Jordan Peterson is a Canadian clinical psychologist, cultural critic, and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. Ignited controversy by refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns, Sep 2016. He zeroed in on Canadian human rights legislation that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or expression. Dr Peterson was especially frustrated with being asked to use alternative pronouns as requested by trans students or staff, like the singular 'they' or 'ze' and 'zir', used by some as alternatives to 'she' or 'he'. At a free speech rally mid-October, he was drowned out by a white noise machine. Pushing and shoving broke out in the crowd. He says the lock on his office door was glued shut.
(Excerpted from his talk at the Manning Conference Feb 23-25, 2017)
"One way of conceptualizing yourself, is that you're one speck of dust among seven billion. And when you conceptualize yourself that way, you might think, "Well, what difference does it make what I say or do?" And that's actually quite convenient for you, because if it doesn't matter what you say or do, then you don't have any responsibility and you can do whatever you want. The price you pay for that is a bit of nihilism, but if you don't have to shoulder any responsibility, that's a small price to pay. That's the underground motivation for nihilism.
"But the other way of looking at it, and this is actually the accurate way of looking at it, is that you're in a network. You're a node in a network and so you can do a little bit of arithmetic very rapidly and just figure out how powerful you are. You know a thousand people. You're going to know more than that over the course of your life, but let's say a thousand for the sake of argument, for now. They know a thousand people. That means that you're one person away from a million people and two persons away from a billion people. And you're the center of that network. And now the way networks work, is that information propagates in a network manner. So, don't underestimate the power of your speech.
"Now, you know, Western culture is phallogocentric. Let's say it. Okay, so we'll say yeah, that's just fine. That's exactly what it is. It's predicated on the idea of the logos, that the logos is the sacred element of Western culture. And what does that mean? It means that your capacity for speech is divine. It's the thing that generates order from chaos and then sometimes turns pathological order into chaos, when it has to. Don't underestimate the power of truth. There's nothing more powerful.
"Now, in order to speak what you might regard as the truth, you have to let go of the outcome. You have to think, 'All right, I'm going to say what I think. Stupid as I am, biased as I am, ignorant as I am, I'm going to state what I think as clearly as I can and I'm going to live with the consequences no matter what they are.'
"Now, the reason you think that, that's an element of faith. The idea is that nothing brings a better world into being than the stated truth. Now, you might have to pay a price for that, but that's fine. You're going to pay a price for every bloody thing you do and everything you don't do. You don't get to choose to not pay a price. You get to choose which poison you're going to take. That's it.
"So, if you're going to stand up for something, stand up for your truth. It'll shape you, because people will respond, and object, and tell you why you were a fool, and a biased moron, and why you're ignorant. And then if you listen to them, you'll be just that much less like that the next time you say something. And if you do that for five years, you'll be so damn tough and articulate and able to communicate and withstand pressure, that you won't even recognize yourself. And then you'll be a force to contend with.
"And you don't get to wait until—I get letters like Gad Saad gets all the time, too, from faculty members in particular, and they say, "Well, you know, when I get tenure." It's like then they think, "Well, when I'm an associate professor," and then they think, "Well, when I'm a full professor." It's like, if you're a professor already, you're like the most protected person in the history of the planet. Well, okay, but what one of the things that that indicates, is that it's almost impossible to provide people with enough protection so that they feel safe to speak. Okay, so we'll address that directly: it is not safe to speak. And it never will be.
"But the thing you've got to keep in mind, is that it's even less safe not to speak. Right? It's a balance of risks. It's like, you want to pay the price for being who you are and stating your mode of being in the world, or do you want to pay the price for being a bloody surf, one that's enslaved him or herself? Well, that's a major price, man. That thing unfolds over decades and you'll just be a miserable worm at the end of about twenty years of that, right? No self respect, no power, no ability to voice your opinions. Nothing left but resentment, because everyone's against you, because, of course, you've never stood up for yourself.
"It's like, say what you think carefully. Pay attention to your words. It's a price you want to pay, if you are willing to believe that truth is the cornerstone of society. And in the most real sense, if you're willing to take that leap, then tell the truth and see what happens. And nothing better could possibly happen to you. There'll be ups and downs, and there'll be pushback, and it'll be controversy and all of that, but it doesn't matter. The truth is what redeems the world from hell, and that's the truth. And we saw plenty of hell over the last hundred years, you know, and we haven't learned a bloody thing from it. It's like, wake up. Tell the truth. Tell the truth, or at least don't lie. That's a start. And you've got to understand, that's a risk.
"I have one more brief thing to say about that. So, you know, I said what I had to say back in September. I'm sure that I could have done it better, and many people have told me how I could have done it better, although, it didn't mean they would actually do it. And you know, my job was at risk—serious risk—for about two months. And it destabilized my family. They're being very brave about this, so like, thumbs up to them, man. They've just stood by me.
"But, here's the optimistic news, is the university has left me alone completely. I shook hands with the dean two weeks ago. We're on friendly terms. They don't want this to go any farther than it has already. The students were tremendously welcoming when I came back to teach in January. I haven't had a single negative incident at the university. And I've received thousands of letters from people all over the world, all of which have been in support. I've received two negative letters. That's it. Two. So, people have an inchoate longing to have the sort of thing that we're talking about articulated. And so don't be thinking you're alone. It's just that people can't talk, they're afraid to talk, or they don't know what to say. And those are real problems. So, if you're reasonably articulate, like start talking and sharpen yourself up.
"I mean, the enemy is a cloud. They're a cloud of gnats. They're only courageous in groups. They're only courageous in mobs. If you stand your ground, and don't apologize, and articulate things properly, they'll disperse around you like they're not even there. So most of it's illusion. So, be afraid, but be afraid of the right thing. And the right thing you should be afraid of is not saying what you say, because that's the same as not being. And here you are suffering away. You might as well be at the same time. At least then there's something to you."