The older, raw, honest tyrannies told people what not to speak. But the new, wilier versions, midwifed by our famous human rights overseers, are proposing to insist on what we must speak.
By now most of the country is familiar with the story of one professor, Jordan Peterson, at the University of Toronto, who has expressed strong and vivid dissent over the university's attempt to force him to use certain words — ersatz pronouns, a batch of neologisms ( ze, zim, zer, and a raft of others, in place of he or she) coined by progressive groups, intended to apply to students who "self-identify" as other than the archaic and obsolete designations of man and woman.
Prof. Jordan will not use these new cant words. He will not be ordered by the university, or pressured by activists, to take their words and put them in his mouth. He goes further and insists that it is an abandonment of academic freedom, and freedom of speech more generally, for the university or others to insist or attempt to mandate such a practice. He has made three videos arguing his case. He points out the ideological forces, the "political agenda" behind "language politics," and correctly argues and identifies that there is far more at stake in this instance than some local gripe about grammatical commonplaces on a single campus.
As a consequence, Peterson received from his university two letters of reprimand and warning, one of which I would like to deal with in some detail, for it is a most miserable document, in content, tone and misdirection. And, coming from a university, it is also simultaneously shameless and utterly shame-worthy. The letters are easily available online for your reference. There is much to object to, but let me concentrate just on the following passage.
As a result of Peterson's speaking on these matters, "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 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."
Is the university seriously claiming, by inference or direct assertion, that because a professor has freely chosen not to speak a set of freshly made-up words that others insist he speak, that others, because of the professor's intellectual dissent, have really been made targets of "assault, injury, and death threats"?
Prof. Jordan will not use these new cant words. He will not be ordered by the university, or pressured by activists, to take their words and put them in his mouth.
Has the University of Toronto been moved to Iran now, that such things happen? That such "impacts" fall from the serene academic sky when a professor unfolds a reasonable (if contentious) argument, an argument moreover which, if at all studied, proves to be an actual defence of the idea of a real university, one that respects standards of debate, argument, and illustrates the very academic autonomy university tenure was meant to buttress and consolidate?
Is it really their expectation or experience that Peterson's defence of the centrality of free speech and intellectual exchange precipitate "assaults, injury or death threats"? I must believe, though it storms my senses of logic and credibility, that the university authorities do so, since they go on to "urge" him to stop making his arguments.
But if there are real threats of death, injury and violence, why "urge" him to stop? Why not, in so serious a matter, order him. Answer: because "urge" is a weasel word, and allows the enlightened authorities at the seat of higher learning to convey their sweet and sanctimonious concern without having the courage to actually command what, if the danger was real, they certainly would.
I simply don't believe them. But if they present their police reports ( for surely threats of injury, violence and death have been reported?), and show evidence of increased security and police patrols, I might change my mind. In the meantime, on the wild chance all this is indeed the case, every student should stay away from University of Toronto campus until the carnage stirred up by The Great Pronoun War subsides.
This is human resources-speak at its demeaning worst. The whole letter is the university's leaders reaching for the stock phrases and code speak of "social justice" to coat their otherwise absolutely unsupportable efforts to contain their discomfort with an academic who is, actually, true to his calling. It's a letter of threat, masquerading as an epistle of concern.
And following that logic, are they seriously asserting that the professor should abandon his absolute right to speak the thoughts and words he chooses to speak in the academy, because if he does not, then somehow should these "death threats" materialize, he will bear the burden of being their cause? This is an implicit accusation straight out of the nightmare pages of real world dystopias, all the menace of Animal Farm without Orwell's drear wit.
Just who is "unsafe" here? Peterson himself, of course. When bravely and openly he went public to argue his case, a mob surrounded him, threatened him, drowned out his words with a "white noise" machine, and subjected him to a barrage of insults, slanders and pure insolence.
Were I a president of a university, and it sent out a letter of this intellectual fragility and insidious threat under the university's imprimatur, I would see it expunged instantly, or resign for fear of disgrace by association. And were I a president, and a mob of hostile, anti-intellectual bullies harassed and threatened a professor on my campus, either the members of the mob would go, or I would. It should be as clear as that.
The older, raw, honest tyrannies told people what not to speak. But the new, wilier versions, midwifed by our famous human rights overseers, are proposing to insist on what we must speak. Here be the new axioms of our day: we own your pronouns, use no others. "He" and "she" are assault words. Freedom of speech is the life-raft flotsam of gurgling obscurantists and bigots going down for the last time.
Prof. Jordan Peterson is a brave man. Better, he is an actual, a real, university professor. May his stamina and courage hold. Parents, send your children to his classes.
Rex Murphy, "A real professor, at last." National Post (October 28, 2016).
Reprinted with permission of the National Post.
Rex Murphy was host of CBC Radio One's Cross-Country Checkup, a nation wide call-in show, for 21 years before stepping down in September 2015. Murphy is a frequent presence on the various branches of the CBC. He has regular commentary segments entitled "Point of View" on The National, the CBC's flagship nightly news program. See Rex's TV commentaries. In addition, he writes book reviews, commentaries, and a weekly column for the National Post. He is the author of Canada and Other Matters of Opinion and Points of View.Copyright © 2016 National Post
back to top