Flat White

Why does Jordan Peterson bother with our nation of naysayers?

5 February 2019

7:15 AM

5 February 2019

7:15 AM

You must not speak of same-sex relationships nor criticise the church nor blaspheme against God! Why? Because it causes offence!

This was the bleak reality of fourteenth century England. The writing of John Wyckliffe was banned for encouraging peasants to read the Bible, William Sawyer was burnt at the stake for blasphemy, and others were branded heretics until the mid-1800s – yet we find ourselves facing a similar problem today.

Now, Wyckliffe’s writings have been replaced by Ben Shapiro’s rallies, Sawyer’s blasphemy with Kerri-Anne Kennerly’s ‘racist’ comments on trash TV and the church with university campuses and large institutions. We find ourselves in a world attempting to minimise offence; a world full of online censorship, bans and hate laws; a world where to speak, one risks prosecution, condemnation – or termination.

How do we respond? We don’t suppress speech. We risk offence.

First, regulations prevent good discussion. Whether it be through hate laws, censorship or bans, we seek to restrict hateful voices. However, the question must be asked, who defines hate? As Canadian psychologist and best-selling author, Dr Jordan Peterson argues; “it’s the person you least want to.”

This is because offence-taking is powerful. By taking offence, I can label anyone as a “racist” or a “sexist.” I can report them to my employer or to the police. I can shame them in public or petition to ban them.  I can shut down their speech and remove their voice.

All without actually responding to their argument.

We saw this only recently after Kerri-Anne Kennerly made claims about Indigenous sexual violence on Studio 10. Instead of rebutting her facts, Yumi Stynes labelled Kennerly as a racist, to which Kennerly took offence.

The Australia Day barbecues are over, the last beers finished and yet the hangover from both Kennerly’s and Stynes’ comments still plagues our discourse. More than a week later the media continues to spoon-feed us the outrage that we crave, brewing within us the feelings of resentment we desire.

Yet still no proper discussion of the central Indigenous issues has occurred.

We, as Australians, have come to be perpetually offended, constantly striving to claim the moral high ground and look down upon the racists, sexists and bigots that we tower over.

However, risking offence is built into good discussion. On controversial topics, a speaker inherently risks offending others. As the number of people in an audience increases, the probability of causing offence to at least a single person becomes almost certain.

Therefore, institutions, social networking services and movements altruistically attempt to limit offence, yet, in reality, this enables them to shut down controversial views. Our call-out culture on social media brands people as “racist” or “sexist” even if they are not, removing important opinions from discussion. It discourages views which may be criticised for being “offensive,” hijacking the discourse towards a single popular perspective.

However, true hatred still does exist. Vindictive, spiteful, nasty comments. Slander from those angry at the world and furious with themselves. Hate is a cancer, destroying society from the inside. So, let’s ban and censor it, one would say, and protect the most vulnerable from relentless abuse.

Well, you can suppress hate speech, but you cannot ban hate itself. Regulating hate speech doesn’t make hate disappear.

Regulations instead allow hate to continue untracked. It allows it to spread in forums, households and other institution between people with similar views. Like a cancer, it mutates, just undiagnosed this time, spreading from one person to the next.

However, deregulating discussion allows us to diagnose the cancer. It allows us to track where hate is and where it can be addressed. It allows us to publicly contest hateful views.

Moreover, as John Stuart Mill argued, restricting speech makes us less analytical as we fail to face tests about what we believe. Instead, responding to speech allows us to think critically and rebut effectively, improving our critical thinking.

Silence suppresses, but free and fact-focused discussion tracks hate, inspires debate and improves our thinking. This is the solution to our call-out culture, to our offence-taking, our bans, our censorships and our hate speech laws. But, in a society where journalists are unable to share controversial views with causing outrage, we have the right to be pessimistic about open debate.

So, the timing could not be better “Rockstar academic” Peterson’s return to Australia for speaking tour.

Peterson doesn’t believe in the existence of the patriarchy nor the gender pay gap. He doubts the scientific consensus on climate change, and he rejects the notion of political correctness.

Is he the next victim? Why does he bother with us?

A long and loud whine emerged from the remnants of the once great Fairfax empire over the weekend:

He’s baaack. Or soon will be. On February 8 Jordan Peterson, anti-PC warrior, mega-best-selling author (12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos) and one of North America’s wealthiest academics, will return for his second speaking tour of Australia, kicking off in Perth before visiting most of the state capitals. He’s been dismissed as a professor of piffle and lauded as a latter-day sage, which helps explain the exponential rise in his popularity since his first sell-out visit to our shores early last year.

If you’re unfamiliar with the rise and rise of Peterson, it all began in September 2016, when the Canadian clinical psychologist and Toronto university professor, in a fit of pique, posted a video decrying a recent law that he claimed would compel people to use transgender people’s preferred gender pronouns. Many doubted whether the law – designed to ban discrimination on the basis of gender expression – could ever be used in this manner, but no matter, Peterson had tapped into a growing backlash against the perceived excesses of political correctness. And when his employer, the University of Toronto, briefly suspended him in an act of extraordinary over-reach, Peterson became not just a champion of free speech but a hero to conservatives across the right-leaning spectrum…

On and on and on. And no doubt the clickbait controversialists elsewhere are ready and waiting to feed our addiction for outrage as soon as he arrives. The headlines write themselves; “Alt-right psychologist Jordan Peterson…”

Let’s not succumb to this, however. Let’s not take offence as a means of gaining superiority and victory whilst shutting down contrary opinions. It does not achieve progress nor change perspectives.

Instead, let’s risk being offensive. Let’s challenge hateful attitudes with facts. Let’s focus on the central issues at hand, not the outrage caused.

Arm yourself with your arguments. Equip your sword of reason. Ready your rebuttals.

Go forth in open, free, fact-focused debate.

Remember, it’s what Professor P wants you to do.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

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