In defence of Jordan B. Peterson5 min read
One of the hardest things about running a website like ours – a postcolonial research centre focused on Arab politics and society – is preventing a dominant liberal narrative from emerging. This is because many academics that take a serious interest in Arab society from a postcolonial perspective tend to be of left-wing tendency.
Of course, in the first instance, it takes an element of “socialist thinking” to believe that the Arab World is “hindered”, in part, by its history of colonialism.
Many people on the right side of the political debate believe that this is a form of victimisation. For many left-leaning academics like myself, focus on colonial history is not a form of victimisation – it is merely an application of context.
It becomes victimisation when postcoloniality is used as a trump card to explain any of our shortcomings as a global Arab community.
Jordan B. Peterson and rationalism
With this said, it is evident that it is becoming increasingly difficult to approach Political Science with a “rationalist” perspective in a chaotic, confused, fallacious and overly-sensitive environment – and it is in this capacity and this capacity alone that I can understand Jordan Peterson’s frustrations.
If you break down “JBP’s” arguments, I believe that they are not controversial by twenty-first century standards. What are controversial are portrayals of his views which are often either insufficiently explained or incorrectly represented.
I know that I am putting both my own neck and the neck of my organisation on the line by commenting on this, but I prefer to defend what I perceive as “truth” regardless of popular census. So please hear me out.
During the debate on Canada’s approved Bill C-16 which made it a crime to not refer to members of the trans community by their preferred gender pronouns, Peterson raised ideological concerns on the government “compelling speech”. His argument was that the Canadian government could enter a very muggy road if it begins regulating our speech and how we choose to identify other people.
I understood that it was Peterson’s view that the trans community have the right to identify as they wish, but that he also has the right to identify other people as he wishes according to his understanding of gender-determination as a clinical psychologist.
Instead, Peterson’s remarks had been branded as transphobic and an attack on the trans community. His views had been represented as a denial of the right of trans people to identify as they wish. Whilst I appreciate that his remarks could be hijacked and utilised by other people who are transphobic, I do not believe that his remarks were motivated by transphobia.
I believe that Peterson’s contentions with Bill C-16 had been strictly ideological and are perhaps the consequence of an over reading of 1984.
Of course, it is possible that I am wrong and that I have misread JBP’s intentions. If this is the case, I sincerely apologise. I am making inferences about his intentions based on his discussions in other areas.
Peterson, for example, agrees that men are no more intelligent than women and bases this conclusion on statistical analysis in his capacity as a clinical psychologist. Therefore, it seems that Peterson reaches conclusions based on a scientific reading whether these conclusions fall into the narrative of the “alt-right” or into the narrative of left-wing feminism.
I believe that if Peterson had an agenda, he would withhold opinions that contradict the alt-right narrative – just as “Tommy Robinson” does when he discusses statistical research confirming crime within the Muslim community but overlooks evidence for criminal issues outside the Muslim demographic group.
Either that, or Peterson is some sort of Machiavellian genius who deliberately concedes left-wing ideas in order to make his right-wing ideas seem like they have been rationally reached.
Jordan B. Peterson and the white man’s burden
Another attack that is commonly held against Peterson is the idea that he has no right to comment on issues of race or gender discrimination given his privileged position as a white male. Not only is it not true that we are always either privileged or oppressed (Arabs, for example, are oppressed by some demographic groups and can also oppress other demographic groups), I am equally not comfortable with the idea of denying other people their right to contribute to a particular discourse on the basis of their race or gender. It is a form of dismissal and even arrogance.
Asserting that a different context of power warrants this denial does not clearly answer any doubts on whether such a denial essentially represents another from of discrimination. It almost appears to be a projection of a deeper resentment and inferiority complex when non-white groups (such as my own demographic group) deny white groups from commenting on structural discrimination.
Peterson has no control over his birth circumstances and we should judge him more overwhelmingly in favour of the content of his argument. God forbid we may be able to learn at least something from the discussion.
A more credible argument would therefore be to assert the following:
- Engaging in power discourse with oppressor groups strengthens the power dynamic between the oppressor and the oppressed.
Whilst I am not sure what my views on the above are (I am still reading about this), this is definitely a much more nuanced and credible position than the “you cannot comment because you are white and male” position that seems to be applauded in the echo chamber of the video above.
Jordan B. Peterson may be viewed as controversial, but we should not deny his right to represent his ideas as long as they are not directly inciting violence or hatred towards a particular demographic community. I am yet to see this direct incitement in his arguments.