Recently, Canadian psychology professor, author and public intellectual Jordan Peterson has come under fire for suggesting that the best explanation that he can find for the fact that so many Jews have risen to prominence in so many fields requiring higher-than-average intelligence is that Jews are on average more intelligent than others. I don’t know what’s wrong with that explanation. It’s soundly reasoned. It’s scientifically sound as well. Nevertheless, some have accused him of anti-Semitism for saying it. He’s been accused of sending out a dog whistle to the alt-right.
So why are some people so agitated by Peterson’s pointing out the obvious? Is this where the social justice movement has brought us? Why slander Peterson? I have a couple of ideas to explain how some critics can often get it so wrong on matters of race and ethnicity — they may not understand what racism is, or they may be extremely bigoted people themselves and mistake their own bigotry for enlightenment, while projecting their bitter hearts upon their ideological opponents. That sounds harsh, but it’s a possibility. They also may consider the knee-jerk reaction to everything their opponents on the right do or say, and are eager to cast those actions as evil, homophobic, misogynist, racist or anti-Semitic, however shaky the claim. That looks like bigotry to me. They may fully understand the meaning of the term “racist,” but employ it even where it’s not appropriate because they are using the term metaphorically rather than literally.
The left is not always wrong when it points fingers at the right and says, “Look at those bigots over there.’’ I know the right better than they do, well enough to say their criticism often rings true. What gets my goat is when crying “racist!” becomes the first, second and third resort. Is that any way to wage battle? If your aims are really high that doesn’t excuse you from using the lowest means of fighting it.
Unfair attacks on political opponents are nothing new. If you want to see bitter political battles being fought with unscrupulous calumny and every form of character assassination on both sides, look back to the struggles between Democratic Republicans and Federalists at the time of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. I’m not saying that Americans have never been so politically divided; 1968 and the following years come to mind. These eruptions come in phases, and the one we appear to have entered is as ugly as past phases, though nothing as gruesome as the early ’60s. I’m speaking, of course of the 1860s.
Bigotry, in all its forms, is dirty and dangerous. It must be called out wherever it arises. That’s a wholesome reaction. It’s also a necessary reaction. Misidentifying it, pointing fingers when it’s not deserved is worse than ignoring it. It serves no good purpose. It stirs up hatred and division. It undermines civil society. It undermines democracy.
I wouldn’t be so appalled if the calling out of Peterson was an isolated incident. What bothers me is that it’s far from that. The slander of Peterson and other individuals on the right is commonplace. This is especially true when the person deviating from orthodox views does not look like what we expect from the right. Peterson hits all the points; he’s an academic, he’s a psychologist, he’s Canadian and he’s a philosopher. He’s all the categories you’d expect to look leftward, but instead looks another direction. What’s that make him, a free thinker, someone who thinks for himself rather than being dictated to? You can see how the enforcers of groupthink despise him so much. He’s like a Kanye with white skin, or Clarence Thomas, or Thomas Sowell.
What he is is thoughtful, influential, brilliant and a great teacher. His videos on YouTube have been watched by millions. His recent book, “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos,” is breaking records on Amazon for most downloaded and most read nonfiction book. He is poised to pass Margaret Atwood as Canada’s most-read author. His approach to the world is never dogmatic, but probing and well informed by his own experience as a clinical psychologist. He is not overtly political in his writings. He is fearless in calling out the zaniness that often typifies current academic trends as far as those trends contradict common sense and decency. He’s opposed to witch hunts, ideological tests, political correctness and slander. I suppose that makes you a right wing nut job in some circles. Let’s not just leave it at that. Let’s add alt-right, neo-Nazi, racist and anti-Semite, too. Of course, I’ve got nothing to back that up, but it feels so good saying it.