There have been occasions when seemingly innocuous YouTube videos go viral. The most recent (and unusual) example has been a Canadian academic’s esoteric discussion of a violation of his right to free speech on campus.
Yet, there are many logical reasons why Jordan Peterson’s 57 minute, 42 second video, “Fear and the Law,” posted on Sept. 27, has received nearly 117,000 views – and, in turn, led to various media appearances that have likely been seen by millions of others.
The University of Toronto psychology professor touched a nerve when he dissected the issue of political correctness. Peterson has refused, on principle, to follow his institution’s lead to accommodate some students with a litany of made-up gender pronouns, such as “ze,” “zim” and “zer.” He told the National Post on Sept. 28, “I don’t recognize another person’s right to determine what pronouns I use to address them. I won’t do it.”
Peterson is also concerned about Bill C-16. This is the federal Liberal government’s proposal to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act (“to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination”) and the Criminal Code (“to extend the protection against hate propaganda set out in that Act to any section of the public that is distinguished by gender identity or expression”).
Peterson believes this proposed bill, combined with his university’s human resources initiative to introduce mandatory anti-racist and anti-bias training – which, as he points out, assumes “I am agreeing that I am sufficiently racist or biased to need training” – is a politicized attack on an individual’s right to free speech.
While people have the freedom to use atypical gender pronouns, and ask others to use them, we as a society also have the freedom to refuse their requests. Most of us believe that typical pronouns like “he,” she,” “her,” and “him” sufficiently represents our population. The fact that an infinitesimal percentage identifies with some rather bizarre descriptions is beside the point.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a separate, hypothetical example.
We’ve all been taught the sky is blue. Yet, your neighbours down the street firmly believe the sky is yellow. They’ll happily debate it, and even convince several other families that they’re right. Does this mean we should all accommodate this incorrect description of the sky’s colour?
Individuals and groups cannot simply force a change in speech, language or perception that hasn’t been recognized by the vast majority of society. Debating issues is healthy, and has gradually led to important societal changes dealing with race, religion and gender. But all of them dealt with real situations, and not the acceptance of pronouns from the Land of Make Believe.
Although the University of Toronto has not yet changed its policy, Peterson’s concern that the human resources department’s initiative may be an early sign of a forced shift in campus and workplace mentality is entirely valid.
Peterson has received two warning letters from the university. Consider this startling paragraph in one of them, “Some students have been the target of specific and violent threats, including threats of assault, injury and death against them individually and as members of the trans community. We trust these that these impacts on students and others were not your intention in making (the controversial remarks). However, in view of these impacts, as well as the requirements of the Ontario Human Rights Code, we urge you to stop making these remarks.”
One academic’s decision to speak out against political correctness, and refusal to use faux gender pronouns, may have led to threats of violence and death against some transsexual students? Sorry, if this is a line in the sand, then it is absolutely ludicrous.
To his credit, Peterson won’t budge on his position. He told Steve Paikin on TVO’s The Agenda on Oct. 26: “If they fine me, I won’t pay it. If they put me in jail, I’ll go on a hunger strike. I’m not doing this. And that’s that.”
That’s the mark of a true free speech defender. Bravo, Prof. Peterson.
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.