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Letter to the Editor: Fuck Jordan Peterson

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I can’t believe we’re still talking about Jordan Peterson. I'm disappointed that the Tribune found it necessary to publish an article by Gabriel Rincon making the tired argument that there is somehow a deeper free speech issue behind Peterson’s transphobia (“Jordan Peterson’s real thesis lost in U of T pronoun debate,” Jan. 10). Spoiler: There isn’t.

Despite Rincon’s claims to the contrary, Peterson’s opinions on gender and gender pronouns are not a distraction from his views on freedom of speech. They are, by his own admission, central to his argument. It’s precisely because he “[doesn’t] know what the options are if you’re not a man or a woman,” and because he doesn’t think that non-binary gender identities are “a valid idea,” that Peterson can claim that prohibiting gender-based discrimination is a violation of his freedoms. To be clear, Peterson is not concerned with free expression in any meaningful sense, but only with his freedom to misgender students and invalidate their identities.

It is intentionally misleading to articulate this connection through the bogeyman of “political correctness.” In doing so, Peterson and Rincon continue the right’s 25-year tradition of using this “phantom enemy,” as Moira Weigel calls it in a Guardian piece, to target marginalized individuals (in this case trans and non-binary people) and impute bad faith and authoritarian motives to them. To treat Peterson’s legal arguments seriously is absurd: For example, the Ontario Human Rights Code’s definition of discrimination is unrelated to Bill C-16, and is neither new nor controversial in practice. The attack on free speech that Peterson describes is imaginary.

With the help of the media, Peterson has cynically manufactured a controversy that has catapulted him into the public eye and now earns him over $14,000 per month on Patreon. Meanwhile, Peterson’s comments prompted a wave of threats against trans students, rallies in support of Peterson have attracted white supremacists, and a non-binary professor who spoke up against Peterson was extensively harassed on the basis of their gender by Peterson’s fans.

To attack a marginalized group from the security of a tenured position and a place of privilege is not a courageous defence of free speech, but a display of cowardice. Justice would be well served if we stopped defending this professor and never mentioned his name again, unless it is to say: Fuck Jordan Peterson.

Igor Sadikov

U3 Mathematics and Political Science

Arts Representative to SSMU

  • sarahmmah

    There has not been one media outlet that has portrayed this debate accurately or in a balanced manner – and this article contributes to the false characterization of this being about left-wing authoritarianism vs right-wing bigotry. While I am the last person to defend a prof that believes “the idea that women were discriminated against across the course of history is appalling”, we as students need to be able to talk, ask questions and debate about the theory of gender identity and alternative frameworks, WITHOUT being called “bigots” or “transphobes” by the dominant “leftist” student groups. There is nothing that incites hatred, fear, or violence in talking about it, and I think you do yourselves a great disservice when you suggest reducing your critical analysis to simply, “Fuck Jordan Peterson.” But hey, I do give some credit to the Tribune for trying to cover both sides.

    • igor

      if wilful misgendering, threats and harassment isn’t transphobia, what is? i’m reducing my analysis to an insult because peterson’s substantive contributions on this topic are laughable (and as you note, his analysis of gender and social issues is not the one you have in mind). i can’t speak for anyone else but i would certainly engage more thoughtfully with substantive theoretical disagreements that don’t involve intentionally misgendering people, disregarding the violent impact of such decisions on the campus climate, and literally materially profiting from it all.

      • WreckTom

        What is transphobia you ask? Let’s find out then!

        “Oxford Dictionary : [mass noun] Dislike of or prejudice against transsexual or transgender people:”

        If every trans person starts coming up with their own custom pronoun, you cannot expect of everyone to know them off the bat. That’s the point he is making. He’s a teacher, he has hundreds of students and he’d rather focus on his teaching, which is what we all expect teachers to do.

        He is not discriminating, or pushing prejudice against trans people, he hasn’t locked his classroom to trans people, denying them education, he simply doesn’t want to use the dozens of new pronouns that people are simply looking to victimize themselves over.

        That’s not prejudice, you can go to his classes, you still exist, and while you’re in his classes, your rights to sit down, shut up and be educated are left intact. You don’t like it don’t study philosophy and find something else brother. Philosophy is challenging on many levels, too much for some people indeed.

        I cannot believe people like you actually are university students.

        Fuck [insert thing here] that’s the point you’re making? Really?

        • sarahmmah

          While I find Peterson’s justifications weak, and his comments otherwise belligerent, it was definitely the implication that one is expected to know the pronoun ahead of time (or be accused of a hate crime in a legal context) that was most interesting to me.

          • WreckTom

            To me too. Perspective is the kryptonite of the modern, social media infested world, and I feel like aggressive entitlement is the shield that protects these types from even trying to understand how they come across to others who are trying to get to know them, or even relate to them.

            Place yourself in someone else’s shoes. If you look like a woman, the person will assume you are one. If you look like a man, the person will assume you are one. What’s wrong with that? How is the general population supposed to suddenly know the ins and outs of a specific but interesting subculture (non-binary), no matter how vocal it’s members are?

            The result is that I’m not that interested in what they have to say because you can’t ask questions or raise a concern without huge backlash. It makes people not want to even partake in the discussion. Look at the article above. If you were ambivalent on the subject and looking for points of view, how would that writer come across to you? Would that make you want to reach out and participate in a discussion on the subject with the people who are part of it?

            The author is not even a trans person and is talking on their behalf with huge, very serious words written for his own aggrandizement with zero regards to what they actually mean. Imagine how rough the actual trans crowd must be right?

            However, it is an important subject that people should try to relate to, but they are being pushed away, scared of disagreeing and be copiously shamed for it.

            I’m a fan of intelligence. I’m a fan of objective analysis, I’m a fan of stopping for a moment and using your brain to the best of your abilities to circumvent a question by yourself. I think opinions are important to have for yourself, but I don’t think sharing them is that important.

            As I grow older, I realize the discussion itself is more interesting than the points people are desperately trying to make using words they don’t understand or didn’t research, so if the discussion is full of garbage and devoid of intelligence and objectivity, why would I have an interest in it? Why would anyone worth a shit?

          • igor

            “I think opinions are important to have for yourself, but I don’t think sharing them is that important.”

            i’m a fan of you taking your own advice here

          • WreckTom

            It’s not advice, it’s just what I think.

        • igor

          peterson refuses to use pronouns that are known to him, not just in class but in general. for example he pointedly referred to aw peet, the non-binary professor, as “he” in a media interview even though peterson knows that peet uses “they” and that’s what the interviewer used. peet has a fairly ambiguous gender presentation too (not that this should matter but just in case you’d make that argument).

          • WreckTom

            He has chosen to not use them across the board. If he doesn’t bother with student demands, he shouldn’t bother with teachers either.

            I think it’s actually a very responsible and professional attitude to have and I like his stance on the matter even more now. Thank you for letting me know that.

      • sarahmmah

        Threats and harassment towards trans-gendered individuals, on the part of Peterson? This I have not heard of. I have only heard of threats and harassment towards him.

        Now, I personally don’t have a problem with the act of calling a person by their preferred pronoun as a sign of respect. However, “willful misgendering,” while perhaps gross and distasteful, is most certainly not an act of violence. Moever, the actual underlying debate here is whether we believe “gender” is an identity, or in fact, a social condition. I find this piece particularly helpful http://www.nationalobserver.com/2016/10/25/opinion/opinion-bill-c-16-flawed-ways-most-canadians-have-not-considered

        • igor

          “Peterson’s comments prompted a wave of threats against trans students, rallies in support of Peterson have attracted white supremacists, and a non-binary professor who spoke up against Peterson was extensively harassed on the basis of their gender by Peterson’s fans.” – these acts of violence were directly caused by the way peterson publicly manufactured this controversy and he has neither disavowed them nor taken any responsibility.

          it’s a bit disingenuous that the article you linked would bill itself as “the” feminist perspective when it is one that is held by a minority of feminists. it seems obvious to me that gender is both an identity and a social condition, it’s the relationship between the two and the nature of this condition that is conceivably a matter of debate. fully discounting identity or self-understanding erases the possibility of any dialectical analysis and, it seems to me, cannot explain the existence of trans and non-binary people in the first place. i wouldn’t commit to endorsing this entire article but i found it thought-provoking: https://anti-imperialism.org/2014/06/11/trans-people-and-dialectics-of-sex-and-gender/

          • sarahmmah

            You presented your comment as though it was on the part of Peterson. That said, I think it is a mistake for Peterson not to repudiate the actions of his supporters. Then again, I do not support the vast majority of Peterson’s ideas. Doesn’t mean I think he should be de-platformed.

            I simply linked an article that I thought was helpful to my thinking through the lens of feminism, be it a minority or majority position. I made no claims about this article representing what everyone who calls themselves ‘feminists’ thinks. I don’t see how that’s disingenuous, or any more biased/positioned than the article you refer to.

            Anyhow, it is rather amusing to me that in being sure the minority position is heard, you would be so quick to dismiss a feminist point of view. Perhaps THIS is illustrative of the call back to principles of freedom of speech.

          • igor

            and he’s not being de-platformed, he’s being called a bigot due to his views and actions. his fears re bill c-16 are largely hyperbolic, but had they been voiced with more respect, they wouldn’t have caused the harm that they did and i don’t think there would have been an issue.

            i was calling the article (and its writer) disingenuous, not you. the phrase “While the media has framed the debate around gender identity as one of left vs. right, there is a key perspective that is missing from the conversation: the feminist one” makes it seem like the “left” or trans-inclusive perspectives are not feminist ones.

            i didn’t dismiss the point of view, i outlined why i disagree with it. you have offered no substantive defence of it (and i understand this might not be the best place to do so), but i am aware that it is thoughtfully held and that, should you wish to parse out where we differ, i would probably learn something from such an exchange.

          • sarahmmah

            I am quite sure that what the U of T students argued for was “No Platforming” – that is, the refusal/removal/prevention of an individual or organization’s platform to speak.

            Now, whether you agree with this analysis (or the writer’s analysis) or not, the article I attached exposed some pretty clear and concrete concerns of Bill C-16 beyond Peterson’s that are far from “hyperbolic” and have consequences for those ought not to be ignored, such as the protection of women-only spaces in recognition that male violence is widespread and pervasive and documented.

            I think debating what is and isn’t “feminist” and how it applies to this issue is really beyond the scope of this narrowly-framed letter to the editor. What I will say is this: there are a good many “left” and perhaps “trans-inclusive” perspectives that do nothing to challenge patriarchal structures, dismiss aspects of equality based on sex and gender as biological and social realities, and therefore, are not feminist.

            It is a scary time to be a critical thinker, especially on the topic of “gender identity” in the shadow of ignorance and censorship that is becoming ever more commonplace at academic institutions and student unions, but as educated, relatively privileged people – we have an obligation to do it, and hear all sides.

            https://www.theguardian.com/world/commentisfree/video/2016/feb/10/sorry-we-cant-ban-everything-that-offends-you-video

          • Derek_V

            You can call him whatever you want. We are defenders of free speech and we are opponents of legislation that harms that right because it is fundamental to western civilization. The likes of you attack Peterson because he called you out on your postmodern radical leftist authoritarian tactics and the refutation of science over toxic identity politics BS. It’s clear for all to see. You are the enemies of an open society while being deluded enough to believe to hold the moral high ground.

    • Hi Sarah! Thank you for engaging in the Tribune’s commenting section. If you are interested in also contributing to the conversation through a letter to the editor or commentary piece, please get in touch with our team of editors at [email protected].

  • mamacita

    Igor, you can go screw yourself! Have a nice day!

  • garneau_mathieu

    “that Peterson can claim that prohibiting gender-based discrimination is a violation of his freedoms”

    Turns out that’s not at all what he claims. What he says is that the legislation as proposed makes people of whatever gender identity legally entitled to be referred to by whatever made up pronouns they would like to be considered as, and that this is wrong.

    Now I don’t expect anyone who writes a column titled “Fuck Jordan Peterson” to be grasp any kind of nuance in that. Of course you have to pretend that his opposition to the formulation of the bill and the underlying assumption about what identity ought to be is somehow evidence of transphobia. I’m guessing you probably thought that the US’s decision not to outlaw holocaust denial was evidence of anti-semitism or, as it’s been argued, of “backing nazism”?

    By the way, Peterson’s puzzlement at the notion of non-binary gender identities has nothing to do with intolerance. We’re talking about a concept that is simply not rooted in science. There’s no established scientific truth about that topic yet so why in the damn world would everyone agree with it? Because you wish so? So you come up with some new, unproven idea and everyone is expected to just embrace it, no debate allowed, and failure to accept it like dogma is simply hate speech and should be prohibited by law? Good one.

    • Derek_V

      Science is non existing in postmodern fascism.

  • Joe

    Igor, is this the “punch a Zionist” guy? Yeah, a real upholder of free speech. This article makes perfect sense now.

    • ogunsiron

      friendly reminder that “intersectional” communists don’t care about free speech and never even pretended to, just like the bolsheviks didn’t care about free speech back in 1917.

      They do not care about free speech. They do not think that it’s ok for rightwing or conservative people to even attend a university. They’d feel justified in crushing your skull for merely existing while disagreeing with their intersectional dogma. So no, they don’t care about free speech. They don’t care about being fair or just or anything like that.

  • Jacob Russell

    I have a number of serious issues with this article and how it’s opinion is expressed. First of all I think it makes the mistake of seeing Peterson has a villain and assuming that he’s in a complete position of privilege. Those letters he received were not sent for a laugh. The administration clearly felt that his position on compelled pronouns constituted a violation of their policies, or why send the letters at all? To continue to talk about this subject after being told he had to stop (tenured does not mean they can’t fire you, as Igor well knows) does take some courage. Secondly at no time has he displayed any bigotry towards trans people and in fact has talked to several of them that agree with him (although I’m sure Igor won’t be as quick to label them as transphobic).

    This letter assumes knowledge with zero evidence to back it up as fact. It assumes that gender (which isn’t exactly clearly defined to begin with and has a suspect history as a word) is definitely non-binary. As if the debate is settled and biologists finally have proof. That’s not a fair or accurate assessment of the situation at all. It’s anger and vitriol being thrown out in place of a proper argument and good science. The only ‘transphobia’ that Peterson is guilty of is saying that in the event of being asked to use pronouns other than the traditional ones he would refuse. That’s it. That’s not hateful or transphobic. It might seem unkind, it might seem a tad cruel to some, but it is certainly not transphobic.

    Igor is probably unaware that Peterson recently shared an article on Twitter about the possibility of there being more than two gender’s, from Nature magazine. He’s still willing to discuss the matter, unlike Igor, who’s mind is made up despite a lack of concrete proof. It seems to me that certain sections of either the extreme right or left will refuse any conversation on a topic that they believe they are right about. Well, without the ability to discuss these things we only create more animosity and a greater divide amongst the electorate and that isn’t helping things for our culture. We need to be able to discuss this issue, many Canadians are undecided and articles like the one the Gazette did on Peterson are absolutely vital to the national dialogue that must happen if we are to reach a consensus on what we value or believe as a nation. Using dismissive language and reductive arguments where someone assumes a professor of Peterson’s stature has nothing to offer simply because you don’t agree with him on this one issue is a big part of what’s wrong with our culture right now.

    The accuracy of his assessment of the bill is up for debate. How that will be interpreted over time is not something we can be sure of. Igor has issues with how Peterson reads it.. well I don’t know if he’s ever been in a court room but how to interpret something like that is a big part of court proceedings and lawyers jobs in general. You cannot assume that it won’t be used to impede free speech, you don’t know that.

    As for his fans being alt-right or Nazi’s or whichever. Irrelevant. Nazi’s are free to enjoy whatever they like and it doesn’t necessarily reflect on the original artist or their intentions. I consider myself a ‘fan’ of Peterson’s work.. not so much the stuff on pronouns but his work on the meaning of myth, story, religion, and archetypes on how the impact our lives and potentially come from our evolutionary roots in some way. He does a lot more than talk about pronouns. I’m liberal, voted NDP last election, I despise Trump, and I have trans friends whom I use the preferred pronoun for. But I won’t say “fuck so and so” because we disagree on one issue. That is exactly the kind of rhetoric that does more harm than good and puts a person like Trump in the white house. Let’s make sure we are all willing to talk before we do something similar here.

  • Paul McGowan

    If the ideal position for society to take is one in which we treat everyone as individuals and don’t make presumptions about them based on their gender, race, sexual orientation etc. Why is it so important for Trans people to be considered as a different gender. I thought we were attempting to reduce the significance of gender culturally not prop it up as an essential part of the human identity. I’m sure that I’m ignorant in some ways about this issue. But frankly if it is an issue independent of sexual orientation which I think both sides accept that it is, then what is the real purpose of it. The only logical reason I can see for a person with gender dysphoria transitioning to the opposite sex is to change the way in which they are perceived by others. Which doesn’t strike me as a particularly sound justification. Particularly seen as it presupposes certain things about the genders, which is what I thought was the real problem?

    • Vincent Guidry

      It frustrates me that so little people pick up on this contradiction.
      We decry that little girls are being “gendered” to a fault when they are young, saying that the female gender is inherently oppressive and detrimental to opportunity for women.
      After which we encourage young boys to “feminize” themselves through conventional “feminine” attire, thus reinforcing gender norms. It’s insane.

  • Derek_V

    Oh look it’s an authoritarian postmodern fascist resorting to cheap ad hominems for lack of better arguments.
    It’s this kind of pretend benevolence on display here that will mark the undoing of a free and open society.

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