Cherwell

The Union should not welcome Jordan Peterson

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Jordan Peterson is a charlatan. Let’s be completely honest about what he represents. Through watching his speeches and reading his book, it becomes clear that everything he says is either incredibly vague, or flat out wrong. While I am in favour of inviting individuals who I disagree with to speak at the Union, I do not think we should be inviting a man to speak who has nothing of worth to say, and who actively harms debate.

The Oxford Union term card helpfully proves my first point here, stating that Peterson became famous for “criticising the Canadian government’s move to enact Bill C-16, which made misgendering a form of hate speech”.

Anyone who bothers to Google “C-16 makes misgendering illegal” can find out that this is a blatant lie. One must consider whether the Union is either incredibly sloppy with their research or is purposely misleading members with harmful falsehoods. Let me make this clear: the very thing that Jordan Peterson became famous for is a lie that the Union is now publishing in their term card. C-16 was a law specifically targeting sustained harassment of trans people. Simply using the wrong pronouns would never be considered a hate crime, unless it was coupled with harassment of a trans individual.

Jordan Peterson’s claim to fame is a lie attacking trans people for wanting fair protection against hate crimes. Peterson has lied about many other issues, from claiming that Google was manipulating search results for the word ‘bikini’ to include fat women (spoiler: they weren’t), to saying “there are far more female physicians than there are male physicians” which is provably false. He also likes to channel his bigotry through false and inflammatory statements like “the idea that women were oppressed throughout history is an appalling theory.” Not to mention the fact that he says his awakening that socialism was evil came from reading The Road To Wigan Pier, despite Orwell arguing for socialism in that book, not against it. Do we seriously want a liar who can’t even read the books that he said changed his ideology to come and speak at the Union?

While Jordan Peterson lies about an incredible number of things, his statements that aren’t false frankly say nothing of substance. Let’s examine the summary of principles from the end of his book, 12 Rules for Life: “What shall I do to strengthen my spirit? Do not tell lies or do what you despise. What shall I do to ennoble my body? Use it only in the service of my soul. What shall I do with the most difficult of questions? Consider them the gateway to the path of life. What shall I do with the poor man’s plight? Strive through right example to lift his broken heart. What shall I do with when the great crowd beckons? Stand tall and utter my broken truths.”

Now, we can read into these statements whichever way we like. But ultimately, Peterson is doing what many of us have done in our essays – overcomplicating statements in an attempt to make them sound profound. These can literally be summed up by saying: don’t lie, look after yourself, take problems as opportunities, set good examples, and do speeches at the Oxford Union.

Time after time, as you read Peterson’s work and watch his speeches, you realise that he purposely acts as if he’s saying something enlightening when he’s no different to any other self-help guru, repeating the most basic of lessons. When Peterson says “You can’t make rules for the exceptional”, that’s true by definition, not some deep statement on our potential.

His mantra – “Meaning is an expression of the instinct that guides us out into the unknown so that we can conquer it” – is so incredibly ambiguous that I can’t even begin to talk about it. Why should we invite an ‘academic’ to speak when the majority of their work consists of boring self-help nonsense that actually says nothing and helps no one?

When the lies have run out and the statements can’t be made vague enough, Peterson instead defaults to basic ad hominem insults. Comparing trans activists to Mao in his famous Channel 4 interview but being unable to explain how their ideologies are the same, complaining about “crazy women” and “harpies”, and claiming everything he disagrees with “Postmodern Neo-Marxism”. Peterson leans on his background in psychology to throw psychoanalysis at his opponents, not bothering to dismantle their argument, but instead explaining how the insults he spews at them are the real reason they support their beliefs.

This is not someone who contributes to the intellectual debate we want at the Oxford Union. This is someone who hurts the very ideals it stands for. A liar, a name caller, and someone who has nothing of worth to say. As paying Union members, we should be insulted that this man is coming to speak at the great institution.