Jordan Peterson

…is not really the subject of this post, but I guess he is the reason for it (plus I’m guessing that title is more likely to get attention).

Some quick context for those who are unfamiliar: Jordan Peterson is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto who made the news last year when he answered a question nobody asked about his personal stance on the use of gender-neutral pronouns by penning an open letter. In the letter, Peterson made it clear that he has no intention of ever using said pronouns, whether or not a student ever personally asks for such a courtesy. You can imagine how that went over. Ever since, he’s been making the rounds as a saviour of sorts to the virulently anti-PC crowd, giving talks about the perceived death of free-speech on campus and in broader society.

Enter Lindsay Shepherd. Lindsay is a Master’s student and TA at Wilfrid Laurier University. Since last week, she is also a poster-child for public censorship, workplace bullying, and anti-discrimination policies run amok. In a tutorial she was facilitating, Lindsay apparently had the audacity to play a video clip in front of the class of a year-old debate between Peterson and Nicholas Matte (also a professor at U of T). Soon after, she was told that a student or students had complained, and that she would be sanctioned for violating the university’s gender discrimination policy. Her crime? Presenting the clip from TVO (a public broadcaster) without sufficiently denouncing Peterson’s position. This, she was told, was tantamount to “neutrally presenting a speech by Hitler”. We know this because Lindsay had the foresight to record an actual conversation with 3 of her superiors where she was chastised for bringing gender based violence into the classroom.

Yes you read that right. A post-secondary classroom full of adults is apparently no place for controversial subjects, unless they are pre-emptively qualified or figuratively bubble-wrapped.

The recording is damning. If you’ve listened to it and aren’t at least a little disturbed, there is something horribly wrong with you. It will come as no surprise to anyone that Peterson’s supporters have seized on this as proof of everything they’ve been rambling about, and quite frankly you can’t really blame them. Here is a young student being accused by her superiors of violating the Canadian Human Rights Act, explicitly because she was “too neutral” when allowing a controversial and possibly offensive position to be aired.

Let that sink in.

Ignoring the irony of enforcing an anti-violence policy by ganging up on a subordinate, here’s what I find most disgusting: Every word of the recording suggests in no uncertain terms that these administrators feel it is their mission to teach students what to think instead of how to think. That is not education; it is quite literally the definition of indoctrination. Worse yet, it’s impossible to believe that this is the only university in Canada where this is happening. Usually, the line parroted by proponents of this pseudo-dystopian nonsense is that they are protecting the fragile mental health of some of their students. I find that insulting, because it effectively amounts to telling students: “You do not have the capacity to face people whose opinions you find repulsive, or the ability to handle positions that you vehemently disagree with. You are also incapable of discerning facts for yourself and might gravitate away from conventional wisdom… so we’re going to take it out of your hands and decide for you what you can hear and how you can hear it. It’s for your own good. Trust us.”

The truth is that as much as they may feel that they are ‘protecting’ their students from unnecessary distress, they are actually doing a terrible disservice by artificially shielding them from a wide array of dissenting opinions in a way that can never be matched after they graduate. When these graduates are eventually challenged (and they will be), they will only know to respond in 1 of 2 ways: either they turtle, or they become belligerent… in both cases unable to comprehend how someone can possibly disagree with them so fundamentally, much less be capable of dismantling the opposing argument.  But I guess it’s all in the name of social justice, so everything is fine and dandy… so long as they are unable to imagine a situation where the power structure is reversed. The shortsightedness is galling.

The fact that Peterson is basically an academic troll who appears to take a particular amount of glee from poking and provoking is completely and utterly irrelevant to the discussion. Post-secondary students pay thousands in tuition expecting to come out the other end with some tangible and marketable gain in knowledge and perspective, not just the ability to regurgitate their instructor’s opinions. At least that’s what I tell myself to sleep at night.

In the meantime, we can only hope that more students like Lindsay have the balls to speak out. But as long as administrators like the Laurier politburo are in positions of power, I won’t hold my breath.