I came across Jordan Peterson from listening to the Joe Rogan podcast. I’m a fan of Rogan’s podcast because of the diversity of guests that he has on his show, and the subject matter of those talks. I hadn’t heard of Peterson before Rogan’s podcast, but was interested in what he had to say. Peterson is is a Canadian clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, and has been teaching for over thirty years. It only took a quick Google search to realize what a controversial figure he is. He’s been vilified by liberals and Social Justice Warriors for his criticism of transgender people (more on that below), ‘safe spaces’ on college campuses, women and gender studies, and activism. At first glance, I could see some of the issue that liberals had with Peterson, but his talk on Rogan’s podcast made me think there was more to this issue then what lies at the surface. After to listening to 12-14 hours worth of lectures, interviews, and podcasts of Peterson, I have a few thoughts on this guy. Put simply; I think the Left is wrong about Peterson and here’s why:
Peterson’s notoriety has come about in large part for his outspoken protest of Senate bill C-16; legislation that would add gender identity and gender expression as a protected class in the Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. It would mean that gender identity and gender expression would be added to the already-lengthy list of protected classes — which includes “color, race, religion, national or ethnic origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, or mental or physical disability. The problem, as Peterson saw it, was not that transgendered individuals where being covered under anti-discrimination laws, it was a point in the bill that said that refusing to call someone by the personal pronoun of their choosing was considered harassment/discrimination. This list of pronouns goes way beyond the typical “he”, “she”, or “they”, but includes a number of made-up words such as “vey”, “himer”, “shkle”, “ze”, etc. Peterson sees this as compelled speech and a violation of free speech. He argues that there is no evidence to demonstrate that this sort of compelled speech would in any way help the trans community, and may actually be harmful. His push back to this legislation drew national attention to the bill and criticism from transgender activists, faculty, and labor unions, and who accused Peterson of fostering a climate of hate.
Now, I would argue that out of respect for another person, we should use the pronoun they choose. But I agree with Peterson that respect cannot be forced; no one should be forced to speak in a certain manner. I may disagree with his refusal to use alternate pronouns out of principle, but I fully agree that we cannot expect compelled speech to solve the issues the trans community faces. I take real issue with the knee-jerk reaction of liberals in calling Peterson “trans-phobic” (he has stated numerous times that he has no issue with transgendered persons) and refusing to hear what his real issue with the bill is.
Another issue that Peterson speaks on frequently that often gets misunderstood is feminism. Of particular interest is the subject of the so-called wage gap. I’m sure everyone has seen the statistics that point out that women make 80 percent of what men make. This sounds like an alarming case of inequality on the surface, but once you dig deeper you find that it’s not that simple. One get’s the idea in their heads of two people – one a man, one a women – doing the same job, for the same amount of time, and have equal experience, but one the women is getting $.80 for every $1.00 the man makes. But that’s simply not the case. The statistic doesn’t take into account things such as:
- Women are more likely to stay home with their children
- Women are more likely to work part-time jobs because they have children
- Men are more likely to do dangerous and/or physically demanding work then women
- Men tend to gravitate towards jobs in the STEM field which on average pay more then other jobs
- Men tend to work more hours then women
Recent studies have shown that when these factors are taken into account, the gap is actually only a few cents. This isn’t to say that sexism and discrimination don’t exist in certain work forces. Although the entire pay gap is not the result of labor market discrimination, a fraction of it might be. However, continuing to sight false statistics does nothing to address issues of real discrimination women may face.
This relates to the issue of equality, an ideology that one often finds espoused by liberals, but in too simplistic of terms. Peterson points out that there is a difference between equality of opportunity vs equality of outcome. Equal opportunity means that there is a level playing field for everyone to pursue whatever they want; education, careers, etc. Equal outcome means that we rig the system so that are an equal number of people in each field, i.e, an equal number of men and women, an equal number of minorities to Caucasians, etc. The problem with this is that rather then the best person for the job being selected, people are often put into positions simply to fill a quota. On the flip side, you create pressure on people to pursue jobs that they may not be interested in.
What studies have found is that when a society creates a system of equal opportunity, the differences among men and women actually increase. In Scandinavian countries, where efforts have been made to make society more egalitarian, we find that the differences in certain work fields between men and women actually increases. For example, men make up over 80 percent of engineers in Norway and programs to recruit men into nursing has been a dismal failure – almost 90 percent of nurses are still female! As Peterson puts it, in truly egalitarian societies, “the genuine differences between people are free to manifest themselves”.
These finding fly in the face of feminists and gender theorists who say biology doesn’t matter at all; what matters is social expectations. Yet evolutionary psychologists insist that biology matters a lot. It would seem that biology does play a significant role in determining a person’s vocational and career choices.
When it come the issue of Social Justice Warriors, Peterson has some advice. Simply put – “If you can’t even clean your own room, who the hell are you to give advice to the world?” This comes from the observation that many in the SJW have very grandiose ideas about changing the world, yet are unable to keep their own lives in order. Their insistence on changing other people is often a projection of their inability to make changes in their own lives. Peterson offers some simple advice for making changes around you – Start by cleaning your room. “Start from yourself and work outward”. Start by cleaning your room and getting yourself in order, then you see what you can do for your neighborhood, your community, then your town, and move out from there.
I’ve come to the conclusion that much of the controversy surrounding Peterson stems from the fact that he is simply things about issues on a more intellectual level then the average person. He is well-read, well-educated, and very intelligent. Most of what he says goes way over most people’s heads.
In a society where opinions are boiled down to soundbites and 140 characters-or-less, having thoughtful, nuanced discussions of complex issues isn’t appealing to most people. We want quick, simple answers. We want things to be black and white. This goes for both the Right and the Left. Peterson doesn’t fall into that trap. It’s easy to take a few sentences you hear online and slap a label on him, but that’s intellectual laziness. In order to understand Peterson, one must listen to everything he has to say on the issue; to hear him out.
This isn’t to say that I agree with everything Peterson has to offer. I think that he remains ignorant of the plights of minority groups. His advice to parents to send their kids to trade school instead of college (despite being a college professor) because they’re “run by Neo-Marxists” reeks like some paranoid, conspiracy theory nonsense. His advice towards women about needing to have kids to feel whole certainly raises my eyebrows.
My point is that Jordan Peterson provides some balance and rationality to the liberal vs conservative debate. He demonstrates that liberals are just as capable of making the same quick, emotionally charged judgment calls that we accuse the Far Right of making. Peterson, for me, provided a valuable lesson in critical thinking; checking all the facts before rushing to judgement, and not getting swept away in the prevailing sentiments of one’s own “tribe”.
Be skeptical. Do your research. Don’t judge with emotions. Learn from the those who you may consider the “other”.
Thanks for reading.