The truth is stranger than fiction

About Jordan Peterson, let’s clarify some points misunderstood as “fake news”

Last week, I had the pleasure of reading a response from Russell Wu. Despite his focus on ad-hominem attacks on my character rather than the content I published, I was still glad that I got a response.

Wu started off with the premise that he expects to read about some scandal in my op-ed—he already came in with presumptions. My article was not about any specific scandal. And in fact, I did not make any mention of any of the scandals that Wu mentioned, such as what happened with the teaching assistant at Wilfrid Laurier University, or how the Ryerson administration canceled a panel on restriction of free speech.

But if Wu really came in to the opinion section wanting to read about a Peterson scandal so he could blurt out ad-hominems against the writer in his response, then I can at least do him the favour of discussing one recent scandal about Peterson.

According to PressProgress last week, Peterson dropped ex-Rebel Media host Faith Goldy from his panel series titled “Stifling of Free Speech on University Campuses” for her neo-nazi rhetoric and her participation in the Charlottesville riots, protesting alongside the “alt-right.” Peterson’s reason for dropping her is that he did not want to associate himself with a neo-nazi. This comment got a bad reaction from his supporters, who are all proponents of “free speech”—even if it is associated with neo-nazis. As a result, in immense irony, Peterson’s alt-right supporters are mad at Peterson because he wants to disassociate himself from that movement.

So, isn’t Peterson contradicting himself in this case? Why would Peterson devote a significant amount of his time rallying for free speech, but then drop Faith Goldy, who was just practicing her “free speech” in Charlottesvile, Virgina, according to his alt-right fans?

Now, let’s move on to the actual content of my article.

Before beginning his critique, Wu stated my op-ed was a “dissembling, ill-informed, badly written attack piece” and it “stains the pages” of The Medium. This statement did not have anything to do with what I wrote—in fact, he wrote it before he divulged into any critique of my content. It’s just an attack on my character.

Wu insinuated that I contradicted myself when I wrote about Peterson planning to start his own online university to teach the humanities. Wu wondered that because Peterson wants to teach humanities, how could it be that Peterson dislikes the humanities?

Let’s go directly to Peterson’s Patreon page to answer that question. The Patreon description states, “My colleagues and I (who include excellent engineers, programmers, financiers and educators) want to take the humanities back from the corrupt postmodernists […]”

It begs the question, why aren’t any of his colleagues a part of humanities, or even a part of any humanitarian cause? Wouldn’t it make sense to make a syllabus or curriculum about humanities using direct input from the people who have contributed to the discipline? Furthermore, he calls postmodernists “corrupt.” That’s because he does not care about the humanities or the postmodernist framework, but rather, about the person who uses postmodernism, such as academics in the humanities, which was the entire point of my op-ed—it was literally there in the title.

Peterson wants to stamp out the critical theoretical frameworks that are used in the humanities and social science disciplines, such as postmodernism and Marxism. If you simply google “Peterson postmodernism,” the first result is a speech about how and why it must be destroyed. Peterson believes such frameworks further the cause of “political correctness,” which threaten “free speech” in a liberal society. He wants to revamp the humanities to the extent that it doesn’t resemble the humanities anymore, but rather a corporatized dilution of humanities that him and his financier colleagues have conjured up.

Wu said that Peterson sees a “radical authoritarianism” that has “hijacked” the humanities. According to Collins Dictionary, “authoritarianism” is the notion that people with power, such as the state, have the right to control other people’s actions. My op-ed was about academia specifically, not the state, so I’m not sure how this “radical authoritarianism” applies in a university context. Furthermore, Wu mentioned “radical leftist activists” without recognizing that leftist activists actually work to dismantle authoritarianism, not fight for it.

Wu also said I’m arguing against a strawman when he mentioned, “Nor was the issue ever centered on scientific rigor.” When Peterson tweeted about 80 per cent of humanities articles not being cited, the lack of citation is an issue of scientific rigour. So yes, his arguments are about the humanities’ scientific rigour, which is what I discussed in my op-ed. So, I’m not sure how this is a strawman since it’s from a literal Peterson tweet.

If Peterson is so concerned about scientific rigour, maybe he should focus on science’s fake journal epidemic, as reported by Why is Peterson so worried about mere humanities articles when there are entire science journals being published without any rigour?

To respond to Wu about my position as a copy editor—yes, you are correct in saying that my job entails grammatical editing and fact-checking, and I did all of that when I published my op-ed. But I write for a university newspaper, which means I assume my audience of university students, such as Wu, know how to use Google and research my points before calling them “outright lies.”

Wu listed some accomplishments of Peterson, such as how he is “one of the most cited academics in his fields,” but I could not find any source for this. I’m not sure what Peterson’s ranking is on a mostly cited list, but it depends on how large his specialization is. For example, being ranked #1 in a field where there are only two academics in the world who are experts in the field misses the point of a citation list. I’m not saying Peterson is like this, but I am wondering what the source for Wu’s assertion is.

Only one point in Wu’s op-ed struck to me as a legitimate critique—it was when he was talking about Peterson critiquing the humanities, and then sarcastically implied I shouldn’t have a problem with that because the framework of Marxism has stood up to scrutiny. I did not have a problem with Peterson critiquing the humanities because I was allegedly afraid he will “debunk” Marxism, I was concerned because Peterson claims to want to teach and change a discipline he is not an expert in.

Also, I don’t know what Peterson’s exhaustive lecture series on man and psychology on TVO has to do with critiquing the humanities, but nonetheless, even then, Peterson has yet to make any contribution to the humanities. In fact, just last week, a Google Docs petition went around asking U of T administration to remove Peterson from the institution.

Wu concluded his article that he “expected better from a copy editor.” I’m so sorry if I let you down, Mr. Wu. Sometimes, the truth is stranger than fiction, and it could be easy to mistake that as “fake news.”