The Silencing of Jordan Peterson
A critic of gender-neutral pronouns is coming under fire in Canada.
Earlier this month, Google temporarily banned a clinical psychologist and University of Toronto professor, Jordan Peterson, from accessing his YouTube channel. His channel hosts lengthy lectures on Jung, Nietzsche, the Bible and, most controversially, his opposition against Canada’s Bill C-16, passed by the Senate in June. The new legislation adds federal protections for transgender people to the Human Rights Code and the hate crime category of the Criminal Code. Peterson has generated quite a following for his opposition to the bill, which he finds to be an infringement on free speech.
As per the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC), it is now punishable if individuals refuse to use non-gender pronouns such as “ze” or “zir” to refer to transgender people. The OHRC website explicitly states: “Refusing to refer to a trans person by their chosen name and a personal pronoun that matches their gender identity … will likely be discrimination when it takes place in a social area covered by the Code, including employment, housing and services like education.”
According to Peterson, no explanation was given for the ban, yet it was unlikely a coincidence that it happened on the day YouTube released its own hate speech and anti-terrorism guidelines. In October 2016, his university sent him two letters, one of which warned him that refusing to use personal pronouns is tantamount to discrimination. In April this year, Peterson was also denied a federal research grant by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for the first time in his academic career. His objections to subscribe to the bill’s mandates have been deluged with accusations of bigotry from students and colleagues, as evidenced in the numerous videos being circulating on the web. In one, Peterson is harangued on the campus of the University of Toronto, with students shouting “Shame!” as he attempts to speak over them. In another video, a mob yells “Shut him down!” in a packed lecture room at McMaster University.
Bill C-16 sets a new precedent. Whereas the country’s hate speech laws have restricted speech in the past, the new law compels speech, which, as Peterson argues, is invented, politically connotative and anti-scientific. Conservative Senator Grant Mitchell, another dissenter of the bill, stated that “transgender identity is too subjective a concept to be enshrined in law because it is defined as an individual’s deeply felt internal experience of gender.”
Pronouns like “ze,” “zir,” “hir” or “xem” only reveal the surface of just how far astray the English language is being taken. In 2014, Facebook introduced 58 gender options to choose from, allowing users to customize from the following year. Among them are neutrois, two-spirit, pangender, gender fluid, gender questioning and intersex. In New York City, the government recognizes 31. As of yet, there is no criterion as to what constitutes an acceptable pronoun, so constructing any legal precedent entirely based upon the subjective measurement by an individual is virtually untenable.
Adherents of the bill also tout that there is no connection between gender identity and biological sex, thus arguing that orthodox pronouns like “he” or “she” are antiquated ideological constructions that should be removed from our lexicon. A 2016 study in The New Atlantis co-authored by the former head of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. Paul McHugh, and scholar-in-residence at Johns Hopkins University, Lawrence Mayer, complicated this narrative and was summarily rejected by progressives. The study reviewed the scientific research on gender and sexual identity and surmised that the hypothesis that “gender identity is an innate, fixed property of human beings and is independent of biological sex” is scientifically inconclusive. The majority of children with a persistent desire to identify with the other sex also grow out of it by adulthood, contrary to the curriculums foisted by many public schools today.
History shows that well-intended policies do not always lead to positive results. The new legislation sets a dangerous precedent to be compelled to use language that one finds fundamentally false. Peterson’s critics call him a scaremonger, but his warnings should not be taken lightly. The university campus, however, is mired in identity politics and has rebuffed any possibility for a plurality of voices to be heard. The media has trumpeted transgenderism as another minority group to be emancipated to boost ratings. Silicon Valley groupthink, too, has showed time and again that it is not immune to removing people it deems controversial.
The imperatives of free speech are to allow expression that you find objectionable, but it is also the process by which ordinary people can settle disputes organically. It is the bedrock of any free society and should be defended at all costs.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.