The second of two autumn 2019 ‘Tetley Talks’ examining the ideas of two controversial thinkers – one past, one present
Jordan Peterson, professor of psychology at Toronto University and author of the best seller 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, seems to be loved and loathed in equal measure.
Seen by some as a defender of free speech, science and reason, Peterson first came to public prominence following his opposition to Canadian legislation on the use of gender pronouns, arguing that the policing of language is the first step towards totalitarianism. This, along with his attacks on political correctness, identity politics, feminists, Marxists, and hate-speech legislation, have seen him branded as “reactionary”, “misogynist”, “transphobic”, and an “alt-right” firebrand by his detractors.
However, some argue that “his commitment of free speech is not nearly as strong as he thinks it is”. While criticising campus censorship, he has also launched two defamation suits against Wilfrid Laurier University to ‘convince careless university professors and administrators… to be much more circumspect in their actions and their words”.
Similarly, while Peterson argues passionately for science and reason, even within his own subject area, he has been criticised as a “charlatan”, peddling “pseudoscience” which mixes religion, mysticism and biological determinism, often justifying traditional social hierarchies by reference to the animal kingdom.
Jordan Peterson is described as a “free-thinker”, who for some is a breath of fresh air in our increasingly censorious times, but do his critic have a point? What do we make of the Jordan Petersons phenomenon, and Peterson himself?