide to the level of the individual. Which makes the concept of gender itself useless. The irony is that the very people saying that gender-expression is a spectrum do not believe so, but there’s also irony in that the people saying that gender-expression is not a spectrum believe that it is. The difference is, even if you are a highly effeminate man, the right will still call you he. The left will insist that you be called some pronoun or another.
At the end of the day, I’m with Dr. Peterson on this. I don’t think it’s helpful. I don’t think it’s practical. I don’t think that the justification is strong enough. And I think it would be a serious mistake to begin giving up our freedom of speech for this. Anyway, this was a long post and I probably have more to say on it, but I will have to save it for another post. Thanks for reading.