Q&A with UofT psych prof who’s taking on political correctness

Dene Moore
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

[In a YouTube talk, Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto skewers the agenda of the “radical left” and the fear it has spread in academia and beyond of expressing any dissenting opinion. YOUTUBE]

University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson has caused a stir with a YouTube lecture decrying the ills of political correctness.

The hour-long presentation by Peterson focuses largely on the federal legislation Bill C-16 that would enshrine gender identity and gender expression within the Canadian Human Rights Act, and the definition of gender discrimination by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

In about three days, it had almost 19,500 views.

In the video entitled “Professor against political correctness: Part I: Fear and the law,” Peterson skewers the agenda of the “radical left” and the fear it has spread in academia and beyond of expressing any dissenting opinion.

And he ascribes blame for that on the large number of left-wing activists in the federal and Ontario governments, the latter of which is headed by a lesbian premier, he points out.

Peterson spoke to Yahoo Canada News about why he went public on the issue. 

Q: What motivated you to post this lecture?

I have a long-standing interest in ideology and belief. It’s my central focus of research and I’ve done a lot of work recently on the psychological underpinnings of political belief. I’ve made it my life’s work.

And I’ve been watching what’s been happening on university campuses, particularly in the U.S., and that’s been worrisome. I worked in the U.S. in the 90s, and I thought we’d put the politically correct thing to bed… but it’s come back with a vengeance. That’s worrisome to me because I’m not a fan of ideologues; it doesn’t matter where they are on the spectrum of political belief.

This week I got a couple of emails … from people who have been put in positions by politically correct manoeuvres at their workplace that have really stressed them badly, psychologically.

[Those emails included the federal human rights legislation and a human resources initiative at the University of Toronto that will make anti-racism and anti-bias training mandatory for all staff. That led him to the Ontario Human Rights Commission website for its gender discrimination directives.]

It’s incoherent, it’s poorly-written, it’s extraordinarily ideologically motivated, it’s over-inclusive.

Bill C-16 particularly worries me because it is an attempt to put into law a set of pre-suppositions about human sexuality that, I think, at minimum, are debatable.

They’re also incoherent and they’re not supported by the facts.

Q: What has the reaction been?

It’s been good. I think the discussions were good.

The overwhelming number of comments on that YouTube video are positive and the overwhelming number are also civil and positive.

I’ve had a couple of nasty emails but literally only two.

[He wrote one back and invited the writer to view his lectures available online.]

I have 150 lectures online and there’s not a bigoted word in them, I don’t believe.

Q: You mention specifically Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s sexuality. Why?

I thought about that one a lot because some people who are close to me said ‘that was kind of provocative and maybe you shouldn’t have said it.’ I thought about that because maybe I shouldn’t have said it, because people have concentrated a lot on that particular comment.

But the way that I think about it — and I’ve thought about it a lot — is that the issue of Kathleen Wynne’s sexual preference is an issue in her political life. And the fact that the LGBT community is very well-organized and has a radical fringe is no secret. So the probability that among her compatriots there are people in that group included is reasonable, even if it is not certain.

I was saying that there are people who are writing the Ontario Human Rights Commission pages… I think the language is very much reminiscent of the language that’s being used by the LGBT activist community so I’m suspicious that it’s the same people who are doing it.

I’m not apologizing for that because I think it’s a perfectly reasonable proposition.

Q: Another University of Toronto professor has called you a bigot and says it’s wrong for you to use your position as a “bully pulpit.” Are you concerned there could be professional consequences?

I talked to one of my colleagues and he said, ‘well, yes, this is terrible and we should have done something about it 10 years ago but now the personal risk is too high and saying something will have a minimal effect, so I’m not willing to take the risk.’

And I thought, well, I’m not going to be saying that 10 years from now.

I’ve got two options: I can either shut up and take the consequences of that or I can say what I think and take the consequences of that.

Q: A recent poll found that a majority of Canadians feel political correctness is out of control and they self-censor out of fear of causing offence.

It was actually that poll that was a small part of the reason I did this. Part of the public role of intellectuals is to articulate the inarticulate.

People today are accusing me of being a transphobic bigot. I have to work very hard to delineate my arguments, so that I’m not saying anything that can be interpreted as bigoted. It’s a very fine line to walk, because I’m criticizing the policy and I’m criticizing the people who are making the policy but that isn’t the same as being a bigot. But it’s not that easy to articulate the argument carefully enough so that it can’t be just dismissed in that manner.

And many people aren’t capable of doing that.

Q: Why do you think it’s important to articulate this?

If these people who are concerned about political correctness don’t find their words, what are they going to do? They’re only going to swallow the way they feel for a certain length of time. Most people are very peaceful but not everyone, that’s for sure.

We should be attending to the rise of the radical right. They’re coming out of the woodwork and I believe they’re coming out of the woodwork in response to the continued pushing of the radical left.

And let’s assume that there is a resurgence in the radical right and they do resort to tactics of violence — and there are lots of people waiting in the wings to do that — then the people who are going to be hurt by any resurgence are precisely the most vulnerable that all of the politically correct types are striving so hard to hypothetically protect.

The interview was condensed and edited.